A beautiful staircase made of a combination of white and stained wood

Stairs are an important part of our homes. Not only do we depend on their structure to help us climb from one floor to another, but they can also greatly add to the look of a room. If you’re looking to freshen up the interior of your home with a new coat of paint, you might consider painting your stairs as well.

If you’re eyeing a paint job for your stairs – including the railings, risers, and spindles – it’s important to be aware of how much you could end up spending on this type of project, especially if you’re debating between going the D.I.Y. route or hiring a professional painter. This article will help you make some important decisions by addressing the following topics:

Before we explore whether to paint it yourself or hire someone else, let’s dive into the process and costs of painting your stairs.

 

Things to consider when painting stairs

Like any area of your house, stairs have a lot of boxes that need to be checked before you’re ready to begin painting. Not only are your stairs made of unique parts that need special attention, but there’s a lot of preparation involved and obstacles you might encounter. Let’s explore all there is to know about painting stairs.

Parts of the stairway

A stairway paint job involves more than you might have thought. Your stairway is composed of multiple parts that will need to be painted separately. Below are some of the main components of stairs that you’re likely to find in residential and commercial spaces:

  • Treads – The surfaces of your steps where you actually walk.
  • Risers – The surfaces that close the space between each step.
  • Posts – The vertical supports at the end of a staircase that connects the end of the handrail to the end of the stairs.
  • Handrails/Railings – The bars that run along the stairs that can be held on to for support.
  • Balusters – The vertical supports that attach to the handrail and the base of the stairs (used in place of spindles).
  • Spindles – The vertical supports that attach the top handrail to the bottom railing (used in place of balusters).
  • Stringers – The surfaces along the bottom of the stairs that the treads attach to.
  • Tread noses – The surfaces of the treads that extend past the risers.
  • Ceiling – Any ceiling from which your stairs descend.

Measurements

Your stairs have multiple elements and surfaces that need to be painted separately. It’s important that each surface is measured separately and then added together in order to properly determine the costs and amount of paint you will need. Here are the steps for measuring the surfaces of your stairs:

  1. Calculate the length of your treads by adding the sizes — in inches — of the tread nosing, the run (vertical length of each tread), and the rise (vertical length of each riser) together.
  2. Measure the width of your treads per inch. If you’re including the stringers in the project, add an additional 2 inches to your measurement.
  3. Multiply the two results together to get the square footage.
  4. Calculate the linear length of your handrail by measuring from the top of the landing to the floor. Then add an additional 2 inches to your measurement.
  5. Add all of your totals together to get the full amount of square footage needing to be painted.

Prep work

In order to make sure your paint project is a success, your stairs should be prepped before you begin painting. These are some things you’ll want to consider doing to help prepare your stairs:

Task Object Needed Cost
Sand the surface of your stairs to remove old paint and smooth the surface. Sandpaper $4-$11 per pack
Line your stairs, walls, etc. with painter’s tape to prevent smudges. Painter’s tape $5-$7 per 60 yards
Repair any holes or marks found on the stairs Spackle $5-$10 per quart

PRO TIP: Clean up after prep

Remember to clean your stairs of any dirt and debris before you begin.

Challenges

While it might seem straightforward, there are a few challenges you might encounter while painting your stairs. Here are some things to consider when preparing to start painting.

  • Time – Be prepared to spend a lengthy amount of time painting your stairs. You’ll probably find you have to paint each surface separately and work over the course of multiple days.
  • Game plan – It can be very easy to trap yourself in the middle of the job. Make sure you know the order that you’re painting each surface so you don’t risk ruining your work.
  • Safety – Given the heights, painting stairs can be a little dangerous. Make sure to properly use a ladder when necessary, and look into any other health and safety recommendations.

Carpet removal or changing floors first

Chances are you might be looking to do a complete revamp of your stairs, especially if the surfaces are covered in carpet or outdated flooring. Having the carpet removed from your stairs will cost $1 per square foot, while the prices for removing and replacing the flooring will depend on the materials of both the original flooring and the new one. Either way, lots of additional costs to keep in mind.

