Staircase Types & Terminology

Types of Staircases

What is a ‘stair’, exactly? The stairs definition itself is of Germanic origin, from the Old English stǣger, meaning to ‘climb’ from a base.  

The many different types of staircase are now popular features in the contemporary home project, and even in the modern interiors of commercial institutions. There are many different types to choose from, ranging from more modern, architectural styles (floating stairs, for example) to the more antiquated and periodic designs.

Here are some of the most popular types of staircases, the ones in most demand, today:

The Spiral Staircase

A spiral staircase is an attractive, durable, and space-saving choice for a home or office building. Space saving is, of course, one of the greatest benefits of any spiral staircase.

Unlike traditional staircases, a spiral staircase does not have a large footprint and can be installed in small spaces, making it an exceptionally good choice for smaller homes or apartments. The solid construction makes the small spiral staircase an ideal choice for safety and durability. Installing a staircase of this kind, a home owner or builder can improve the aesthetic of a room or home without taking up excess space for a larger staircase structure.

Spiral staircases are a beautiful design feature which will give a long lasting visual appeal.

A black spiral staircase A red spiral staircase

Helical Staircases

Helical staircases are sometimes referred to as curved staircases as they lead you upstairs in a flowing arc.

Helical or curved stairs are ideal for commercial properties such as retail, showrooms and other public spaces, but, they also look glamorous in an office or residential location. Helical staircases are a statement, often used as a main staircase or exclusive staircase. These stairs frequently consists of two rolled stringers, with the treads attached between them. Helical staircases do not have a central column setting it apart from spiral stairs. By combining various materials and designs the possibilities for helical staircases are almost unlimited.

Helical floating staircase float 2

Straight Staircases

Straight stairs can be defined as one having a single, straight flight of stairs that connects two levels or floors in a building. In its most basic form it is a simple design with no turns and is used in most homes — although the style can be played with. An open tread staircase, for example, instantly stands out, even if is still just a ‘straight staircase’.

(If you are unsure what a ‘tread’ is, exactly, on a staircase, then see our terminologies section below.)

A straight staircase A straight staircase

L-shaped stairs

L-shaped stairs — also known as the ‘quarter turn’ stair or, more simply, just as ‘turning stairs’ — are flights of stairs with style. The name comes from the shape, and refers to the change in direction of the staircase mid-flight. They can be useful when the space required for a straight staircase is not available, and it gives the possibility of locating the staircase in a corner.

L-shaped stairs also give the provision of a resting place and reduced distance of fall, a really great feature, particularly for elderly users.

L-shaped stairs l 1

U-shaped stairs

U-shaped stairs are L-shaped stairs to the next level, hence their other name ‘double L shaped stairs. U-shaped stairs provide two flights of steps parallel to each other: joined by a large stairs landing requiring the climber to turn 180-degrees. It is because of this landing that U-shaped stairs are also referred to as the ‘half landing staircase’.

u 2 A U-shaped staircase

Winder stairs

Sometimes known as ‘kited stairs’, winder stairs can greatly reduce space requirements for those with storage issues and are particularly popular for basement access. Winder stairs are available in a pie-shape, which can do without the landing — this frees up more room and takes up less space than those required with L-shaped or U-shaped stairs. The double winder staircase is also popular.

A winder stair case A winder stair hallway

More Staircase Terminology

There are many different parts of a staircase — more than you might imagine. So we put together a brief guide to some of the specific words and components that are used to refer to the different sections and features. Here is all the stair terminology that you should need in order to know the ins and outs of stairs:

Step

The step is composed of the tread and riser.

Tread

The part of the stairway that is stepped on. It is constructed to the same specifications (thickness) as any other flooring. The tread “depth” is measured from the outer edge of the step to the vertical “riser” between steps. The “width” is measured from one side to the other. The thread is the most fundamental of the parts of stairs.

Riser

The vertical portion between each tread on the stair. This may be missing for an “open” stair effect.

Nosing

An edge part of the tread that protrudes over the riser beneath. If it is present, this means that, measured horizontally, the total “run” length of the stairs is not simply the sum of the tread lengths, as the treads actually overlap each other slightly.

Starting step or Bullnose

Where stairs are open on one or both sides, the first step above the lower floor may be wider than the other steps and rounded. The balusters typically form a semicircle around the circumference of the rounded portion and the handrail has a horizontal spiral called a “volute” that supports the top of the balusters. Besides the cosmetic appeal, starting steps allow the balusters to form a wider, more stable base for the end of the handrail. Handrails that simply end at a post at the foot of the stairs can be less sturdy, even with a thick post. A double bullnose can be used when both sides of the stairs are open.

