Stair Runner Installation: Everything You Need to Know

Putting some carpet onto some steps may seem like an incredibly simple thing. But, there’s more than meets the eye!

If you’re considering installing a carpet runner on stairs in your home or other space, there’s actually quite a bit to know. This guide offers a high-level primer on the main fundamentals of stair runners and how to install them.

What Is a Stair Runner?

A stair runner is rug or carpeting that goes on top of your stairs but doesn’t cover it completely. Stair runners characteristically leave an equal margin — typically a few inches — of wood, cement, or whatever material your stairs are made of on either side of the carpeting. Additionally, the outer edges of the runner carpeting are finished.

floral yellow stair runner in home

Key Terms

To fully understand and appreciate stair runners and carpet installation, you need to be well versed in some basic vocabulary.

Anatomy of Stairs

This isn’t an exhaustive list of staircase components, but it contains terms that might come up in relation to installing carpet on stairs.

  • Landing: This is the level part of flooring at the base, top, or midpoint of the staircase. It provides an area for entering, exiting, or changing directions on the stairway.
  • Step: Staircases are subdivided into smaller units that collectively cover the vertical difference between the top and bottom of the stairway. Each of these subunits is a step. Steps are made up of a tread and riser.
  • Tread: The stair tread is the flat horizontal part onto which you place each footfall.
  • Riser: The stair riser is the vertical piece that gives each step its height. It’s topped with the tread.
  • Nose or nosing: Most treads have a little lip that extends beyond the rise. This ledge can be squared or bullnosed.
  • Throat: The juncture at which the tread meets the riser is called the throat.
  • Newel: This is a vertical post that supports and helps give structure to railing.
  • Spindle: The smaller posts that are between newels are spindles. They also help stabilize the railing and make stairs safer.
floral yellow stair runner in home

Stair Runner Style & Installation

Here are some other good words to be familiar with:

  • Rods: These are the decorative bars that are sometimes on stairs with runners. They are cosmetic touches only and aren’t used to hold the carpeting in place.
  • Rug pad: This is the cushion layer that goes under the carpeting. It’s used to provide comfort to stair users. It also helps with sound and shock absorption.
  • Tack strip or tackless strip: A narrow piece of wood with tiny nails, tack strips are almost always used in stair runner installation. 

Different Kinds of Carpeting Products for Staircases

There’s a wide selection of stair runner carpeting available today. They tend to fall into one of four categories:

  1. Roll runners: This is carpeting that’s expressly designed to be used as stair runners. It comes on a roll in predetermined widths, often with finished outer edges.
  2. Broadloom: Most runners are cut from broadloom carpeting, which is roll carpet that can be used for covering surfaces other than just stairs.
  3. Custom-cut rugs: Sometimes area rugs can be cut into strips and used for stair runners.
  4. Custom runners: A completely bespoke stair runner is also an option. This would be one made to order based on a client’s particular specifications.

Benefits of Stair Runners

blue stair runner

Stair runners are popular for many reasons. Our clients tell us that they want a runner for their staircase to:

  • Make stairs less slippery
  • Make stairs safer for pets, children, and aging adults
  • Protect the subsurface
  • Temper the chill of concrete or wood stairs
  • Muffle sounds
  • Integrate the stairs with the rest of the interior design
  • Visually soften hard edges
  • Inject a pop of color or pattern into a space
  • Make using the stairs more comfortable

Stair Runner Installation Styles

Stair runner style will impact the appearance and installation of a runner. The primary two installation styles for closed staircases are:

Hollywood (aka California)

california style stair runner 

With this style, the runner is stapled under the nose. So, this way of installing the stair carpet can only be done on stairs with adequate nosing. Plus, for best results, the carpet needs to be thick so staples don't show.


waterfall install stair runner

This installation style only secures the carpeting to the staircase by stapling it to the bottom of the riser where it meets the tread.

For floating or open stairs, it’s common to just install a runner piece on each tread with no carpet between each step.

Choosing the Right Stair Runner

Given that there are so many carpeting products — and the kind of staircase and installation style factor in — how does one pick a stair runner? 

Here are some factors to consider as you winnow down your options:

  • Lifestyle. Getting a stair runner that accommodates where and how you live can reduce maintenance demands and make your carpeting last longer.
  • Material. The material can influence price, installation style, maintenance, and longevity. Thinner carpeting tends to not be as durable as thinker alternatives. Certain fibers are more stain-resistant or durable than others.
  • Style. You may need more carpeting if you go with some patterns rather than a solid or “blendable’ motif. Additionally, lighter colors may show signs of wear and tear sooner than darker palettes.
  • Pattern. Often, depending upon the design, the pattern on a carpet runner for curved stairs won’t line up or flow continuously on the bends. The pattern usually pivots at the landings or bends. (This change of directions is typically not visible from the entrance of the staircase.) 
  • Location. Many people lean towards rugged, budget-friendlier options for frequently-used stairs, especially if the stairway is sort of out of the way. For more less-trafficked showpiece staircases, more upscale carpeting may work well. Basement stairs may need carpeting that suits unique environmental conditions. It’s also important to think about the area that the stairs are leading to — like hallways, foyers, or rooms — as this may sway your product selection.
  • Type of staircase. The size, shape, and configuration of your stairway may impact your choice of carpeting and installation styles. For example, stair runners for floating stairs may call for different materials than a closed stairway.
  • Maintenance. All carpeting needs to be cared for to remain in serviceable condition. Different products require different cleaning and repair profiles. Replacing the runner on bottom steps, which wear faster, may be possible with some products.
  • Longevity. Some runners last 3-4 years, while others can endure upwards of 10. Thicker, more substantial carpeting generally has a longer life. A step’s nose will degrade sooner than the rest of the runner areas due to rubber soled shoes and slippers.
  • Price. The more custom or rare the carpeting, the more expensive it will likely be. Designer brands may also have a bigger price tag. Installation costs need to be accounted for as well.
pattern turning

Example of a pattern that pivots on a landing

Installing a Carpet Runner on Stairs — Things to Consider

These topics are bound to come up as you go through the process of shopping for stair runner carpeting.

