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Should I replace wall skirt when installing new retro treads on existing stairs

12074 Views 12 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  Keith Mathewson
Installing retro treads on existing stairs or complete stairway rebuild?

I am planning to install new (retro?) treads over my existing previously carpeted stairs by putting new 1/2" thick treads with 1" bull noses on top of the old treads.The stairs have a wall skirt along one side that was cut/fitted around the existing treads. The other side of the stairway is open. This stairway is visible from the living room, dining room, and entrance way so good appearance is pretty important to me. It will have a nice oak over-the-post handrail with a fancy starting newel, custom iron balusters, and such.

For the new treads, I need to decide if I want to either (a) leave the exisiting skirt in place and butt the new treads against the existing skirt or (b) replace the existing skirt with a new skirt after the new treads are installed. To help me decide, I wanted to ask the following:

Would one of these two methods be considered the obvious better or professional way to do this or is it dependent on circumstances? I ask because I would expect that using method (a) is easier but could show more cracks between the tread and the wall when looking down at the steps if the new treads are not cut perfectly and (b) would be harder to do but might look like a more professional installation if done well. The new treads will be stained oak and the skirt will be painted white so using wood putty/filler to cover up less than perfect work may not be a consideration. Also, while I can do reasonably good finsih carpenty work, cutting out a stair skirt to match the profile of the new bull nosed treads and risers exactly seems a bit challenging.

Putting the question another way, is it a dumb idea to tear out the perfectly good existing wall skirt? And if I do decide to do that, would hiring a professional stair installer to install the new skirt be the obvious thing to do?

Thanks in advance for any advice on this.
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There are two different types of stairs----cut stringers---with the treads and risers nailed and glued--

and inset stringers ---where the 'skirt board' is routed out and the treads and risers are slipped into the skirt and wedged from underneath.

Before anyone can offer useable help--we need to know what you have.

Give us a better description----pictures will help----if the underside of the stair case is open--tell us what you see----
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The skirt along the right wall is routed out and the treads and risers fit inside the routed out area. The skirt appears to be a 1" board and not a stringer but I cannot be sure without tearing up a tread or the skirt a bit. The tread on the left is sitting on top of a stringer. There is a finished pantry with built in shelves below the stairs so viewing/accessing the stairs from below is not something I want to do if I can avoid it. I attached some pictures to show a bit more. Glad to take more pictures or explain more if it helps.



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Another relevent bit of information is that the bottom step riser is a bit shorter and the top riser is quite a bit longer than the risers in the middle. While not ideal, adding 3/4" (retro) treads on top of the old treads reduces the largest variance and moves it to the bottom step, which is probably safer than having it at the top. While the 'right thing to do' is to replace all the treads, risers, and stringers, I would not like to do that. Note that the top riser measurment includes a 3/4" allowance for the carpet on the landing, which will be replaced with a 3/4 oak bull nose along the edge.

What do you all think?

Existing riser measurements:

Step _____Riser

Landing* _____8 4/8
9 ____________7 3/8
8 ____________7 3/8
7 ____________7 3/8
6 ____________7 3/8
5 ____________7 3/8
4 ____________7 3/8
3 ____________7 3/8
2 ____________7 3/8
1 ____________7 2/8

New stairs with 3/4 retro treads

Landing* ______7 6/8
9 ____________7 3/8
8 ____________ 7 3/8
7 ____________ 7 3/8
6 ____________7 3/8
5 ____________ 7 3/8
4 ____________ 7 3/8
3____________ 7 3/8
2 ____________ 7 3/8
1 ____________ 8
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That is a housed stringer, this is not going to be an easy fix, adding the 1/2 inch thick tread on top is only going to make a cosmetic difference, the stairs still won't be in code. They can be fixed so that all risers will be the same and really should be to protect you and your family and friends from a fall not to mention a law suit.

The rise should be 7.475" each step. This can be fixed with furring strips and good glue, screws or nails. The nose of the existing treads are going to have to be cut off and by adding to the top of the tread it is going to leave a hole the shape of the nosing in the right side stringer that will have to be dealt with.

The return or open end of the step will have a raw edge of the tread you are covering up to deal with also, as that round over return will have to be removed. This can be solved with stair braces which is a decorative addition.

New risers will have to be installed to hide the raw edge of the nosing that will have to be cut off. By adding the new risers you will have to deal with the new thickness of the top riser or you will have a deeper tread on the last tread.

The ideal way to correct this and what should have been done when installed, is the unit as a whole needs to be raised so the first and last step are the same.

This is a aggravating job even for an experienced stair man, for a DIYer it can really be frustrating, I always hated this type of job.
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As has been noted you have some big challenges and your proposed approach will be difficult at best.

