Pros and Cons of Carpeting on Stairs

Installing carpet on stairs

 

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When carpeting your home, the flooring company may offer to carpet the stairs, too. On a per-square-footage basis, stairs are more difficult to carpet than floors because of the cutting, tucking, and tacking required to get the carpeting tight on the stairs. The offer to carpet the stairs usually represents an extra fee. Is it worth it?

Pros
  • Quieter

  • Softer, for minor spills

  • Quick fix

  • Less expensive than alternatives

Cons
  • Slippery

  • Added charge

  • Collects dirt

  • Eventually may pull away

When to Add Carpeting to Stairs

When the Stairs Need Freshening

Functional, builder-grade stairs—stairs that exist only to move people up and down, with zero concern for aesthetics—can be improved with carpeting. It is difficult to fix unattractive stairs because they do not lend themselves to painting. Carpet works wonders on stairs like this.

Beautiful hardwood stairs will be ruined by the addition of carpeting because the tack strips need to be nailed down, creating holes in the wood. 

When the Stairs Are Noisy

Where carpeted stairs really excel is in houses that have noisy stairs. This noise is often caused by young children. And once young kids learn all about the staircase, they will use them relentlessly. Or it might be that the stair materials are too thin to adequately absorb sounds. Rather than replacing risers and treads or limiting the kids, it's often easier to carpet the stairs.

Stair-Carpeting Installation Techniques

Waterfall Technique

Waterfall is considered to be the faster method of installing carpet on stairs and uses only one strip of carpeting.

After cutting a strip of the carpet the width of the stairs, you start at the bottom and work upward. If you know what a stair runner is, it's much like this—a continuous strip of carpet. You can only use this method if your stairs have no nosing (a section of the tread that protrudes beyond the riser).

Cap-and-Band Method

Cap-and-band is also called wrapped nose. Each stair receives two separate sections of the carpet: one for the tread, another for the riser.

The tread carpet butts up against the tread and then wraps down and around the stair nose. Then another piece is added for the riser. More laborious than the waterfall technique, for novices it can produce a cleaner, crisper look because you don't have to deal with trying to tighten up uncooperative carpeting. Essentially, the cut pieces do the tucking for you.  

Warning

Carpet is responsible for more stair-falls (usually going down) than uncarpeted stairs.

Why Carpeted Stairs Can Be Hazardous

Stair Treads Are Eased

One reason is that carpet eases the stair tread's edge. Carpet materials such as olefin and polyester are slippery. Carpeting creates a softened curve on the nose of each stair. Typically, this sharp edge helps to provide grip. But when carpet blunts that edge, your foot cannot grip as well. Walking downward on carpeted stairs is especially hazardous.

Depth Perception Is Altered

Uncarpeted stairs have crisp lines that your eye can immediately identify. The edge is clear, and it's this edge that your foot needs to meet. Carpeted stair treads tend to visually merge, making the target difficult to identify. Every stair has the same color and texture. When going up carpeted stairs, both the tread and the riser have the same color.

Tread Depth Is Shorter

Carpet shrinks stair tread depth. Stair treads are, by code, 10 inches deep, minimum. Carpet on stair risers shrinks stair tread depth by up to 1/2-inch. This can present a slight trip hazard since your foot has less area to rest on.

Carpeting and Noise Reduction

Carpet is great at blunting or even completely eliminating the sound of people walking on wooden stairs. Consider that you've got both padding and carpet working for the cause, and you'll realize that bare wooden stairs can in no way match the quiet that carpet offers. One thing it doesn't fix, though: squeaky stairs.

Cleaning Carpeting Stairs

Cleaning carpeted stairs usually means using a handheld vacuum. Still, it is difficult to completely clean carpeted stairs. Reaching into the corners is hard with smaller vacuums. Larger, floor-mounted vacuums with attachments do an excellent job of cleaning carpeted stairs. But these are unwieldy and difficult to move up and down the stairs.

By contrast, wooden stairs can be cleaned with a whisk broom and a dustpan.

Stair-Carpet Installation Speed

Installing carpet on stairs is a fairly quick job for straight stairs with no landings. For professional carpet installers, it usually takes between two and five minutes per stair to complete the entire staircase.

Once the strips and padding are installed and the carpet cut to size, carpet installers can pick up speed when laying carpet waterfall-style. This is because that long, narrow section of carpet just keeps getting tucked and tacked upwards, with no interruptions.

Should You Put Carpet on Your Stairs?

Install Carpeting

  • Staircases or houses in general which are very noisy
  • In homes with active children
  • On functional stairs
  • When a quick-fix is needed

Avoid Carpeting

  • On quality hardwood treads
  • For stairs leading to basements or work areas
  • If you don't like carrying a vacuum upstairs and downstairs
  • In homes with elderly residents, disabled, or others at risk of falling