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Installing A Stair Runner In A Really Old House

December 01, 2022

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We added a carpet runner to the basement stairs in our old house.

They weren't a standard size and we started with the wrong tools, but we worked it out and we're sharing so you can avoid the pitfalls.

How To Add A Carpet Runner To Stairs

Our family room renovation/ redecoration project began way back in January.

And believe it or not, that space is still in process.

What started with the {not so simple} desire to replace my old, worn out floral sofa, turned into a total gut job.

Complete with a new paint on the walls and ceiling, a new window and laminate floor.

Of course, when you start a project, others follow.

That meant when the wall to wall carpet was ripped up, it also had to be removed from the adjoining stairs that lead to the basement family room.

Adding A Carpet Runner To Wooden Steps

So it goes.

The original plan for those stairs was the leave them alone.


And we diligently considered all the options to dress them up. Cottage style.

We toyed with the idea of covering them with the matching vinyl flooring, stripping and sanding them and, my favorite, painting them and adding the new wallpaper to the risers.

Unfortunately, during one of these design sessions I slipped on one of the bottom 3 steps and tore up my shoulder.

Old Wooden Basement Steps

It was not fun.

It was totally my fault. I was wearing fuzzy socks, and the bottom steps were really old, and covered in a slick varnish.

Nevertheless, suddenly design wasn't my priority, I was all about safety.

And carpet. Ugh.

Back to the drawing board.

I was still holding on to my vision that included painted floors and installing wallpaper, until I realized that finding a runner to fit was going to be a pricey custom install.

You see, nothing is standard in this almost 100 year old beach cottage.

Including the stairs.

And most standard carpet runners are 26 inches wide.

That's essentially the entire width of some of the stairs. Well, of most of them anyway.

They're actually all different sizes, which made this DIY even more fun.

Anyway, after months of looking for the perfect runner to coordinate with both the new family room sofa and wallpaper and the updated basement decor, I gave up, went to Home Depot and grabbed what they had on the roll.

Roll of Rubber Backed Carpet Runner

And you know what? It worked!

**Just an FYI, this Home Depot stair runner was a little more green in person than it looks on their website.

Installing A Rubber Backed Runner To Stairs

Now. I want to tell you that this was an easy process, and it was, relatively easy, but it wasn't without a few snags.

Hopefully, our mistakes will serve you well and help you to avoid some of the issues we ran into.

Of course, most of our problems were due to the uneven stair treads and the original build. However, others were not.

You'll see.

Measure and Plan

We started by deciding on a method. You have a choice, you can use a waterfall method or you can wrap the tread and riser tightly. That's called the Hollywood method and what we settled on.

Then we measured the stairs. All parts, width and length, around the treads and the height of the risers to determine how much carpet we'd need.

Then we bought a few feet more. At $4.97 a foot it was worth it to have extra on hand.

As a matter of fact, our steps were just 26" wide in some places, which was an exact match to the runner. We weren't sure it would fit.

So we went to the store and I bought a 3 foot piece to test it.

Carpet Runner Scrap

I figured I could use a piece that size as a runner...which is also what I did with the extra. There's a tape you can purchase to finish the edges. I didn't buy it yet, but it's on the list.


The runner we bought had a plushy rubber backed pad. So we didn't add any additional, I also didn't want the stairs to be too squishy. They'd already proved dangerous and squishy meant slippery. 

I was looking for grip. However, if you want padding, you can add it to the the treads.


Carpet Tape For Runner Rugs

Staple Gun
Carpet Tape

Straight Edge

Ok, so this is where some of the problems started.

We bought a new power staple gun for this job, but it was bad. Great brand, but not appropriate for our task.

First, the part of the tool where the staples came out was set down about an inch from the tip, which meant we couldn't get it tight enough to the edge of the carpet. 

Second, the standard T150 staples were huge and visible. They looked horrible.

Air Compressor

So. In the middle of the job, we had to stop, run to the hardware store and buy something new. What we chose was a power stapler that worked with my husband's air compressor.

