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Replacing Stair Railings & Banisters

Question: I have just purchased my first home. It was built in the early 1900s and it has little done to since it was constructed. One of the projects that I am going to undertake is to replace all of the indoor and outdoor stair railings and banisters. They are in bad shape and I want to make sure my family is safe when using both the indoor and outdoor stairs.

Do you have any suggestions or advise when it comes to stair railings?

Answer: There is no doubt that the railings and banisters on stairs are a key part of the safety of the stairway and hence the home. Stair railings can also have a great deal of impact on the aesthetics of the home as they can provide a level of grace and flair to the entire property.

First of all, it is the installation, the method that you use to anchor the hand railing or banister components that is really more important than the material that they are made from. The stair railing is designed to help maintain an individual’s balance as the climb or descend the stairs. The strength of the anchors used to hold the banister or railing in place are tested when someone looses their balance, grabs the railing and at that point the anchors many have to hold a few hundred pounds of weight with kinetic energy!

Stair railings and banisters are made from a number of different materials:

  • Hardwoods, oak and maple are probably the most popular of all the materials used for banisters and hand rails. They are extremely strong can be milled to different profiles, have a long life and when stained or varnished have a class that cannot be achieved with other materials.
  • Stone is a high end banister and railing material, but you need a large home or it will look out of place. Cantera stone or lava stone as it is often called makes excellent banisters and railings. It takes a lot of expertise to install a stone banister of handrail that will withstand someone falling against it. If this is a do-it-yourself project, I would recommend that you stay away from stone.
  • You can also make some very nice railings using wire rope.
  • Metal railings are a good choice for your outdoor banister and hand rail requirements. Metal, when properly treated with rust resistant paints will withstand outdoor environments for decades. Metal railings are available in steel and aluminum.
  • As with most things now a day, you can purchase vinyl and plastic railings and banisters. The problem is they look cheap, very cheap in my opinion. They are a durable product for outdoors and if you are looking at keeping the budget to a minimum they might be suitable on a backyard porch!