The A-Z of stairs

To help self-builders understand the dos and don’ts when planning and designing the perfect staircase, the BWF Stair Scheme has produced a helpful A to Z guide of everything you need to know about stairs.

A is for… Accidents. Stairs are one of the most common areas for accidents in a UK home, accounting for 10 deaths a week and a serious fall every 90 seconds.

B is for… Balustrading. This is essential guarding for your staircase. A balustrade consists of the handrail, balusters (also known as spindles) and newels which provides extra support for the stair. There are specific guidelines for the distance between balusters to ensure that a small child cannot fit through the gap.

C is for… Creaky stairs. Two-thirds of homes suffer from squeaky stairs. This is due to problems with timber joints, caused by cheap manufacture, poor design and shoddy installation. The noise comes from components rubbing together, such as the treads rubbing against the risers and stringers.

D is for…Designing. Once you have assessed the space where the staircase will go and a layout has been established, the design process can begin. BWF Stair Scheme has published a design guide specifically for designers of timber stairs. It includes all the relevant guidance, legislation and regulations to consider.

E is for… Engaging. Engage your stair manufacturer early in the process – there are many things to consider and they can help you ensure you get it right before you start.

F is for… Forward planning. Before the design process begins, consider the space of the area intended to house the staircase, identifying any areas of potential obstruction and how it will impact on the layout of the room. Consider accessibility and dimensions such as the width and length of the staircase including headroom.

G is for… Going. This is the horizontal distance between the nosings of consecutive steps.

H is for… Handrail. This is a handhold to support safe use of the stair.

I is for… Installation. The installer should verify the details of the job and check that all components and instructions are available from the manufacturer. The BWF Stair Scheme provides an installation guide to help with this stage.

J is for… Joiner. The joiner is the expert who will create the staircase and may also install it.

K is for… Kits. Some staircases are available in kits. If purchasing a kit, make sure you fully understand the installation process and have full instructions from the manufacturer before leaving the store.

L is for… Loading. Loading, deflection and fire-protection are the three major performance requirements for which a stair is assessed under the BWF Stair Scheme. For each of these characteristics there is a set level of performance they must meet.

M is for… Maths. Carefully record room dimensions before the design process begins, stick to exact measurements during manufacturing, and check the dimensions of the room and staircase again before installation. Remember that floor and wall coverings may impact on your measurements.

N is for… Newel Post. This is the post into which a string or handrail is affixed.

O is for… Our aims. Overall, the Stair Scheme’s aims are to stop stairs being supplied that do not meet the standards, to protect and increase the UK timber market for stairs, and to give you confidence.

P is for… Pitch. The Building Regulations give strict guidance covering the pitch (steepness) of your staircase to ensure it is safe to use, they also look at headroom and other critical safety factors.

Q is for… Quality. Stair Scheme members work to a high standard of quality for the stairs they manufacture and every stair they produce is sealed with a badge proving their accreditation and quality.

R is for… Riser. This is the vertical component of a step.

S is for… String. This is the structural com-ponent into which the treads and risers are fixed.

T is for… Tread. This is the horizontal surface of a step (the bit you stand on) and the nosing is the front edge of a tread (that may overhang the riser).

V is for… Valuable advice. As part of its service, BWF offer customers a technical helpline to ensure they receive the most up-to-date and relevant technical information about timber stairs.

W is for… Winders. The steps that allow you to change the direction of the staircase.

X is for… X-factor. A staircase can add a real design feature to a home. The shapes and styles available for staircases are vast and varied to fit in with the most traditional or the most contemporary home.

Y is for… Young children. Young children are probably the most vulnerable when it comes to using stairs, so ensure that the correct measures are taken to provide them with additional safety. If you have young children talk to the installer about having stairgates installed at the same time.

Z is for… Zzzzz! The staircase is finished and you can relax knowing that it is built to the highest standard and has become a real feature within your home. It’s time to climb up the stairs and have a well-deserved rest.

For an in depth design guide for timber stairs, go to: For top tips to avoid common staircase problems, go to