The best and worst basement stair ideas
When it comes to basements, finding flooring solutions for your steps is sometimes a bit tricky. That’s because the basement steps are often concrete and constructed differently than rest of your home.
Many basement steps are uneven and the stairs in older homes are often narrow and windy. That’s because these homes were designed for smaller people (with smaller feet) and houses used to be smaller than they are today.
This sometimes makes it a challenge to find the ideal floors for your steps. My goal is to make the process simple. The best solution may vary based on the surface you currently have. But, in my mind there are really only 2 good solutions (or a combo of both of these).
In this article, I’m going to share my top flooring choices for basement steps as well as the ones you want to avoid.
Please note that this article contains affiliate links and your can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.
The 2 best flooring solutions for basement steps
The starting point to figuring out the best solution is to determine what the base of your stair are made of – do you have some sort of wood base or concrete base? This will determine which of these 2 options is best (and most affordable).
The 2 best solutions for basement stairs are:
1) carpet and 2) hardwood/wood…or even better a combo of these two – wood plus a carpet runner.
Now, if you have concrete steps, I would just recommend doing carpet. It is the easiest, safest and least expensive option.
If you have solid wood steps (of any sort…including pine steps), then you have the choice of
- Refinishing your existing steps
- Painting your existing steps
- Adding carpet on top of the steps
- Refinishing steps and adding a carpet runner
Now, I am assuming that your base steps are in good condition/safe. If they aren’t you probably want to repair or replace them first.
Advantages to carpet on basement steps:
- Generally less expensive (especially if you are putting carpet in the rest of the basement).
- Softer/easier on your feet
- Better for pets, especially dogs
- Safer – less likely to have a fall…and more cushioning if you do
- Camouflages issues on the steps (e.g. if steps are a bit uneven or there are gaps at the edges.
Disadvantages of carpet:
- Wears down faster/gets dirtier.
- Doesn’t look as good as hardwood
Advantages for hardwood on basement steps:
This assumes you already have wood on the steps (even if it’s underneath the carpet. Both hardwood and pine can be sanded and refinished. You can choose light or dark stains, pending on your preference.
- Looks nicer and more upscale
- Lasts longer
- Inexpensive…in fact, it can cost you less than carpet (assuming you have wood treads. And, if you are refinishing another area of your home, you will save even more money by combining this.
Disadvantages of wood on steps:
- Less safe than carpet
- Noisier than carpet
Note: If you just have plywood on the steps, you’ll probably be better off adding carpet on top, especially as plywood isn’t usually finished properly at the edges, especially if you have landings or pie steps. And, it’s not so easy to refinish plywood (due to the layers).
What about painting the steps?
You also have the option of painting your wood steps. Sometimes, this is a cheap, easy and good DIY project. But, the paint doesn’t seem to hold up as well as stains (which penetrate the wood) and it usually looks cheaper. If you have a light color, it can show the dirt…unless you choose the 3rd hybrid (and preferred) option of doing wood + a carpet runner.
But, the paint option usually looks much better if you do a paint//carpet runner hybrid. And, that brings me to my next point.
Advantages of hardwood and runner combo on basement steps:
This is my favorite option, when you can do it (assuming you already have wood steps). It has all the advantage of carpet (safety, softness, less noise) and all the advantages of hardwood…and it looks upscale. In fact, it’s the most stylish option out there.
Carpet runners are super stylish (check out Carpet and runner trends). They are great for people and pets.
- Nicest and most premium looking option
- Soft and easy on your feet
- Safer and more slip resistant
- Better for pets, especially aging pets
- Allows you to do white paint on the steps (for a lighter look) but not worry about it getting dirty (due to the carpet runner)
- Costs more as you need to pay for the runner + refinishing the steps.
Note: I would avoid carpet treads, as they look super cheap, collect dust and don’t last very long. And, when they start to come loose, they can become a tripping hazard. Go for the real thing. And, you’ll be happy to know that regular carpet runners save your risers as well (the part your feed kick so that you don’t have to keep repainting.
What to avoid for basement steps
- Luxury Vinyl Planks (LVP)/Engineered Vinyl Planks (EVP) – I recently wrote and article about LVP flooring, a great choice for basement floors. I’m constantly asked if this is a good option for steps, and my answer is a consistent NO.