Stringer

The staircase stringer is a structural member that supports the treads and risers. There are typically two stringers, one on either side of the stairs; though the treads may be supported many other ways. The stringers are sometimes notched so that the risers and treads fit into them. Stringers on open-sided stairs are often open themselves so that the treads are visible from the side. Such stringers are called “cut” stringers. Stringers on a closed side of the stairs are closed, with the support for the treads routed into the stringer.

Winders

Winders are steps that are narrower on one side than the other. They are used to change the direction of the stairs without landings. A series of winders form a circular or spiral stairway. When three steps are used to turn a 90° corner, the middle step is called a kite winder as a kite-shaped quadrilateral.

Trim

Trim (e.g. quarter-round or baseboard trim) is normally applied where walls meet floors and often underneath treads to hide the reveal where the tread and riser meet. Shoe moulding may be used between where the lower floor and the first riser meet.

The railing system

The balustrade is the system of railings and balusters that prevents people from falling over the edge.

Banister, Railing or Handrail

The angled member for handholding, as distinguished from the vertical balusters which hold it up for stairs that are open on one side; there is often a railing on both sides, sometimes only on one side or not at all, on wide staircases there is sometimes also one in the middle, or even more. The term “banister” is sometimes used to mean just the handrail, or sometimes the handrail and the balusters or sometimes just the balusters.[1]

Volute

A handrail end element for the bullnose step that curves inward like a spiral. A volute is said to be right or left-handed depending on which side of the stairs the handrail is as one faces up the stairs.

Turnout

Instead of a complete spiral volute, a turnout is a quarter-turn rounded end to the handrail.

Gooseneck

The vertical handrail that joins a sloped handrail to a higher handrail on the balcony or landing is a gooseneck.

Rosette

Where the handrail ends in the wall and a half-newel is not used, it may be trimmed by a rosette.

Easings

Wall handrails are mounted directly onto the wall with wall brackets. At the bottom of the stairs such railings flare to a horizontal railing and this horizontal portion is called a “starting easing”. At the top of the stairs, the horizontal portion of the railing is called a “over easing”.

Core rail

Wood handrails often have a metal core to provide extra strength and stiffness, especially when the rail has to curve against the grain of the wood. The archaic term for the metal core is “core rail”.

Baluster

A term for the vertical posts that hold up the handrail. Sometimes simply called guards or spindles. Treads often require two balusters. The second baluster is closer to the riser and is taller than the first. The extra height in the second baluster is typically in the middle between decorative elements on the baluster. That way the bottom decorative elements are aligned with the tread and the top elements are aligned with the railing angle.

Newel

A large baluster or post used to anchor the handrail. Since it is a structural element, it extends below the floor and subfloor to the bottom of the floor joists and is bolted right to the floor joist. A half-newel may be used where a railing ends in the wall. Visually, it looks like half the newel is embedded in the wall. For open landings, a newel may extend below the landing for a decorative newel drop.

Finial

A decorative cap to the top of a newel post, particularly at the end of the balustrade.

Base Rail

For systems where the baluster does not start at the treads, they go to a base rail. This allows for identical balusters, avoiding the second baluster problem.

Balcony

For stairs with an open concept upper floor or landing, the upper floor is functionally a balcony. For a straight flight of stairs, the balcony may be long enough to require multiple newels to support the length of railing..

Flight

A flight is an uninterrupted series of steps.

Floating stairs

A flight of stairs is said to be “floating” if there is nothing underneath. The risers are typically missing as well to emphasize the open effect. There may be only one stringer or the stringers otherwise minimized. Where building codes allow, there may not even be handrails.

Landing or Platform

A landing is the area of a floor near the top or bottom step of a stair. An intermediate landing is a small platform that is built as part of the stair between main floor levels and is typically used to allow stairs to change directions, or to allow the user a rest. A half landing is where a 180° change in direction is made, and a quarter landing is where a 90° change in direction is made (on an intermediate landing).

As intermediate landings consume floor space they can be expensive to build. However, changing the direction of the stairs allows stairs to fit where they would not otherwise, or provides privacy to the upper level as visitors downstairs cannot simply look up the stairs o the upper level due to the change in direction.

Mobile Safety Steps

Can be used as temporary, safe replacements for many types of stairs

Spandrel

If there is not another flight of stairs immediately underneath, the triangular space underneath the stairs is called a “spandrel”. It is frequently used as a closet.

Got an idea for a staircase in mind? We can make it.

We can design, manufacture, and install any set of stairs that you need for your home, business, or project, all to meet the correct staircase regulations. Head over to our customisable Staircase Solutions page, where you can make your plan, choose your material, get the designed model that you require, and build your quote.

Any questions? Then please don’t hesitate to contact us where we can discuss it further, and get started on your ideal staircase.