Baseboards

Many houses incorporate baseboards and other types of trim throughout, and your stairs might be one place where you can find it. If your stairway has trim that you would like to be painted, make sure to calculate their measurements and add the results to the total square footage.

 

Cost to paint stair railings

A multi-level staircase with red-painted metal railings

One important part of your stairs are the stair railings. Railings or handrails are the horizontal bars that run along the stairs to provide those using them a place to grab on to for support. They’ll most likely be wooden (either oak, hemlock, walnut, or ash), although other materials are available if you want to get creative.

There are also many different styles of railings, so it’s important to pay attention to what you’re working with, especially since what you’re working with can potentially impact the cost to paint your railings. Here are the different styles:

  • Grooved handrails – Railings designed so that the spindle(s) of a staircase attach within a groove.
  • Ungrooved handrails – Railings with a rectangular shape designed to be attached to spindles with nails or to the wall.
  • Pig ear handrails – Railings that attach to the wall and are designed with a curved shape that allows for climbers to have more grip as they’re using the stairs.
  • Mopstick handrails – Railings designed to be more decorative, as they are often attached to the wall using brackets and might also have end caps.

Whatever type of stair railings you’re dealing with, chances are you’re going to encounter some difficulties while painting them. These are the challenges you might encounter when painting stair railings:

  • You might want to consider detaching your railings from the wall or stairs to make painting them easier; however, dismantling and reattaching will add to your workload.
  • You’ll likely need to do lots of prep work before you begin, including cleaning and sanding.
  • If your railings are older, chances are you might need to repair them, especially if they’re metal.
  • You’ll need to take extra care to find the right paint for the material of your railings and pay attention to how the paint you choose will affect the total cost.

Cost to paint stair railings alone: $4 to $12 per linear foot.

 

Cost to paint stair risers

A close-up of two books on a wooden staircase with beige risers

Another key part of your stairs are the risers. These are the vertical surfaces that fill the space between each step on the staircase. Painting stair risers can really make them stand out and enhance the appearance of the entire room. Most homes tend to have risers that are near-vertical or slightly inclined so that the top of the riser is closer to the climber than the base. Some interior stairs can actually forgo risers, leaving empty space between each step.

While an essential part of a paint job, painting your stair risers will also come with challenges. These are the issues you’re likely to encounter when painting the risers:

  • You will have to paint the risers as is since dismantling your stairs and putting them back together will be very difficult.
  • You will also have difficulty doing any prep work and priming.
  • Given the extent of the job, you might have to avoid or be very careful using your stairs for at least 24 hours.

Cost to paint stair risers alone: $4 to $12 per linear foot.

 

Cost to paint stair spindles

Seven types of interior spindles

Image Credit: Jackson Woodturners

One highly aesthetic part of your stairs are the spindles. Stair spindles are the vertical supports that attach to the stair railing and the bottom railing or surface running along the stairs. They’re commonly made of a variety of woods or metals, and there are seven different styles that you’re likely to find in a home. Here are the different types of stair spindles:

  • Chamfered – Square at the top and bottom of the spindle with a narrow square middle.
  • Edwardian – Intricate, antique styling for a decorative look.
  • Square – Perfectly square-shaped throughout the spindle. The simplest spindle design.
  • Square tapered – Similar to chamfered, but the entirety of the middle of the spindle is narrower than the top and bottom.
  • Single twist – Square spindle with a simple twist appearance in the middle.
  • Barley twist – A spindle with a twist design similar to barley twist candies.
  • Double twist – Square spindle with two (or more) twists in the middle.

While the various intricate designs won’t affect the cost of painting your spindles too much, attempting to paint them will result in some difficulties. These are the challenges you might encounter when painting spindles:

  • If you wish to dismantle this part of your stairs, it will require extra work.
  • If you wish to paint your spindles without dismantling the stairs, you’ll likely experience difficulties reaching some spindles and painting comfortably.
  • Prep work, priming, and painting will all be difficult due to the different styles and uneven surfaces.
  • You will need to research what paints to use based on the material your spindles are made of. The cost to paint your spindles will greatly depend on the paint you choose to use.

Cost to paint stair spindles alone: $4 to $12 per linear foot.

