DIY Stairs Makeover: How to Install Hardwood Treads & Risers Over Old Steps

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Intro by Robin
Steps by Ed

cost to install stair treads and risers

In Part 1 of this Stairs Makeover series, we shared the reasons we chose to cover our steps with hardwood stair treads - and we outlined some other choices you may want to consider to upgrade your own steps.  

Before attaching stair treads it's best to stain and finish them - this post discusses all of that too.

The point we're at here is the install. Is it hard to install wood stair treads and risers? Not especially, but there is one tricky part. Our tutorial will help you be successful!

Hardwood stair treads

What is the cost to install stair treads and risers?

For how beautiful they look, you'd think they were really expensive. At least a few hundred, right?  

Nope! This is actually a pretty affordable way to upgrade your stairs.  Here's a cost breakdown:
  • Stair Tread and Riser Kit
    • We waited for a sale and bought them all for less than $30 each (We used 4 sets.)
    • If you're going to do a painted riser vs. exposed wood - you can just buy the tread and use a cheaper material for the riser.
  • Stain - approx $10 (we used the rest for the other run of stairs)
  • Our new favourite matte floor finish - $40 a can (We had plenty left for the rest of the stairs and other projects too. I will just allocate 1/4 the cost to this part of the project.)
  • Construction adhesive - $5
  • Total: $145

Was it cheap? No. But cheap is never what we're after with our projects. I hope you're not either. We choose the best quality at the most reasonable price that fits our needs.

Hardwood Stair Tread Install Materials:

Start here ⇒  Part 1: Preparing and staining stair treads
  • Measure and cut your treads and risers
  • Colour match and stain the wood, and
  • Apply the recommended coats of polyurethane.

Part 2:

1. Remove the old stair tread material (i.e. carpet, vinyl, etc.)

replacement staircase
Remove any old covering layers if you can - try and get back to the bare wood if possible. We didn't, as I think that the bottom layer has a whiff of asbestos about it. We'll just leave it there.

Your stair tread will only be as secure as your least adhered layer - pull off everything if you can.

2. Trim the plywood stair tread to size.

Install new stair treads
Notch the ends of the tread overhang. This will allow you to cut it off and ensure a clean fit for your new tread

Replacing stair treads and risers
Using a circular or reciprocating saw, cut along the length of the overhang. 

Note: always use two hands on your reciprocating saw - unless you are very strong and talented like me. 😉 (I'm totally faking this for the photo.)

3. Start Attaching the Stair Treads.

installing stair treads and risers
With the overhang removed, your new risers can go right to the top of the old stair. 

Use a generous amount of construction adhesive under each tread and riser.

Then screw from the back to secure. Verify that your screws are long enough to secure everything, BUT - not so long that they go all the way through and pop out the finished oak surface(!)

You can also use nails in spots that will be hidden like the top edge.

installing wood stair riser
Any parts that need a gentle nudge into place should be protected.  Here I use a piece of softwood trim to cushion the blow as I pop a riser in place.

Retrofit stair treads
Work your way up. Affix a riser, then cap it by also gluing and screwing the tread down. 

Proceed up your stairs repeating this. 

While screwing each tread down, it helps to have someone (or someones)  come and stand on it. No squeaky treads for you!

Installing hardwood on stairs
Again, if you are selective and careful, you can shoot some nails in too. 

4. The Tricky Part: Where the top floor and stairs meet.

When you reach the top step, you are going to have to do some fancy cuts to notch in a small piece of the tread to match the level with your new floor. Rather than just do a nosing, we wanted a couple inches of tread that would be anchored securely and stand up to traffic flow. 

installing stop stiar nosing
To make the notch for the tread section to sit in, I ripped a 2-inch x 1-inch deep-section out of where the top of the stairs met our kitchen floor. 

I used a circular saw to do the main cuts and a multi-tool to finish the end cuts.

retrofit new top step
A profile look at the groove for the tread to sit in. We added the riser to the face of this and you can see in the next photo that this makes a nice big place to secure the tread.

match top step to new floor
This is me trying to show how the tread thickness will fit in the spot we've cut for it. There is a gap underneath that we will fill before attaching. 
Lastly, the space between the luxury vinyl plank (LVP) floor and the tread will get filled with a 1-inch piece of LVP that I will rip to size and glue down after all the stair tread things are done.

top step install with floor
So yeah, as the last photo showed, I cut a little too deeply with my notch, so I spliced in some bits of plywood to level things out.

cutting top stair tread
We ripped a finished stair tread to make the nosing.  The nosing was cut to 2.5-inches of tread to fit in our groove.

install wood stair nose
Test to fit, then go nuts with construction adhesive to secure the tread.

matching top step to new floor
You can just barely see at the far end, but this tiny tread section actually locks under the door casing on the ends. Between that and the construction adhesive, it is locked in pretty tightly. You can fire some nails or a couple well-placed screws into yours if you don't have anything else that will secure it.

new floor new stair nose
Another shot showing the LVP bridge strip in place and that the tread section locks under the door trim. And yes, all the dinged up, ugly moulding gets a coat of paint on it because an awesome new floor like this deserves to look its best!

custom stair treads

Coming soon:
  • How we carved out space for a tiny but super functional mudroom in this small landing.
  • The why's and how's of our brick tile landing
  • The coolest DIY industrial look stair riser ever! (We are totally NOT humble about this one.)

 This project is one of many in our Basement Makeover - you can see all the progress and DIY tutorials here!

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