Refacing Basement Stairs Home Improvement

I have to be honest: at this point in my never ending home renovations, I’m not putting out my best work. I just want to get it done so that I can put the house up for sale. To move this along, I’ve lowered my standards slightly. That’s not to say that I’m doing things poorly, just that I’m not doing as good of a job as I would if I were keeping this house.

My building philosophy is that the best results come from superior workmanship, and material choices are secondary. Using the best material doesn’t always guarantee the best results and using the lowest cost material doesn’t always mean you end up with a substandard finish. The “x factor” in this is workmanship – the skill and experience of the builder. I’ve seen very well done projects made from the lowest cost material and I’ve seen very badly made things made from the most expensive. Of course, the best of the best uses choice material and the highest quality workmanship, but this is usually reserved for those that can afford to pay for it.

With the basement floor finished, I have one more task to complete: the stairs that go up to the family room. This is a short flight, just five steps to finish, and one of these is a landing at the bottom. The landing is a concrete pad that was poured on the basement floor slab for the wooden steps to rest on.
The stairs are original, just the ready-for-carpet variety made from spruce framing lumber and plywood. They were painted brown by the previous owner, since the basement was not finished at that time:

the old stairs

The first step (no pun) is to screw down plywood over the concrete pad. The plywood provides a sub-floor for the finished floor to attach to.
Whenever you cover a concrete pad that is on grade (on the ground), you need a moisture barrier between it and the wood above. This prevents rot. Here I’m using 6 mil plastic.

the landing

To support the new risers, cleats are glued and nailed to the old treads. A piece of plywood is used to line the cleat up with the tread nosing on the step above:

cleats line up with nosing

The new risers will be glued and nailed to the cleats and tread nosing.

cleats in the corners

To accurately size each riser, I’m using a stair jig:

measuring the risers

This is easy to make and indispensable when you are looking for a tight fit.

the stair jig

The risers are made from 1/2″ thick good one side plywood, glued and nailed in place. The top edge of each riser should come up flush with the top of the old tread it fastens to, to provide support for the new tread.

the risers installed

The stair jig makes cutting the risers fast and very precise. The stringer (side of the stair) is 2″ x 10″ framing lumber, and had cupped slightly. Since these risers will be painted to match the stringers, small gaps can be filled with latex caulk.

closeup on the fit

Before going any further, it’s a good idea to caulk the gaps and get a couple of coats of paint on the risers:

the risers painted

This includes the bottom riser, which is quite a bit shorter. I used a well seasoned spruce 2″ x 4″ for this, notching it around the wall bump-out.

the bottom riser painted

For the new treads, I’m using the same red pine as I used in the family room. To avoid a lot of sanding, I’ve planed these to a uniform thickness and ripped off the tongue and groove.

pine for the treads

It will take two pieces to made a tread, and I’m using biscuits and polyurethane adhesive at each joint:

joining the boards

The stair jig is used to measure the treads to get a tight fit:

measuring the treads with the stair jig

These are glued near the front with polyurethane construction adhesive and nailed in place.

the treads installed

The bottom landing is boarded over to match, and the treads and landing are given a coat of the stain / urethane finish used on the floor above. This is where the project slows for subsequent coats of clear finish, with a day’s drying time between coats.:

the bottom landing

treads stained and finished

When the treads are completely finished, I mask them out and paint the final coat on the risers and stringers:

painting the risers and stringers

A good trick to stop paint from bleeding under the masking tape is to give the joint a very light coat first, and let this dry before painting. This seals any gap between the tape and the wood.


Finished. Almost too nice for basement steps:


It still needs a hand rail and I’ll get to that eventually.


It turned out well and I’m happy with the final result. I’m also happy that it is done, and that’s one less thing left to do before this house is finished.