The right steps to DIY staircase refurbishment | Toronto Star

Stairs and stairways are often last on the list when it comes to home renovations, even though they are often front-and-centre, the first thing you and everyone else sees after opening the front door.Although not prohibitively expensive, refurbishing stairs...

The right steps to DIY staircase refurbishment | Toronto Star

Stairs and stairways are often last on the list when it comes to home renovations, even though they are often front-and-centre, the first thing you and everyone else sees after opening the front door.

Although not prohibitively expensive, refurbishing stairs is a messy and skilled job beyond the reach of average DIYers.

The basics, though, aren’t hard to grasp, and with a little planning and help, you can take the rights steps to elevate your stairs. Older homes, especially, will need stair repairs and upgrades, says Jordan Spear, a RenoMark contractor and featured speaker at the GTA Home and Reno Show, which runs Feb. 17-20 at the International Centre in Mississauga. Spear is scheduled to deliver his presentation, Old Homes: What Lies Beneath, on Feb. 20 at 2 p.m.

When it comes to restoring staircases, “the first thing is to look at the structure for safety,” says Spear, who specializes in restoring century homes and is renovating his own 160-year-old house in Port Colborne, Ont. “You want to make sure the treads aren’t too worn and ‘cupping,’ and that the nosing is secure and that the railing is all secure and the components solid.”

Changing the basic physical design of a staircase usually isn’t an option because it could mean major structural changes that are expensive and time consuming.

“Don’t go for cheap and easy repairs,” advises TV contractor Damon Bennett, another RenoMark contractor. At the show, he will give a talk titled Staying/Being Safe During Your Home Reno, at 3 p.m. on Feb. 19.

“If you can, get in underneath the stairs to see how they’re secured. I’ve seen so many things hanging by just two nails.”

Refinishing and staining

First, assess the wood, says Chris Palmer, also a RenoMark contractor who will appear at the show at 1 p.m. on Feb. 17 and at 2 p.m. on Feb. 18 to deliver his talk, It’s All in the Finish.

Stairs made from good hardwood, such as oak or maple, are usually worth refinishing. Peel back a section of carpet or runner to check the wood. If it’s low-grade pine or spruce (called “builder grade”) then painting, capping or re-carpeting are the only options, says Bennett.

If you’re lucky, you might need to just replace the most damaged treads. “To match up old treads sometimes you have to make them yourself with an electric planer,” says Palmer, who was an industrial designer before appearing on TV shows such as Canada’s Handyman Challenge, Income Property, Open House Overhaul and serving as Global TV’s resident handyman expert. “Or find a place like Peacock Lumber, in Oshawa, which has rough stock and will dress it to your needs.”

To refinish, remove the carpet and underpad, pull out all the staples, then fill and sand before painting or staining.

“You can’t put water-based stains on oil-based stains, so make sure you get the right product,” says Spear.


An alternative to re-carpeting is re-treading, or capping with new treads. Sometimes called false treads, they can sit on top of the existing ones. After that it’s a matter of replacing or repainting the risers.

Re-treading involves knocking out the existing treads. Replacing them and capping aren’t as easy as it sounds, warn the trio of renovators.

Capping will also change the rise of the step and you’ll be short at the top and high at the bottom. Even just a half-inch difference can cause a stumble.

There are veneer tread options in the $20-$30 range but the ideal is solid wood, at $30 and up, depending on the type of wood. Also, you’ll either have to make your winders, or have them made.

To have a set of 14 stairs capped with red oak treads and risers, including three winders, (plus a corresponding new banister with new newels and spindles) will cost $5,000-$6,000 — or more, depending on where you are, who does the work and how much work is required.

Still, compared to the time and effort involved in painting stairs, and the spectacular end result with a set of new stairs, it may be a good option.


With worn stairs or low-grade stairs, aside from re-carpeting or capping, the other option is painting.

As with staining, preparation is everything. Pull out all the staples, fill in all the holes — some contractors go for auto body filler as an epoxy to fill big gouges and blemishes — then sand, sand and sand again. A shop-vac attachment for your sander will help, as will sealing the work area with plastic sheeting. Remember to wear a dust mask and eye protection.

Check out the pro-level painting stores such as Dulux, Sherwin-Williams or Benjamin Moore for their special tread paint that’s water based and designed to take foot traffic. If there’s a previous oil-based stain or paint on the stairs, you’ll need a bonding and transition coat of primer, like Bulls Eye.

A good paint supplier can match the paint to the trim or to the wall, or even to a stain if you are installing new railings.

Painting the treads a dark colour and the trim and risers in white is a popular look. It may take several smooth coats, half a stair at a time or on every other step, if you need to go up and down while they dry.

Railings, carpet and rods

If you’re re-carpeting because the wood isn’t worth refinishing, consider upgrading the entire look with new railings.

Do you replace wood spindles with wrought-iron or vice versa? Esthetics aside, it’s also question of skill. Taking a railing apart can be tricky, notes Bennett.

“You can’t cut them out if you want to use them again so you’ve really got to be careful,” he says. “If you don’t do it right, it will look off. It’s really best to get someone in who has the experience and skill.”

Also, he says, even just painting or re-staining the railing can present issues.

“You’ve got years of skin oil on the banister so you’ll need a good cleaner to remove that before you start sanding or you’ll just embed it deeper into the wood.”

Stair runners are for both esthetics and firm footing, especially for kids and seniors. “The finish is smooth so they can be slippery,” he says. “I’ve seen people lay tile on stairs but it’s not my choice — too slippery, too dangerous.”

Runners can be bought by the foot and installed. Or you can have carpet cut and the edges bound to create your own runner, which can also match existing carpets.


Stairs, explained

Bannister: Also called a handrail.

Nosing: The rounded part of the tread. Some stairs are flat with no nosing, also called a bull nose.

Newel post: The vertical posts at the bottom and top of the stairs which the railings attach to.

Riser: The vertical face between treads.

Runner: A strip of carpet down the centre of the stairs.

Shoe rail: A wood molding designed to run on top of a boxed stair and seat the spindle.

Spindles: Also known as balustrades, they are the vertical pieces which make up the railing.

Straight run: Stairs with no turns or landings.

Stringer: The sides of a stair into which the treads and risers are mounted.

Tread: The step part of a stairs.

Winders: Triangle-shaped larger treads which allow for a turn either left or right, usually in sets of three.

The Toronto Star and, each property of Toronto Star Newspapers Limited, One Yonge Street, 4th Floor, Toronto, ON, M5E 1E6. You can unsubscribe at any time. Please contact us or see our privacy policy for more information.

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

Yorum yapabilmek için üye girişi yapmanız gerekmektedir.

Üye değilseniz hemen üye olun veya giriş yapın.