How to Make a Deadly Staircase Safer to Use

How to Make a Deadly Staircase Safer to Use

Our home possibly has the most dangerous staircase in the entire Northwest. Back in 1890, the home’s builder wasn’t one to waste valuable floor space.

Rather than building a functional staircase with wide treads, a gentle climb, and landings, he went straight up in a style our family had dubbed “Victorian Mine Shaft.”

Our witty friends refer to it as “Whoa, is that your staircase?” Staircases tend not to be remodelable without tearing apart half the house. To make a killer staircase less hazardous without remodeling your home, it takes thinking creatively.

image - deadly staircase

Once known as the ‘mine shaft’ because of it’s dark, steep ascent…this period staircase was remodelled into a safer and brighter entrance into the upstairs.

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Evaluating the Problem

Before reworking your staircase, it helps to evaluate the problem. Take a careful look at the lighting, the handrail, and the treads and note areas that can be improved.

In our home, we felt the biggest hazard of the staircase was the lack of light. The 1930s remodel closed up the stairwell in two locations which cut out natural light, a significant mistake since the staircase was only lit with a 25-watt closet bulb.

Adding to the darkness was a flat parchment green paint on walls, ceiling, and millwork which contributed to the “mine shaft” feeling. A substandard handrail was also a problem since it tended to pull out of the wall when held.

Last but not least, the bare wood treads had been painted with glossy red paint which was entirely too slippery to walk on.

Once we identified the problems, coming up with a plan was really pretty easy. Here’s what we did to open up the staircase, and make it one of the more inviting features of our home. These tips may help your staircase safer as well.

Bring in Natural Light

If your staircase is dark, look at the possibility of bringing in natural lighting through a skylight or by installing either an interior or exterior window.

With our staircase, we removed a retrofitted dividing wall that separated the staircase from the back bedroom hall and removed a fake “Craftsman” archway at the base of the staircase. These two modifications brought in incredible amounts of light from the bedrooms and eliminated the “mine shaft” look.

Paint or Wallpaper the Walls as Light as Possible

Since staircases do not tend to receive direct sunlight, semi-gloss paint and shiny wallpaper can reflect natural light around a room and make it appear both larger and brighter.

For our staircase, we brought the foyer wallpaper up the staircase and into the halls. The millwork was painted a semigloss white and the ceiling painted a mid shade of yellow. From the photograph, you can see the natural light bouncing on the walls.

Replace Existing Light Fixtures

In older vernacular homes, staircases often had a minimum of lighting. One small fixture at the top of the stairs was typical. By adding a second fixture, or relocating a more substantial fixture in the center of the stairwell, you can increase the brightness of the area.

Since our staircase was illuminated by a tiny closet fixture, we had our electrician move the parlor chandelier into the center of the stairwell, and update it to hold three 100 watt bulbs.

The old fixture was removed and placed in a coat closet elsewhere in the house. The combination of light paper and the new 300-watt chandelier made the stairwell comfortably bright.

Replace the Handrail

If your handrail is substandard, replacing it with a sturdier model will make it easier to grip.

Many vernacular homes I’ve been in over the years seemed to use a simple dowel for a handrail. These dowels usually rested on brackets that were anchored into the lathe and plaster.

Our staircase had also had a dowel handrail that had pulled away from the walls after 130 years of folks grabbing for the rail as they tumbled down the staircase.

Part of our remodel included removing the existing lathe and plaster from the walls and replace it with sheetrock.

The new handrail was secured to new support studs and now is sturdy enough to hold a person who trips while coming down the stairs. The curved profile of the new handrail offers a hand better purchase than the old dowel.

Slip Proofing the Treads

While there are many ways of making a staircase slip-proof, what you use depends on how your stairs are designed, to begin with. While a hardwood staircase looks wonderful, with the steep pitch of our staircase, plain wood would have been a safety hazard.

We opted to carpet the staircase in a commercial Berber carpet which provided the slip-proof surface we needed without showing wear and tear.

All staircases have different challenges, and what worked for us might not necessarily work for your home. However, by providing more light, a good rail to grip, and a solid place to set one’s feet while climbing or descending, you can make any staircase safer.

Home Improvements that Save You Money, Save the Planet and Make Your Home Beautiful

Home Improvements that Save You Money, Save the Planet and Make Your Home Beautiful

In today’s economy, going green is more than just an effort to save our planet it is also a way of trimming your budget. Eco-friendly home improvements do not need to be costly or time-consuming to be effective.

The following simple green projects will increase the eco-friendly value of your home while saving energy and money.


Begin your eco-friendly upgrades in your home in the one room that uses more water than anywhere else in the house — your bathroom. Between the sink, shower, tub, and toilet a family can consume thousands of gallons of water each year.

However, there are simple green ways to conserve water in your bathroom with easy eco-friendly upgrades.

Install showerheads that save water while providing a fantastic shower or install a toilet that will save water and lower your utility bills without sacrificing comfort and performance.

