I had the opportunity to walk through a brand new house the other day that a relative had just moved into. It was interesting to see the builders used vinyl planks on the basement stairs. I thought of my home and the process for how to install vinyl plank flooring on stairs.
Installing vinyl plank flooring on stairs requires you to measure and cut your planks, so both the riser and tread of each step are perfectly flush with the edge, without overlap. Once cut with a blade, they are glued to the subfloor. The nosing piece is glued to the nose over the top of the plank flooring.
The job itself is not difficult, but getting it to look perfect without gaps along the edges or around the nosing can prove tricky. Most of all, you must take precise measurements, as every stair could be slightly different.
In this article, we’ll go over, step by step, how to install vinyl plank flooring on steps. We’ll also touch on the different types of vinyl flooring planks and your various options for stair nosing pieces.
What is Vinyl Plank Flooring
Vinyl flooring is vinyl planks that click together, which allows them to be connected in a similar way to laminate flooring. They come in many different designs and patterns, mimicking the look of laminate or even hardwood floors.
Planks are made primarily of PVC with a high-res image put on top, often of some type of wood look, but there are also stone, ceramic, and other images that mimic other flooring types. The top is the finish layer which prevents scratching and stains. Some brands come with cork or foam on the bottom, negating the need for underlayment.
Vinyl planks are very easy to install and very durable, making them an ideal option for use on stairs. Manufacturers of vinyl planks have their own nosing pieces that you can purchase to adapt your planks for installation on stairs.
Types of Vinyl
There are many different types of vinyl flooring options, but you’ll most frequently hear the term “luxury vinyl” in reference to vinyl flooring products. “Luxury” is a bit of a misnomer. However, since no one sells “non-luxury” vinyl planks or tiles – it’s more of a marketing gimmick.
The word “luxury” serves to differentiate vinyl tile and planks from the more common form that comes in rolls and is glued to the floor’s surface. Let’s take a look at the various vinyl flooring products below:
- Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) – made from high quality PVC and usually waterproof, LVP comes in planks that resemble laminate or hardwood and often have overlaid hardwood images on them. They come in both click or glue-down varieties.
- Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) is the same as the LVP, but in the tile shape instead of a plank. This flooring comes in glue-down and click and usually features designs that make it resemble ceramic tile. Most brands are waterproof.
- Engineered Vinyl Plank – a newer vinyl product that is similar to LVP but has an additional fiberboard core that makes it more rigid and thicker. It was designed to more closely resemble hardwood flooring. EVP is 100% waterproof.
- Vinyl Sheet Flooring – comes in large rolled sheets that you can purchase by the square foot at your local home reno store off huge rolls. This type of vinyl is glue-on and much thinner than LVP. Underlayment is typically recommended. It is the cheapest vinyl option by far.
Can You Put Vinyl Plank Flooring on Stairs?
Yes, you can put vinyl plank flooring on the stairs. Careful measurement of risers and treads will allow you to adhere planks to your stairs accurately. Install the appropriate nosing piece flush or over the stair tread nose to transition between the tread and riser.
When purchasing LVP for stair installation, do your research to determine what type of stair nose piece is available for the type of vinyl plank you want to buy. Some will have nosings that overlap the end of the tread, while others offer flush versions.
If you like the look and feel of flush nosing, then be sure your LVP brand offers it. Installing flush nosing is more time-consuming than overlapping nosing but can make a smoother walk up and down the stairs.
Many people prefer to have vinyl planks on stairs due to its durability and relative ease of installation. It relies on ultra-strong adhesive and the application of the planks is very straightforward.
Vinyl Plank Flooring on Stairs Pros and Cons
Although vinyl is a durable and quick solution for steps, there are, of course, some drawbacks. The good news is that every year there seems to be yet another hundred or so different vinyl products on the market, so be sure to do your research.
- Very durable
- Usually waterproof
- Simple installation
- Many designs and manufacturers to choose from
- Easy to clean
- Nosing pieces can be expensive
- Fancier planks are also very expensive
- Glue-on application not as strong as screwing or nailing
How To Install Vinyl Plank Flooring on Stairs
Installing luxury vinyl flooring is straightforward as long as you take your time and measure twice! It is essential that, before you install, you measure and cut your pieces to rough fit them before gluing. This will help ensure the right fit for each step.
