Q: We are replacing our stairwell flooring with some form of “wood,” How do I choose from the many options?
A: You’ve been going up and down those stairs in your house for years, so it’s tempting to think they’re just the same as they always were. But nothing lasts forever, not even the things we most take for granted. If you’re starting to hear creaks, or seeing cracks in the wood or discoloration, it might be time to change out the treads.
Not to be confused with tire treads, stair treads are the boards across the top of the stair that your feet steps on as you walk up or down. The vertical kick plates between stairs are known as risers, and the saw-tooth shaped pieces supporting the stairs from beneath are stringers. All these pieces need to be fitted tightly together to avoid creaking as the stairs are being used.
If it’s time to address some squeaks, cracks or other stair problems, it’s a great opportunity to increase their beauty as well. Hardwood stairs with a decorative runner can increase the graciousness of your home. Ranging in price to fit any budget, stair treads can be matched to any décor.
• Poplar Stair Treads: Lightweight, and somewhat soft for a hardwood, poplar is fine-grained in white to yellow-brown. It paints well and is easy to cut.
• Beech Stair Treads: Stronger than oak or maple, beech is typically a reddish-brown wood that is fairly straight grained.
• Ash Stair Treads: Quite strong, ash is grayish-brown in color and grows all over USA and Canada.
• Red Oak Stair Treads: Hard, strong, rigid with a pronounced open grain, red oak resists warping. Its reddish color finishes well but is moderately hard to cut.
• Hickory Stair Treads: Very strong, hickory is known for its distinctive look and sharp contrast in light and dark color.
• White Oak Stair Treads: Hard, strong, white oak is open-grained, but not as pronounced as red oak. It resists shrinking and warping, has a golden color, and finishes well.
• Hard Maple Stair Treads: Extremely hard, hard maple pieces with bird’s-eye or wavy grains are highly prized. Its color ranges from reddish to nearly white in color, and it finishes well.
• Cherry Stair Treads: The beautiful markings in cherry have long fascinated woodworkers. The heartwood varies from light brown to a reddish brown and will gradually darken over time with exposure to light.
• Walnut Stair Treads: Hard, heavy, extra strong with a fairly pronounced, straight grain, walnut resists warping and shrinking. It is light to dark brown in color and finishes well.
• Mahogany Stair Treads: Durable and fine-grained, mahogany resists shrinking, warping, and swelling. It finishes well and is easy to cut.
• Birch Stair Treads: Hard, strong and fine-grained, birch resists shrinking and warping. It is similar in color to maple and finishes fairly well.
Some other issues to consider in choosing your stair treads:
Diversity: If you want your home to have a unique flair, try hickory, cherry, walnut, white oak, or maple for your stair treads. Go to flooring retailers or search the Internet to compare and contrast.
Prefinished: Order your stair treads prefinished, and you won’t have to deal with having to stay away from the stairs for a few days while the finish seals. Factory finished pieces can generally be installed in one day with very little mess. Also, prefinished pieces can move independently with humidity changes in your home. This decreases the risk of seasonal separations that cause those creaks.
Color: Some species of flooring are so beautiful in their natural color that they do not require any added color. Compare hickory, cherry or walnut stair treads to get a sense of the possibilities.
Texture: Hardwoods do not have to be smooth. Hand scraped, distressed and reclaimed pieces are becoming more and more available. These pieces have a classic look and add great value to upscale homes.
Turn those irritating squeaks into an occasion for more beauty with restored stair treads. The “ups and downs” in your life will suddenly become a lot better!