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What is a Skirting Board?

By B. Turner
Updated May 16, 2024
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Skirting board is an architectural element used to enhance the appearance of a staircase. Also known as stair stringers, skirt boards are installed along one or both sides of a stairwell, depending on the design. When one side of the staircase butts against a wall and the other side features an open railing, a skirting board is typically used only on the side that butts the wall.

A skirting board not only gives the staircase a decorative look, but may also serve a practical function. It can be used to hide gaps between the staircase and the wall, particularly when one of these elements is slightly crooked or uneven. Skirt boards also keep dust and dirt from gathering in these gaps, which makes it easier to keep the stairs clean. In some instances, the skirting board gives the staircase added strength and support, helping it to maintain its shape. Finally, skirt boards act as protective plates, helping to protect the walls from scuff marks, dents and other signs of damage.

Depending on the desired appearance, a skirting board can be made from a wide variety of different materials. They are often made from wood to match or complement hardwood flooring. Some skirt boards are made from composite wood products, thermoplastics, or even stainless steel. Homeowners may choose to paint or stain the skirting board to complement the surrounding decor, though some of units are sold with a factory finish already in place. These boards may be smooth or textured, and come with a variety of different profiles that can be used to match other types of trim in the home.

To install skirt boards on stairs, it is helpful to start before the stair risers and treads are in place. Once the stringers, or structural supports have been installed, installers can measure carefully around these supports to determine size of the board skirts. It is important that each section of the stair supports are measured before cutting a skirt board, as different sections of the stair can vary in size from top to bottom. The skirt board is then fit around the supports and nailed in place using small finish nails. After the skirting installation is complete, installers can proceed with risers and treads.

Most pre-built staircase units include skirting boards on one or both side. These boards give the unit enough stability and strength to hold it together during shipping and installation. Pre-built staircase units allow installers to complete staircase installation in one simple step, with little risk of error.

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Discussion Comments

By giddion — On Jul 14, 2012

My cousin's staircase is flanked by a PVC skirting board. The house didn't even have one when he bought it, but he scuffed up the wall pretty badly while moving big furniture up the stairs, so he decided to install one to cover up the black marks.

Wooden ones were rather expensive, so he figured that PVC would be cheaper. It does seem a bit strange to have this lining the wall of the staircase, because he bought a blue skirting board to match the carpet. I've only seen wooden skirting boards before, so this just seems wrong to me.

However, it works to cover up the marks. Also, it is a dark shade of blue, so it shouldn't show any scuff marks that might get made in the future.

By healthy4life — On Jul 14, 2012

@cloudel – I agree with you. When time and effort are put into the design of a skirting board, it can make all the areas from which you can see the stairs look nicer.

My friend has a two-story house, and she has a really cool wood skirting board. It is made up of several uniform panels, so it looks like square sections of wood lining the wall.

What makes it cool is that it follows the curves in the staircase. Some of the panels were made shorter than others to allow for this, so some of them appear to dip down below the floor.

By cloudel — On Jul 13, 2012

My staircase has an oak skirting board to match the wood on the floor of the whole house. It isn't just a straight block of wood, though.

It is beveled at the top and at the bottom. It has a couple of ruts carved along the top portion that make it more visually interesting than just a solid piece of wood.

Whoever built the house put some thought into the appearance of the skirting board. I'm glad that they didn't just stick something in there that didn't complement the rest of the wood in the house. You might not think that matching the wood of the skirting board to other wooden areas in the home would matter that much, but it does make a big difference.

By feasting — On Jul 12, 2012

Did you know that in the United Kingdom, the term “skirting board” refers to what we here in the United States call “baseboards?” I figured this out while talking to my British friend about her home repairs.

She told me that she had a guy fixing her skirting boards. She said they had begun to pull away from the wall, and she had decided to have them repainted as well as repaired.

So, when I came for a visit a month later, I took one look at the board along the inside of the staircase and commented that the skirting board looked just the same to me. After a moment of confusion, we figured out the difference in terminology.

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