When I originally started building instead of demoing, I was really looking forward to it. Building gives you a sense of progress that demo does not. After demoing you have a sense of accomplishment, but you can’t really say that things are “better” when you’re done. However, after months of construction, going back to destruction felt really good. While it’s really hard to build right, it’s hard to demo wrong.

So, what are we doing? The porch stairs are in the way of the new sliding door that we’re putting at the back of the house. I already moved the electrical, and I got the old radiators that had been sitting on the second floor porch down during the week, so taking out the stairs is the next task. They consist of two runs separated by a landing. The landing also needs to come out, and I need to make railings so that everything is safe for our son Derek.

Upper railing

Upper railing

The process went fairly quickly. I started with the upper railing, taking it off the stairs and re-purposing it to the second floor porch. Then with a bit of sledge hammering and prybarring, I took the treads and risers off, top to bottom. Then I pulled out the stringers, using my reciprocating saw to make short work of it. Next was the floor on the landing, followed by the railing, treads and risers on the lower stairs. Then I took down the structure of the landing and the stringer for the lower run. I left the stringer on the outside wall, since the porch isn’t built very well and I didn’t want to loosen anything (such as siding) by prying against the wall. I did cut the stringer back to make room for the lower railing. This one was a bit more involved, since it was an ‘L’ shape, it wasn’t braced on both sides, and the bottom didn’t rest on framing, so I had to add some reinforcement.

Lower railing

Lower railing

With that all done I started cleaning. I wound up filling two toters with the scraps. There wasn’t much that was worth saving, since it was coated in several coats of unknown paints. So far Derek and Emily have tested for low levels of lead and we want to keep it that way. I have a bit more scrap to cut down so that it will fit in the garbage, but otherwise it’s done. I started planning out the sliding door installation, so that’s the next undertaking. Back to construction!

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Finished stairs

Finished stairs

I finished up the front stairs by installing a new door at the top (into our apartment) and putting on a temporary railing. With that project complete, we can switch our focus to the back sliding door. Our project flips the back porch layout from stairs on the left to stairs on the right, so the new sliding door is going on the left side, where we currently have stairs going to the second floor. Basically, we needed to finish the front stairs in order to take out the back stairs.

Electrical under back stairs

Electrical under back stairs

In addition to the stairs, there’s some surface mounted electrical that services the porch that is in the way. We still want lights on the porch, so I needed to re-route it to the other side of the back door. There’s an old rotary switch that controls the lights on the first floor and the basement, and a line that goes up to the second floor for a separately switched light and an outlet, as well as a flood light for the back yard.

Existing junction and rotary switch

Existing junction and rotary switch

All of this electrical is temporary, so I just re-used the BX and even the rotary switch. I made the switch inline and put the junction above the door, so that it could connect where there was a break in the existing rigid conduit that goes to the second floor. I left the rest of the second floor stuff alone. I had to move the basement light so that the BX headed up to the first floor would be on the other side of the door, but the wiring itself didn’t change.

Relocated by door

Relocated by door

Once I got everything re-connected and wire-nutted, it all worked except for the basement light. My circuit tester had gone into the garbage several months ago because it had a tendency to beep at everything except live wires, so I was left with a bit of trial and error. I’ve since ordered a new tester, but in the mean time I had to figure out what was going on. It turned out to be a swapped neutral and live, which I’m surprised even worked as well as it did. With that straightened out, both lights worked.

All clear

All clear

The only other thing that needs to be done before we take out the porch stairs is to bring down the old steam radiators. Last fall we got them out of the house, but only onto the back porch of each floor. Rather than take them down our new front stair and potentially scratch up the OSB, I’m bringing them down the porch stairs. This is slightly challenging because one of the radiators is actually wider than the steps.

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First stringer

First stringer

With the first run of stairs done and the landing subfloor in place, the next step in the stair project is to build the second run from the landing up to the second floor. This went more smoothly than the first run, partly because I had done it before, partly because I knew going in that the landing wasn’t square, and mostly because it was a shorter run.