Well first, these are not very safe. Second, they don’t look nice. And, third, if your steps aren’t even, they can be a disaster.
So, let me explain. Luxury vinyl planks (such as Coretec Plus) are designed to be floating floors. That means that they are not attached to floor. You would use shoe molding at the edges to secure it. And, these make your steps look sloppy and rather unprofessional. In addition, you need t use an overlap stair nose on the front to secure the material. These also look sloppy and cheap…and they can even cause a tripping hazard.
Now, some people will choose to glue the material down. But, glue doesn’t hold well to the cork underlayment nor to concrete. And, if the steps are not 100% level (as is often the case for steps in a basement), over time, just from walking up and down the steps, the material will move and the glue will detach.
- Laminate – These are also floating floors, so they have the same issues that luxury vinyl planks do.
- Tile – This is just a terrible option in my opinion for safety reasons. Have you ever slipped on steps? I have, and broke my foot. Not fun. I can’t imagine if I had fallen on tile steps.
I would never put them in a home if I had kids, dogs or elderly parents who come to visit. It’s a recipe for disaster. And, it’s a major turn off if you plan on selling your home in the future.
They are also harder on your feet (which is a big issue for dogs as they age…as well as all of us), they are colder, and they also look sloppy at the edges. And, of course they are noisier.
- Concrete only – These are also unsafe, so I would not recommend them. I understand that they come along with many basements, but I would put carpet on top of them for safety reasons. Plus, the carpet will make it easier on your feet, warmer and easier on your feet.
In my childhood home, we had 3 concrete steps to the basement and never really thought about it since it was only 3 steps. But after my dad broke his back, we added carpeting to these steps and wow what a difference that made for him. He still talks about how much easier it is for him, and that was probably 6 or 7 years ago.
Other suitable flooring solutions for basement stairs
Another option for basement steps is do some sort of glue down vinyl. While the floating luxury floors aren’t safe for steps, glue down vinyl does work. Of course it doesn’t look as upscale because you need some sort of stair nose, and these are usually either metal or rubber. They just don’t look as nice as carpet or hardwood.
What if you have asbestos tiles on your basement steps?
I come across asbestos tile in basements fairly often. (These are usually 9″ x 9″ vinyl tiles that are usually flecked). I see them most often in homes that were built in the 1950s and 1960s when they used Vinyl Asbestos tiles quite often (before they knew these were dangerous). I see these tiles more often on the basement floors, but occasionally on basement steps as well.
If you have asbestos tile, don’t panic. While asbestos can be very dangerous, asbestos tile is generally not an issue unless the tile is coming up/breaking apart and becomes air borne. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE IT. This is when it does become dangerous.
You can always get an asbestos abatement and hire properly licensed experts to cordon off the area and correctly remove and remedy the situation. Just don’t try to do this yourself.
Now, if you have asbestos tile and it’s intact, leave it in place. Your options will be a bit more limited. You can encapsulate it with carpet. If you have wood underneath the tile, you are out of luck. Do not remove the asbestos yourself. Either leave it in place and get carpet or get a professional abatement.
Other tips for basement stairs
- Make sure the area is well lit – this is important for safety…and to make your space look lighter, brighter and larger.
- Paint paneled walls, if you have them – Wood paneled walls look dated and darker. So, I’d recommend you prime and paint them white. Find out how to paint paneled walls here.
- Banisters/spindles – Make sure the steps are safe with banisters and spindles to reduce chances for anyone slipping or falling through.
Best and cheapest options for basement flooring
When it comes to basement flooring, there are many flooring options and they range in price. Basements can be a bit tricky if you have a concrete floor, so there is no one size fits all. For detailed options, and pros & cons, check out the article on best basement flooring options. I share the 10 best choices for basement flooring.
Final thoughts on basement stairs
When it comes to steps in the basement, my first choice will always be hardwood floors and a carpet runner as it’s the best of both worlds – stylish and safe. If that doesn’t work you, both carpet and hardwood are great options. Choose the one that works best for your needs and preferences.
Related basement articles:
- Best flooring choices for basement floors
- What is luxury vinyl plank flooring
- Coretec Plus vinyl flooring
- Waterproof floors for basements
- Flooded basement? Advice on working with your insurance company