 

Costs of painting stairs vs staining or refinishing stairs

If you’re hesitant to paint your stairs, but know you want to freshen up the look, staining and refinishing are both other options that you can consider. While both are popular, they have their differences. Here is how they compare:

Staining Refinishing
Process
  1. Remove items from the area and tape areas you wish to protect.
  2. Sand the stairs and clean them.
  3. Apply the stain following the instructions on the can.
  4. After the stain has dried, apply two coats of varnish to protect the stairs.
  5. Clean up the area.
  1. Remove items from the area and tape areas you wish to protect.
  2. Sand the stairs and clean them.
  3. Apply the finishing of your choice with a paintbrush.
  4. Clean up the area.
Challenges
  • Many steps are required, meaning lots of time spent.
  • Painters will have to be cautious in order to make sure they don’t mess up anything that has been applied.
  • If the stairs are damaged, that will need to be dealt with before you can begin.
  • Stairs will be unusable for a few days.
Final results
  • Stairs will be left with a fresh, sleek design.
  • Stairs will look fresh and have more protection.

Cost to paint stairs: Average of $350 to $450

Cost to stain/refinish stairs: Average $1.49 per square foot

 

Costs of painting exterior stairs

A white house with a deck and stairs that have been painted purple

If you’re also looking to revamp the exterior of your home, you might consider painting any stairs you have outside too. Whether wooden, concrete, or metal, you have many different options available to you. However, there are a whole new set of challenges when painting outdoors. These are the things you should consider if you want to paint your exterior stairs:

  • Weather – Any storms or winds outside can ruin the work you’ve done on your stairs. Make sure to pay attention to your forecasts before beginning.
  • Protection – Being outside also means the potential for dirt/debris or animals to come along. Take caution to protect your stairs while painting and drying.
  • Usability – How difficult will it be to avoid using the stairs? Be prepared for your family to use alternative exits or use caution while the stairs are drying.
  • Paint – Not only do you need the best paint for the material of your stairs, but you need one that will protect the stairs against the weather. Make sure you know the different types before finalizing your selection.

A common place to paint exterior stairs is a deck or garage, which both come with common materials used (typically wood and concrete, respectively). However, painting exterior stairs is a great way to add creativity to an exterior space.

 

Should I D.I.Y. paint my stairs?

Painting any part of your house can get costly, so you might be tempted to paint your stairs yourself in order to save on costs. While taking the D.I.Y. route has its advantages, there are also reasons why you might want to consider using a professional painting service. Here are the pros and cons of D.I.Y. painting your stairs.

PROS CONS
  • Costs less than hiring professional painters
  • You have complete control over the project, including what paint is used and what you do with it
  • You’ll end up spending more over time if the project isn’t done correctly
  • You might lack the professional training needed to do the job well
  • Having to purchase your own materials will add to your costs
  • Can cause a lot of stress and strain for your family
  • Might have the burden of living with an unfinished project for multiple days

 

Should I have professionals paint my stairs?

If the idea of trying to paint your stairs on your own doesn’t seem enjoyable, hiring professional painters is an option. While hiring labour to paint your stairs will cost you around $50 per hour, it will likely be worth it. These are the benefits of hiring professionals to paint your stairs:

  • Higher quality results that are long-lasting
  • They have a good eye for damage that needs to be repaired
  • They have great insight on what paint to use on your stairs
  • They’re trained on how to stay safe while on the job
  • They can also do all the prep work before they begin painting
  • They can complete the project quickly and efficiently
  • You won’t have to stress, knowing your stairs are being taken care of

How to choose a stair-painting company

If you’re going to hire a professional to paint your stairs for you, you’ll need to look for a reliable contractor. Here are some things to consider when deciding who to hire.

  • Do they have a portfolio? How do you feel about their work?
  • Do they offer a warranty on labour and materials?
  • Are they bonded and insured?
  • What are their ratings on HomeGuide and Google like?
  • Are they asking for a large down payment?
  • Do they include setup and complete cleanup costs in the quote?
  • How good are they at communicating with you and answering your questions?

 

Now that you have the facts, it’s time to decide how much you’re willing to spend on painting your stairs. If you decide on the professional route, City Painters is here for you. Contact us here or give us a call to get a quote for your project!

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