converting stairs from carpet to hardwood - DIY?

amainahDecember 5, 2007

We are continuing to convert our carpeted upstairs to hardwood floors (site-finished red oak, done the master bedroom already). We'll do the install but hire someone to sand and finish the flooring (using bona traffic). The next step will involve a hallway and stairs, and I can't get my head around how to do the stairs. The house was built in 1984, and I believe there is plywood under the carpet. There are some squeaky steps, so we want to fix those as well. The staircase is a straight run, with the top 6 steps between two walls and bottom six steps with a wall on one side and open/balusters on the other side.

My questions:

1) Any suggestions for website resources with instructions or photos?

2) Any preference for using solid treads and risers vs. 2 1/4 strip flooring and bullnose?

3) What else should I consider?

Thanks for your help.


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Another thing to consider...hire a stairbuilder or a hardwood mill to make you a wood staircase...have it installed and then finish it yourself.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2007 at 10:39PM
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Glenn -

I didn't think that once the house was built that having a staircase built externally/off site was an option? How would that work? Is it then disassembled and re-installed onsite?

Thanks for your help with this! -Sarah

    Bookmark   December 6, 2007 at 8:41PM
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You don't have to be a rocket scientist to do stair work, but having said that, it is does involve some very precise work using some fairly expensive equipment.

Your job has railings to deal with too. I caution folks to look at hiring out stair work to a qualified installer who comes with very good references.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2007 at 4:56AM
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Try this link, he is also a member of this forum, he should be able to help you

Here is a link that might be useful: Perry Wright -

    Bookmark   December 7, 2007 at 7:32AM
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A stair builder will come to your home...take measurements...discuss the job with you...construct the thing and then install it. Most stairs easily be brought into the home...usually no need to construct the stair carcass on site. The railings, newel posts and balusters are fit and installed on site after the carcass is installed.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2007 at 8:58AM
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I just found something called EZ Tread. It is specifically designed for your application. The treads and risers fit over the existing stair application.

I am looking into these myself. I removed carpet and found builder grade pine under them. I sanded and stained them but they still don't look great next to my Braz. Cherry floors. I am looking at this company to convert to Braz Cherry like the rest of my house.

If anyone knows anything about them...

Here is a link that might be useful: ez tread

    Bookmark   December 7, 2007 at 8:59AM
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Thanks for all the comments and suggestions - you've raised some good points, and new questions for me. It was a challenge to convince DH that we should hire out the sanding and finishing when we first installed hardwood - my guess is that it's going to be a struggle to convince to hire out the stairs, and in his defense I have complete confidence in his abilities. That said, I'm trying to get all the info ahead of time so that we can make the best decision for our situation.

1) If we do hire it out, what's the best way to find a qualified installer? (the dilemma with DIY work is that we've done it all ourselves, and therefore don't have contacts in the field).

2) If we do it ourselves, it seems like you can buy railings, balasters, posts, treads and risers online - Jerry - what special tools/equipment are you referring to that would be needed for installation?

3) Thanks for the EZ tread link. That is definitely interesting. Has anyone used a system like that before? Pluses/minuses to consider?


    Bookmark   December 7, 2007 at 10:11AM
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I recently went through this carpet->wood on stairs conversion myself. We had 17 stairs + a landing and an extra step up to the landing. I used pre-finished 5" maple planks (engineered) on the treads to match the wood in the rest of the house. We bought pre-finished nosing for each step ($$$). For the risers I used 1/2" birch plywood painted white (nice contrast with the dark wood). Overall, I'm happy with the end result. However, it wasn't easy and took a long time.