It was cheap, like $20, but boy did it change the job. It had a head that allowed us to get into very tight spaces and close to the edges.

In addition, it used smaller staples, 18 gauge 1/4 inch narrow crown staples. And they were gold to match the carpet. What a difference.
Once they were in, they were basically invisible.


While we were searching for the second staple gun, we spotted carpet tape and were advised that it could be helpful, especially since we weren't adding padding.

Carpet Tape On Stair Runner

So that's how we started the process. We covered the stairs with it. 

Then we started stapling.

Using A Staple Gun To Lay Carpet Runner

The top step was first. We pushed the edge right up under the nose of the first tread and stapled it in place.

Then we pulled the carpet very taut, stuck it on the tape, wrapped it around the tread and stapled it some more.

Stretching Carpet On Stairs

We used a small piece of leftover laminate flooring to smooth any wrinkles and push the rug tight before stapling the sides down.

Stretching A Carpet Runner

The process was rather simple.

Until. Until we got about half way down and the pattern was off. Something was crooked and buckling.

At first, we thought it was us. We moved that rug around, we measured and puzzled, when we finally realized it was the house.

Our lovely, old, quirky cottage had one tread that was uneven. It was shorter on one side by nearly an inch, so when we stretched the runner over it, it buckled.

Laying A Carpet Runner On Uneven Stairs

It totally changed how the runner fit and changed the path so it wouldn't sit right.

Had we realized this earlier, we could've cut the tread and made it even, but it wasn't evident until after the rug had been stapled into place.

And you remember those staples, the ones that disappeared?

Yeah, well they worked so well, they were impossible to remove. A) we could barely find them and B) there was no way to get them out without damaging the rug.

So we cut the runner right below that tread and then continued on down.

Cutting Stair Runner Rugs

Another diversion.

We used a straightedge square to ensure a level cut. We also made sure our pattern matched.

Cutting Carpet Runner Straight

I've seen some DIYs online where people buy small runners and add them in pieces to the stairs. I wanted to do that, since the choices were better, but my husband didn't like that idea.

He felt that installing separate pieces could be problematic. Joining them could be messy, or they could come apart with pressure and wear. 

Which is why we bought the long piece from the roll.

Our fix here kind of defeated the purpose of buying that long stretch of carpet, but we did what we needed to do to make it work.

I guess only time will tell.

Joining Stair Carpet Runner WIth Wall To Wall

To finish the edge of the stair runner that ran into existing wall to wall was simple. 

We just pulled the carpet back and tucked the runner under it. We trimmed it and then stapled it.

Pushing the old wall to wall back in place was the final step. Of course, that wall to wall no longer exists after our basement flood...but that's another story.

Like I said, relatively simple.

How To Install A Stair Runner

If you start with the proper tools and have standard size steps or newer construction, you shouldn't have any of the issues we did.

You'll also end up with a true runner.

Ours is only a runner at the top.

Carpet Runner On Stairs DIY

Then it ends up being a full wall to wall rug at the bottom.

But that's ok,

As long as I never end up at the bottom again.


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  1. Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Betty!! It's made such a difference.

  2. Beautiful result, Kim. If you didn't tell us about having to cut the runner, no one would ever know. These are the joys of owning old houses!

    1. Thank you, Ann. That cut may not be ideal, but it certainly straightened out our wacky, old steps!

  3. That looks great. Good job! Judy Clark

    1. Thanks so much, Judy! It was a very necessary DIY.

  4. Oh my gosh this is awesome. It looks great and the ton of money you saved SCORE!!!! You just need a few nice tools and confidence this will work out and it did. My husband uses his compressor all the time and that thing is great. Your family room is looking so great. Bravo!

    1. Kris, it really was a huge score! I can't believe after months of shopping for more expensive options, this bargain runner was the winner. I wish I'd thought of it sooner. I hope you have a fabulous weekend!

