Laminate flooring floats over the subfloor in all parts of the house except one — the stairs. You have to glue it to the stair treads and risers or it would slip out from under your feet when you walk on it. This makes installing laminate on stairs similar to installing hardwood, and when you install hardwood, you finish the edges of the treads with hardwood nosing. The same is true for laminate, except you use laminate stair nose.
Nosing is a type of molding designed to wrap around the edge of the tread and meet the flooring at the same height. It doesn't overlap because even a small overlap could make someone trip. You use the same laminate stair nose on every tread, but when you get to the top of the staircase, the transition material depends on the flooring on the stair landing, which could be hardwood, carpeting or some other material.
Hardwood Floor to Stair Transition
If there's a hardwood floor on the stair landing, you have to terminate it with hardwood stair nosing. This C-shaped molding has a top edge that's the same thickness as the hardwood flooring — typically 5/8 to 3/4 inches – and you usually install it before laying the flooring so you can butt the floorboards against it.
To install hardwood stair nosing, you cut it to length, using a circular saw or hand saw, and nail it to the edge of the landing. To prevent splitting, it's a good idea to pre-drill 1/8-inch holes so you can drive 2-inch finish nails into the subfloor. Sink the nail heads, fill them and you can sand and finish the nosing along with the rest of the floor.
Finishing a Laminate Floor at the Top of the Stairs
When the landing is covered with laminate flooring, the transition strip at the top of the stairs must correspond to the thickness of the flooring. If you use flooring with a non-standard thickness, you may have to do a little shopping around to find suitable nosing material.
Laminate nosing is a little different than hardwood nosing in that it has to cover the tongues of the laminate boards that butt up against it. Some nosing strips have the same locking mechanism that the planks have. You install the nosing by nailing it to the subfloor, then snap in the flooring, which you install next.
Some nosing strips have an overlap that goes over the tongues on the laminate planks. You can install these the same way as you do the ones with a complete locking mechanism, but you can also install them after laying the flooring. Of course, if you choose the second option, you'll have to plan ahead to allow a large enough gap to allow you to fit in the nosing.
Carpeting at the Top of the Stairs
When a hardwood floor meets carpeted stairs, you terminate the floor with nosing, and the same is true when a laminate floor meets carpeted stairs. When carpet meets hardwood or laminate, however, the situation is a little different. This is one situation in which you use a transition strip at the top of the stairs that overlaps.
Carpet transition strips are usually made of metal, and they often have predrilled holes for decorative nails. The molding wraps around the edge of the stair, and the edge that meets the carpet is curved slightly downward to bite into the carpet. This helps it hold the carpet securely and eliminates the edge that could cause a tripping accident.
The carpet transition strip goes on after you've laid the carpet and installed the riser on the step below the landing. Simply cut it to size, nail it down and you're done.