After 18 years of living with a 1950’s-era vinyl stair runner with dubious health and safety issues, we finally decided it was time to make it go away. One of the motivating factors was hoping to enable our 4 year old greyhound to climb the stairs on her own. We figured the vinyl was just slippery enough to undermine her confidence to climb this long flight of stairs – even though she has no qualms about going down them under her own steam.
Replacing a stair runner is an easy DIY project that almost anyone with a utility knife and a staple gun can take on without too much difficulty. If you’re planning to install a runner on stairs that have never had one before, it’s even easier, since removing the old one was the hardest part.
The stairs themselves could use a bit of improvement including a few loose balusters and some good sized crevices between the treads and baseboard. Normally I’d fix these as part of a stair repair project, but since this old farmhouse is not a "restoration project" I had no desire to get into a more in-depth project right now.
So I dialled back my fuss-o-meter to “good enough”, resolving to keep the scope to touching up a few spots where the paint was chipped before installing the new runner.
My criteria for this job was:
- make it dog friendly
- appropriate to the house
- minimal cost
- do it in one day
I measured the length and width of the old runner before heading out to the hardware store in search of a suitable replacement. The new one is a relatively inexpensive rubber-backed carpet type runner about 5/8" wider than the one it replaced.
Since I only had about 1/4" extra on each edge to cover whatever problems would be revealed after peeling up the old one, I marked the edges before removing the old runner. I held a 1/4" wide strip of wood against the edge of the runner and put a short strip of painters tape at the back and front of each tread. The tape would be my guide for laying the new runner.
Out with the old
The back of the old vinyl runner was made of some sort of fibrous material "glued" to the stairs with a mastic. After pulling up the old runner I was left with pretty much what I expected – "hairy" stair treads and a thick layer of rock-hard mastic on the risers and moulding. I knew it would be impossible to remove the old mastic so my goal was to scrape off the worst with a putty knife, concentrating my efforts on the treads. I wanted to make sure there were no lumps or imperfections that might transmit through the new runner over time. I had no idea what kind of substance I was dealing with so I wore a paper mask while scraping off the residue.
I found the most effective way to remove the residue from the treads was to use the side edge of the putty knife like a cabinet scraper, holding the handle in my right hand while grabbing the blade with my left hand and pulling it toward me. Flexing the blade slightly so it has a bit of a curve helps it dig in to remove the crud without gouging the wood. You can see in the picture with the scraper how far I went with the cleanup – the step with the hammer on it was considered "good to go".
In with the new
Since the stairs have a landing four steps from the top, I needed to cut the runner into two pieces. Leaving a couple of extra inches at the landing, I laid it out on the longest run of stairs, following the treads and risers as closely as possible. I measured the short flight of steps and marked a cut point on the runner that would allow me some extra on each run. I used a square to make sure I had a nice straight end cut to use as starting edge for each piece.
I started with the short run at the top, leaving the bottom edge loose until I made the transition at the landing which I’ll describe later. The runner is attached with 5/16" T-50 staples (which is what I had). 3/8" staples would likely be more secure. Because my staples were a bit short and I had a moulding strip below the treads, I also added couple of 1/2" brads with an electric staple gun/brad nailer at the bound edges just below the moulding to prevent pulling out staples when tightening the runner on the riser.
Here’s the general procedure:
- Start the runner at the top of the top riser just below the floor edge or moulding if there is any.
- Line up the runner according to your marks to make sure it is running straight.
- Staple the end at the top of the riser. Add a staple every few inches across the full width.
- Flatten the runner against the riser and staple the carpet at the back of the tread where it meets the riser. Start at the centre and check that the carpet is straight on the tread. Work your way towards each edge, adding staples every few inches.
- Use a flat hand "pull" the carpet towards the front of the tread. Wrap the runner over the nose of the tread and drive a staple up into the bottom of it, again working from the centre towards the edges.
- Repeat this for each step as you work your way down the stairs.
The stair landing
Even though my runner had a bound edge, I decided against making an angled joint on the landing since it would get a lot a of traffic and could fray at the joint. I started the lower run with the straight edge against the base board. Once I had it lined up properly I stapled the bound edge along the wall opposite the joint to keep it from moving. I laid the uncut upper run over top, pressed it into position and marked the joint with a couple of pieces of painters tape.
After rolling the longer piece out of the way I cut the end of the upper run using a straight edge and utility knife. As you can see from the picture the landing isn’t square. I added a strip of double-sided carpet tape at the joint for added strength before stapling both pieces at the joint.
Once the landing was done, I carried on the rest of the way down the long flight.
At the bottom, I stapled the runner to the bottom edge of the first riser and used a straight edge held tight against the riser and cut it off where it meets the main floor.
The jury’s still out on whether our new runner will prompt our pup to get up the stairs by herself, but it sure does have a positive effect on the two-legged members of the household.