Renovating

Renovating stairs: options, preparation, costs

Arne Schätzle

Do you have creaky, worn out stair treads, or is the surface material coming off? You don’t necessarily have to rebuild the whole staircase. Even if your old staircase is unsightly and perhaps not fully functional, sometimes renovation is enough. Here you can find out about the renovation options for old wooden and concrete stairs, both indoors and out.

A father and daughter are sitting on wooden stairs with a laptop on their knees.
© Getty Images

In this article

What are my options when it comes to renovating stairs?

Depending on the problem with your stairs, there are different measures you can take to get them back into shape. Wooden stairs can be sanded down and oiled if the surface has become worn. You can stop steps from creaking or even straighten them out if the ravages of time have caused lasting damage. Concrete and wooden stairs can also be given a face lift with a new covering that fits in with your current living concept.

You can carry out many of these tasks yourself – but most of the time it’s worth having the work done by a specialist company. After all, embarking on a lengthy DIY project is not very advisable on stairs which are used numerous times a day. In addition, an improperly covered staircase is a tripping hazard in daily use. You can find the names of craftsmen who can renovate stairs at Houzy.ch, for instance.

A craftswoman in work clothes is kneeling by an alcove under a worn wooden staircase as she works on the basement stairs.

A specialist company will start by removing the covering and sanding down the wood. Afterwards, high-quality oil will give your stairs a smooth, gleaming finish.

How much does it cost to have a staircase renovated?

Many factors play a role in the renovation of a staircase, so it isn’t really possible to generalize about the costs. The following aspects come into play in a renovation project:

  • The construction method and condition of the stairs
  • The length and width of the stairs and the number of steps
  • The type of material used to cover the stairs
  • Whether or not additional stair stringers and landings need to be covered

What’s more, prices for labor varies depending on the provider. If you want to cover or tile a staircase, you can expect to pay between 30 and 60 francs per square meter of stair surface – not including the cost of the material.

An inexpensive way to renovate stair treads is to cover them with laminate; cork or vinyl are slightly more expensive. If you opt for wood or natural stone, the price range is more varied, as the quality of the material can differ greatly. As a rule, natural stone is the most expensive material for covering stairs – but it makes a strong visual impact. If the staircase you are renovating is made of wood, the cheapest option is to sand down and seal the steps. If your staircase has been well maintained, this need not be a bad thing – on the contrary, it usually fits in well with the general appearance of an older house.

  • Stair renovation measure
  • Cost per step
  • Sanding and sealing
  • 50 to 120 francs
  • Renovating laminate stairs
  • 150 to 190 francs
  • Renovating solid wooden stairs
  • 150 to 230 francs
  • Renovating natural stone stairs
  • 160 to 240 francs

(Source: renovo.ch)

You may also need to add other costs for edge trims, stair nosing profiles and material for covering stair stringers and landings. It may also be necessary to replace the banister. If you’re unsure about anything, get an estimate from a professional.

Renovating wooden stairs: the different possibilities

Wood works, that is to say it expands or contracts depending on the temperature and humidity. Wood is exposed to stress by especially frequent use of stairs. Signs of wear or damage to wood over time can’t be ruled out. If such signs are visible, it’s usually too late to simply re-cover the stair treads.

You should check the condition of your stairs regularly. This will prevent them from eventually becoming unsalvageable, in which case they will have to be replaced. Prompt renovation of old stair treads can save you a good deal of work and money. You can take different action depending on the problem and on your personal taste.

Repairing stair treads

Every wooden staircase grows old at some point: the steps start creaking and a noticeable gap forms between the side panel and the wall. However, if you are basically satisfied with the appearance of the stairs, it’s worth hiring a professional company to renovate the existing staircase. Especially in old buildings, a staircase that has been restored to its original high-quality condition makes quite a bold statement.

If you prefer to repair the stairs on your own, you will need a certain amount of manual skill. In this case, you can also take care of creaking steps and gaps between steps and side panels yourself. Annoying creaking sounds can be eliminated by inserting a wedge between the tread and riser from the underside, for example. A simple additional hardwood strip underneath the step serves the same purpose. This prevents the step from lowering every time someone steps on it.

Info: the tread refers to the horizontal part of the stair that you step on, and the riser is the word for the vertical part of the step.

Gaps between the wall and the supporting side part, which is called the stringboard, can be closed by inserting a wooden wedge between the stringboard and the wall. This wedge can either be filled in or covered with wooden strips – depending on the other renovation work you are doing.

Staircase renovation: straightening the stair edge

Often, on wooden staircases, the edge of the stairs becomes worn down. One way to get a straight edge again is to fit stair nosing profiles – a sort of rail that you place over the worn edge. Stair nosing profiles are also very suitable if you are laying laminate, parquet, vinyl or carpet on the stairs. They act as connectors between the material covering the treads and risers.

Renovating wooden stairs: covering the stairs

Whether you choose wood, parquet, laminate, vinyl, PVC, sisal or carpet to cover the treads and risers is a matter of personal taste. However, if your stairs are already covered, you must first have this material removed – including any residue, such as the remains of adhesive. You can easily take care of the preparations, i.e. the removal of the old covering, yourself. When covering stairs, on the other hand, it’s best to hire a professional company, because improperly laid flooring material on stairs quickly becomes a tripping hazard.

Tip: when renovating a staircase that has a stringer, this should also be covered with accurately fitting new material – using false end treads, as the specialists call them.

A renovated wooden staircase has been fitted with stair nosing profiles and covered with laminate.

A stair nosing profile will give even well-worn stairs a straight edge again. After that, you can choose to have laminate, parquet, vinyl or carpet laid over the top.

