Finishing Basement Stairs

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Fancy basement stairs

Stairs are a vital part of any home, but just like any other segment of your house, the stairs will eventually wear out and need to be replaced or at the very least refinished. The issues even more pressing when you’re talking about basement stairs. They’re subjected to moisture more commonly than stairs elsewhere in your home and it’s much more common for the stairs to suffer from rot, mold and other serious issues. When you go through the trouble of refinishing your basement, you should plan on refinishing or replacing those stairs as well. Of course refinishing is the more affordable option, but it’s not always the right one. Do what you have to in order to get quality stairs going down to your basement, and you’ll be able to enjoy the finished product more.

Deciding to Refinish or Rebuild

In many instances it simply makes more sense to refinish your existing stairs, but that’s not always the case. It’s important to realize when you can refinish your stairs and when you have to build new ones altogether.

Do They Function Properly?

The very first consideration you should make is do the stairs function properly and are they comfortable for you to use? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, you have a good candidate for refinishing rather than rebuilding. While you might think that every set of stairs should function properly and be comfortable, that’s not the case at all. Stairs on much older homes tend to be narrow and steep, especially the stairs down to the basement. These stairs are something that you would do well to replace. Stairs in older homes were designed for shorter people with smaller feet, now that people are getting taller and have larger feet more commonly that’s a real issue.

Are they in Decent Shape?

After you go over the function of the stairs it’s time to really assess their condition. The treads of the stairs aren’t a big deal and it’s okay if they are getting soft or beginning to fail. What really matters is the framing down underneath the treads. The stringers of the stairs are what support the steps that you walk on. If they are cracked or rotten they must be replaced and so must your entire staircase. If they are in excellent shape you can just refinish your stairs as long as you like the original layout of the stairs.

Refinishing the Steps

You have several available options when refinishing your stairs. You can apply a carpet, use a carpet runner, overlay the treads with vinyl or rely on paint or stain to give the stairs a new look. Each option has benefits and downfalls that come along with it.

Carpeted Basement Stairs

Applying Carpet

Carpet is a popular way to refinish stairs. If installed properly it gives stairs a new look and makes them more functional than before as well. It’s often easier to walk on them and they have a softer and quieter feel than they once did. Unfortunately carpet also tends to collect moisture and can suffer from mold issues if placed in a damp location. This keeps carpet from being a usable option for basements and for stairs that come in from outside where people will walk with damp shoes.

Lay Down a Carpet Runner

Instead of installing full on carpet that’s put in for permanent use, you could use a less permanent carpet runner instead. This is a thinner carpet that’s simply stapled into place. It isn’t quite as comfortable to walk on, but it’s a whole lot more affordable and can be had in most styles that you can think of. A carpet runner suffers from most of the common issues that carpeting does, but you can replace it more easily if mold or mildew become an issue with it.

Putting down Vinyl

Some people are now laying down vinyl flooring over top of their stairs. Vinyl is a good option because it’s pretty resistant to moisture and cleans easily. It’s important to note that vinyl flooring requires metal corner strip to hold it in place when used on stairs. Vinyl is an ideal option for basement stairs because it doesn’t suffer from moisture nearly as much as carpet does. It’s also very affordable and simple to replace when the time is right.

Painting or Staining

If you like the look of wooden stairs you don’t have to cover them up at all. Instead you can simply paint or stain your existing stairs to give them a like-new appearance. This is one of the most affordable options and provides excellent results when done properly. Before you finish the stairs either way it’s important to sand them down and get them very clean. This helps either product go on properly so that you get a long lasting finish.

If you decide to paint your stairs you should consider a latex floor paint. This paint is durable and will hold out through long periods of use. It does wear out over time, but you’ll get many years of quality performance out of your stairs before you have to consider applying a new layer of paint. Another major benefit of using paint rather than stain is that you can choose nearly any color for your stairs, while stain is a bit more limited. Unfortunately most paint will mask the grain of the wood underneath and keep your steps from looking like the natural wood they are made from.

Stain is the only way to go if you want natural looking stairs with a wood grain that shows through. Apply about two coats of stain to the stairs and then protect them with three or four coats of a durable urethane product. This mixture gives you the classy natural look and the color that you want.

Maintaining Your New Stairs

After you take the time to refinish your stairs it’s important that you maintain them regularly. If you get carpet you need to vacuum it quite often and clean up any spills using a carpet shampooer before the stain has a chance to set in the fibers. Vinyl should be swept and cleaned off with a floor cleaner regularly and paint or stain should be cleaned with a water or a mild cleaner and regular sweeping.

It will likely be necessary to touch up a paint finish once and awhile and over time and eventually you’ll have to repaint or re-stain the stairs depending on how you finished them because they simply won’t look good any longer.

The Costs Involved

If you just want to repaint or stain your stairs you might be able to complete the project for less than $100 depending on the cost of the paint and coating product that you purchase. If you go with carpet or vinyl you’re going to spend quite a bit more than that though. Carpet is likely to cost a few hundred dollars for just materials and another couple hundred for installation. Carpet runner will be more affordable than that but will still likely cost a couple hundred dollars. Vinyl flooring can be obtained for relatively cheap but you should still expect to spend a couple hundred dollars on materials and then another few hundred to have it installed unless you’ll do the work yourself.

If you need to replace your stairs or the treads of your stairs you’re looking at a much higher bill. The lumber alone for the job will cost a couple hundred, but the labor for the task could cost anywhere from $300 up through $1200 or more to get the new stairs put in depending on complexity and size. Make sure that you get some quotes before you hire anyone to do the work so that you know you aren’t paying too much.

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