1) it's a lot of work, and, if you don't put some thought and time into it, it will show
2) Walls and stairs are rarely straight, perpendicular, parallel, or aligned in any direction to make this job easier. Each and every cut will be unique
3) Our staircase has a stringer on each side - no balusters to worry about, but that doubles the number of unique cuts to make
4) pre-finished nosing is expensive. Our steps are 42" wide. The nosing comes in 78" sticks. I didn't want a splice in the nosing, so that meant one stick for every stair
5) After we started, I found some places online that sell one piece treads. I'm not sure that it would have been cheaper than fitting multiple planks on each step, but it would probably be a lot less cutting.
6) with 17 steps, the less trips down to the saw and up to test the fit on the top step the better. Of course the top stairs are probably going to be the ones hardest to get right

I found the hardwoodflooringtalk website to be very useful during our entire install. There are several guides and a busy message forum. I recommend you (or DH) spend some time browsing it before starting. Unfortunately THS won't let me post a link to them here, but a google search for "hardwood flooring talk" should get you there.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   December 7, 2007 at 4:29PM
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amainah, the equipment I mentioned is not mandatory but it makes the job go in so much better. Tools like rail jigs, tread jigs for those funny net fit cuts, sliding miter saw, good table saw, ect.

You don't have to have these tools to do it, but it will be more difficult for you until you have it all figured out.

Try to get your hands on this book ... "Constructing Staircases, Balustrades & Landings". It is well illustrated to help you visualize stair building.

Here is a link that might be useful: Constructing Staircases, Balustrades & Landings

    Bookmark   December 8, 2007 at 4:57AM
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Thanks for all the suggestions. I'll be investigating all of the ideas and resources in the next few weeks - please add on to this thread if you have additional ideas.

And, if you have any suggestions for installers in the Allentown, PA area, let me know!

Thanks. -Sarah

    Bookmark   December 11, 2007 at 9:21AM
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We just did this a year ago. We had the mdf treads underneath the carpet and spindles installed into the treads. So, we removed the spindles - they were the cheap kind and tossed them as they cracked easily.

Then we used a prybar and removed each tread. We had 16 treads. We bought one piece oak treads from a lumber supply place. ($30 each) Lowes has them as well, but for not much more they lumber place was nicer.

I finished them before removing the existing mdf treads and installing these, that way they were able to be immediately walked on. So each stair had to be measured at the back, middle and front to get a precise measurement and cut. Before installing we put very thin whiteboard over the existing riser. I prepainted these white. You could fill, sand prime and paint the existing risers, possibly.

Then after the treads were installed we drilled holes for the new spindles...we replaced with white spindles from Lowes.

It wasn't technically hard, but it took us a long time to complete it, because we just worked on it on the weekend. But, its DIYable.

PS - we used a table saw, drill and finish nailer.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2007 at 9:37PM
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Until the carpet and rails come off there is no way to answer this question. Some jobs are a piece of cake like patches123 had. Some stairways are constructed totally different and involve notched out skirtboards/stringers where the stair builder was not real careful on the cuts because he/she knew carpet was going in later.

You have to uncover the stairs first to see how it was constructed and see what you got to work with. :)

    Bookmark   December 16, 2007 at 7:40AM
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Good point jerry_t. We really lucked out on how our stairway was built.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2007 at 12:52PM
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Hey if anyone is interested I have found a company in Jersey that has a new prodouct that will do the job in one day with very little demo work and if you have just an ounce of knowledge with a tape measure you can install them yourself. I used the system a couple months ago and i was able to do my steps in about six hours with all new wood treads and risers without removeing the ballisters or posts. The product is amazing and quick and easy without all the mess and time consuming aggrivation.I think the web site is but I`m not sure if its up yet but think this product is great.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 4:45PM
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Check our this website View the SAMPLE PROJECTS Page. WoodCrafters can convert almost any staircase from Carpet grade to Oak hardwood.

Here is a link that might be useful: Signature WoodCrafters - Stair ReCrafting Site

    Bookmark   August 3, 2008 at 9:41PM
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I remember when we were renovating our house and really didn't know how to get started. We wanted a new flooring, new stairs and also painted the walls. We had to hire some equipment and some friends of mine who are DIY experts helped me with the renovation. Worked out fine and it didn't take too long since I had professional help.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 7:08AM
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