Spiral staircases may seem to many as a modern trend in home design, but they date back hundreds of years as a result of their functionality and visual appearance. Today, spiral staircases are available to almost anyone with their various sizes, materials and ‘build your own’ kits.
History of spiral staircases
Spiral staircases date back to medieval times, where they were used in castles and made from stone. Spiral staircases were used as a clever defence mechanism. They would usually be wound in a clockwise direction in order to give the defender an advantage. As swordsmen were typically right-handed, the attacker would be impaired by the position of the central pole of the staircase.
In addition, because they were so narrow, spiral stairwells only allowed for one person to ascend or descend at a time. This meant that if fifty men were attacking one defender, the fight would still be one on one.
Why choose a spiral staircase?
Today though, there is very little need for a strategically advantageous staircase, yet spiral staircases remain highly popular for a number of other reasons:
One of the main advantages of spiral staircases is that they take up less space than straight stairs. Per square foot, a straight staircase can take up almost double the amount of space. It is a common misconception that spiral staircases are steeper than straight staircases; in fact, they must comply with the same building regulations as straight staircases regarding rise.
These regulations state that the maximum angle of pitch of a stairway should not exceed 42º at a private residence and 38° at a public property. Furthermore the maximum rise and going for a private staircase is 220mm regardless of type, so spiral staircases are no steeper than any other kind.
As spiral staircases do not take up as much room, they can fit into areas where a straight staircase is not an option. They can fit into practically any corner, making them ideal for use into areas such as cellars and lofts where space is limited.
There are a number of ways in which you can customise a spiral staircase to suit any home. They can wind clockwise or anti-clockwise and have either open or closed treads, whichever best suits your space. They can also be made out of a number of different materials including wood, metal and glass, and are available in multiple colours. So whether your home is modern or traditional, you can find a spiral staircase to fit any interior.
A metal spiral staircase can be used indoors or outdoors as long as the metal is protected. They can be made out of lots of different metals including steel, aluminium and iron and can be a stylish way to connect a deck or balcony to ground level, without blocking any views you may have.
Metal staircases are low maintenance, as they are resistant to changes in temperature and humidity. Furthermore, metal is extremely durable so it will last a long time even in outdoor conditions or in areas of high traffic.
– Visual appearance
One of the main attractions of a spiral staircase is its appearance. Spiral staircases make a home unique, adding character as well as value. Although you may not be considering moving home, adding a feature such as a spiral staircase can give your home the edge over others and increase its value. The right spiral staircase can provide the wow factor and this is why they are often used in grand design and restoration projects.
Metal staircases, in particular, can be customised due to the flexible nature of metal which allows it to be moulded to create both modern and traditional styles. Metal also works well with other materials. Combining materials such as wood and glass can be a perfect way to create a bespoke staircase for your home.
Despite having winder treads, a spiral staircase is not necessarily any less safe than a straight staircase. If you trip on a spiral staircase you will probably fall against the balustrade or just a couple of steps, stopping at the curve instead of falling all the way to the bottom.
They can also be more difficult for children to walk up because of the winder treads. However this does not make them unsafe as, to comply with building regulations, there must not be a gap greater than 100mm anywhere on the staircase.
Because of the variety of material and colour options available for spiral staircases, they can easily blend into the background if desired. In addition, their open trades and vertical design allow more light into a property and do not cause an obstruction like a straight stairway might.
Spiral staircases can also reach many heights and multiple floors without any extra support if the structure is against a wall. They are often used on the outside of buildings, serving as fire escapes or for back door access, as their design allows them to easily accommodate numerous openings. As long as the staircase is of a certain diameter, even a stretcher can be carried down comfortably during an evacuation.
Their height also makes them popular in the conversion of old industrial buildings into lofts which often have different levels and great heights.
One of the most impressive spiral staircases in the world is situated on the side of the Taihang Mountains in China. It climbs a huge 300ft and gives tourists a safer experience of mountain climbing in the middle of an actual mountain range. The Taihang Mountain spiral staircase has impressive views but its length pales in comparison to the longest spiral staircase in the world which sits inside the Canton tower in China, and is a huge 1000m (3280ft) long.
Spiral staircases are available today for almost anyone. Stair kits mean that you can build your own spiral staircase without it costing a fortune. Furthermore, technology now allows companies to design almost any style and height of staircase to fit your needs.
Despite all of these benefits, there are some instances where a spiral staircase may not be right for your home. Due to their curved nature, it can be extremely difficult to carry furniture up or down them and their diameter normally allows for only one person to use at a time.
Building regulations can restrict the diameter of your spiral staircase to regulate its steepness; they do not normally allow diameters of 1200mm treads, instead, 1400mm are normally used. When looking into buying a spiral staircase, it is essential that you weigh up all the pros and cons, as a spiral staircase is not for every home. It is also important to check building regulations for your home and area.
Spiral vs Helical
Although, at first, they may look similar, helical and spiral staircases have key qualities which make them different. A spiral staircase is a circular in shape and is wrapped around a central newel or pole. Helical staircases, however, are not necessarily circular as they can be oval or just partly curved and do not have a central pole, which makes them look more freestanding. Because they do not have a central post, they have a handrail both sides of the staircase, whereas a spiral staircase often only has one.
Due to their design, helical staircases often require stronger materials and construction for their support. However, their design does allow more than one person to climb or descend at a time. As a result, they are often used in commercial situations.