10 Lessons Learned from my Stair Adventure

When I started this project in May, I estimated a month or so to have my two sets of stairs redone. Six months later, they are finally finished. New side rails, skirt boards, opened walls, carpet, banisters, glass pane and paint. The stairs feel current and fresh and I’m happy. However I have overspent, purchased materials that didn’t get used, and fired people along the way. These are the take away lessons.

1. Do at least one thing that makes the project special for you. I knew I didn’t want classic or common rails and spindles so I had custom rails made and I left one side of each stairway open.. Plus, my favorite. I had a glass panel installed in an irregular opening on the main floor. This glass with waterfall pattern is so pretty in the evening and makes me smile.

2. Keep a close eye on what’s being done. I’m busy, and trusting, and left the guys on their own a lot after giving them instructions. This resulted in do-overs which added a great deal of time to the project and to the cost. Stay on top of the project and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.

3. A high recommendation doesn’t always equal a good fit for you. I used a company who does a great deal of stair work in our area, and brought in a stairway guy to advise who was described to me as the best. If I were doing it over I wouldn’t hire either again.

4. Get as much detail as possible from a contractor before hiring. In my case finding out that work hours were from late afternoon into the wee hours, and that a garbage receptacle would never be used, were shocking eye openers.

5. Keep the surroundings and resale in mind. It’s easy to see a new material or style and get on a tangent during the process, but make sure your decisions will honour the property you are altering and serve you well in the event you sell the property. My decision to leave off the rail on one side of my stairs and install a glass panel could be a risk for resale to a family with small children however I know they are not my target buyer and I made sure rails and spindles can be added at a later date.

6. Be prepared to have costs and time go over. It’s probably not going to be as bad as the reality shows depict with thousands of dollars in unexpected costs, but there is always something that comes up.

7. Make sure any added costs are approved by you. The stair company I used was very good at this which I appreciated. I had unexpected costs along the way as replacement people came in and reassessed materials, which I was given the chance to consider. One subcontractor however brought in his son to assist him and then wanted to charge me for the extra person without my prior knowledge.

8. Doing this a thousand time for clients didn’t make it easier to be the client. I have renewed my compassion for the other side.

9. Perfection doesn’t exist. I did not achieve my full vison on the stairs, and there are some minor deficiencies in my stairs that I have learned to live with.

10. Once it is done, enjoy it. Let go of the need to make it better, the worry over the cost, or the pondering of alternate choices you could have made. The latter one is hard for me; I still fantasize about open stair treads and no walls.

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