At the most basic level stairs are a way to connect a lower and upper floor, but being such a large part of a home, they are a huge influence on the style of the home. Choosing the balustrade (barrier) and handrail is a chance to ‘dress’ the stairway and reinforce the style you love and want for your home.
Of course safety is the number one concern for any balustrade and handrail being fitted. First and foremost they need to be - stable and strong enough to stop falls, or support people grabbing or leaning on them. Secondly they need to add style to what is a very functional addition to your home.
What are the NZ Building Code Regulations for stairs?
NZ building regulations relate to the height, depth and pitch of the stairs, along with the safety barriers (balustrades) and handrails, which are compulsory on all stairs in NZ.
Heights: Balustrades (stair barriers) have a minimum height set at 900mm, differing from the 1000mm minimum height anywhere else in the house, including stair landings*.
Handrails need to be a minimum of 900mmm high from the stair pitch, up to 1000mm high, running continuously along one side of any stairway in a residential home.
This is just an overview of the regulations, but any experienced balustrade installer should be well versed in the regulations and able to suggest solutions that are fully compliant and to a style of your liking.
So how do you go about choosing an attractive and safe balustrade?
It would be easy to be overwhelmed choosing a final balustrade style, but there is one simple trick that can help narrow down your choices. Step back and really identify your homes style; pick out the features or theme you gravitate towards when making design decisions and the style you favour will become obvious. Whether you like a minimalist look, or an industrial finish, or perhaps a softer country style the décor you have chosen will reflect your preference.
Based on this you can quickly eliminate which balustrade or handrail style is not suitable, for example if you have a traditional/classic home then a minimalist finish would not work. Similarly, for modern or restrained designs, a traditional baluster balustrade or larger round handrail could look out of place, compared to say a classic home. Pick a style feature and then pick a balustrade that replicates this style, focusing on the type of fixing and of course the final colour.
What kind of materials should I choose?
Modern hardwearing materials have long surpassed the limited choice of bygone eras and are highly recommended over the painted timber finishes of the past. Budget always plays a huge part in the choice of materials, but for good value and longevity you should consider finishes such as powder coated aluminium handrails and toughened safety glass infills. Initially they could be more costly, but they prove to be good value in the long run, not only wearing better and lasting longer, they are also virtually maintenance free and don’t need regular painting or touch ups.
Glass balustrades are a great modern solution for stair barriers, proving to be very popular for their clean, clear finish that lets natural light flood in, opening up the stair area. Glass panels are fixed in place using a balustrade fitting in a style of your choice. Choose from minimalist round discs or rectangular fixings, strut posts or an enclosed channel finish for a frameless glass balustrade finish. Or you could consider the more traditional aluminium balustrade post and glass or baluster look, which can be styled in a range of finishes such as semi-frameless, framed, or with a choice of handrails which can also be used in other areas of the house for consistent styling.
Keeping in mind that ‘Safety is the number one concern’ for any balustrade or handrail, recent changes in regulation mean that a top rail or handrail for all frameless glass balustrades are now the most common option**. Customers and designers alike adore the uninterrupted frameless glass finish, so with this in mind, a slim, low profile top rail has been introduced, for minimal impact on the finished look. Available in a round or square profile, the top rail can be replicated in the handrail so it completely matches and blends in. Experience has shown that when these top rails are finished in a dark colour they blend in even more.
Specialised connectors and accessories developed as part of the top rail suite, add to the overall polished finish which also helps to blend it into the overall look.
Standard handrails are another reliable option and come in a variety of shapes, style and sizes, complementing the balustrade range on offer. Here you can see some of the beautiful balustrade and handrail combinations that HomePlus have been installing in NZ homes. Or find out more here.
*Handrail heights on stairs and landings https://www.building.govt.nz/building-code-compliance/f-safety-of-users/f4-safety-from-falling/barriers-and-handrails/
**There are some limited options for glass balustrades not requiring a top rail, please talk to your balustrade installer about them