Do You Install Stair Treads or Risers First?

Do You Install Stair Treads or Risers First?

Explore whether to install stair treads or risers first, with guidance on methods for attaching treads and considerations for using new treads over old ones.
How Are Stair Treads Attached? Reading Do You Install Stair Treads or Risers First? 4 minutes Next Should You Nail or Screw Stair Treads?

When embarking on a stair renovation project, one of the first questions that arises is: do you install stair treads or risers first? Traditionally, risers are installed before stair teads. This decision can significantly impact the ease of installation and the finished appearance of your staircase. Carpet stair treads, for example, can influence this decision based on how they interact with risers to create a seamless and secure step.

Understanding Stair Components   

Before diving into installation processes, it's essential to define what we're working with. Stair treads are the horizontal parts of the staircase that you step on, while risers are the vertical pieces that run between each step. The installation sequence can vary depending on the materials used, such as carpet, which often requires a specific approach to ensure everything looks aligned and neat.

How to Install Risers and Treads?   

The traditional method of staircase construction recommends installing the risers before the treads. This approach allows the treads to cover the top of the risers, creating a tighter fit and smoother look, which is crucial when you're dealing with materials like carpet that need to lie flat without any gaps or pilling.

Step-by-Step Guide to Installing Risers First   

  1. Measure and Cut: Ensure your risers are cut to fit the exact height and width of each step.

  2. Secure the Risers: Attach the risers to the framing using appropriate fasteners, typically finishing nails or a pneumatic nail gun.

  3. Check Alignment: Before proceeding, make sure each riser is perfectly vertical and even.

Should You Nail or Screw Stair Treads?   

When it comes time to install/attach/fasten stair treads, the choice between nailing or screwing them down can depend on several factors, including the type of material used and the expected foot traffic.

Benefits of Nailing   

  • Quicker Installation: Nailing is generally faster than screwing, which can be crucial in larger projects.

  • Traditional Look: Nails can be countersunk and hidden, maintaining a classic wood staircase appearance.

Benefits of Screwing   

  • Durability: Screws provide a more robust hold, which is essential for high-traffic areas or heavier materials.

  • Ease of Removal: If you anticipate needing to replace treads in the future, screws can be easier to remove than nails. 

Deciding should you Nail or screw stair treads is based off of the outcome you are looking to achieve.

What is the Difference Between a Stair Tread and a Riser?   

A stair tread is the horizontal component of a staircase on which you step, designed to bear the brunt of foot traffic and provide a safe, stable surface for ascending or descending.

In contrast, a stair riser is the vertical piece that sits between each tread, contributing to the staircase's structural integrity and safety by closing the gap between steps. While treads focus on durability and grip, risers can also serve aesthetic purposes, often being decorated or painted to complement the staircase’s overall design.

Can You Put New Stair Treads Over Old Ones?   

Installing new treads over old ones is a viable option, particularly when looking to update a staircase without a complete overhaul. This method is often simpler and can be cost-effective, though there are several considerations:

  • Thickness: Check the thickness of the new treads to ensure they don’t raise the step height too much, which could create a tripping hazard.

  • Preparation: Ensure the old treads are level and stable before installation.

  • Attachment Method: Depending on the material, such as carpet, adhesives or double-sided tape might be sufficient, but in other cases, screws might be necessary for a secure fit.


Whether you install stair treads or risers first often depends on the specifics of your project and the materials involved. For carpet stair treads, installing risers first is generally advisable to ensure a neat, professional finish. Understanding each component's role and best practices for installation will lead to a safer and more aesthetically pleasing staircase.