Sarah installing risers and treads

Sarah installing risers and treads

I used the laser level to establish distance from the beam and height to the last step. The joist above the beam forms the last step of the stairs, so the stringers rest against it. The stringers also straddle the edge of the landing so that the first step is far enough forward that when the second floor landing is built there will be enough head room. Since I also put down a 2×4 as a kick plate for the stringers, I wound up cutting a zig-zag pattern at the stringer bottoms. As before, I sistered 2x4s to the stringers for added strength, but because these stringers are only 9½” instead of 14″ thick, I had to cut the edge of the 2x4s back slightly to fit against the kick plate.

Tread and riser connection

Tread and riser connection

I cut the treads and risers slightly differently than the first run. I still cut the tongue and groove at the back of the tread so it locks into the riser, but rather than simply having the riser stick up ¼” high at the front and notch the leading edge of the tread, I used the same type of tongue and groove that I used at the back, so the tread actually locks onto the top of the riser. Not only does this fit more snugly, I didn’t have to swap blades on my dado and cut different sizes. In hindsight I should have done that for the first run, but it’s fine. Sarah glued and screwed the risers and treads into place, so all that’s left is to open up the doorway at the top of the stairs and add a temporary railing and door.

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Normally I wouldn’t dedicate a whole post to a little section of subfloor, but the landing turned out to be a bit involved. When I started building the and fitting the stringers I realized that the landing was wonky. It was ¼” too tall and it wasn’t square. To compensate for being too tall, I decided to use half-inch plywood subfloor instead of ¾” OSB. However, ½” is pretty thin for subfloor, so I devised a scheme for fitting sections of ¾” OSB in between the framing members, glued to the underside of the plywood (and to the framing) to add strength and thickness.

Test fitting OSB

Test fitting OSB

If the landing had not been out of square, this would have been pretty straightforward: just cut some rectangles to fit and done deal. However, given the out of squareness, everything was parallelograms. I’ve learned not to measure things any more than I have to. Measuring introduces more inaccuracy than it eliminates. Instead I put the OSB on top of the opening (generally lining up one edge) and drew the shape from below. Then I cut it out along the lines with the circular saw and fit it into place.

It worked fairly well, though I discovered after I had glued and screwed down the plywood (though thankfully not before it had dried) that one piece that fit between the stair stringers would not fit in from below because I sistered 2x4s to the stringers. I had to unscrew the corner of the plywood on top and slide it in (actually I had to do this three times because it kept falling through). Finally, once everything was in place and the glue was setting, I put in about 7,000 screws.

Landing subfloor installed

Landing subfloor installed

In one section the OSB was squeaking when I walked on the landing. I considered that it might go away once the glue set, but rather than take the chance I used a long 2×4 to press the underside of the OSB up against the subfloor and tightened all the screws. I left it that way until the glue set and now it’s all feeling solid and squeak-free. With this done I can work on the second run of stairs up to the second floor.

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Grooved riser (with glue)

Grooved riser (with glue)

It’s time for something more positive. This part of the stair project went extremely well. In fact, the only thing I had a problem with was the glue getting everywhere, including on my screw gun. The plan is to eventually clad the OSB risers and treads with hardwood, so there the OSB tread has no nose and it didn’t need to be as thick as a typical tread. Maybe I could have overbuilt it, but I already had a lot of leftover ¾” OSB from the subfloor so I used that. I didn’t want the treads to deflect, or flex at the back when you step on them, so I decided to cut a groove in the risers and a tongue on the treads so they’d lock together. I contemplated using the router, but instead I picked up a dado blade set for the table saw, which is awesome.

Riser and tread interlock

Riser and tread interlock

I first cut all of my treads and risers to width on the table saw with the regular blade, then cut them to length on the miter saw. Then I swapped in the dado blade and cut a ⅜” deep groove in the risers, ⅜” from the bottom edge. Next I cut out the bottom ⅜” of the edge of the treads, again ⅜” wide. The two pieces fit together like a glove. I wasn’t quite done though. I also cut out the bottom ¼” of the treads, ¾” wide, and cut all of my risers ¼” tall. As a result, both the front and the back of the tread locked into place.

Treads and risers installed

Treads and risers installed

With my careful stringer work completed, gluing and screwing down the risers and treads was a fairly quick job. Every once in a while, something goes to plan, and I’m pretty freaking happy about it. Next step is the landing floor.

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