One question that many of our remodeling customers ask is whether or not they can reuse any of their existing stair parts. In addressing this question, there are several things to consider: First, what condition are the existing stair components in? Second, what is the purpose of the renovation? Structural, aesthetic, or both? Third, will these stair parts work with new codes and new products? Finally, what is the cost difference between preparing existing components for reuse and the replacement cost of the new stair parts?
While often safety and structural stability of a stair and railing system are considered second to aesthetics, they are the most important aspect of the system. The security of a balustrade is directly related to the integrity of the individual components. Old balusters may look good, but they may have degraded through use, damage, and even disassembly. In addition, antiquated building codes may have allowed greater baluster spacing than is currently considered safe. If the structural components such as balusters, handrails, and newel posts are not sound, they should not be reused. If your baluster spacing currently allows for a sphere greater than 4 inches to pass through at any point, a renovation will be required to reduce the spacing. In most cases, this will require additional balusters to decrease the opening. You can replace all of the balusters (plus any additional balusters needed to bring the balustrade up to code), or you can order custom-made balusters to match the existing profile. The question of whether existing components will work with the new components often depends on whether the existing wood balusters will be replaced with a more current style. To determine whether the handrail, tread caps, and newel posts can be retained, there are two factors to consider: spacing and finishes.
Consider spacing. Wood balusters are typically thicker than their iron counterparts. As a result, it’s likely that more iron balusters will be needed to maintain the minimum 4-inch spacing. This means that if there are screw or lag holes visible in the caps or handrails, the new iron balusters will have to go where the existing wood balusters were previously installed. Simply removing the wood balusters and replacing them with iron will often leave spaces that do not meet current building codes. If the existing banister meets current building codes, many of the components may be salvageable. In the case of preserving the handrail when replacing spindles, using balusters that are the same size or larger will usually allow you to retain the handrail and tread caps.
Consider finishes. When reusing existing products, one major concern is matching the finish of the new components with the finish of the components that are being reused. This involves striping paint and stain to bare wood or matching the existing finish with the new finish. The second option can be difficult because many species of wood change color over time; you can visit our “Wood Species” page to learn more about the characteristics of specific wood types. Stains and paints will also fade over time and can, therefore, prove more difficult to match. If the finish of the existing components is in good condition and can be matched, the components can be reused. They can also be reused if the components can be stripped down to the bare wood or metal and refinished to match the new components. Sanding the surface of wood components will reveal the original wood color which can be used to match new wood components. Even though existing components can be reused, the cost to refinish them can often be as great as replacing them. If the existing components are antique or are historically valuable to the home, all efforts should be made to restore the existing system using original components and under the direction of a restoration professional.
Deciding to reuse or replace stair components can be complicated and involves a thorough understanding of your specific situation.