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The Straight Truth about Spiral Staircases

Spiral Staircase by author Meghan Carter

  • Where spiral staircases can and should be used.
  • The different types of spiral staircases.
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    A spiral staircase is a novelty in a home. Rarely making an appearance outside of the occasional library, the spiral staircase is oddly absent from other rooms. But why? Spiral staircases amaze people with their exquisite form and beauty. Perfectly cascading like the threads on a screw, the steps of a spiral staircase lead us to our destination. Ah, and there is the catch. A spiral staircase can lead us only - not us with something large in our hands.
    During my visit to Adam's Stair Works, I stumbled across that awful realization. Actually, I didn't stumble across it, Doug Adams, president and owner and of Adams Stair Works, told it to me. The reason spiral staircases aren't used more in homes simply comes down to function. They're a lot like high heels: pretty to look at, but hard to use when carrying big loads.
     "They're probably more a topic of discussion or conversation in a house like a fine piece of furniture than anything," Adams said. "You'll see them in libraries, in the corner's of master bedrooms, mainly going to loft spaces under 500 feet. They're a fun stair to have. You can whip up them really quick if you're not carrying anything, and it's very functional for just a side get-a-way place. But as far as functioning goes. You can't carry a laundry basket up them."

Where a Spiral Staircase can and can't be Used

    We've established that spiral staircases are not a good option to carry a laundry basket up - the laundry basket just keeps knocking into the stairs. So using a spiral staircase next to a laundry room would be a bad idea. What about as your main staircase? According to Adams that's not just a bad idea, it's not allowed.
    "[Spiral staircases] won't even make code for main egress," Adams said. "They cannot be used as a primary staircase."
    Basically, a spiral staircase should only be used as a secondary staircase in a place where you don't plan to carry objects up or down.

There is Still Hope for the Spiral Staircase as the Main Attraction

    If you have your heart set on a spiral staircase as the main staircase in your home, there is one way to get it and it's not paying off the code officer. All you need to do is upgrade to the double helix. A double helix spiral staircase is much larger than your typical spiral staircase.
    "We get into some larger size spirals, which are really called a double helix, which will be in the 8 foot diameter," Adams said. "They're considered spirals but they can meet regular code. You can use it as a front staircase."
    Be warned though. The larger the spiral staircase, the more it will cost. So if a double helix spiral staircase is calling your name, be prepared to pay for it.

The Different Types of Spiral Staircases

    Beyond the size of your spiral staircase - double helix or regular, there are other style options to keep in mind. For one, spiral staircases can be made of different materials.
    "You can buy metal spirals and you can buy wood spirals," Adams said. "The metal spirals are generally more cost effective."
    After you've decided on a material, it's time to think about the type of spiral staircase construction you prefer. And unsurprisingly, the choice often comes down to money just as with the size and material you choose.
    The first type of construction is the post-over construction, which is when the handrail is on top of the balusters. The second type is a post-to-post construction, which is when the handrail runs into the end post, or newel post, of the staircase.
    "You have post to post construction represented here," Adams said. "This type of construction is more expensive in the spirals. Most people when they think of spirals they think of contemporary rectangular rail with a baluster bolted to the side of the rail. That's the more cost effective way to go."

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