What's better for stairs: carpet or wood?

Unsure of whether or not to cover your stairs? Discover the pros and cons of carpet and wood, and make the best choice for your home.

What's better for stairs: carpet or wood?

The great flooring debate for stairs boils down to this: wood or carpet? Respecting that people have varying preferences, the general consensus is that wood looks nicer, but carpeting is safer and quieter. There is, however, a hybrid choice: wood stairs with carpet runners and stair rods. The choices of carpet patterns and style of rod are bountiful; you should easily find something that you like.

Don't underestimate the safety aspect of this choice. According to the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) there are an average of 314 deaths and 100,000 injuries annually in Canada due to home stairway falls. These kinds of injuries are particularly severe and prevalent among seniors and small children. If you have uncovered wood stairs in your home, you could be asking for trouble.

It's especially important to make the choice for safety if you or many of your family or friends are 65 years or older, or if you have toddlers in your house. Falls account for more than half of all injuries in seniors, and are the leading cause of injuries that result in a fatality. Similarly, stair-related falls leading to brain injuries are three times more frequent among children than among adults.

Factors to keep in mind

  • Regardless of stair treads, stairways should be gated in households with young children.
  • Keep in mind that carpeting can be slippery, too, especially if it's new or very worn. Choose a low-pile carpet and be sure it's tightly fitted to the stairs.
  • Given that tacked-on rubber or plastic stair treads are pretty universally homely, they can be reserved for basement or attic stairs.
  • According the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp., generally for interior stairs, any slip-resistant surface material acceptable for normal floors will work on treads.
  • Some sources recommend using low-pile modular carpet tiles as stair treads. You cut them to size and tack them down with carpet nails.
  • For exterior stairs, there's nothing like those thick rubber mats made out of recycled tires. You see a lot of large businesses and other organizations opting for those in entryways and stairs. Make sure they are screwed down on to stairs.
  • Stairways, interior or exterior, should always be well lit.
  • Many sources recommend that sturdy handrails are installed on both sides of the stairs.
  • Avoid patterned carpeting that may visually hide differences in depth.
  • Non-uniform steps are an especially common cause of missteps and falls.
  • Runners and rods are also available for outside stairs.
  • Keep in mind household pets can fall on slippery stairs, too.
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