The Ups and Downs of Loft Staircases

Staircases are an important part of a loft conversion but can be tricky to get right – not just in terms of the space available and compliance with building regulations, but also to complete the work in the best way without blowing the budget. So what are the ups and downs of loft staircases and how can this affect your conversion?

Compliance

It’s important to know that a loft conversion isn’t a fully compliant, habitable room unless it has a fixed staircase as an access point. From there, the staircase also becomes a focal point for building regulations, as issues such as size and headroom are extremely important. For reference, Building Regulations Document K particularly outlines the regulations in respect of size (including overall width, riser height and how steep the stairs should be), construction and headroom.

Current regulations state that the headroom (measured from the point where the stairs meet the loft floor) should be at least 1.9 m in the centre of the stair width, reducing to 1.8m at the side of the stairs. Close attention should also be paid to how the stairs will be accessed from within the loft (to exit the loft and come down the staircase) because this is the area which is usually the most affected by restricted headroom. These measurements will often directly impact on where the loft staircase can actually be located, which may affect the final design and layout of the conversion itself.

In order to be fully compliant, and as well as taking up several square feet within the loft space, fixed staircases will also have an impact on the floor below, so this should also be carefully considered, for size and fit, accessibility and safety. If the loft staircase is being fitted over existing stairway, then the headroom there will also need to be considered. It’s also worth being aware of the fact that winding stairs present their own design, safety and accessibility issues and may be subject to additional restrictions.

Design

Loft Conversion Staircase

The type of staircase can be dictated by the loft conversion design but equally the conversion can become a success or disaster with the addition of the right or wrong type of staircase. Both the layout of the loft and the floor below it can have an impact on the choices available and can affect the look of both the conversion and the floor below, from where the stairs are fitted to access the loft.

With this in mind, it’s vital to double-check the stair design at the blueprint stage because getting to the installation stage before identifying a problem can be an extremely expensive mistake, not least where aesthetics and safety are concerned, but also especially if a miscalculation renders the conversion non-compliant with regulations. When in doubt, ensure only a specialist engineer or Loft Conversion Company is used to design the stairway and access to the loft.

Doors are also part of the staircase planning and design, so consideration should be given to whether doors need to be fitted at the top and / or bottom of the stairway, for example if the loft space is to be used as a study or bedroom and noise from other parts of the house will need to be shut out.

Staircase Style

Spiral Staircase to Loft

The type of staircase chosen can be dictated by the loft conversion design but equally the design can be influenced by the available styles of staircase. Both the layout of the loft and the floor below it can have an impact on the style choices available and can affect the look of both the conversion and the floor below with its access to it. There are several styles currently popular with loft conversions, but what are the ups and down of two of these most popular style choices?

  • Space saving staircases – literally save space with an innovative design feature which means they take up half the space of a traditional design. Space saver staircases actually have half of the tread cut away, presenting what is almost a left-foot, right-foot flight of steps leading to the next floor. There are usually additional regulations which state the size of the tread goings and risers, which will need to be checked by your conversion company, architect or engineer, to ensure compliance.
    • Ups: these stairs are appropriately named because having a stairway which takes up less space means more space is left available both in the loft conversion design and the landing below.
    • Ups: this style can also add a contemporary twist to an otherwise traditional conversion.
    • Ups: slip resistant step surfaces are essential in order for space saver staircases to be building regulation compliant. This can be a welcome additional safety factor.
    • Downs: space saver styles can only be used for straight stairs, they are not suitable for curved or winding stairs
    • Downs: handrails are mandatory – and although this can be an upside where additional safety is concerned, it can also be a downside if the need for these dictates the final position of the staircase.
    • Downs: space saver staircases can only be used for access to one room only (or a room with an en-suite). A space saver stairs cannot be installed to give access to a whole floor with several rooms.
    • Downs: because of their innovative design, space saver stairs rely on familiarity so are not suitable for small children or the elderly, or where the room is to be seldom used, as unfamiliarity with the style could lead to accidents.
  • Spiral staircases – spiral staircases are often statement pieces which can add a mystical charm to a new loft space and make a feature of the room.
    • Ups: spiral staircases can often fit into existing landings with the minimum of impact to the floor below the loft.
    • Ups: spiral staircases offer a good alternative to a stairway which might otherwise be too steep or awkward to access safely.
    • Downs: metal staircases are a popular choice but can be a cold and noisy design – particularly if it is on a floor with bedrooms.
    • Downs: depending on the style, some spiral staircases can have narrow treads, which can be difficult or a potential risk for some users.

Finally, the design is decided, the regulations are met, so what else can you consider to make sure your staircase adds style to your new loft conversion?

  • Think windows and light – adding a skylight above the staircase can make a real difference.
  • Materials can have an impact on style: oak staircases can be a classy choice, whilst a light wood with feature balustrades can add a contemporary twist to a traditional staircase.
  • Additional carpentry could be added to the chosen staircase to complement the existing style of the home, such as art deco balustrading to match the existing staircase in a 1930s property.
  • Consider how the room will be used as this will have a bearing on choice, for example children’s rooms or play area will need a staircase with wide steps, bannisters and handrails and preferably no tight turns for safe and easy access.

There’s plenty to consider for a loft conversion staircase, but remember that there’s no substitute for expert advice, so whatever the stage of your loft conversion dream, do ask the experts – every step of the way!