When I make a housed stringer stair the treads and risers are glued & screwed together. You will never take that stair apart, ever. I don't think that this is the case for your stairs, so I'm going to make some big guesses and I may be very wrong. That stair was never meant to have carpet. I'm guessing that that stair is a production stair built in a stair shop and that your house is at least 30 years old and you are east of Mississippi. If that is the case your risers may simply be nailed into the back of the treads. If so you may be able to cut out the risers and leaver out the treads. If that works then you can remove all the treads and risers, leaving the skirt in place. Then sand down the skirt, it is probably clear fir. Buy new treads & risers, make new shims, and install what you desire.
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Well, I am definately going to get the stair treads, risers, and handrail professionally installed. This is not a job for a weekend handyman, such as myself. I will still need to decide on how to have it done in consulation with a pressional installer. I chisled off the end of one tread to see what was what and took a few pictures. This is what I am thinking at the moment.

- The existing treads, risers, wall skirt (housed stringer), and stringers under the treads will be kept in place rather than torn out.
- The new treads will be shimmed and installed over the old treads so that the new risers are of equal height from top to bottom.
- The treads will be cut so that they are equally deep (distance from the front of the new riser to the edge of the bull nose)
- 1/4" thick retro risers will be used to have negligible affect on the positionaing of the treads placed so that all steps are of equal depth.
- Decorative stair brackets (braces) will cover up the ends of the old treads and risers on the left side of the stairway,

I am not quite sure what to do about the wall skirt (housed stringer) short of tearing eveything out, which I do not want to do. However, I can't think of a good alternative solution right now (that would not look like a patch job) and so I am open to more ideas on that.

I responded to some of your comments if that helps.

That stair was never meant to have carpet.
It looks like a runner carpet was installed up the middle with the treads showing on both sides. The center of the treads and risers are unfinished while both ends are finsihed.

your house is at least 30 years old
The house was built in 1970

you are east of Mississippi
Bay Area in Northern California

your risers may simply be nailed into the back of the treads
The treads butt against the risers and so it is quite likely that the risers have been nailed to the back of the treads from underneath the stairs. No way to be sure without doing a tearout.

If so you may be able to cut out the risers and leaver out the treads. If that works then you can remove all the treads and risers, leaving the skirt in place. Then sand down the skirt, it is probably clear fir. Buy new treads & risers, make new shims, and install what you desire.
I am not quite clear on this but I think this is not feasable since the wall skirt (housed stringer) is routed. let me know if I am misunderstaning. Thanks.


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I would say at this point to have a pro come in and tell you what he thinks is the best way to approach correcting them. If I were to be there I would tell you it would be best to start over instead of fighting the existing unit trying to get it in code and make it look good.

More time and money could be poured into it than it is worth. Those stairs were just built wrong to start with. It looks almost like a set of stairs were built elsewhere for another house, brought out and set. I don't see how they ever got past code.
Well, I tore out one of the treads to see exactly what was was going on. I confirmed that there is a housed stringer on the right side that is a 1" (or so) routed board nailed to the wall. On the left is an "open carriage" stringer that is 1" board attached to the wall below the stair case from the side. I also cut out a bit of the carpet at the top of the stairs and found that there is a bull nose edging showing the original (pre-carpet) landing height. I measured the rise for the top step (from top of tread to top of bull nose) and see that it is 7 3/8" just like the other steps. Turns out that the carpet and padding on top of the bull nose is closer to 1 1/8 thick and not the 3/4" I assumed in my earlier riser calculations (shows what happens when you ASS-U-ME stuff). Based upon this new information I now see that the risers were well within code before the carpet was added to the landing and became out of code after the carpet was added. I call it a landing but it is a large carpeted floor area that extends in to 4 bedrooms on that same floor all with the same carpet.

I do not want to remove the carpet on the top landing, I do not want the stairs to be out of code, and I do not want a patch job so I guess I am committed to a complete tear out and rebuild. Also, I do not want to tear out the pantry below the steps (to provide installation access from underneath) if it is not absolutely necessary and I will have a new over-the-post handrail installed (with a starting easing with cap, round starting newel, and iron balusters similar to the example pic further below) if that makes any difference. I am going to hire a professional stair installer to do all this but I expect there may be good, better, and best ways to install the new stringers (and additional skirts if necessary) and knowing what they are will help me better know what I am talking about when I discuss any options with an installer.

Any thoughts/suggestions are appreciated?



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Some more pics


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I hope you didn't tear the right hand stringer up, unless you plan to install from scratch. Since the top landing is in code, without the carpet, maybe you might think about a wooden landing, just at the top of the stairs without carpet, that way you could replace your treads and risers without modifications. If you would like to do it this way, get the pieces of the housed stringer back so it can be glued and fastened back in place.

Basically you would remove the treads and risers and replace them. I don't know how you would glue and wedge them without tearing out the under stair room.
wow you definitely have your hands full here.
If you are going to replace the stairs you might consider calling Top Tread Stairs out of Rio Linda. I don't know anything about them but their website looks like what you should be looking for.
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