How to Carpet a Stairway


The carpeting on stairs takes a lot more abuse than regular room carpeting, and it often wears out much sooner. But don't worry, replacing a worn stair runner or carpeting a bare stairway is no problem when you know the technique, and this article will give you the information and instructions you need to complete the job.

Tools:

  • pliers
  • vacuum cleaner
  • measuring tape or rule
  • chalk or pencil
  • work gloves
  • small handsaw
  • hammer
  • heavy scissors
  • 3/4-inch-thick piece of scrap wood
  • staple gun
  • utility knife with sharp heavy-duty blades
  • awl
  • tack hammer
  • stair wedging tool or broad-bladed chisel
  • knee kicker, available on rental from most carpet dealers

Materials:

  • tack-less carpet fastening strips
  • heavy rubber or felt stair carpet padding
  • paper
  • heavy-duty staples
  • carpet runner

For more information related to carpet installation:

  • How to Install Carpeting: Need to carpet an entire room? Learn how to install wall-to-wall carpeting with this article.
  • Carpet-Cleaning Tips: Whether due to spills and stains or just a lot of traffic, carpet gets dirty over time. Use these tips to keep your carpeting looking its best.
  • How to Repair Floors: Squeaks and cracks can be signs of problems with your floor. Find out how to make the repairs you need.

Preparing to Carpet a Stairway

Measure from tread to tread and add 1 inch.

Follow these steps carefully to prepare your stairway for carpet installation. First, remove any old carpeting from the stairs. Use pliers to pull up any carpet tacks left in the wood, being careful not to splinter it. Vacuum the stairway thoroughly.

Measure the stairs carefully for the new carpet. On straight stairs, stretch a measuring tape or rule around one entire stair, starting at the inside edge of the tread and moving over the outside of the tread and down along the riser below it to the top of the next tread. Add 1 inch and multiply by the number of steps, not counting the last riser to the top landing. Measure any landings and add these measurements to the tread figure; add 1 inch to be turned in at the ends. Divide the total by 36 to determine the number of yards of carpet runner you need. You'll need roughly the same length of padding; the exact length used will be less because the padding doesn't cover the stair risers completely.

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To measure for carpeting on a winding stairway, first measure straight stairs and landings as above. Then measure each wedge-shaped or turning step at the widest point the carpet will cover, and add 1 inch. Measure each wedge-shaped step separately. To determine the number of yards of carpet runner and padding you need, add all the stair measurements together; add 1 inch for top and bottom edges and divide by 36.

Carpet runner is sold in standard 27-inch and 36-inch widths; buy the width that best fits your stairway. Don't try to use carpeting left over from a room installation -- cut-to-fit carpet pieces have to be turned under at the edges all along the stairs, and that's tricky. Buy 6 inches or so more than you think you need, just to be safe.

Choose a high-quality heavy rubber or felt stair carpet padding; it doesn't pay to economize here. Ask the carpet dealer to figure the amount of padding and the number of tackless fastening strips you'll need -- the strips will have to cover roughly twice the width of the stairway for each step.

Finally, rent a knee kicker from the carpet dealer. The kicker is used to stretch the carpeting tightly onto the fastening strips at each riser-tread intersection, producing a more stable runner than hand-stretching techniques.

Begin the installation by nailing fastening strips at each riser-tread corner; wear work gloves.

Measure the width of the stairway and subtract the part that will be covered by the carpet runner; divide by 2. This is the number of inches at each side of the stairs that won't be covered. Measure in this distance from one side of the stairway at the base of each riser and the inside of each tread; mark each of these points with chalk or pencil. Then measure in the same way from the other side of the stairs. Measure each stair across from mark to mark to make sure you've measured accurately; the carpet runner will be centered on these marks.

Cut the strips to the width of the runner with a small handsaw. On each stair, nail a strip centered on the riser, teeth pointing down, 3/4-inch above the surface of the tread below it; use a 3/4-inch-thick piece of scrap wood to hold the strip in place as you nail it. Nail another strip centered on the tread, teeth pointing in to the riser above it, 5/8 inch out from the riser. You'll end up with an open V of fastening strips at the back of each stair, straight or wedge shaped, with one strip near the floor at the bottom of the lowest riser and one at the back of the top tread. Don't nail a strip onto the top riser.

After nailing the fastening strips, measure and mark the carpet padding. Measure the padding to the width of the carpet runner, less about 1/4 inch so that it will be very slightly recessed under the carpet edge at each side. With a heavy scissors, cut a strip of padding to fit over each stair tread, long enough to wrap from the tread fastening strip around the tread and down about 2 or 3 inches onto the tread below it. Make a paper pattern to cut the padding for each wedge-shaped step; the padding must cover the tread, round the edge, and wrap over onto the riser below it.

Staple carpet padding in the center of each step.

Install the padding with staples. Center a trimmed piece of padding, waffle-patterned side up, on each tread, with its end butted against the fastening strip at the back of the tread. Staple the end of the padding to the tread, using a staple gun to set staples diagonally every 2 inches along the fastening strip. Stretch the other end of the padding out over the tread and down onto the riser below it; holding it evenly stretched, staple it into place. Use the paper pattern to cut padding for wedge-shaped stairs, and fasten the padding the same way.

