Loose Stair Treads

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    Any idea what it might cost to repair loose treads on a staircase? Our home inspector suggests having them repaired from the underside. Is this expensive?
    Thanks!

    11 Replies

    1. Donatella, how did Bill do with the wood matching, or did you paint, or carpet, or something, so the stairs don’t appear mismatched? Thanks!

    2. quote: I happen to have an under the stairs closet and they could get to it from underneath. So maybe you don’t have the same kind of access without alot of damage.

      I watched a contractor reinforce a set of stairs where there was closet access. There was a heater in there so it was sometimes a tight squeeze. I took photos. It seems he built a brace at the top stair, then reinforced each loose stair with a piece of wood and screwed it into the riser and the tread (where the riser meets the tread). I may not be explaining it very well. Anyway, for someone who knows how to do this is doesn’t look difficult. In this case it may have only taken 2-3 hours. What a difference to have tight stairs. In this case the stringers, the wall and the banister were okay; no need to add a middle stringer.

      This work involved being on one’s back and sometimes working upside down, but oh, well…

      The first contractor wanted to whiz through other repairs and not do the stairs. It was his helper that clued us into getting this “detail” fixed correctly. So we got rid of the first contractor and hired one who would secure the stairs.

    3. I had the problem of the stairs separating from the wall, plus many cracked, loose stairs. I had the steps and risers replaced by Bill Bennett of NY Fine Circular Stairs. He did a great job and was half of Soxco Stairs. He also replaced spindles for me by copying existing ones and replacing. Call him for a consultation. I highly recommend his work and professionalism. Prices great.
      Bill of NY Fine Circular Stairs @ 884 Broadway, 718-218-9051. Good luck.

    4. My parlor floor stair railing became very loose after the paint was stripped. Then the stairs started pulling away from the wall slightly. A carpenter numbered all the railing parts and removed them. Then he opened each stair from the top, replaced the support structure and put the original exterior back. He did them one at a time so at the end of each day I had an intact staircase (with no railing). In the end the staircase and railing looked exactly the same except they were stable. That was about 12-15 years ago and the stairs have been solid since. I’m guessing it took him maybe a week.

    5. I had Antoon from Soxco Stairs reinforce one flight of creaking, spongy stairs for me. I happen to have an under the stairs closet and they could get to it from underneath. So maybe you don’t have the same kind of access without alot of damage.

      They installed a middle stringer and reinforced the others. Now about three years later it is still strong and silent.

      It was around the $2k +- range and took 2-3 days including re-sheet rocking the closet.

      I’d recommend Antoon, but he’s in high demand and was at the time hard to get a hold of. Once I scheduled him, he was there and got the job done.

    6. Well, I guess that’s why they make M&M’s in plain and peanut. I don’t like the thin blade method because you’re assuming that whoever made the stairs in the first place chopped out all the mortises to the same depth and the treads were seated all the way in. I’m not saying that I’d use a mortise to hide the fact that I’d cut a tread an 1/4 of an inch or so short, but……..
      By throwing a level on a few different treads, you’re going to see where the problem is originating and how much you have to adjust. It’s been my experience that when the stringer settles, it’s almost always as a result of the floor joist bowing, not the upstairs joists, in large part because the stairwell is usually going to have a beefier beam on the end. If you pop a level on the top tread and it’s level, but the bottom one isn’t, you know that it’s probably a result of the floor settling at the bottom of the run. If it’s the reverse, the problem is probably upstairs. The top and bottom being relatively level, but the middle being out of whack would indicate a bowed stringer. If the nose of the tread is level top and bottom, your wedges have probably worked themselves loose. Equal amounts of pitch would probably indicate house settling on one side, but I’ve never actually encountered this, although I am far from being a stair expert.
      Either way you’re probably going to have to re-seat those wedges.

    7. Try inspecting closely from the top.

      If the joists that support the open stringer (not the one against the wall) have sagged over time, than the looseness in the treads will be due to the fact that they have been pulled out from wall.

      To determine if this is the case, look for one of the loosest treads, and see if you can insert a thin blade or flat screwdriver and feel if the tread is out from the wall? This assumes there aren’t visible gaps already that you could insert something larger…

      What you are trying to determine from above, without demo’ing the drywall/plaster below is the gap between the end of the tread and the stringer, inside that chiseled out groove in the stringer.

      Most of what Bond above says is correct, except for using a level to determine the “degree” of the problem. Many old homes are tilted individually but also as a unit with neighbors. What you would be looking for is sag in the floor joists that is either settling over time or localized structural failure (one mortise split or joist split). If the hallway looks right, you are probably OK.

      The job of adjusting and firming up a stair from beneath is a combination of many small fixes with wedges, glue, and wood blocks. Assuming the underneath was accessible, in one day the stair would be dramatically firmer.

      Not including demo and new framing/drywall, the carpentry to repair stairs is under $1K.

    8. Thanks for your replies. The stairs are currently covered in this really thick carpet so we won’t know the actual state of them until that’s removed, but mainly the issue is that 3 of the treads seem to bounce when walked on, almost as if the carpet is the only thing holding them on.

      The banisters are in great shape and very secure, and nothing seems to be falling off from the wall.

      Mopar, the inspector was independent, our agent had never even met him. So, I think he had our interests at heart. He was very thorough and confirmed some things that an architect had also said after looking at the house. The place needs a lot of work but at least now we know exactly what we’re in for! 🙂

      I ended up emailing Soxco and Marty Anderson about this and they gave us rough estimates going anywhere from $700-2500 but said they’d want to go in from the top, not the underside. Guess we’ll see!

    9. PS- To give you some idea of cost, to rip out the underside plaster, adjust and level the stringer as close to level as possible, cut and install new wedges and close everything back up with sheetrock is probably a three day job for one person. Assuming that the treads and risers are in decent shape and can be reused, material costs should be minimal. You could save a little by dumping the construction debris yourself a little at a time through Sanitation, otherwise you’ll have to pay for removal. If the underside is exposed and the stairway has a curve or bend to it, you probably won’t be able to sheetrock it, but will have to go with plaster and lath which will be an additional expense to consider. If the treads over the curved part are not loose, you may be able to save that part of the plaster.

    10. On a lot of old stairs, on one side, you have one closed stringer, and one open. In other words, one side of the tread fits into a routed out groove, and one side sits on top of the stringer. The closed side groove usually has a wedge underneath the tread and it’s fairly common for that wedge to work loose over time, crack, fall out, etc. Not a big deal to open up the underside of the staircase, drive the wedges in tight, or replace missing wedges and screw a few screws in through the riser into the back of the tread.
      As Mopar points out, your stairs could be settling. Throw a level on the top of a step and see how out of wack they are. That will give you a good idea if it’s a settling issue, or just old age. If the stringers are sound, then it’s not necessary to replace the whole stairway, you can fix them, although in a worst case scenario, your bottom step might be slightly higher on one side than the other.

    11. Oh boy.

      I hope your inspector is independent and not picked by your real estate agent.

      Possible repairs depend on the type of stair. However, loose treads most likely indicate settling on the floor, pulling the stair away from the wall. Is the bannister still attached to the newel post? Are the floors sloped? Ours have settled an inch or two and caused other problems, though none too serious to live with.

      Two staircase experts told us the only way to fix our treads was tonreplace the stairs completely. That was $2,000 or $3,000 per flight. We didn’t want to do it, even if we had the money, because the new wood wouldn’t match.

      If you can fix the treads from the underside (I don’t know), you will probably have to replaster some there.

      OTOH, This Old House repaired their staircase without replacing the whole thing.