How Much Does it Cost to Install Wainscoting on a Staircase?

Wainscoting on stairs

When it comes to beautifying the interior of your home, you have several options available to you, all at different price points.In saying that, choosing the right accents and furnishings can be a challenge  even for a seasoned home décor expert.

One of the quickest and most stylish ways to make the interior of home something talk about is by adding wainscoting to your walls. Basically, wainscoting is decorative wood panels that can be added to the lower third part of your walls or used as baseboards. They can really transform a home from ordinary to extraordinary.  

So how much does it cost to install wainscoting?  If you plan to install wainscoting yourself, it’s going to cost from $1 to $31 per square foot.  If you plan to hire a contractor, you would need to add in their labor cost and consider that they’ll probably mark up the material cost too.

In this article, we will detail some the popular options when it comes to wainscoting and also how much this upgrade will cost.


As far as installation is concerned, homeowners have one of two options, DIY or hiring a contractor. If you opt for the DIY option, there are a few things you’ll need to consider before you begin your project.

This includes calculating the amount of trim and board needed for the walls where this decorative panel will be applied, which can be determined by calculating the dimensions of the wall and factoring the cost for additional supplies including sanding tools, finishing, and nails.

Make no mistake, installing these panels on your own is hard work, but in the end, you’ll rejoice in the satisfaction of completing the job yourself. In saying that, the cost of this DIY project can vary depending mostly on the types of materials used.

For example, if opt to go with MDF (medium density fiberboard), you’re looking at about $5 per square foot. Higher grade custom-crafted hardwood panels can run you $31 per square foot. All in all, your project cost will come down to your budget and personal taste.

Should You Hire a Contractor?

For homeowners who don’t have the time or desire to take on a wainscoting project, you do have the option of hiring a contractor. In doing so, however, your totals cost will be significantly higher. As such, you want to be honest with yourself in terms of budget; also, it would be a good idea to do some comparison shopping before settling on a particular contractor. All of that aside, the median cost for this type of installation is roughly $1,000 to $5,000. It’s worth noting that room size and panel selection will play a role in your total costs.

Additional Factors that May Influence Cost

In addition to room dimensions and panel selection, design complexity, finishes, and type of wood selected can also dictate your final cost. Having said that, let’s drill down on how these nuances can affect price:

Complexity – Certain types of decorative panels are more complex to install than others. For example, installation requiring specific trim and molding may introduce a level of complexity that could greatly influence your final cost. Why? Well, if you’ve hired a professional contractor, they do charge by the hour. As such, it will take a lot of time to ensure that the interlocking trim/molding are properly attached to the panels.Also, molding an trim pieces that have beveled edges can further complicate matters.

Finishes – Obviously, your decorative panels would not be complete without some type of finish. As such, you can expect to allocate more of your budget for paint and painting supplies. For those who prefer a more natural look, there is the option of having a stain applied to your panels, which can help drive down costs.

Wood choice – As noted earlier in this article, MDF is the cheapest panel option for homeowners with a modest budget; however, for those looking to splurge on their home improvement project, wood panels derived from premium wood like cedar or oak can be substantially more expensive.

Decorative Panels For Your Staircase

Now that we a general idea about types of decorative panels available and how your overall costs are calculated, let’s turn our attention towards applying these panels to your staircase. In terms of costs and application, applying decorative panels to your staircase is pretty much in line with adding them to your walls.

With regard to costs, assuming you’re taking this on as a “do it yourself” project, it can range from$1 to $31 per square foot. The lower end price includes bead board paneling whereas the higher price point would be for those who are interested in custom-crafted panels.

Benefit of Adding Decorative Panels to Your Stairwell

The walls alongside most stairwells is a breeding ground scuff marks and dirt; decorative paneling not only improves the aesthetic of your stairwell but also makes removing marks left behind by children or by moving furniture from one floor to next easier than ever.

Also, decorative paneling can help transform your stairwell from utilitarian to an eye-pleasing focal point in your home.

Although the installation process is fairly similar, there are some key differences when it comes to applying these panels to a stairwell. For example, the panels must be cut to fit the angle ofthe stairwell, which can present a challenge if stairwell is curved.

Before Adding Paneling to Your Stairwell

If you’re willing to make beautifying your stairwell a “DIY” project, there are a few things you need to know.For example, you can make adding decorative paneling to your stairwell a little easier by choosing a ready-made, pre-manufactured shape that naturally complements it.

Just like the walls in your home, you will have to do some measuring before applying paneling to your stairwell. For a stairwell, the best way to do this would be to determine the stringer measurements of your stairwell. So what is a stringer length? It is the diagonal length of your stairwell.

Next, you will need to determine the panel height that will be needed. To that point, the height of paneling along the stairwell should complement the height of the paneling used at the base of the stairwell. Also, going back to stringer measurements, it is important that you accurately measure the rise and run as these measurements will vary from the base of your stairwell to the top of it.

Should you Hire a Contractor to Add Decorative Panels to Your Stairwell?

Much like adding paneling to your walls, adding them to a stairwell is challenging, especially if you’re a novice. As such, hiring a professional may be worthwhile; however, your project cost will be higher as many of the factors that influence the paneling cost will also influence the cost of adding them to your stairwell, which means you will have to choose panels, trim, moldings, and finishes that fit into your budget. 

Additionally, the height of your stairwell will need to be factored into these costs as well. Nonetheless, there are several advantages that come with hiring a contractor. Firstly, the work will be completed quickly, and you will be provided with a warranty in the event of a problem.

In summation, adding decorative panels to your walls or stairwell can help beautify your home, and with materials and contractor cost being very reasonable, there really is no reason to not have them installed today.

Luke Miller

Luke Miller is a writer, real estate professional, rental property investor, and home renovation enthusiast based in Phoenix, Arizona. He grew up in Iowa in a self-sufficient household where he learned the skills to do everything from plumbing, drywall, to basic handyman repair for everyday problems. He enjoys sharing his vast experience and his continuous learning with fellow DIY enthusiasts.

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