Steep Bungalow Stairs – how to make them less so…

OK – so it’s been a while since I’ve posted a new ambitious construction project on this old house. Lot’s of things are going on – I’m working every day on some less than photogenic elements – like insulating knee walls in the second floor utility room. I have unfinished projects on every floor, so  I’m giving up on trying to post in a chronological order.  I though we could start on a project that was one of the elements that changed this house from a renovation to a total rebuild. It’s not finished yet, like everything else, but it’s getting there.

Let’s take a trip back in time, shall we?

We took possession of this house in August of 2009….so long ago. We haven’t moved in yet…I’m working on it. So how could it take 3 years and counting to renovate? Misadventures my friend – check out the title of my blog. This is what happens when you freestyle everything and make house renovations a hobby.

Here’s how a renovation takes so long— you change your mind.

office wall patchSo this was the original idea for the first floor bedroom that we will make into my office. The wall was humpy due to being plaster lath. My first thought was that I’d just smooth it out with a little ‘hot mud’. A type of drywall compound that sets by chemical reaction (like plaster of Paris) instead of the pre-mixed air dry stuff.

patch goneAfter a few days of fiddling with that, I just wasn’t feeling it – not flat enough. So – just slice out the plaster lath and see what we have.

drywall patchSince there was so much room under the stairs that wasn’t being used – why not make a nifty book case or something….


cabinetSo I poped together a little cabinet and painted it all up… of course this all takes time. This photo was taken in the kitchen… see the little Styrofoam cups pretending to be pendant lights? And the cardboard cabinets mocked up for space planning. Don’t worry – I won’t use any of those designs when I reconfigure the kitchen for the third time. Besides, this was before I decided to tear out that far wall and make a sun-room.

cabinet installedMake the cabinet then just slide it in and make some trim…simple enough.

cabinet stringer detailAnd here’s the back of the cabinet. Notice the stair stringer in the upper left hand of this picture? It’ll play an important role in a future post.

stair oldSo we’re finally getting to the stair part of this post. The previous photos are important because it will prove positive that I’m nuts. You’ll see. This stair is positioned on the other side of that wall we just put that nifty bookcase in.This is the stair case leading up to the second floor. Typical for an old house. Tread width about 8 1/2″ with a rise nearly to match – so nearly a 45 degree angle going up those stairs. This will never do.

Time to spring into action….

stair door casementLots of things wrong with this staircase. You can see that originally there was a door here leading up to the unfinished attic. One of the previous owners just finished this off with casement trim and called it a day.

Let’s tear it out.

stair headerAnd here’s why. One, I want a clean wall transition around the ceiling, the corner and up the stairs. It’s not pictured, but the handrail had to stop 3 feet from the bottom due to the door casing being in the way. Second there’s no header over the door. Can you say levitating ceiling? Those floor joists are just kinda hanging out.

stair header removalHere is the removal of the header – actually just a 2 X 4. Not doing a thing. I’ve gotten rid of all the door structure so that I can make a smooth uninterrupted wall surface up the stairs. So let’s add some support for those poor floor joists.

angle steel headerThis will do the trick. Here we’ve added a 3/8″ X 6″ X 6″ angle steel header. I notched this in and screwed in place. This will add the support that was lacking before.

Hang in there fellow renovators – I’ll be posting how you can tame that steep staircase and make one more civilized.

It won’t be easy – but it’ll be fun.


37 thoughts on “Steep Bungalow Stairs – how to make them less so…

  1. Well those stairs look familiar. What is the exact angle, was it really around 45? Mine is 42.5. 1/2 over the max, but then again this house is way over a hundred years old. 45 would be really steep especially with only 8.5″ stair tread depth, mine are 9 1/4. Though I know mine are steep in comparative terms to the standard today, I don’t feel they are hard to climb or descend from. (I am trying to not feel lazy about not changing the angle during my recent stair renovation 😀 ). I am interested in seeing how it works out!

    • Hi Nicki –
      I have been following your stair adventure. Looking good with those black risers! It was nearly 45 degrees – 43 and some change. It was a difficult project – well, not really – just using a ladder to get to the 2nd floor for a week. You’ll see. Keep up the great work.

    • Hi Brittney!
      Well, your house is really staring to take shape. That drywall will will make it look like a home finally. The stair project is a little extreme. But you might find a little information that might help. Thanks for stopping in.

  2. Don’t feel bad, I’ve been working on my house since 07, and we have to live in it! I know all to well how crazy a house can make you 🙂 and yet, I day dream of ‘fixing up’ another when this is all done…

    • Man, I feel your pain. I could have never done this one while living on site. Well, I could but my wife – never. I know what you mean about looking for the next one. I see a candidate nearly every day.

  3. Changing our stairs was one of the single best things we did in our house. Wow, what a difference those new stairs made. Ours were just awful, not to mention completely unsafe. They ended up a little different than what the architect drew in the plans (naturally!) but our GC and carpenters really solved the problem nicely by adding an extra 12″ at the top (we had 3 stairs down, a landing, then a 45 degree turn and the rest of the stairs, about 13 or so, I can’t remember!). We wanted to move the entrance so it’d be a straight shot, increase the stair width, and decrease the angle. Even with all the neat things we ended up doing, the basement stairs is at the top of the list of “best improvements” (along with reducing the driveway grade by 3 feet). Glad things are moving along for you, love the photos.

