If you're building a new staircase or replacing an older one, you'll need to decide about more than just the width of the staircase, the wood, and the finish. An essential part of the look and the function of your staircase is the balusters, also often referred to as spindles. These vertical pieces connect the banister to the base of the staircase. They keep pets and small children safe from falls as well as add decorative flair to your room. However, not all balusters are created alike. You'll find them made from a variety of materials, each with its own benefits and challenges.

Types of stair balusters

1. Wrought iron. Wrought iron balusters add an old world charm to any room. They are hand-forged, which makes each piece unique. Wrought iron balusters go particularly well with southwestern, Spanish and Tudor. This type of baluster is very durable and need little maintenance. The only potential downside to wrought iron balusters is that they are generally more expensive than other types of balusters. This is because of the labor needed to hand-forge each piece.

2. Wooden balusters. Machine-turned, wooden balusters are affordable and adaptable to most any decor. They can be crafted with elaborate designs or sleeker, angled lines. (Wooden balusters can also be hand-turned on a lathe to create unique designs.) Wooden balusters require periodic painting or staining but otherwise are low maintenance. The downsides to wooden balusters are that they are more subject to wear than wrought iron or aluminum and can be worn down by repeated handling. Wooden balusters can also be more easily damaged by pets chewing on them.

3. Aluminum balusters. Aluminum balusters resemble wrought iron balusters at a fraction of the cost. This type of baluster is also powder coated, so it doesn't need refinishing periodically as wooden balusters do. However, aluminum is not able to be formed into the myriad of designs and patterns are offered with wrought iron balusters, nor is it quite as durable as wrought iron.

4. Ceramic balusters. A fourth option is ceramic balusters. These often hand-painted balusters offers a myriad of design options and come in a variety of shapes and colors. However, ceramic balusters are much more fragile than other types of balusters and generally aren't a good mix for households with small children and rowdy pets.

Choosing balusters for your new staircase is a decision you're going to live with for decades to come. Choose wisely by weighing the pros and cons of wrought iron, wooden, ceramic and aluminum balusters before you make a final decision.