Flush vs Overlap Stair Nose: 6 Differences You Need to Know

Stair nosing is an integral part of your staircase. Not only does it provide a nice visual finish to the design, but it also has some efficient purposes.

The main idea is to increase the surface area of the stair as you step up, so less of your heel is hanging off the back, which makes it a lot more secure for the user.

But it doesn’t just protect the person on the stair. It also covers the stair as steps with no nose tend to wear down on the corner over time as people accidentally kick and tread on them, making it look quite unsightly. But with a stair nose, it will be far more resistant to wear, keeping them looking pristine for longer.

The two main stair nose types you will choose from are either a flush stair nosing or an overlapping stair nosing. But what’s the difference between the two, and which one is best suited for me?

The main difference between a flush stair nose and an overlapping one is that the flush, as the name might suggest, sits level with the stair it’s attached to. So essentially, as you step up, the nose is completely level with the stair, and there is no ‘bump.’ 

The overlapping stair nose extends over the top of the original stair, which means the nose sits above the stair, and there is a slight step down or level drop where the stair noses overlap finishes to reveal the original stair.

Let’s take a deeper look at how these two compare so you can better understand which one is best for you.

What is a flush stair nose?

When we talk about a flush nose, two primary characteristics define and differentiate it from an overlapping stair nose. The first is that the flush stair nose uses a tongue and groove connection to attach to the stair above. This creates a very tight seal that doesn’t leave much room for movement.

The top of the nose molding is also designed to fit flush with the stair, creating a seamless transition with no noticeable lip or hump as the nose ends and meets the stair.

Because of this, you must use the same join to ensure no height difference between the two.

What is an overlapping stair nose?

An overlapping stair nose serves the same overall purpose as a flush nose but has a few key differences. The first is that it attaches with a flush finish instead of a tongue and groove. But then it’s additionally supported with an overlap that extends out over the original laminate flooring.

This stair nose type is more commonly used on things like floor step-downs and the first step on a flight of stairs, essentially anywhere where the step is attached to a laminate flooring instead of an individual step.

Why is that?

Because flooring tends to move and expand, the overlapping lip of this stair nose type can help to hide any gaps resulting from floor movement. As opposed to the flush stair nose with no overlap, the tiniest bit of a gap will be immediately noticeable unless it’s covered with carpet.

What is the difference between a flush and overlap stair nose?

Because they are so similar in design, many people leave it down to looks to decide which kind of stair nose they use. In reality, there are some more practical reasons why you should use one over the other.

Let’s go through those differences in more detail so you can make a more informed decision on which is suitable for your intended application.

1. The look

As mentioned, there are some practical reasons for using a particular nose type that should supersede the visual look. 

Of course, this is also influenced by what kind of wood you use and how you decide to finish (whether carpet, varnish, etc.), but in general terms, a flush joint creates a cleaner and more professional look thanks to its seamless join and flush finish.

The overlapping joint can give more of a practical but less refined visual look. But once again, we stress that there are other reasons why you need to cover an overlapping joint in certain situations.

2. Risk of movement/expansion

The big benefit of the overlapping star nose is that it can facilitate an ‘expansion gap.’ This is where the overlapping lip hides the gap that sometimes forms between the stair nose’s main part and the hardwood floor.

This is important for the top stair on a flight of stairs or something like a hardwood floor stepdown (essentially anywhere where the stair nose is connected to a floor instead of a stair), as these floors will always move, expand and contract over time and with weather changes. 

This gap between the nose and floor will be incredibly noticeable on a flush stair nose as there is no overlap to hide it. It’s going to be a bit of an eyesore.

For that reason, even if you intend to use a flush stair nose for most of your stairs, you may still wish to opt for an overlapping nose.

So why not just use overlapping for everything?

Well, some people do! If you’ve ever been in a place with high foot traffic, you will often see rubberized overlapping stair noses for additional protection.

3. Floor movement on stairs

As we mentioned previously, floors might move and expand, requiring overlap. But a flush stair nose works just fine for regular steps (i.e., anything that’s not a top step or a laminate floor stepdown).

The main reason is that those stairs usually use nails or glue to attach to the wall base and adjacent areas, meaning they are far less prone to movement than a top step. A flush joint will hold up much better in this case, and you won’t see that gap forming over time.

4. Trip hazard

In terms of safety, both should have the same level of protrusion on the nose side, meaning you’re at no more risk of getting your foot caught on an overlapping stair than on a flush one.

The overlapping stair is a little thicker due to that overlap, but the overlap itself and that transition also present a nice bit of extra grip for your foot.

Overall the differences between them in terms of safety are essentially negligible. Perhaps the overlap makes it a tiny bit safer, but it shouldn’t deter you from using a flush stair nose if that’s what you prefer.

5. Difficulty of installation

A flush nosing is a little harder to install as you need to make the tongue and groove joint, and that flush nosing joint needs to be sanded and look flawless against the adjoining stair.

Overlapping stair noses, on the other hand, are a little more forgiving as that overlap hides a lot of minor imperfections, and you also don’t need to attach it with a tongue and groove joint.

6. Durability

While both of these nose types, when installed correctly and the stairs appropriately nailed down, should be equally as strong and secure as each other.

However, should anything happen, such as laminate floor/stair movement or just general abuse from foot traffic, an overlapping stair nose will hold up a bit better as it’s both thicker and has the overlap to hide any expansion of the gap between the nose and floor.

Flush vs overlap stair nose: Are they the same?

These are both certainly very similar. However, it would help if you kept a few factors that make an overlapping stair nose necessary for specific situations.

  • A flush mount stair nose generally gives a more professional look, whereas an overlapping stair nose gives a more general look appropriate for almost any use case.
  • An overlapping stair nose can deal with floor expansion and movement much better as the overlap hides the expansion gap that forms. At the same time, a flush mount stair nose fit will show even the tiniest of gaps.
  • As the stairs themselves (i.e., not a first step or a floor stepdown) will be attached with a nail or glue to the wall base, there is a much lower risk of movement, so a flush overlap can work great here.
  • Neither one presents any significant difference in safety or a trip hazard. An overlapping nose is slightly thicker, and you could argue the overlap provides additional security for the foot, but this isn’t very important.
  • A flush stair nose is a little harder to install as the joint doesn’t have the benefit of an overlap to hide that joint.
  • An overlapping nose is a little more durable; should any movement create a gap, the overlap will prevent it from becoming a problem.
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