    • Janet – your house is really amazing. I really have limitations on this project. The house is classified as a 1 1/2 story Bungalow, but really it was meant as a single story with walk up attic. I had to get really creative and redesign the upstairs layout to get a standard staircase in.

  4. You know? I don’t want to sound accusatory or anything—but I think you LIKE this craziness!!

    I wanted to see more of your kitchen mockup… for a while we had a massive sheet of foam on the island to try out a larger shape, and it’s a great idea to box out some faux cabinets… of course, that’s easier when you can just rip out the kitchen first!

    • Looks like you’ve figured me out VE! Actually if I would have known what I eventually did with this place I could have saved a year’s worth of work and many, many thousands of $. My problem is doing something and then deciding ‘there’s a better idea’. Which on reflection – might be great from the house’s perspective, but not for me.
      I mocked up the kitchen a bunch of times. All the cabinets in cardboard glory. But you’re right – you gotta have a bare kitchen to pull it off. 🙂

    • I know what you mean – my laundry room was constructed just for that very reason. Space is always the issue. I don’t know why they build the stairs that way. Maybe everyone was a lot shorter back then. 🙂

  5. We’re just getting into the discussion with how to deal with our too steep stairs to our 3rd floor. The stairs are wedged into the back of the house and they run up over the back stairs from 1st to 2nd floor. We “should” have enough room to slow the rise without making the lower staircase too cave like, right? After reading this, it seems like famous last words.

    • Man, I feel for you! I fiddled with every design I could think of before I just ripped them out and started over. I have had just as hard of a time to figure out a way to make the blog posts understandable. I’m gonna post the 1st of several tonight.

  6. thanks for taking a look at my blog. my home-improvement project was nothing compared to this! my mom saw my handy work on the chair leg and tried (unsuccessfully) to be polite and let me know she didn’t think it was safe for someone to sit on. i’m sure i’ll do better on the next one. hopefully.

    • Thanks so much for stopping by. I’m sure the next repair job will be better. Each project will give you more skill. The most important thing is you put effort it a DIY – it will pay off down the line. Keep it up.

  7. Hey — you’re funny!
    I liked the part about “changing my mind” . . . as that’s my forte, too!
    Oh, + I’ve lost track of the # of houses we’ve looked at, that had crazy steep stairs!
    Good luck!
    KAY @

    • Hi Kay – thanks for stopping by! That’s the problem with having enough skill to do a renovation, but not enough sense. There’s always a better way – I just wish I would think of it before I complete a project – not after. I should have fixed those stairs at the very beginning – live and learn.

  8. Pingback: Steep Bungalow Stairs – how to make them less so… | Romer Interiors

  9. Pingback: Master Bath Reno #4 | Adventures in Remodeling

  10. Oh, you just found my old house blog. I definitely have to follow you. Similar to what I’m doing. My adventures in redoing this old house. You’re right on in calling it misadventures.

    • Hi Patty! I’m following along to see how things progress on your renovation. I’ve got a 5 year head start – but you look like you’ll finish before me…

  11. Great project! Seems like you have the love and creativity for renovation. My first project was 30 years ago and is still not “done” and I have lived in it the whole time while working on it, which can be stressful. My children, now grown, used to say we lived in a barn. Good luck with this and I’ll look forward to future posts! Ken at Little Red Rooster

    • Thanks Ken. I sometimes wish I lived in my reno – but with no kitchen for 6 years – it might be tough 🙂 I’m hoping to do it all before I move it – or that’s the plan.

    • Thanks for stopping by…I’ve been working on mine for 6 years and hope to move in this year. I think it will be worth it… good luck with your renovation!

  12. I am impressed with how much you are taking on! It’s a lot of work! My husband and I renovated our last house by ourselves. We spent every Friday night at Home Depot. It took us five years, and we sold it right after finishing it.

    • Thanks Kristin – you are so kind. Only if you’ve done a major renovation like you and me can you appreciate the work involved. This house is a total rebuild. All new electrical – HVAC and all ductwork – all plumbing removed and replaced – and the list goes on…

    • Thanks for the sympathy, Patty. I’m afraid it’s all self-inflicted. Actually two stairs and two room additions – three if you add the worman-cave in the basement. Tearing off all of the siding and then adding limestone too…well, what can I say – I’ve got a lot of energy for a 60+ year old.

  13. I can totally relate to the changing your mind part. I draw up everything, get the permit, start working, then I see a different option/a better way to do it. It’s a good thing I have awesome, patient and willing carpenters to humor me along the way.

    • You are with me on this one, Laura. Who says you can’t change direction mid stream. We work identical – except I’m the only carpenter and I don’t seem to be easily humored by myself. Keep up the good work – I’m watching the progress.

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