Retreading: sanding and varnishing wooden stairs

Before you can revarnish your stairs, the old varnish or other covering must be removed. This may well prove worthwhile: in old houses, precious wood often lies hidden under old surface material or layers of varnish.

If, for example, high-quality oak wood is concealed under carpet, the specialist company will first remove the covering along with any adhesive residues. If the wood is only coated with varnish, it will be sanded down. Finally, high-quality oil will be applied to give your stairs a smooth, gleaming finish. Alternatively, the stairs can be varnished – but this wears out much faster.

Banisters and stringers are usually not as worn as the steps themselves. It still does these parts good to be lightly sanded down and then oiled – or varnished. This also ensures a uniform look.

Tip for sanding work: note that this produces a lot of sanding dust. Your workmen will of course be careful not to spread sanding dust all over the house, but it’s still a good idea to take some precautions: keep doors to other rooms closed, protect upholstered furniture and maybe even hang a damp sheet in the door frame to minimize dust.

A worn wooden staircase with a white banister and peeling white varnish.

Precious wood often lies hidden under old surface material or layers of varnish – especially in old buildings, it’s worth taking a closer look before you decide to replace the staircase completely.

Renovating concrete stairs: the different possibilities

Concrete stairs are often self-supporting. Nowadays they can still be found in many existing constructions and old buildings, above all in basements. But concrete stairs are also used in living areas – often with an attractive covering of natural stone, wood or tiles.

If a concrete staircase is uneven and worn, or if the edges are chipped, the damage can be repaired with relatively little effort. Whether or not you want to do this yourself is up to you – but you should bear in mind that defects are relentlessly exposed on uncovered concrete stairs during repair work or varnishing.

Repairing and varnishing interior stairs

Whichever method you choose, first you need to repair and possibly level the stairs. The main thing to do before you can begin the repair work is to prepare the stairs. The old covering must be removed along with any adhesive residues, and any concrete slivers must be scraped off before you continue. You can do this yourself but it is very time-consuming. Alternatively, you can hire a professional company to do both the preparation and the actual renovation work.

Once the staircase is free from concrete slivers, tile or carpet, the proper repair work can begin. You will need to use renovation mortar or even renovation concrete. You can also level a concrete staircase as part of the process and adjust it to the desired height.

Once the preparation stage is complete, varnish can be applied to the concrete steps. Since uncovered concrete stairs are not usually very nice to look at – with the exception of industrial-style designer stairs, which are generally installed by professionals – it’s important to consider whether this method really makes sense. For functional stairs, such as basement stairs, it is usually sufficient. However, in a living room, you should think about covering the unsightly stairs.

A worn concrete staircase leads down to a basement.

Are your concrete stairs getting on in years? To renovate them, you can choose from a wide range of covering materials: tiles, vinyl, wood, parquet, laminate or even carpet.

Covering an interior staircase

If repairing or varnishing concrete stairs isn’t enough for you, then covering the stairs is a good way to enhance their appearance. As with wooden stairs, treads and risers can also be applied to concrete stairs. For interior stairs, you can choose between the following materials, depending on your personal taste: tiles, vinyl, wood, parquet, laminate or even carpet.

However, it’s advisable to hire a specialist company because the covering can become a tripping hazard if it isn’t properly applied. What’s more, this procedure is very time-consuming, as the specialists cut and glue the covering on site, one piece at a time. This is because each step has different dimensions and must therefore be measured individually. It’s a complex, precise task, but the visual result is worth it.

Renovating interior basement stairs

Especially in older houses, the real problem is the basement: it’s often damp and wet. In this case, it doesn’t make sense to renovate only the stairs. First of all, you need to have the basement dehumidified. Once the basement is insulated and dry, you can proceed with the renovation of the basement stairs in the same way as with other concrete stairs indoors – and varnish or cover them once you have finished.

Renovating concrete stairs outdoors

Older outdoor stairs are often covered with tiles that become loose over the years and need to be replaced. To do this, you must first remove the old tiles. This work is very tedious. If you aren’t afraid of a challenge and have sufficient manual skill, you can borrow the necessary tools (hammer drill with masonry drill, hammer and chisel) from a hardware store. The advantage is that all the hard work will save you a trip to the gym! Alternatively, you can hire a specialist company to remove the tiles – and replace the surface material at the same time. The different types of coverings available are:

  • Tiles
  • Varnish
  • Natural stone slabs
  • Stair coverings made of natural stone such as granite or marble
  • Stone carpets and stone carpet mats made of natural stone gravel

When laying stair tiles, it’s important to have the right material: you can’t just bring the stairs inside in the winter, so the surface material should be frost-proof. The following also applies: the surface, whether it’s tile, varnish or a natural stone slab, must be slip-resistant even when wet. Stone carpets are particularly non-slip, which makes them extremely suitable for outdoor use. In addition, they are water-permeable, so no puddles will form on the steps. But watch out: if you choose this material, the concrete underneath must be sealed with an appropriate sealing primer. Otherwise, moisture can penetrate the material.

Tip: it’s best to consult a professional company to check which type of covering is best in your case.

Conclusion: planning and specialist advice are essential

Staircase renovation needs to be well planned – and in most cases it’s advisable to call in a professional company. Although experienced amateur handymen can take care of the preparation work themselves, a professional company should take over when it comes to covering old stairs. Purely functional stairs, such as basement stairs, are an exception. If you don’t attach too much importance to the appearance, you can repair them without covering them afterwards. In most cases, no specialized workmen are required.

For all other staircases, it’s best to obtain advice in advance. Ask about the options available for your specific staircase, check which materials are most appropriate and decide which look will suit your home. You will usually receive a cost estimate as part of this process. This will allow you to plan the cost of your stair renovation project.

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