DIY or Pro Installation 

While the basic process for installing carpet on your stairs isn’t complex, it does take time-earned skill to do it right. Having properly installed stair runners is important for several key reasons, like:

  • It will look much better.
  • It’ll be safer.
  • The flooring and installation is likely to last longer.
  • It can prevent undue harm to surrounding surfaces (e.g., the wooden treads or spindles).

So, if you want professional results, let an expert carpet installer do the job. We can’t possibly list the many advantages to having a pro install the carpet runner on stairs. Suffice it to say: It’s worth it. It’s the easiest way and saves you a lot of hassle!

Tools, Materials & Preparation 

In addition to your carpet of choice, installing a stair runner requires other supplies and materials. The following are commonly used before or during the installation:

  • Fabric scissors
  • Rug pad
  • Rug tape
  • Staples and staple gun
  • Tack strip or tackless strip
  • Bolster chisel
  • Kicker

How to Install a Stair Runner Step-by-Step

Installing a stair runner can be done by following just a handful of steps. We’ve outlined the high-level procedure for a simple set of straight stairs.

The more complex the staircase, the tougher it can get. For example, laying a carpet runner for curved stairs or installing a stair runner on landing that’s a unique size or shape will be trickier and more time consuming. Also, a custom rug or custom runner may complicate matters.

Step 1: Measure & Estimate Amount of Carpet Needed 

measure carpet for stairs

How do you measure for stair runners? Get the length and width of each tread and riser, including the depth of the nose. Then, measure any landing areas that will be carpeted with a runner. For pie-shaped or other non-rectangular treads or landing segments, measure all sides. We recommend making a quick sketch of the staircase and noting the measurements down next to the side it relates to.

From the width of the tread, subtract the amount of space to be left uncarpeted on either side of the runner. Then, multiply the step measurements by the number of steps. Add in the landing area measurements for your rough total.

Step 2: Make Templates (if Needed)

landry & arcari tradesperson measuring carpet

If there are curved or asymmetric portions — like wedge-shaped corner pieces in a spiral landing — a template needs to be made. A template will be needed for each section that isn’t all right angles or running in a straight line. Templating is done so that accurate measurements and cutting can be done.

Templating may also be done to help line up the transitions of patterns and borders between steps and landings as well.

Step 3: Create Padding Pieces

installer adding spaces on stairwell

For each tread, measure out and cut a piece of rug pad for each step. A rug pad for stairs usually covers the entire tread and wraps over the nose. It will be slightly narrower than the width of the carpet.

Step 4: Affix the Padding 

installer affixing the padding for the stairs

Rug padding for stairs needs to be secured in place so that it doesn’t shift around or create lumps. The easiest way to do this is with staples. A few well placed tacks on the rug pad is sufficient.

The padding should be installed so that it’s aligned with the center of the tread. The back edge should abutt the riser above and the front edge should fold over the nose and touch the top of the riser below. Smoothing out any bumps along the way is a must.

Step 5: Install the Carpeting 

installer adding padding for the stairs

Tack, staple, nail the carpet down. Different approaches will be required depending upon the stair runner style — e.g., waterfall installation versus Hollywood installation.

Regardless of stair runner style, the carpeting needs to be kept taut. Tools like a bolster chisel can come in handy here.

Patterns and borders should be aligned, to the highest degree possible.

Step 6: Finish or Transition the Runner

floral yellow stair runner

The beginning and end of the runner need to either be tidily folded under and secured or segued into the non-runner carpeting on the landing. This creates a polished, cohesive look and helps ensure the stair runner is solidly installed.

Step 7: Add Decorative Elements 

decorative stair runner with grey tones

If embellishments — like stair rods or other ornamental hardware — are part of the design plan, they’re added at this stage.

How much do stair runners cost to install?

There’s no single set price for installing a carpet runner on stairs. The cost hinges on a number of variable, such as:

  • Stair runner installation style
  • Staircase size, shape, and type
  • Other material and labor requirements

Most stair runner sellers either will give you a custom quote or have a detailed price matrix that factors in the variables. So, you should have a firm idea of cost before any purchases.

As an example, here at Landry & Arcari, we usually structure the installation fee based on the number of steps and turns and installation style. Using this model, straight stairs with only six steps might cost a few hundred dollars to install a waterfall runner, while a curved staircase with more steps could cost over $1,000 to install a Hollywood-style runner.

Ripping up and removing an existing runner does not add much in terms of cost to the project. 

Installation costs typically include the time, labor, and basic supplies needed to install the stair runner. Decorative elements — like stair rods — may incur an extra fee. The cost should also cover removal and disposal of old stair carpeting.

Stair Runner Installation in Boston

Whether your staircase is a central design feature in your home or just a functional structure allowing you to go between floors, a stair runner can provide many benefits. Proper installation is critical, though, for the best results.

Luckily for you, Landry & Arcari are stair runner experts. Our combination of vast product options and installation expertise are unbeatable. Plus, we love helping you transform your living spaces so you get even more value from your home.

Contact us today for more information, products, and service.

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