More in Carpeting

How to Install a Stair Runner

Use a stock runner (or two) to add a splash of color and cushiony comfort to bare wood stairs

Photo by Laura Moss

If you have plain old stairs, a runner can make a statement and soften your footsteps. Runners made of woven cotton are affordable and easy to work with, and they range in style from beachy to baroque; here, we chose heathered stripes to complement a cottage-style interior.

To simplify the job, This Old House senior technical editor Mark Powers employed the waterfall method: The runner cascades from step to step, a look that suits the pattern and is more casual than tightly wrapping the nosing.

Runner: Blue Heron Stripe Woven Cotton Rug by Dash & Albert, 30 inches by 12 feet, about $124


Steps // How to Install a Stair Runner
1 ×

Overview for How-to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

 
Step One // How to Install a Stair Runner

Overview for How-to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Overview for How-to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Project Timeline:
Day 1 morning: Size and install the carpet padding (Steps 2–6).
Day 1 afternoon: Staple down the runner (Steps 7-13).

Cut List:
28-inch-wide felt carpet padding: one at 18 linear feet

30-inch-wide flat-weave cotton runner: two at 12 feet to cover 22 linear feet (14 stairs)

 
2 ×

Determine the Layout

 
Step Two // How to Install a Stair Runner

Determine the Layout

Determine the Layout to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner
Photo by Laura Moss

Measure the steps. Measure the riser height and the tread depth of one step. Multiply the riser height by the number of risers and the tread depth by the number of treads. Add those results together and tack on an extra 6 inches for waste to find the total length of one runner. If you need more than one, add another 12 inches for each splice, the seam where two runners meet.

 
3 ×

Size the Runner

 
Step Three // How to Install a Stair Runner

Size the Runner

Size the Runner to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner
Photo by Laura Moss

Measure and mark the centerline of the stairs on the narrowest tread, and line up the middle of the runner with the mark. (Conveniently, our runner has a stripe down the middle.) Use a tape measure to make sure the reveal on each side is even, then mark the tread at each edge of the runner, in pencil. Use a combination square to replicate the edge marks on each tread.

 
4 ×

Size the Runner

 
Step Four // How to Install a Stair Runner

Size the Runner

Cut the Padding to Width to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner
Photo by Laura Moss

Slip a piece of felt carpet padding under the runner, inset from the edge to form a smooth transition to the tread, as shown. Measure the difference, and calculate how wide to cut the padding. Unroll the padding, use a chalk line to snap a cutline along its length, and cut along the line. Then, using a straightedge, cut it into sections
4 inches deeper than the tread, one for each step.

 
5 ×

Taper the Sections

 
Step Five // How to Install a Stair Runner

Taper the Sections

Taper the Sections to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner
Photo by Laura Moss

Lay a section on a tread, its back edge a fingertip away from the riser, and wrap the front over the nosing. Mark the edges where they meet the riser, then draw lines at approximately 45 degrees to the front edge. Snip off the corners, as shown. Use this section as a template to trace and trim the pads for the remaining steps.

 
6 ×

Staple the Padding to the Steps

 
Step Six // How to Install a Stair Runner

Staple the Padding to the Steps

Staple the Padding to the Steps to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner
Photo by Laura Moss

Center a section of padding on the bottom tread, leaving a small gap at the riser. Use a staple gun to secure it. Drive in five staples, working out in both directions from the middle of the back edge. Smooth out the padding and staple it five times along the front, about 1 inch back from the nosing. Gently smooth it over the nosing, being careful not to stretch and pucker it, and staple it to the riser, as shown.

Tip: Start installing the padding at the bottom step. That way, you'll have a built-in cushion to kneel on as you work your way up the staircase.

 
7 ×

Tape the Runner to the Top Riser

 
Step Seven // How to Install a Stair Runner

Tape the Runner to the Top Riser

Tape the Runner to the Top Riser to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner
Photo by Laura Moss

Remove any interfering molding and apply strips of double-sided carpet tape on the top riser. Press the finished end of the runner directly under the nosing and tack it to the riser with a pneumatic stapler. Start in the middle and work out in both directions, stapling every 4 inches. Put two staples down each side, too. Press the runner firmly onto the tape.

 
8 ×

Tuck and Staple

 
Step Eight // How to Install a Stair Runner

Tuck and Staple

Tuck and Staple to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner
Photo by Laura Moss

Use a bolster chisel to tuck the runner into the gap behind the padding, as shown. Line up the runner's edges with the pencil marks, and drive five 1-inch staples into the tuck. Smooth the runner over the nosing of the next step, tuck it into the gap, and staple it. Don't overstretch the runner or you may distort its pattern. Continue until you hit the end of either the runner or the stairs. If one runner covers your staircase, skip to Step 12.

 
9 ×

Trim the First Runner

 
Step Nine // How to Install a Stair Runner

Trim the First Runner

Trim the First Runner to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner
Photo by Laura Moss

As you near the end of the runner, spread it over the last tread it covers and tuck it in at the base of the riser with the bolster chisel. Mark the runner 2 inches beyond the tuck and trim it to length. Fold under the cut end, leaving about 1 inch of runner protruding from the joint, and hold it in place with the bolster chisel, as shown.

 
10 ×

Secure the First Runner's End

 
Step Ten // How to Install a Stair Runner

Secure the First Runner's End

Secure the First Runner's End to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner
Photo by Laura Moss

Secure the fold to the tread with the pneumatic stapler, as shown, working from the middle out.

 
11 ×

Mate the Second Runner

 
Step Eleven // How to Install a Stair Runner

Mate the Second Runner

Mate the Second Runner to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner
Photo by Laura Moss

Set the factory-finished edge of the second runner over the end of the first runner, as shown. There's no need to tuck it into the corner, but do be sure that the stripes on the two runners line up perfectly. Using the pneumatic stapler, drive staples straight down through the hemmed ends of both runners and into the tread. Continue to gently pull, tuck, and staple the second runner until you reach the bottom step.

 
12 ×

Trim the Bottom End

 
Step Twelve // How to Install a Stair Runner

Trim the Bottom End

Trim the Bottom End to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner
Photo by Laura Moss

Use the bolster chisel to crease the runner along the base of the bottom step. Measure out 3 inches and use a felt-tip marker and a straightedge to mark the runner. Cut it to length.

 
13 ×

Tuck and Staple the End

 
Step Thirteen // How to Install a Stair Runner

Tuck and Staple the End

Tuck and Staple the End to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner
Photo by Laura Moss

Fold under the end of the runner to create a hem. Pull it taut and staple it along the bottom edge of the riser, as shown. If the base of the riser is trimmed with molding, as ours was, tack the runner right along its top edge. When the runner eventually wears out, you can easily take it up and do it over again.

 
 
 

TV Listings

Find TV Listing for This Old House and Ask This Old House in your area.