Floating stairs fall into the class of open riser stairs. Open riser stairs are any stairs that do not have risers; this can include deck stairs, fire escapes, open spiral staircase, or any unfinished stairs as long as they don't have risers. Many variations of stairs fall into this class of stairs.
So what are floating stairs? Any Stair with a hidden or recessed stringer or is cantilevered can be referred to as a floating stair. The structural member of any stair is the stringer, and if the design is optimized to hide the stringer, it gives the effect of floating.
A mono-stringer utilizes the stringer to support the structural load and treads. This creates the illusion that the stair treads are floating, giving a design element without aesthetically overwhelming the other elements of the stair or room.
- Floating Staircase Benefits
- Different Styles of Floating Stairs
- Open Riser Stairs and Building Codes
- Are Floating Stairs Safe?
- How Much Do Floating Stairs Cost?
- Closed vs. Open Riser Stairs – Which is Better?
Floating Staircase Benefits
A floating staircase provides significant benefits over traditional stairs besides their aesthetic value. Acting as an accent to any room, they allow for a wider choice of tread materials, more freedom with simpler design options, opens up an open floor plan, and creates space for more storage.
The aesthetic value can be an absolute showstopper in any given space. The minimalistic design adds to a simple modern look with the appearance of the stair treads floating in space. One aspect of floating stairs is the focus of the stair tread. Stair treads can be of various types of wood, glass, or any imaginable material. This only turns the tread into a focus that only adds to the wow factor.
The simple design process of floating stairs only requires the selection of the stair tread material and railing. You don't need to worry about matching the other elements of the stairs. A handrail is required but often designed to blend into the space around.
Unlike traditional stairs that constrict or restrict space beneath the stringers, floating stairs open up the entire space, drastically improving and opening up floor space. This increased open floor space results in more storage space.
Different Styles of Floating Stairs
The different styles of floating stairs relate to how the stair tread is attached. The stair tread does not need a stringer to support it as in a cantilevered system. The framing in the wall can also be used to fix a cantilevered stair tread. Other styles can rely on one or two recessed stringers to hold the floating stairs.
Mono Stringer Stairs
Mono stringer floating stairs are simply floating staircases using a single stringer in the center to support each tread. Typically this is with a metal or wood stringer, and it supports each tread with either a bracket or a notch.
No matter the material, the stringer is not the feature of these stairs.
Double Stringer Stairs
Double stringer floating stairs are the same as a mono stringer, except they feature two stringers. Usually applied when extra wide extra-wide treads.
Looking like they are floating in space, cantilevered stairs are installed in a variety of ways. Typically cantilevered stairs extend from a wall. The way they connect to the wall is what makes them different. Usually, metal support is hidden behind the wall, projecting a bracket to support the tread. The tread can also go through the wall and be mechanically fastened to the framing within the wall. Often cantilevered stairs come as a prefabricated staircase, with all supports and treads in one package.
Open Riser Stairs and Building Codes
Open riser stairs have a different set of building codes than closed riser stairs. Without a riser, floating treads need to be sturdier to withstand constant foot traffic without the risk of cracking, splitting, or simply failing. The tread on open riser stairs needs to be a minimum of 1.5" thick because the riser is not there to support.
You need to know several other stair size measurements to ensure your floating stairs are up to code besides the thickness of the tread. The opening at the riser cannot exceed 4 inches, and the vertical height between stairs needs to be between 5 to 7 3/4 inches. This measurement is made from the top of one tread to the top of the next tread.
With the 4 inches maximum opening, this means you will need a tread between 1½ inches (minimum of 1½ inch thickness for the tread) to 3 3/4 inches tread. Typically the treads are thicker to have a more traditional rise and run. Tread depth is also another consideration, with the minimum stair tread depth is 10 inches.
Finally, consider the handrail, which needs to be no less than 34 inches but can not exceed 38 inches. The 4-inch maximum opening rule also applies to the infill.
Are Floating Stairs Safe?
Building codes are written for safety, and if your floating stairs a build per code, they are safe. Building to code, the gaps are smaller than 4 inches between treads and will not let you slip through the opening. Each tread must be able to support 300 pounds of concentrated force.
They also need handrails. If they are not against two walls, one side needs to have a guardrail system with cables or spindles of some type with no opening greater than 4 inches.
The concern with floating staircases is that there is no riser to stop your foot from sliding forward, and you might hit the bottom of the tread when stepping up, resulting in tripping.
We all love DIY projects, but know your limits, especially when an error could cause injury or worse. A mono-stringer floating staircase requires an engineered stringer and support framing with mounting specific to your application, while cantilevered stairs require technical know-how beyond a simple set of stairs. Unless you are an engineer or carpenter, these are not projects you should attempt on your own.
A floating stair is no more slippery than a traditional staircase. The narrative that floating stairs are more "slippery" is entirely untrue. It ultimately depends on the finish of your stair treads, and if you find them slippery, you can use an over-the-counter product to enhance traction.
How Much Do Floating Stairs Cost?
Expect the cost to be a minimum of $15,000 for a complete set of floating stairs. However, this is a minimum cost, not the average. A more reasonable average price would be between $20-30,000 and require engineering. It is common for floating stairs to reach the six figures.
Homes are usually designed to accommodate standard sets of stairs. You will need to demolish your existing stairs to install a new floating staircase. This requires removing the old stairs and re-engineering your house framing to accommodate the different stringer types. Finally, you have to add the costs of both the stringer and treads, which will likely be a custom design to meet aesthetic intent.
Closed vs. Open Riser Stairs – Which is Better?
Open stairs cost more – period! They are less standard and often custom-built, and retrofitting a home to accept floating stairs is not cheap. While an experienced carpenter can build a traditional set of stairs for a few thousand dollars, and a floating staircase can cost nearly ten times more.
Floating stairs are breathtaking, and design options are unlimited, adding light to create the effect of open space in your house. You can better utilize the space beneath floating stairs, making it an excellent option for space-sensitive urban environments. The use of transparent materials such as glass or reflective metal can further brighten up the space.
You can also build traditional or standard staircases to add beauty to your home. The only constraint is that they need at least one wall and have bulky framing beneath that must be covered up, reducing space, reducing light, and blocking sightlines.
No matter your choice of a traditional or floating staircase, be sure to consider safety first. Floating Stairs is not a weekend DYI project, requiring a structural engineer, quality manufacturer, and possibly contractor specializing in floating staircases. You can optimize the aesthetics for both a traditional or floating staircase, but floating stairs genuinely create a superb set of stairs.
When designing your dream home, look at floating stairs to optimize both space and light while opening sightlines better than a set of traditional stairs. When it comes time to design your next home project that includes stairs, remember the stairs can add more than a function to your home. Stairs create a focal point enhancing the space by bringing in light to create openness.