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Finishing Basement Stairs

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First Impressions

You finally completed your dream basement remodel. Everything’s perfect down to the lighting. You invite some friends over to show off your new living space, open the door to the basement, and suddenly you realize you’ve completely overlooked finishing the basement stairs.

Those unfinished, plain lumber stairs leading down to your newly remodeled space are the first impression your friends and family will have of your basement, so they should be an essential part of the overall basement redesign.

Finish the Existing Stairs or Rebuild from Scratch?

Basement stairs

Basement stairs in older homes are narrow, steep, and the steps were designed for people with a size four shoe. This coupled with the increased foot traffic up and down the stairs to the new room screams “new construction.”

If you choose to rebuild your stairs we recommend that you hire a licensed contractor. This segment of the basement remodel is the most difficult area of carpentry. There are calculations of run and rise, stair gauges, millwork, design, and numerous building code requirements. This is not a job for the novice.

If your budget doesn’t allow for a new staircase, or the stairs you currently have are adequate to finish, there are many choices available for your existing stairs.

Finishing Your Original Basement Stairs

Carpet

Carpet is warm and softens the look of wooden stairs. It’s quiet and soft under the feet, and wears well with heavy foot traffic. Though carpeting wooden stairs remains popular it has its pitfalls; moisture, mold & mildew.

Carpet Runner

Another popular choice is to use a carpet runner. This is an affordable way to dress up your stairs however, since the carpet runner needs to be stapled to each stair, the runner must be thin enough to conform to the shape of the stairs. And, like carpet, this material may absorb mold and mildew due to moisture.

Vinyl

Vinyl is a good option for basement stairs because it isn’t affected by moisture in the air. It comes in many colors, textures, and styles. The vinyl must have a metal corner strip on the front edge of each tread to hold it securely and keep it from peeling.

Painting & Staining

Painting staining basement stairs

Painting or staining your stairs is the most economical way to go if your budget is running thin. Latex floor paint wears well and isn’t too slippery. A latex based porch and floor paint will wear well under the heaviest of traffic. Before painting make sure to thoroughly clean the stairs.

Staining is moderately easy and inexpensive to use. Make sure to sand the stairs and clean them thoroughly before applying stain. Stains and urethane coatings are a nice option for wooden basement stairs though, after everything is said and done, your stairs will still look like softwood lumber under the stain. Urethane is very durable and commonly used on floors so it makes a great coating. A quart of urethane should provide the three or four coats you’ll need, and a pint of stain should be enough to stain a set of basement stairs. You will likely need two coats of stain to achieve a rich even appearance. Once the stairs have been stained you can apply the urethane to seal in the stain and protect it from damage.

Helpful links for Finishing Your Basement Stairs

If your home came equipped with a basement, and you plan on enjoying that basement, a safe set of stairs is essential. Even if a new staircase isn’t in the budget, there are ways to revamp what you already have. Here are the facts to get you started.

Costs

If you plan on simply painting or staining your existing set of stairs, your project could cost as little as $100, depending on materials used.

On the other hand, if you choose to rebuild your stairs, we recommend that you hire a licensed contractor. This part of the basement remodel is the most difficult in terms of carpentry. There are calculations of run and rise, stair gauges, millwork, design, and numerous building code requirements. This is not a job for the novice. Contracting the work could cost from $500 to $1,550 or more, depending on the size of the job, materials used and cost of labor.

Pros

Carpet Runner: Nice and affordable way to dress up wooden stairs.

Vinyl: Not affected by moisture/mold at all, and comes in many textures, colors and styles.

Full Carpet: Warm and softens the look of wooden stairs. Quiet under the feet, and wears well with heavy foot traffic.

Cons

Full Carpet: Tends to absorb mold and mildew, can become problematic later on.

Carpet Runner: Must be thin enough to be stapled to each stair.

Vinyl: Prone to peeling.

Durability

When it comes to fixing up your existing stairs, carpet or carpet runners can withstand heavy foot traffic. In time, however, they are likely to show stains. Painting and staining can also withstand foot traffic, although touch-ups may be needed periodically. For best results, use a latex-based porch and floor paint, and clean stairs thoroughly beforehand. Vinyl must have a metal corner strip on the front edge of each tread to hold it securely and keep it from peeling.

Maintenance

All refinishing materials require regular floor maintenance. Carpet should be vacuumed and any spilled liquids cleaned up immediately to avoid mold and mildew. Vinyl can be cleaned with any non-abrasive floor cleaner.

Common Questions and Answers

How difficult is it to stain your own basement stairs?

Moderately easy and inexpensive as well. You’ll need a quart of urethane and a pint of stain. Clean and sand the stairs, then apply two coats of stain and 3-4 coats of urethane to seal it in.



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