DIY Stair Runner

We had some beautiful, but very dangerous oak stairs at our house in Oklahoma.  After a few slips and small falls I decided to do something to hopefully prevent future catastrophe.  I did my own research and came up with my own original method of adding a woven stair runner to cushion our stairs.  

The project and mini-tutorial even made it into This Old House Magazine!  

Below you can find the article I was in as well as more detailed reading of how to do your own DIY woven stair runner from my original blog post.  

Happy reading!  

Here is the issue I made it into.
Here is my page (on the left).
Here is the article in the magazine.  
For more detailed directions you can read the original post below:

Taken from my original post:

MONDAY, MARCH 14, 2011

A trip down memory lane and a stair runner

Speaking from my own experience, often times I am a bit impatient when I start on a project.  Well, not as impatient as eager.  I can't get it finished fast enough. I want to see the end result, NOW!  My excitement clouds my judgement and I forget everything... tunnel vision has set in.  This has left me with a myriad of projects I wish I had before pictures of, just as many projects I wish I had documented the process on, etc... But, I am learning.  However, last year something got into me and I did just that.  I documented my process of installing a woven stair runner.  Not just any stair runner, but a  Dash & Albert stair runner.  (May not mean anything to you yet, but you will see the difference soon.)  We had these very beautiful but very slippery wood stairs.  So, I researched, and researched and finally came up with a solution.  A runner. Simple enough right, but how to do it?  Some Dash & Albert rugs are very thin and woven, beautiful and unique... but not applicable to the standard way of installing a typical carpet runner.

So, just as the title suggests we are going to take a trip down memory lane and look back at the runner I did last winter. Which actually has an interesting side benefit.  Seeing as it has been well over a year since it was installed I can also tell you just how it has actually held up with everyday use, things I learned, things I would do differently, etc...  Unfortunately, there is also a downside.  As with most projects there are A LOT of little details, many of which get forgotten especially a year and a half later.  But, bear with me.  I think most of the important stuff will be covered.  But, if you have any specific questions feel free to email me and I will be happy to help.  Oh and by the way... I think I remember the entire project costing between $350- 400.00

  • stair runner 
  • underlayment 
  • double sided carpet tape 
  • staple gun and staples
  • upholstery nails
  • multi-tool
  • carpet blade 
  • scrap cardboard (to cut on)
  • painters tape
  • hammer
  • duct tape
Step 1:  Do your research.  Look for photos that inspire you.  Think about your life.  Understand your needs vs desires.

I have 2 young boys, a dog and a husband all of which were big considerations in the kind of stair runner I wanted but also needed.  I love muted colors: grays, greens, blues, shades of white.  I long for the day when I can have an all white color scheme.  But, then there is reality.  I found tons of runners I just loved, but the practical side of me said "GET REAL!"  So, I had to pick a runner that fit into our lifestyle as well as our reality.  A light colored runner would have never worked in our house (not at this stage anyway)!  Not with the boys and the dog and friends and visitors and well, even me.  We get dirty and forgetful.  I didn't want to see all my hard work ruined the first time the boys ran upstairs with dirty shoes on.  So, think and be prepared for what may come and then proceed.

Step 2:  Do your measurements, gather your supplies, plan it out on paper, then dive in.

First you are going to want to make sure your runner is straight and centered on your stairs.  I used painters tape to show me where I needed to place the underlayment which would then guide me through the placement of the runner.

If you have a landing you are also going to have to decide how you are going to tackle that.  I decided to keep it simple and run one runner down the stairs all the way to the wall over the landing.  This will make more sense later.  

Step 3:  Choose your underlayment

After you have marked all your stairs you have to prepare your underlayment.  I looked high and low for a carpet pad that would work for this runner.  But, the runner is so thin you need an even thinner pad or the runner will pucker with every step.  It also won't lay correctly and will look funny.  I finally came across one type of carpet pad that would work but it was VERY expensive.  I just couldn't see spending 2 or 3x's as much on the underlayment as the actual runner so I pressed on.  Then I looked outside the box and found an underlayment for floating laminate floors that I felt would work perfectly.  I like it because:
a.  It was extremely cost effective
b.  It was easy to work with
c.  It was readily available at Lowe's, no special ordering
d.  It was the correct thickness/ or rather thinness
e.  It had a moisture barrier on the back.  Great in case the boys spilled something it wouldn't soak into the wood floors underneath and ruin them.  
*here is a link so you can check it out:  underlayment 

Step 4:  Underlayment execution

Cut rectangles of underlayment for each stair on some cardboard with a carpet knife or blade.  You don't have to make it large enough to cover the riser because it is well, unnecessary.  This will also save you some cash-ola $$$.  After you have cut your underlayment add a border of double sided carpet tape to keep it in place.  I did not  add any to the center of the underlayment because I was concerned what ever pattern the tape was in (an X for example) might show through over time.  ALSO, make sure to wrap the underlayment over the nose of the stair. 

note:  In the photo above you can see that I centered the underlayment between the two edges of the painters tape.  It needed to be slightly smaller to conceal.  ALSO, I didn't want to have to staple through 2 layers when it came to fastening the actual runner to the stairs. 