A few key tools will drastically speed up your vinyl plank stair install and help you get a professional-looking job every time. You’ll need:
- Utility knife with lots of blades
- Speed square
- Measuring tape
Additionally, you can use these tools to make your job much easier and faster:
The tread gauge will help you most if you have old stairs whose treads and risers vary from step to step. It adjusts to take the exact measurements of each tread and riser and even accounts for those that aren’t perfectly square, which allows you to fit the vinyl flooring perfectly each time.
A vinyl cutter, or flooring cutter, is a nice but non-essential option. It will speed up your job as scoring and breaking take longer than simply pushing down the cutter’s handle to cut your plank. You cannot make lengthwise cuts with a flooring cutter, however. These tools can be rented at home reno stores offering tool rental.
Step 1 – Prepare the Sub-floor
Vinyl is known to reveal the subfloor’s imperfections beneath, even slight dips and rises like screw holes or other debris.
Cleaning, sanding, and filling holes is a critical part of prepping your stairs for vinyl planks. It is also a great opportunity to fix any creaks that you notice with screws. Use a filling compound to adjust steps for level and fill holes. Sand smooth for a flat surface.
Don’t forget to sand your risers, too! Even though you won’t walk on the risers, you’ll look at them and any imperfection beneath the vinyl riser will be visible every time you walk up the stairs.
Step 2 – Adjust Existing Stair Nosing
Depending on your subfloor, you may have a subfloor with a tread that overlaps the riser. If not, you can skip this step. If you do have a nosing, you’ll make your life way easier if you remove the overlap, so you have a nice right angle between your tread and riser on the stair subfloor.
You can add lumber of the thickness of the overlap over the existing riser to eliminate the nosing on the subfloor. Any lumber you add to your stair riser subfloor will have to cover the entirety so that the vinyl plank has a complete surface to adhere to.
If you leave the subfloor nosing on your stairs, you will not be able to use the nosing that goes with your LVP flooring. Some DIYers have found ways to “bend” their planks over the subfloor nosing, but there is no evidence that those solutions will stand up over time to the punishment a set of stairs takes.
Step 3 – Measure Top Tread and Riser
Measure the top riser and tread, working your way down the flight of steps. You must work from the top step since you must let the adhesive set for several hours before using the stairs. Thus, once you glue it on, you can’t stand on it and glue the next stair down.
If you are using your stair gauge, adjust it, so either edge sits flush against the edges of the wall. Then remove it, set it atop your first vinyl plank, make a mark, and cut it.
When measuring your tread, you’ll need to account for the width of the flush stair nosing. Measure the width of the nosing, and place it on the subfloor tread. Make a mark along the tread where the nosing ends. Then measure from the back edge of the tread to the mark you just made. This will be the width of your LVP tread.
Risers should be measured from the top edge, flush to the edge, to the bottom where they will sit on top of the tread. Use a spare piece and place it on the tread. Then sit your measuring tape on top of it and measure to the top of the riser. This is how wide your tread will be.
Step 4 – Cut First Riser, Tread, and Nosing
Use the flooring cutter or a utility knife to cut your first tread, riser, and stair nosing piece. If your stair tread requires more than one piece of plank, then you’ll need to use a spare piece as a guide for cutting the length of the other piece. You could also use a level or any other tool with a long, straight edge.
Using a flooring cutter for lengthwise cuts is not an option as most cutters only cut from 12” to 20”, so even if you have one, you’ll still need your utility knife. A table saw works too, if you have a fine-toothed blade.
If using a utility knife, a speed square works best for crosscuts. Put the “T” end at the top of your plank and cut downwards against the other side of the square. Adequate pressure will do, as you only need to score the top. After scoring, bend the piece of vinyl at the point where you used your knife and it should snap nicely on your cut.
Remove the exposed tongue from the edge of the riser and tread pieces. This ensures it won’t be visible and that the finished part of the planks sits flush against the edges of each riser and tread. Use your blade and the visible part of the vinyl as a guide. You may need to take two passes to get the entire tongue removed.
Finally, when cutting the nosing, use a hacksaw or other fine-toothed saw. Clamp your nosing to a table and cut slowly to ensure a straight cut. Cutter will bend the nosing out of shape and a blade won’t work. Alternatively, you can use a saw box to help you achieve a 90-degree cut.
Step 5 – Rough Fit Pieces
Fit your first riser, tread, and nosing pieces. The nosing will go over the top of the riser, so you’ll lay the tread down, put the riser over the tread, and the nosing up over the riser.
