For classic style and elegance, nothing beats hardwood. This type of flooring adapts to all shapes of stair treads and is available in a range of different wood species, finishes and colours. Oak is renowned for its hardness and durability and is therefore a popular choice in high-traffic areas; however, most other species of hardwood (yellow birch, maple, etc.) can be used on stairs. Wood can vary in price significantly, depending on the species and finish chosen.
Wooden stair treads come either untreated or pre-varnished or stained. If you buy them untreated you will need to coat them with polyurethane varnish, recommended for its high resistance. Varnish does tend to change colour slightly or yellow with age, so re-sanding and re-varnishing is often necessary after a few years. To keep the wood looking good, the stairs should be washed either with a product specially designed for hardwood floors or simply with water (without vinegar or detergent). Installing hardwood on stairs can be done by any experienced do-it-yourselfer equipped with the right tools
Laminate (floating) flooring
Laminate is a very popular flooring option that can also be used on the stairs. Available in a wide array of colours and qualities, laminate is made primarily of high-density fibre board (HDF) overlaid with a photographic image and a protective layer of lacquer. Most laminate floors are made to look like wood, but some companies also offer products that mimic ceramic tile. Laminate is an economical alternative to real hardwood or ceramic tile, and some of the thinner (6 mm) products are sold at very competitive prices, but they are less durable than the sturdier, more expensive options offered in thicknesses of up to 12 mm.
Laminate flooring is very simple to install and can go over most existing surfaces, with the exception of carpet. A membrane is laid underneath the laminate boards to absorb sound and protect them from humidity. The boards interlock with one another and do not need to be secured to the sub-floor. Hardwood stair nosing is required to finish the tread. Laminate flooring is not so well-suited to spiral or curved staircases, due to the cutting required. As well, this type of flooring can wear relatively quickly under heavy foot traffic. However, its low cost and easy maintenance easily compensate for this.
Many people choose carpeting for the stairs. Carpet comes in a wide variety of colours, patterns, textures and prices, to suit all tastes and needs. Carpet is an excellent sound-absorbing material, which is a definite advantage in busy areas such as the stairs. It is also soft underfoot and warm in winter. The main disadvantage of carpet is the high level of maintenance required to keep it clean. It collects dust easily, which can be a problem for allergy sufferers. Plus, it shows dirt and stains easily, especially if the staircase is near an outside door. It may be necessary in such cases to install a plastic runner to protect the carpet from wear and tear. Carpet pile also wears down relatively quickly in high-traffic areas, which makes it difficult to keep the carpet looking fresh and new. Although carpeting is a little more complicated to install than laminate flooring, it is a job that can be done by most experienced do-it-yourselfers.
Ceramic tiles can be installed on top of wood or concrete. They come in a wide array of colours and patterns, with prices varying according to their quality. Opting for a non-skid or textured finish will prevent potential accidents due to slippery tiles.
Ceramic is an extremely durable product that does not wear, even under heavy foot traffic. It is also very easy to clean. Its main disadvantage lies in the fact that it is hard and cold underfoot. Professional installation is recommended, especially for curved or spiral staircases, but an experienced do-it-yourselfer can also manage the job. Epoxy grout is recommended for greater resistance.
Good quality vinyl is a relatively good-value solution. This material is offered in a wide range of styles, colours and textures, and blends in well with all types of decor. Its thickness determines its quality, durability and price. Vinyl can change colour slightly, usually through exposure to sunlight. Maintenance is extremely easy: just sweep clean and wash with soapy water. Applying wax from time to time will help keep its sheen. Although vinyl is relatively easy to install, manufacturers’ techniques vary. Some makes have to be stuck down with glue across the whole surface, while others are only glued around the edges. The thicker the vinyl, the less easy it is to handle and cut. The stair tread should be finished with plastic nosing.
Concrete is gaining in popularity with fans of urban decor. Such a staircase must be custom built, however, as the weight of concrete means it cannot be installed over an existing staircase. A concrete staircase comprises a metal stringer with no risers. The advantage of concrete is that it is a highly durable material that requires little maintenance.
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