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4 Easy DIY Ways to Finish Your Basement Stairs

Just like any other part of your house—whether it’s your HVAC unit or roof—the stairs will eventually wear out and need to be replaced or refinished. This is especially true for the basement stairs. Since they’re more commonly exposed to moisture, they have a greater chance of developing rot, mold, and other serious issues that can affect your home’s value and even your health.

Here’s what you need to know about refinishing or replacing your basement stairs, including costs, different style methods, and how to keep up with maintenance.

Table of Contents

Refinish or Rebuild Your Basement Stairs?

Although refinishing vs rebuilding your existing stairs seems like the obvious choice, it’s not always the best option. It’s important to know when you should refinish and when it makes more sense to build a new staircase from scratch. Here’s what you need to decide.

Do They Function Properly?

First question: 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. Stairs on much older homes tend to be narrow and steep, especially the stairs down to the basement. They were designed for shorter people with smaller feet, so they’re often uncomfortable for people of today’s standards.

Are they in Decent Shape?

It’s okay if the treads of the stairs are getting soft or beginning to fail. What matters more is the framing underneath the treads. The stringers of the stairs are what support the steps. If they’re cracked or rotten, they must be replaced—and so must your entire staircase. If they’re 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. Here are the pros and cons for each:

Applying Carpet

  • Pros: Carpeting is a popular way to refinish stairs. If installed properly, it will give your stairs a brand-new look, and your stairs will be more functional, more comfortable, and quieter than before.
  • Cons: Unfortunately, the carpet also tends to collect moisture and can suffer from mold issues if placed in a damp location. This keeps the 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

As an alternative to an entire carpet that’s put in for permanent use, try a carpet runner.

  • Pros: Installation is a piece of cake—simply staple it into place. It’s also extremely affordable. Plus, it’s easy to replace if you have issues with mold or mildew.
  • Cons: Because it’s thinner than the basement, it’s not as comfortable to walk on.

Putting Down Vinyl

  • Pros: Resistant to moisture and cleans easily. 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.
  • Cons: Depending on your preference, it’s not as aesthetically appealing as wood or carpeting.

Painting or Staining

If you like the look of basement, you don’t have to cover up your stairs at all. Instead, try painting or staining or stain your existing stairs to give them a like-new appearance. First, though, it’s important to sand the stairs down and get them very clean. This helps with either product for a long-lasting finish.

  • Pros of painting: It’s one of the most affordable options, and it provides excellent results when done properly. A latex floor 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.
  • Cons of painting: Most paint will mask the grain of the wood underneath and keep your steps from looking like the natural wood they are made from.
  • Pros of staining: Great for 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 a classy natural look and the color that you want.
  • Cons of staining: Fewer choices of color.

Maintaining Your New Stairs

After you take the time to refinish your stairs, it’s important to 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 water or a mild cleaner and regular sweeping.

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 of 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. Gather some quotes before you hire anyone to do the work so that you know you aren’t paying too much.

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