What happens when you have a broken stair tread?
This is a common situation, especially in older homes; the stair treads have been either worn down or have split and are causing tripping hazards, or simply squeak and make very interesting noises as you use the staircase.
The first step is to determine what it is you are trying to fix. If the stair tread is split and loose then the suggested procedure is as follows:
Evaluate the tread itself, does it appear salvageable or should it be replaced?
If the tread is split or cracked there is a good possibility that this tread can be salvaged and repaired.
In normal construction, the stair tread is fastened to the structural members that comprise the structure of the stair. This would include what are called stringers that are cut to accommodate the required rise and run of the stair. Rise is the vertical measurement of the stair and run is the horizontal measurement of the individual stair treads. In modern construction, there is a common rise and run requirement for properly constructed stairs. However, in older construction, these requirements were not as stringently followed. The contemporary stair does not exceed a rise of 8 inches (riser size) and a run of 10 inches (tread width). These are the dimensions that would be used to design a normal contemporary stair. Remember that this is not the case with older homes.
Years ago, the stairs were simply fit to accommodate the space available to get from one level to the other.
Evaluate the status of the existing tread. If it appears that it can be salvaged, the best solution is to try and inject a wood glue mixture, into the split or the cracked tread. I find that if you simply pour the glue into the crack or split, and let it seep into the opening, this will allow the glue to coat the surfaces of the split or the crack. Do not worry about the amount of glue poured into this split or crack, the more the better. The end result of the excess glue, is simply in the area below the tread, which unless this is an open stair, is boxed in and really doesn’t matter. The surface glue can be simply wiped up with a wet towel or rag, because in most cases, the wood glue is water solvable and will simply wipe up with water.
Once you have glued the crack or split, with enough glue to cover the surfaces of this problem, the use of screws to secure the tread is recommended. The stair treads, whether new or old construction is normally attached to a substantial framing member, such as a 2X12, or another wood member that is supporting the tread. In most cases, this supporting member is along the perimeter of the tread as well as down the middle of the tread. An additional support is the riser piece, which is the horizontal surface, between the two treads. It is recommended that screws are used to secure the tread to the supporting structure. If possible, look for other fasteners that were used to initially secure the tread. These fasteners would probably be nails, that were hammered into the supporting structure to secure the tread. Do not use nails to fix the issue. In almost all situations, the use of a screw is much stronger. In addition, using screws, does not apply undue vibration on the entire stair assembly that pounding nails will induce, and screws will be easier to install. It is very important that once the tread is screwed and glued, there is a minimal amount of use on this stair tread for at least 24 hours.
What should occur if the tread is obviously in need or replacement?
This is not a panic situation. In most cases a stair tread is simply nailed to the supporting structure. There are very rare occasions that a stair tread, requiring replacement, has been installed with anything other than simple nailing. If the stair tread was installed with screws and glue, chances are, you would not be trying to replace this tread.
Normally, there is a small overhang of the tread over the riser of the stair. This means that there is a small surface that can be used to remove the tread from the entire stair assembly. If you are able to use a piece of wood blocking, such as a length of 2X4, under this lip, this would be helpful. Using this piece of blocking, tap the bottom of the blocking to exert an upward force on the overhanging section of the stair tread. This upward force should loosen the fasteners of the compromised tread, to allow removal. If this upward force does not loosen the tread from the structure, then the tread will need to be cut and / or split to allow removal. The best method for this, is to use either a skill saw to make a cut in the middle of the tread, or to use a chisel to break up the stair tread. In almost all cases, the removal of a compromised stair tread should not interfere with either the riser of the stairs or the side stringers.
Once the tread is successfully removed from the stair assembly, its replacement is an easy process. All large box stores and hardware stores, that specialize in home repair or furnishings will have replacement stair treads.
The tread you removed might have been a poplar or pine tread. This will be much different than the oak tread that you will find to replace this tread.
When replacing the tread it is recommended that a hole is drilled, to accommodate the screw or nail that you will be using to fasten this tread. In most cases, the replacement tread will be oak, which is hard, and very difficult to work with, unless you understand the material. DRILL and screw, is the recommended procedure, with a very strong emphasis on DRILL. You will become extremely frustrated, if you try to penetrate an oak tread with a nail or screw, without a pilot hole. It is worth the effort and time required to drill a pilot hole, when installing new oak treads.
When installing this tread, use both screws and glue. Remember, you do not want to revisit this situation again, therefore the time required to drill, glue and screw will be time well spent in the future.
Broken or squeaky stair treads, go for it and repair or replace this tread. Do not hesitate to perform this task.
You do not want to risk someone falling or tripping on a broken stair tread.