  5. I think it looks great! Our house is 140+ years old so I can totally relate to nothing being straight, level, even, etc.

    1. Oh gosh! 140 years old, I can only imagine all the charm. It sounds like a dream!

  6. You guys are great DIYers! Me and my hubby would have to (and WILL have to - soon) hire out to have this done. The carpet on our stairs going down to the basement is the original of the house - I think about 35 years old. Gross! I am so sorry that you fell and tore up your shoulder. I hope that you've gone to PT and are on the mend. xoxo

    1. Thanks Melanie!! I get it, our carpet was about 20 years old and it was icky, too. Lots of kids, cats, dogs and mess up and down definitely took a toll. It definitely wasn't a priority, but after my tumble it became one...and yes, thanks for asking, PT has done wonders! xxoo

  7. You would never know you had to cut it. It looks great and the pattern fits your cottage style!

    1. Thanks Mari! Thank goodness for those big hardware stores…like your husbands! They really have more great solutions that people realize.

  8. You too are supreme problem solvers. It looks terrific. You lucked out at Home Depot. I would never have thought of using a compressor. All of my stairs are newly polyurethaned wood. So I can’t wear fuzzy socks and look like Frankenstein going down them in the middle of the night.

    1. Thanks so much, Susan! I can't believe they had this at Home Depot on the roll, just ready to go. Lucky for us...and yes, that compressor was great. I bet your stairs look fabulous. I love that look, but girl, trust me, put some grippy socks n your list for Santa!

  9. You two are a Dream Team! You never face a difficulty without figuring out a fix, always love your creations and DIY inspiration! I am sorry you hurt your shoulder, that is just awful, but then again, perhaps saved you a lot of work in the long run. The carpet looks amazing! Blessings to you Kim!

    1. Thanks so much, Marilyn. We do work well together and usually we enjoy the process. The tumble was unfortunate, but it's starting to heal and I guess I learned a good lesson in the meantime. Avoid slippery socks! Ha!!

  10. Well, it looks absolutely wonderful...even if it was a bit wonky putting it in. I am assuming there are one or two swear words hidden under the carpet nap? lol. I hope you have a wonderful weekend and it looks like you are ahead of schedule for the holidays! xo Diana

    1. Diana, you are a perceptive lady...a few choice words indeed. They just add a little character, right? 😉 They do look very nice and they're much safer now, but they're still wonky. Now you just can't see it! Happy Holidays!!

  11. Hi,
    How are you healing?
    I have started to wear shoes in the house during most of the day and during any projects, because I too would be bare foot or in socks and I had a few mishaps. ;-)

    Your project turned out fantastic. :-) I appreciate the tutorials, because we have several house projects to keep pressing on into 2023.

    1. Healing up nicely, Carla, thanks for asking! We’re so happy with the way the stairs turned out.

  12. Kim, I think it looks great! Safety should always come first, and it doesn't matter that it started out as a runner and ended as wall to wall carpeting. Older homes have their charm, and although our home is only 26 years old, it has developed some quirks as it "resettled" after the tornado. We will probably need to order a couple of new windows this spring, and our limestone flooring in the kitchen is cracked in places, but that just adds to the char, right?!?!? ;P

    BTW I didn't know that there was a staple gun attachment for air compressors. That's very helpful for me to know because Mr. Bookish has an air compressor!

    1. Oh boy, Ricki, I didn't realize how much damage your house sustained in the tornado...but yes, cracks always add charm. At least that's what I tell myself! 😉

  13. Looks great, Kim!

    Deanna Rabe

  14. Looks great, Kim. You and hubby make a great team. Do be careful on stairs, my friend. Hugs.

  15. You guys are DIY rockstars, in my opinion! I could never imagine tackling such a complicated project, but you did it and it looks amazing!

  16. I think it looks really great! Good job and major improvement to the stairs. Merry Christmas, friend. (:

  17. Kim,
    OMG!! It looks amazing! Love how it came out!!