How to Remodel Carpeted Stairs with Wood RetroTreads

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This project shows how to remodel carpeted stairs with wood RetroTreads® made by Young Manufacturing. RetroTreads are available through flooring distributors and sold by retailers as Stairtek Retreads. About 90% of the work was preparation and 10% installation. I did the work myself over several evenings and weekends. The materials cost about $1,300:

  • $1,050 for 17 oak RetroTreads and 17 Plain Risers.
    My stairs have 16 steps but I bought an extra tread and riser for spares.
  • $16 oak floor threshold moulding
  • $60 for polyurethane construction adhesive in 10 oz. cartridges.
  • $15 for oil-based wood stains
  • $120 gallon of commercial grade floor finish
  • $6 disposal foam paint brushes
  • $24 heavy duty caulk gun

Remodeled Carpet Stairs – Before & After RetroTreads

My home had carpeted stairs which are not very appealing:

Carpeted Stairs before Remodeling with Young RetroTreads

Carpeted Stairs before Remodeling with Young RetroTreads

After remodeling the stairs with oak RetroTreads and Risers. I used Miniwax Golden Oak 210B to stain the treads and Varathane Kona on the risers:

Carpet Stair Remodel with Young Mfg RetroTreads

Carpet Stair Remodel with Young Mfg RetroTreads

RetroTreads and Risers closeup view:

Remodeled Stairs with Young Mfg RetroTreads

Remodeled Stairs with Young Mfg RetroTreads

View from the top of the stairs:

Young Manufacturing RetroTread - Carpet Stairs Remodel

Young Manufacturing RetroTread – Carpet Stairs Remodel

My stairs are 36 1/2″ wide. I purchased 42 inch wide unfinished red oak RetroTreads and plain Risers to stain and finish myself. Always buy treads/risers that are several inches longer than the original stairs because the ends will be cut off to fit the old stairs.

Table of Contents

This is a multi-part series:

  1. How to Remodel Carpeted Stairs with Wood RetroTreads (you are here)
    RetroTread remodeling overview, installation options, staining and finishing.
  2. Carpet to Wood Stairs Remodel – Saw off Old Stair Nosing
    Remove the carpet, saw off the old stair noses and sanding the stairs.
  3. Carpet Stair Remodel – Measure and Saw Wood RetroTreads
    Stair tread template/gauge tool, miter and table saw work, dry fitting the new treads and risers.
  4. RetroTread Stair Remodel – Landing Tread to Carpet Floor Transition
    Fitting the final tread under the upstairs door jambs and carpet floor transition moulding.
  5. Carpet to Wood Stair Remodel: How to Install RetroTreads and Risers
    Install the new treads and riser with polyurethane construction adhesive and brad nails.

How to Remodel Carpeted Stairs with Wood RetroTreads

The RetroTread sales model shows how the system works:

  1. Remove the carpet.
  2. Saw off the old stair nosing.
  3. Install RetroRisers and RetroTreads using construction adhesive and brad nails.
Young RetroTread Demonstration Model

Young RetroTread Demonstration Model

RetroTreads are available for closed and open stairs:

Young RetroTread - Carpeted Stair Demo Model

Young RetroTread – Carpeted Stair Demo Model

See the RetroTread installation instructions (.pdf) and installation video:

Pre-Fabricated Box Stairs with Housed Stringers

I considered tearing out the staircase and rebuilding the staircase from scratch, but it would be impractical and expensive due to the pre-fabricated stair construction.

My pre-fab stairs have “housed stringers” with wood wedges glued in dados (i.e. slots) cut in the stringers. It’s a common design, very strong and doesn’t squeak. Plywood risers are nailed to the pine treads.  The risers cannot be removed because it’s a load bearing member supporting the treads, nor can the treads be removed without destroying the stairs:

Prefabricated Interior Box Stairs

Prefabricated Interior Box Stairs

Closeup of the treads, risers and wood wedges set in dados (slots) cut with a router in the stringers:

Prefab Interior Box Stairs with Housed Stringers - Wedges and Dados

Prefab Interior Box Stairs with Housed Stringers – Wedges and Dados

This diagram illustrates the pre-fab housed stringer box stair construction:

Pre-Fabricated Interior Box Stairs for Carpet Construction Diagram

Pre-Fabricated Interior Box Stairs for Carpet Construction Diagram

RetroTread and Plain Riser Dimensions

RetroTreads are available in 36″, 42″, 48″ and 60″ lengths. The tread and riser profile dimensions are:

Young Manufacturing RetroTread and Plain Oak Riser Dimensions

Young Manufacturing RetroTread and Plain Oak Riser Dimensions

The tread is 5/8″ thick and the riser is 3/4″ thick and very sturdy. A sample RetroTread and Riser assembly:

Young RetroTread and Plain Riser Assembly

Young RetroTread and Plain Riser Assembly

RetroTread Installation Options

RetroTreads can be installed several ways. The three methods from simple & less expensive to more work & expensive are:

Option 1 – RetroTreads with Existing Risers

Remove the carpet, saw off the old tread nosing and install RetroTreads. Paint the old risers your favorite color. This saves time and money:

Young RetroTread Carpet Stair Remodel - Option 1 New Treads Keep Existing Risers

Young RetroTread Carpet Stair Remodel – Option 1 New Treads Keep Existing Risers

Option 2 – RetroTreads with Full Height RetroRisers

Install RetroTreads and full height Risers. The advantage is faster installation because:

  • If the stairs have a standard 7 1/2″ rise, the new 7 1/2″ Risers don’t have to be ripped lengthwise on table saw.
  • All risers are installed before the treads.