Finally, unroll the carpet runner and drape it over the stairway, with the nap or pile leaning out and down from top to bottom. Winding stairways should be treated as straight flights interrupted by wedge-shaped steps; lay the carpeting out over the bottom straight flight and up to the first wedge step. Pull the carpet runner into place from the bottom up, making sure that the nap or pile lies in the right direction (down) and that the carpet is positioned straight over the fastening strips and between the chalked centering marks on the stairs. Even a small skew at the bottom can magnify noticeably by the top of the stairway, so adjust the runner carefully.

With the fastening strips and padding in place, use the next page to learn how to secure the carpeting to the stairway.

For more information related to carpet installation:

  • How to Install Carpeting: Need to carpet an entire room? Learn how to install wall-to-wall carpeting with this article.
  • Carpet-Cleaning Tips: Whether due to spills and stains or just a lot of traffic, carpet gets dirty over time. Use these tips to keep your carpeting looking its best.
  • How to Repair Floors: Squeaks and cracks can be signs of problems with your floor. Find out how to make the repairs you need.

Placing the Stairway Carpet

On wedge-shaped steps, fold and tuck excess carpet.

With the fastening strips and padding in place, you are now ready to secure the carpet in place on the stairs. Start fastening the carpeting at the bottom of the first riser. Position the end of the runner directly over the bottom fastening strip so that about 3/8 inch of carpet is turned up along the floor. Trim any uneven edges from the end of the runner with a sharp utility knife.

Push the point of an awl into the carpet at one side and use the awl to push the end of the carpet onto the fastening strip, leaving about 3/8 inch of loose carpet below the newly fastened edge. Smooth the carpet firmly into place along the strip, working across with the awl until the entire end has been fastened.

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Finish the bottom of the runner by wedging the loose carpet end into the 3/4-inch gap between the fastening strip and the floor. Use a tack hammer to drive the carpet end firmly into place along the floor at the bottom of the riser.

Stretch the carpeting up and over the stair with a knee kicker. Pull the carpet runner into place, making sure it's straight. Set the head of the kicker flat in the center of the tread, about an inch from the tread riser corner and aimed straight at the riser. Kneeling on the floor, hold the kicker with one hand; hold a stair wedging tool or a broad-bladed chisel ready in the other hand. Put all your weight on one knee and bring the other knee forward sharply to hit the cushioned end of the kicker; the head of the kicker will stretch the carpeting under it to hook it onto the teeth of the fastening strip on the tread. At the same time, as you work the kicker, push the carpet into place in the corner behind the tread fastening strip, using the wedging tool or broad-bladed chisel as a lever. Work from the center of the tread out to the sides, angling the kicker out toward the side you're fastening.

When the carpeting has been kicked and folded into the corner all along the step, wedge it permanently into place along the riser-tread joint, using a hammer to drive the wedging tool or chisel into the carpeted joint. Repeat the entire procedure to cover each succeeding stair, always working up from the last firmly fastened riser-tread joint.

To install the runner on winding stairs, work up to the last straight stair and wedge the carpet into the riser-tread joint. Stretch the carpet up onto the tread of the first wedge-shaped stair and angle it to reach the next step up, keeping the carpet pulled tight along the wide outside edge of the stair and letting it bulge over the riser where it was just wedged in.

Holding the carpet firmly in place at the correct angle, fold the bulging carpet firmly down over the riser, pulling it up at the inside edge of the stair to form a wedge-shaped tuck of carpeting behind the runner. The runner should appear to extend evenly up the stairs, with no part of the tucked-in carpeting visible from the front.

Fasten the tuck into place carefully. Fold the runner back from the tucked-under carpeting, bringing the loose carpet down but holding the tuck firmly in place. At the bottom of the tuck, as close to the riser-tread corner as possible, nail a second flat fastening strip straight across the folded carpeting, teeth pointing down. Then bring the runner back up over the fastened-down tuck, stretch it into position with the kicker onto the next tread fastening strip, wedge the riser-tread joint, and move on to the next stair. Repeat for each wedge-shaped stair.

At the top of the stairs, finish the end of the runner at the back of the last tread; don't extend the carpet up onto the last riser. Before you stretch the runner into place over the last riser, trim any excess carpeting evenly from the end of the runner, leaving about 3/8 inch of carpeting sticking up against the riser. Stretch the carpet into place with the knee kicker and wedge the cut end of the runner into the gap between the tread fastening strip and the last riser.

Congratulations! Your stairs have a whole new look.

For more information related to carpet installation:

  • How to Install Carpeting: Need to carpet an entire room? Learn how to install wall-to-wall carpeting with this article.
  • Carpet-Cleaning Tips: Whether due to spills and stains or just a lot of traffic, carpet gets dirty over time. Use these tips to keep your carpeting looking its best.
  • How to Repair Floors: Squeaks and cracks can be signs of problems with your floor. Find out how to make the repairs you need.