Light Bulbs

One of the easiest eco-friendly home improvements is replacing your light bulbs. Energy-efficient light bulbs are readily available at most home improvement stores and discount retailers.

Light bulbs that have the Energy Star label meet the high standards set by the U. S. Department of Energy and are guaranteed for two years.

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFL), Light Emitting Diode (LED) and halogen light bulbs are all eco-friendly upgrades to your home because they save money by lasting longer and using less energy than incandescent light bulbs.


When redecorating your home, use eco-friendly paint and green accessories throughout your home. Eco-friendly paints are free from or emit very few harmful VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) that contribute to air pollution.

According to GreenLivingIdeas, natural interior paints do not contain metals or VOCs and are an all-natural alternative to harmful chemical paints. You can purchase natural, organic bedding for a relaxing, comfortable and healthy bedroom.

Water Heater

Unfortunately, at some point, homeowners will face the task of replacing their hot water heater. When this happens, replace your conventional hot water heater with a solar water heater to save energy, reduce utility bills and reduce pollution.

Solar water heaters are gaining in popularity and installing a solar water heater is an easy eco-friendly home improvement that will also save you money in the future.

The U. S. Department of Energy has information available to consumers about solar water heaters – how they work, how to choose a solar water heater, installing and maintaining a solar water heater and where to purchase a solar water heater.


Heating and cooling your home is a necessity; however, properly installing and setting your thermostat will reduce the amount of energy you consume heating and cooling your home.

A simple eco-friendly home improvement you can do yourself that will maximize these savings is to install a programmable thermostat.

A programmable thermostat is designed to save energy by controlling the temperature in your home without sacrificing a comfortable environment.

How Much Will You Need for Retirement?

How Much Will You Need for Retirement?

Most people aim for a specific age to begin retirement. A better strategy is to target a number: the number you will need to adequately fund an active retirement lifestyle.

When it comes to retirement, most people have an age in mind. For many of us Social Security has set 67 as the magic number for full retirement benefits and so that has become our target. For others 65, 62, 55, and even 50 have become popular retirement numbers of late.

A better way to plan for retirement, however, is to target a budgetary value rather than an age. For some, this number may be $250,000, for others $500,000. Some will feel that nothing less than $1,000,000 will adequately fund an active senior lifestyle.

So, with so many numbers out there, how does one calculate their own personal optimum retirement date? Here are some simple mathematical calculations that can take the mystery out of figuring out what retirement number is right for you.

image - Active retirees may want to include travel costs in planning retirement budgets

Active retirees may want to include travel costs in planning retirement budgets

Create a Retirement Budget

The first step in calculating when you can retire is to prepare a retirement budget. You won’t know how much money you need until you figure out how much money you plan to spend.

Make sure you include line items for what you want to do (golf, trips, grandkids), as well as the necessities (mortgage, utilities, food).

Identify Other Income

Social Security is the big one here. The Social Security Administration no longer issues annual benefit statements outlining how much you will receive in case of death or disability. However, you can still get a fairly accurate estimate by using the Retirement Estimator on the Social Security website.

Consider any vested retirement or pension plans as well. Rents or royalties that you expect to continue through retirement should also be added in at this stage. Other income should include any known, dependable income that is not tied to your personal savings and monetary investments.

Determine Your Annual Needs

Once you have calculated your expenses and your known income, the difference is what you need to be able to withdraw annually from your personal retirement savings.

For workers looking to fund a 20-year retirement, calculations should be based on withdrawing 5% per year starting the first year of retirement.

For those hoping to fund a 30-year retirement, plan on only being able to withdraw 4% annually in order for your funds to last. Annual withdrawals should only be increased by the amount of annual inflation.

Running the Numbers

To find your perfect number: multiply your monthly shortfall by 12, and then divide that number by .04 (30 year retirement) or .05 (20 year retirement).

For example, a single woman projects that she requires $2,000 monthly to fund a comfortable retirement. Her Social Security calculator estimates her full retirement benefits to be $1,038.

Born in 1959, she must wait to start collecting benefits until age 66 years and 10 months in order to receive the full amount. She will begin receiving a $300 per month pension from a former employer at age 65.

If she waits until full retirement age for Social Security purposes, her monthly shortage is $662 ($2,000 – $1,038 – $300). If she wants to fund a retirement until the age of 87, her target is $158,880 in retirement savings. ($662 multiplied by 12 months, divided by 5% equals 158,880)

For a more conservative approach, she may choose to plan for a life expectancy until age 97. She will then need at least $198,600 in investments in order to meet her monthly budget needs. ($662 multiplied by 12 months, divided by 4% equals $198,600)

If she can save as much as $236,700 for retirement, she can actually move up her retirement date to age 65 when her pension starts paying out. Her Social Security benefits will be reduced to 87.8 of her full benefit, making her new distribution $911 monthly. (Social Security provides a chart for calculating benefits for early retirement on its website as well.)

Her budget shortfall is now $789 ($2,000 – $911 – $300). Using a 30-year retirement calculation, $789 multiplied by 12 months, divided by 4% equals $236,700.