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If the carpet fits…

Brian King recounts his experiences installing carpet on stairs, and explains how training can help fitters in this task

I TEND to see a lot of debate, particularly on social media, about which is the correct way to install carpet on stairs.

Someone will post a picture of an installation where they’re fitting the stair carpet from the bottom up and it tends to raise eyebrows and start a debate on what the best way is.

Most fitters like myself for one, when they started out, got shown by their employer or work colleague to fit the stair carpet from the top and work their way down.

I fitted this way for many years and thought there was nothing wrong with it or never had problems doing it this way.

OK – I’ll hold my hands up; in my younger days, while learning, I did pop the odd stiff carpet in cold weather by hitting the stair tool a little too hard.

Back in those days we only had our employers or work colleagues to answer fitting-related questions and thought they knew everything and knew the best and most efficient way. Nowadays you have these social media groups and training centres and even trade shows such as the national flooring show that has demo areas that show you the best practice.

If you’re unsure of anything, all you need do is ask and the answer is there on a plate for you.

It was only a couple of years later that I went to the national flooring show at Harrogate for the first time and came across the NICF (the national institute of carpet and floorlayers) and saw they were a joint venture with Fita (the flooring industry training association) and were doing fitting demos and fitting carpet completely different to how I’d been shown.

After the demo, I went to ask a few questions and the first was about fitting stairs carpet; as mentioned, the best practice was from the bottom upwards.

I pointed out the stairs I’d fitted were tight and I never had tension issues. But what he told me next made sense: it was the manufacturers, he said, that insisted on their carpets being stretch-fitted, and the only way to stretch-fit a carpet on a staircase is with a knee kicker from the bottom upwards.

It also reduces risk of damaging tufts or the backing from the force of the stair tool striking down on it as you would from top-down. This is what many fitters who argue with this method don’t realise.

A couple of years ago I was assessing fitters for Fita when one of the fitters fitted the carpet from the top-down and said to me: ‘There’s no way you can get the stairs tighter than that.’

At the end of the day, before we went home, I took the carpet off his stairs in his work bay and refitted it starting from the bottom. When I reached the top, I had to cut two inches off. The group of fitters present were amazed and realised it actually is best practice after all.

It’s also easier when installing a pattern carpet because you can control the pattern with the knee-kicker. Also, by using a knee-kicker on a staircase you can also add tension across the width, which is impossible working down the stairs.

Only recently, I inspected a fitting complaint where the carpet was a tartan pattern and the pattern wasn’t straight on the stairs.

The manufacturer asked me if I could rectify the problem. The first thing I asked was how it was fitted on the stairs. The answer was top-down, then the fitter had been back a further three times taking them off and refitting them again top-down.

Each time he refitted them he got them a little better but they still weren’t completely square and the end-user wasn’t happy with the result. They assumed it must be the carpet that was faulty.

On my arrival, the carpet was a stair-runner down the centre of the staircase. It was a woven Axminster.

Working with woven carpets from the bottom require a knee-kicker. I lifted the carpet runner and noticed the underlay only lipped over the nose of the stairs and didn’t go gripper-to-gripper as it should.

I contacted the retailer and asked him if he could send new underlay and explained why. He said he’d send it with the fitter, as well as anything else I needed. Shortly after the fitter arrived he seemed keen to hang around to see if he could pick up a few tips.

I explained why you run underlay from gripper-to-gripper and pointed out about toe-and-heeling on the gripper that causes premature wear on the carpet if the underlay isn’t cut up to it.

He said he’d never seen a carpet fitted on stairs from the bottom up and was keen to see how it was done.

I showed him how you can control the pattern with the knee-kicker and we agreed that it was much tighter. He asked if could try it so I handed him the knee-kicker and tape measure and watched him line the pattern up perfectly; he finished off the stairs and double-checked the pattern with an adjustable straight edge and tape measure. We agreed they were all in line.

He was surprised how easy it was and pointed out that he’d only heard about this from a couple of fitters he’d spoken to who’d been on training courses at Fita.

I pointed out to him that Fita does an affordable one-day course on stairs that he seemed very interested in. I told him it covered different ways of installing carpets on different stairs from winders and open-planed to straight stairs etc and also installing different types of carpet on stairs. He took a leaflet and said he was going to get information on all the new one and two-day courses that I told him about.

We hoovered up and the end-user was happy with the finished appearance. We shook hands and he thanked me for the advice I’d shared. I later discovered he’d booked himself onto the one-day stair course and the one-day bull-nose course at Fita.

I doubt I’ll be rectifying his stair installations again.

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