Check for gaps on the sides and make sure your nosing piece is snug against the angle of the tread and riser. If the nosing sticks out too far, then your tread’s width needs to be trimmed slightly.
If the stair nose is not snug against the riser and tread, you risk it failing if it won’t adhere properly to the step. A loose nosing piece is also a safety hazard, so take care to install it properly.
Follow this pattern down your steps: tread, nosing, and riser. You can cut all your pieces first and rough-fit them, or do one step at a time, gluing as you go.
Step 6 – Glue Tread, Riser, and Nosing
Now it’s time to glue your pieces into place. You’ll use vinyl glue, which comes in a bucket or a tube that you’ll use a caulking gun to apply. Some glue you apply to the subfloor’s surface and another glue applies to the back of the vinyl – follow the manufacturer instructions.
Keep in mind that some vinyl plank flooring is self-adhesive. When using this type for stairs, you must also use vinyl or construction adhesive in addition due to the high-traffic nature of steps.
When applying glue to the back of the plank, make an s-pattern and fill in the gaps with more glue. Apply the plank to the surface and use a roller or your hand to make it smooth and wipe away excess glue, if necessary.
Glue your riser in the same way – make sure the riser is flush to the top of the tread. Lastly, glue the nosing piece into place. Depending on the manufacturer, your vinyl stair nose may install differently, so pay attention to the instructions.
Step 7 – Repeat Tread, Riser, and Nosing Installation
Repeat steps 3 through 6 on the rest of the stairs. Remember to let the vinyl planks sit at least 4 hours before walking on them. The directions on the vinyl adhesive will state clearly how long it needs to cure.
How to Install Vinyl on Stairs With Overlapping Nosing
The above directions include information for flush stair nosings. However, some LVP products have nosings that overlap the ends of the tread instead of sitting flush. This style is much simpler to install and makes tread measurement easier, too.
When installing overlapping stair nosings, cut your LVP stair treads and risers to sit flush with the edge of the step. Your nose piece will sit on top of both the tread and riser and you’ll glue it to both pieces. Apply a heavy s-shaped application of glue to the flat part of the nosing and a straight bead along the part that will contact the riser.
Aluminum Stair Nosings Over Vinyl Planks
Some people opt to use aluminum stair nosings over LVP treads and risers. The reason stems from the fact that LVP nosings are extremely expensive – sometimes up to $40 per stair – or more! Aluminum nosings are much cheaper and easier to install and are also very rugged.
Metal nosings usually overlap LVP on steps and are installed using screws – not adhesive. Thus all you have to do is ensure the nosing is snug, then carefully drill your screws into the provided holes.
Narrow Width Vinyl Planks on Stairs
Some LVP products are narrow, requiring more than one plank per stair tread. One thing to avoid in this situation is a tread – or riser – with one full piece and one very narrow width piece to fill the remaining narrow void.
For instance, let’s say you have 8” wide planks and you have a tread that is 8.5”. You’ll end up with a tiny strip of ½” plank. This will more than likely come loose over time.
You can avoid this by cutting your first piece narrower – in half – and then using another piece to make up the difference. You can then use the waste of either for the next tread and move down your stairs using the waste on each subsequent step.
Vinyl Plank Installation Tips and Tricks
While the process of installing LVP on stairs is easier than installing hardwood or laminate, there are still some tips and tricks you can use to make your install go more smoothly.
- Use a stair gauge, especially if you have an older house or stairs that are not uniform.
- Ensure there is no space between your nosing and riser. Rough fit pieces before gluing.
- Sand the underside of nosing and tops of vinyl tread edges and risers if installing overlapping nosing as it will improve adhesion.
- Use a vinyl cutter. You can rent one cheaply and it cuts better, straighter, and faster than other options.
How to Transition Vinyl Plank Flooring to Stairs
Transitioning vinyl floor to stairs requires a stair nosing piece and a blade to make the appropriate cuts to fit your plank flooring around the transition to your top step.
Install the uppermost stair nosing piece on top or flush with the flooring just as you would install it on any other step in the flight of stairs.
Vinyl is an extremely durable product, but you must take care of installing it correctly. Too little glue or failure to adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions will result in pieces of LVP peeling off or coming loose over the years.
Also, take care to purchase a quality product. There are tons of options, and simply relying on the product in the clearance aisle is not the best choice. Like any other product, you’ve got to pay to get a