YellowBrickHome: How to Install a Stair Runner Using Only 9 Tools

by Yellow Brick HomeMay 9, 2018

Scott and I always joke that our favorite room in the house is our entryway. Although it’s not your typical ‘room,’ it has been our biggest labor of love! Our home is 130-years-old, and at one point in that history, the stairs in our entryway had been painted brown and red. At another point, they were covered up in maroon carpet (I’m guessing it was the ’70s on that one!). And when we bought the home and started the next chapter, we spent years restoring those stairs! The carpet was ripped up, the treads were smoothed over, sanded and finally painted black and white. They ultimately received several thin coats of floor grade polyurethane to prevent the inevitable chipping, but as a result, they were always a bit too slippery for our liking.

Here’s how they looked on a typical day, with small chips in the bull noses from everyday wear and tear, and our watchdog (always!) at the top. They still have small pocks and dents from a century of use, but we personally love that. I should mention that we also love the clean, classic look of the black and white, but at this stage in our lives, it has come down to a safety issue.

how to install a stair runner before how to install a stair runner before installation

With the addition of our newest family member early this year (you might remember her pink closet makeover), we prioritized installing a stair runner. Although we know to be careful when using our stairs, we were constantly telling our friends and family to hold onto the handrail. The stairs are narrow and not as deep as more modern staircases, and we were always the tiniest bit on edge when going up and down. Now that we’ve installed our runner, we are breathing a sigh of relief! The job took us two afternoons over the course of a weekend, and with a little patience, it’s a DIY that you can do, too!

how to install a stair runner tools you'll need

Tools + Supplies Used:

  • Stair runner of choice
  • Rug pad
  • Staple gun + ½”-1″ staples
  • Bolster chisel
  • Sharp scissors
  • Carpet tape
  • Painter’s tape
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil

What We Did:

First things first, we ordered swatches. We wanted to keep a more traditional look, bearing in mind durability and upkeep. We’ve ordered rugs from Sisal Rugs Direct in the past, and we’ve had great luck, so we turned to them first. We gathered at least 10 sample swatches from their faux sisal indoor/outdoor line, and we landed on the color Belize Dune with a Granola cotton border. The faux sisal is durable enough for outdoor use, easy to clean and comfortable on bare feet, so we felt great with this material for the longevity of our stair runner! When placing our order, we decided on a 28″ width, which would leave a 3″+ exposure on each side.
how to install a stair runner sisal carpet

To determine the length of runner needed, we took 3 measurements: The depth of the treads (the run), the height of the riser (the rise) and the depth of the bull nose. We multiplied that by our number of stairs, and we added an additional foot as a precaution. We would be installing the runner so that the rug would hug each bull nose, and that extra foot of rug put our minds at ease. We were able to order the exact width and length of our choosing from Sisal Rugs, which is another reason we were happy to choose them! Our final measurement was 300″ long by 28″ wide.

how to install a stair runner measure how to install a stair runner measure again

how to install a stair runner don't forget this measurement

Once our custom runner arrived, it was time to install! Using a pencil, I marked the middle of every riser.

how to install a stair runner making markings

We purchased a thin rug pad along with our runner, which was approximately 1” smaller than our 28” carpet width. Using sharp fabric scissors, we cut strips of rug pad for every tread. For example, our treads are 9½” deep, so we cut the pads to 8″ deep. We then adhered them to every stair using carpet tape, making sure to align the middle of every pad to our pencil marks on the risers. Tip: Use tape in at least 3 places on the rug pad, such as the left, middle and right. Alternatively, you can tape across the entire top and bottom.

how to install a stair runner installing padding

In our last step before the runner can be installed, we marked with painter’s tape the exact measurement of the outside edge of the runner. For example, our stairs are 34½” wide, and our runner is 28″ wide. We subtracted 28 from 34.5 and divided by 2. This would leave us with a 3 ¼” exposure on each side of the runner, and this is where I placed a strip of tape. That tape would be our very important visual guide.

how to install a stair runner marking padding how to install a stair runner pads and stairs marked

Okay, ready for the fun part? With the setup behind us, it was time to lay down that runner! Scott loaded our staple gun with 1″ staples to start. (We used this staple gun with our air compressor and loved it!) We made a 1″ fold at the start of our runner, and beginning at the top riser, we stapled every 3″ across the runner. One of the more challenging parts was balancing the weight of the rolled up runner.

how to install a stair runner staple gun

With the first row of staples complete, we swapped out the longer staples for shorter ½” staples. From this point on, our bolster chisel would be our best friend! Tip: We considered using a sturdy putty knife in place of the bolster chisel, but having installed this runner, we both agree that we couldn’t have done the job without purchasing this handy tool.

how to install a stair runner chisel

The bolster chisel is used to tuck the runner as tightly as possible against the back of the stair tread. It helped us to get a nice, deep crease. Our first staple went into the middle of the runner, and then we worked to the right and to the left, stapling every 3-4″. By starting with one staple in the middle, we were able to prevent the rug from pulling taught in one direction.

how to install a stair runner tucking the runner

When it came time to go around the bull nose, it was helpful for both of us to smooth the rug over the rounded edge together. Just like the rise of each stair, we started with one staple in the middle, right under the bull nose, before working left and right.

how to install a stair runner installing the sisal carpet

As we continued down the stairs, we repeated the same steps as above, while also being extra cautious to stay aligned with our tape along the left side. Our process continued with more bolstering, stapling every 3-4″, smoothing over the bull nose, and stapling again. (Seventeen times over!)

how to install a stair runner with chisel and staple gun how to install a stair runner closeup

how to install a stair runner marking guides

My biggest tip? Be patient with the process. If we started to notice that we were slipping further away from our tape guide, we would pull out the staples from the stair and start over.

how to install a stair runner be patient

At one point during the install, no matter how hard we tried, we did begin to slip about ¼” away from that painter’s tape. We were perfectly straight mathematically, however, our century old stairs are just that – old. They’re not perfect, but they are full of charm! That said, we came up with a hack to pull us back into alignment – a small shim! Essentially, we tucked this tiny shim into one side of the runner, forcing the carpet to flow straight once again. The shim is secured with staples and hidden completely behind the runner. It’s so small that no one will ever know it’s there! We did this to two stairs, and it was our saving grace.

At the very end, we had – get this – about one foot of leftover runner. Our measurements were spot on! Using those sharp fabric scissors again, I cut the end of the runner, leaving enough for us to tuck under the raw edge by about 1″. While I did that, Scott swapped out the short staples for the longer 1″ staples, and we secured the remainder of the runner in place.

And that’s it! It’s a very repetitive process, and we got the hang of it by two or three stairs in. The task was completed on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon, and by dinnertime on Sunday, we were admiring our cute new runner!

We love the timeless look of the faux sisal, but most importantly, it has upped the safety factor on our stairs ten-fold. Or should I say, it gave us – our family, friends, pets and baby – a safety factor at all.

We’re absolutely thrilled with the results, and after almost five years of living in our home, we can finally say that the stairs are complete! (Although one of these days, we would like to hang family photos on those empty walls…)

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About The Author
Yellow Brick Home
Kim and Scott Vargo are the muscle behind the blog Yellow Brick Home. Together with their two rescue pitties and a silly, cranky feline, the team is DIY-ing their way through their 130-year-old house, taking down walls, building them back up and nurturing back the character that was so rudely taken away over time. They share their story with an honest rapport, encouraging friendly feedback and discussion from readers around the world. Follow their adventures at YellowBrickHome.com, or on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.