The disadvantages are:

  • Exposed brad nails in the tread at the base of the riser, requiring more wood filling.
  • If the pre-fab riser is bowed along the face, the RetroRiser will also be bowed resulting in an uneven joint between the tread and riser.
    I noticed two or three old stair risers were bowed about 3/16 inch, with one side set further back.
Young RetroTread Carpet Stair Remodel - Option 2 New Treads & Full Height Risers

Young RetroTread Carpet Stair Remodel – Option 2 New Treads & Full Height Risers

Option 3 – RetroTreads with Reduced Height RetroRisers

I chose this method to install my treads and risers. The benefits outweigh the additional time and effort in my opinion.

The benefits are:

  • The riser bottom conceals the brad nails along the back of the tread. Less wood filling.
  • Any bowing of the pre-fab stair riser and new riser will be hidden.
  • Allows for an optional 1/4 inch hidden expansion gap between the RetroTread and the old riser.
    The Young Manufacturing installation instructions (.pdf) don’t call for an expansion gap although it’s shown in the Stairtek Retread Installation video.

The cons are:

  • Each riser must be sawn from 7 1/2″ to 6 7/8″ high because it rests on the RetroTread.
  • Risers and treads must be installed in sequence working your way up the stairs, which is a bit more time consuming compared to installing all risers first per Option 2 above.
Young RetroTread Carpet Stair Remodel - Option 3 New Treads & Sawn Risers

Young RetroTread Carpet Stair Remodel – Option 3 New Treads & Sawn Risers

This how Option 3 looks during installation:

Carpet to Wood Stair Remodel - RetroTread Installation

Carpet to Wood Stair Remodel – RetroTread Installation

RetroTread and Riser Staining & Finishing

Pre-finished RetroTreads and Risers are available. I bought unfinished materials to stain my preferred colors. I strongly recommend finishing before installation as it would be way more difficult and messy afterwards.

Staining the treads and risers your favorite colors is easy. My treads are stained Minwax Wood Finish Golden Oak 210B and risers Varathane Kona. A 1/2 pint of each stain was enough for the entire job:

Young RetroTread and Plain Riser Staining

Young RetroTread and Plain Riser Staining

The edge of the treads and risers are stamped with Young Manufacturing label:

Young Manufacturing - Plain Riser Label

Young Manufacturing – Plain Riser Label

I used Minwax Golden Oak oil-based wood stain because the color depends on how long it’s allowed to soak into the board and number of recoats. I wanted a lighter shade to better match the wood floors. I brushed it on, waited 3 minutes and wiped off the excess:

Young RetroTread Staining with Minwax

Young RetroTread Staining with Minwax

The instructions say to wipe off the excess with rags. I used paper towels which worked fine:

Young RetroTread - Wipe off excess Minwax Stain

Young RetroTread – Wipe off excess Minwax Stain

Finishing RetroTreads

My wood floors were professionally sanded and refinished with Bona Traffic HD water-based commercial floor finish in a satin sheen and it’s performed great! Bona Traffic costs 2 to 3 times more than consumer floor finishes, isn’t available at the big box home improvement stores and has almost no odor. You can buy it on Amazon.com or at a flooring supply distributor. A gallon of finish includes an 11 ounce bottle of hardener. I mixed small one-pint batches using the specified ratio of finish to hardener and applied 3 to 4 finish coats to 16 treads and risers (32 total pieces) over several evenings, ultimately using about 1/2 gallon of finish.

Young RetroTread - Finish with Bona Traffic HD

Young RetroTread – Finish with Bona Traffic HD

The Bona finish was applied using disposable foam brushes with excellent results.

I chose Varathane Kona color stain for the risers for a nice contrast with the treads. Varathane reaches full color in a single coat which was important for a consistency:

Young RetroTread - Varathane Kona Color Stain Before & After Finishing with Bona Traffic HD

Young RetroTread – Varathane Kona Color Stain Before & After Finishing with Bona Traffic HD

Bona Traffic dries in 2 to 3 hours so I was able to apply two coats per evening. Additional finish coats can be applied within 48 hours without sanding.

Bona Traffic may slightly raise the wood grain because it’s a water-based finish. I couldn’t see the raised grain but it feels like fine sprinkles of sand. A quick sanding between coats with a sheet of 400 grit sandpaper wrapped around a paint roller nap for support made the surface silky smooth. Sanding only took 2 or 3 minutes per tread and riser. Vacuum and wipe off the dust before applying the next finish coat:

Young RetroTread - Sand with 400 Grit Sandpaper between Finish Coats

Young RetroTread – Sand with 400 Grit Sandpaper between Finish Coats

This project is continued in Carpet to Wood Stairs Remodel – Saw off Old Stair Nosing.

Thanks,

Bob Jackson

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