Step 5:  Protect your nose

After you have placed your underlayment over the stair tread and nose you need to keep up your dukes and protect that nose.  This is a simple enough step, but I think you may regret it if you don't do it.  It protects the underlayment from undue wear.  It also gives added strength since the underlayment is not entirely pliable. So, just add a strip of duct tape over the nose of the stair and you should be good to go. 

Step 6:  Stick it to your runner

Or rather, place some double sided carpet tape to your underlayment and then stick it to your runner.  But, before you pull off the plastic covering on the tape roll out your runner and check your progress!  This is a great time to make sure things are going as planned.  

Step 7:  Tuck it in

After you have rolled out your runner and made sure things were hunky dory,  it is time to remove the plastic from the double sided tape and start sticking it to your runner.  I did one stair at a time removing the tape then affixing the runner, moving on to the next stair, etc.  After you have done this you have to "tuck it in".  If you have ever seen real carpet being installed you know that they use some fancy tools to stretch the carpet to get a nice fit.  Well, you can do this too, without the use of tack strips.  In case you have been wondering why I didn't use tack strips it is because you have to get very special, very short nailed tack strips or you will get poked!  Also, you have to glue or tack them to the stairs, which I didn't want to do.

Important note:  

One of my goals was to keep the stairs as unaffected by the installation of the runner as possible for these reasons: 
a.  What if it doesn't turn out and I have to rip it out and pretend I never tried to do a runner in the first place? 
b.  What if it gets ruined and I have to redo it?  
c.  What if I don't want a runner any more? 
d.  What if we sell the house and the new owners don't want a runner? 
e.  What if I like it so much but my tastes change and want a different one in a few years?

So, that is why no tack strips, no glue, and why I did it myself (I did talk to several carpet installers and I was simply afraid they would not take the same steps or same precautions oh, and I'm cheap!)

o.k. back to "tucking it in."  After your runner is stuck to the stairs take a handy painters multi-tool 
(one with a blunt blade) like this:

and wedge it into the crevice between the riser and the tread and just tuck in the runner.  You can see me doing this below.

Step 7:  Double check, or rather double affix

I don't have a picture of this but after I tucked in the runner I wanted to make sure it would really stay put, so I used my handy dandy staple gun.  What was difficult about this was getting the correct length of staple.  Too long and they would bend with the hardness of the stair, too short and they did nada.  It was also tricky concealing the staples.  I tried to hide them as best as I could.  I am afraid you will just have to figure out how to do this because every runner is different.  I used the stripes on mine and even painted the tops of the staples I could see (yes, I am that OC).

Step 8:  Triple check (I mean affix again)

So, in all my OCD-ness and because I had opted against the tack strips, I really wanted to make sure this puppy stayed put so in addition to the carpet tape and staples I also added some pretty heavy duty upholstery nails.  The nail part was nearly an inch long and the diameter of the head almost the same.  So, I though they would provide some added stick-to-it-ness as well as some decorative detail.  Initially I bought probably 5 different kinds of upholstery tacks and planned to line both sides of the entire runner with them.  But none of them seemed to work!  Not only was it extremely HARD just hammering the nails in at all (perhaps it is just our stairs) but, they would literally fall apart when I would try to nail them in!  The head would completely separate from the nail!  Talk about a mess.  Honestly though, it was a little busy with the way it looked.  So, no harm no foul.  Anyway, I settled on these much larger upholstery nails and fewer of them.  Only 2 per stair.  I put a small piece of painters tape to mark where they were to go and then hammered a small pilot hole with a normal nail to avoid bending the upholstery nails.  I tried to use a drill but the drill bit got caught on the threads (not good with a woven runner).  

Step 9:  Clean up and enjoy!  
After adding the upholstery nails you can rip off the tape and start cleaning up because YOU ARE DONE!!!  Here are a few photos of my finished stair runner.  

Here is a great shot of how I handled our landing.  

So, a year plus later what do I think?  Well, it has actually held up quite well.  Now that is it broken in- I can tell you the only real down side to this type of woven runner is that it is not super cushy.  Which I knew before hand and with my older kids its not a prob.  But for very young kiddos, like my 18 month old niece- it is a little different.  She flies down the carpet covered and very squishy-soft stairs at her home but has to take much more time and deliberateness with getting down ours. So, that is a small consideration.  

The other down side is that it is a woven runner.  And while it it is affixed quite securely to the stairs, it is still woven.  So when people with larger feet go up the stairs their toes can push down runner on the riser.  Kinds of stretches it out temporarily and makes it look saggy.  Luckily if you just rub your hand over it and smooth it out it goes back into place.  So, I do notice that I try to treat it with care, but I think that has more to do with knowing how much time and effort it took to do than it's durability.  I still really like it and am proud of the work I did every time I go up and down the stairs :)

P.S.  Funny story...  Less than 24 hours after completing my runner.  My 4 year old took an industrial strength Sharpie and "decorated" my runner for me!!!  Perhaps in another post we can talk about how to deal with that!!!  ( yes, I was able to MacGyver it (you know fix it). I am the only one who can track down where the damage was done...  Still, NOT what you want to have happen less than 24 hours after completion- or EVER!

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