Stair Project: Carpet to Hardwood

This project has been on our (my) list for a while, and I am SO EXCITED to have it completed. We made the decision to remove the carpet on our stairs, and went back with a retro-fit wood tread and painted risers. That was one of the decisions I made early on. I didn’t want wood risers since we have wood floors, trim, and ceiling all in this one area.

Ripping up the carpet wasn’t as messy or tedious as I anticipated. Maybe that’s because my husband did most of the work, so it seemed easy! Really though, most of the staples came out with the carpet, and we ended up with just a few lingering staples or nails to pull.

Since we used retro-fit treads from Stair-Treads.com made to fit over the existing stair frame, we had to cut the existing stair nosing to keep the face of each step flush with the riser. To get the measurement, we held a tape measure under the nosing, then transferred that measurement to the top of the tread and marked a line across the entire tread. Cutting the nosing took a circular saw and a good vacuum!

We ran into one fit issue… our existing stair treads seem to be a little deeper than most, so the new wood treads didn’t reach the face of the new riser. We had a small gap (maybe 1/8″ to 1/4″). The options that we came up with: (1) Cut the riser down, so it fit under the nosing of the wood tread. A small piece of trim could be applied to hide any gaps; this is a common look for stairs. (2) Add another layer behind the riser so it pushes it out, but this grew the problem all the way down the stairs. (3) Leave it as is, and add a small piece of trim at the base of each riser to hide the gap. (4) Add a small strip of wood about 1-2″ tall at the bottom of the riser, where the tread meets it; the bottom is pushed out slightly but the top tilts back to fit behind the lip of the wood tread like it’s supposed to.

We went with option 4. We both wanted a clean look with as little trim as possible. I researched photos of many stairs with trim, and they’re all beautiful, but our home doesn’t have a lot of decorative moulding. Simple seemed to fit our home best. The tilt/slant of each riser is barely noticeable. It almost looks like an optical illusion, and I’m good with it!

Wooden strips – 1-2″ tall – at the base of each riser.
A very slight tilt is seen, but only from this angle.

To keep the project moving, we pre-cut everything before we glued it down. The best part is that we didn’t use a tape measure ONCE! We picked up this stair tool from Home Depot, and it made the measuring process so easy. As we all know, not all walls are perfect. We quickly learned that every riser and tread was a little different.

You can see in the above photos that the risers were taller than they needed to be. I used the treads as a guide, and marked the back side of the riser with a pencil line. We ran each riser through the table saw.

This is the stage of the project where I touched up the stain on the skirt board. I also wiped down and painted the risers with two coats before we glued them in place. I wanted to have minimal paint and touch up after they were installed. I used Sherwin Williams Emerald water based enamel in a semi-gloss finish for easy cleaning. The color is Ivory Lace 7013 (same as our new wall color…that’s another project for another day).

To attach both the treads and the risers, we referenced the recommended adhesive from Stair-Treads.com and used Loctite PL Premium. We also used a small finish nail to hold the risers and treads in place while the glue set. We had some treads that needed weight to keep them from lifting due to uneven boards, as you can see in the photo below.

After waiting about 24 hours to let the adhesive fully cure, I went back with a paintable caulk and filled gaps on each end of the risers. I used DAP Dynaflex 230 white caulk, and once it dried you could barely see the difference in the caulk color and paint color. I still went back and touched up with the actual paint color (and a really small art brush) to make sure it blended well. This caulk is probably overkill since this is an interior trim project, but I couldn’t find anything else at our local store that didn’t say “latex paint only.” I went with this because it specifically said latex or oil based paints. I wanted to make sure the enamel paint (even though it is water based) would stick!

The best tip I have with caulking is to cut the smallest hole possible on the tip of the caulk tube. I run a small bead of caulk down the edge, then use my finger to smooth it into the corner. I always keep a damp towel (I like the microfiber towels) and clean up any extra caulk as needed.

I’ll be honest. I’m a little embarrassed to show this next part. I know that wood filler is supposed to fill holes or cracks on a flat surface. Caulk should always be used where movement between two surfaces is a concern, or when there is a change in plane – like this situation. Time will tell if this works, but I needed to fill small gaps between the tread and the skirt board. Since we have a stained skirt board and stained treads, I had to have something that I could stain to match. If we had a painted skirt board I could have used caulk and painted to match.

I used the same technique that I used with caulk, and applied this Plastic Wood in red oak. After it was dry, I stained it to match the treads.

Will the wood filler crack? Maybe. Will it move a little when the wood expands in the summer months? Maybe. For now though, this is the solution I came up with, and if it does fail I can fix it. I did read somewhere that hardwood doesn’t expand end to end, only in width…since the treads are made of multiple planks of wood I’m crossing my fingers that it won’t expand in the length of the tread where I have this filler. That information could be false though, so again, time will tell!

You might be thinking “didn’t you use a special measuring tool to make sure the treads and risers fit perfectly?” Yes. We did. Even still, we weren’t able to get a perfectly tight fit. I think a lot of that has to do with this being all retro-fit. It just doesn’t come together as well as it might if we were building stairs from scratch.

The final step was installing hardwood flooring at the landing, and adding a cove-shaped moulding where the hardwood dies into the stairs.

The cove-shaped moulding is painted to match the risers.

I didn’t get a good before photo, but here are a couple that show how the stairs looked with carpet.

AFTER

The above shows the same view, with a before and after. Like I said at the first of this post, I am so happy with the change! It looks cleaner (especially with dogs) and elevates the look of our entry! You can also see the old paint (SW Balanced Beige) vs. the new paint (SW Ivory Lace).

Total time invested: 2 weekends and a few evenings for the finishing/caulking. This project was well worth it.

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