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View Full Version : Block Steps - don't be nieve


DVS Hardscaper
06-19-2012, 12:33 PM
I believe in the test of time.

I read posts here and I see where many folks participate and know everything. But they don't even have 5 yrs under their belts with installing hardcapes.

When I participate here, I try to keep it real and shoot straight from the hip.

A very good customer of mine sent me an email . Saying her patio had a couple places that needed reset. Being that she has referred us countless times - I jump right on her problem.

Today we come out to reset a couple small areas of pavers. First thing I see is that the block steps have settled :(

We're talking 5 risers! Elaborate, fancy steps. Probably 1 day to tear out and 3 days to rebuild. Plus I will need to buy new block and caps. All on my dime.

The house was 5 yrs old when we did the job 2 yrs ago.

My thoughts:

As a contractor with 16 yrs dedicated to hardscaping - are block steps a wise thing to do?

You have virtually no problems with wood steps.

So many contractors that lack the knowledge and that would build steps like this on new construction.

Here we have a 7 yr old home with steps that settled.

No one wants to admit their failures. But these things do happen and if believe otherwise - you're kidding only yourself.

Maybe we won't build any more monstrous steps. Just a huge risk.
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neversatisfiedj
06-19-2012, 12:42 PM
I was always skeptical of building block steps with a huge footprint.

I'm sure you followed protocol to the "T", like overdigging. That sucks but at least the customer didn't go ballistic on you. MAybe it's better to go with a poured cmu application and veneer for large steps.

macgyver_GA
06-19-2012, 12:51 PM
I don't do hardscaping and the only experience I have is a few things I've done around my personal home so I'm not speaking from experience, just a gut feeling I have. I've always wondered how these block steps hold up to the test of time compared to a solid conrete formed unit. Especially somehwere in a northern climate where you have to worry about frost heaving.

DVS Hardscaper
06-19-2012, 02:14 PM
That's correct, we followed the right protocol.

Fact of the matter is and I want everyone to realize this - the top of the ground DOES NOT settle. Settlement occurs from the bottom up.

The subject of step construction and settlement has come up
On this forum and other forums other times. And guys always say "well if you do this and do that an do everything right you won't have any problems". But the guys that say that havent even 5 yrs exp (at that time) under their belt.

We have NO CLUE whats the deal is with that soil at a prospective clients home (unless the house is 15 yrs old) No one here does. And don't try to tell me differently. We're assuming a risk each time we build big, elaborate steps.

And some contractors are offering 10 and 20 yr warranties on their jobs?????

This is going to be the most expensive warranty repair we've ever done.

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SVA_Concrete
06-19-2012, 02:35 PM
If you are working with a concrete wall basement, i think you could dowell into the wall and pour an 8 inch thickpaver slab with a rebar mat.

The bearing elevation meeds to be below frost depth. If you have a landing and 5 steps your slab should extend about 9 feet out from the foundation.

This way you are basically bridging the overdig and eliminating settlement.

I would also use ateel decking and pour a mud slab to set the pavers on so you dont jave to fill yhe void solid.
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OSdb
06-19-2012, 04:20 PM
Depending on size of the stairs, I dig 4 pier footings to bearing soil and then tie those into a concrete slab that also has dowels into the foundation. I lose a lot of jobs because I don't just install a compacted base like most people do and build up from there.

TomG
06-19-2012, 07:00 PM
My family's company has been doing hardscapes for 31 years and about 10 years ago we pretty much stopped installing any kind of block steps. Whether it be a front stoop or steps in a walkway. Way to many call backs, and as you said it takes a lot of time and money to repair them. Luckily we work in New England and I'd say 90% of our clients want granite steps/stoops. If customers still want block steps after we try and convince them other wise we offer NO warranty on the steps.

DVS Hardscaper
06-19-2012, 09:11 PM
I was thinking about this earlier this afternoon.

Take a home with a concrete stoop. That stoop is set on perches that are part of the foundation wall. All the soil around the front of the home could disappear into a sink hole....and the stoop will remain intact.

My house has a masonry block foundation. There are places where the masonry block has cracked. Most likely from settlement. The foundation was not set on loose soil.

Ok, so the stoops are set on perches that are part of the foundation for A REASON.

It's a given that masonry foundations WILL crack, and they're set on solid ground.

It's nieve of us to be placing steps with over 4,000# of weight over ground that we know NOTHING about as we have been doing.

We (as in us contractors) do this because we're afraid of losing a sale. We know that the other contractor with 4 years of experience won't blink an eye at this.

Yes there are more procedures we (as in us contractors) can take to aid in preventing the steps from moving. But what happens when we perform these procedures is the steps end up costing $6,000.00 and the patio is $7,000.00! The freakin steps are nearly as much as the patio! It's just not a wise way to spend the client's money, and they're probably going to go with a deck instead.

I have a hard enough time getting prospective clients to understand that they should wait about 2 years before building a patio at their new home.

It's gonna be even harder getting them to understand why we won't warranty block steps.

DVS Hardscaper
06-19-2012, 09:18 PM
and another thought:

I have tried to talk people into going with wooden steps, covered in vinyl, with composit decking material.

"oh no, wood is too much maintenance, we want block"

That may be true, that wood is too much maintenance. But what is worse - pressure washing the wood once every 2-3 years, or tearing apart block steps and re-building?



,

alldayrj
06-19-2012, 09:33 PM
any pics?
I havent built any block steps(dont like the look so dont push the sale) but when I do stoops with brick and stone I pour concrete. I also try and leave the old stoop whenever possible since they are 90% of the time built like bomb shelters and poured into the foundation like you said.

zedosix
06-19-2012, 09:36 PM
I would have to say that something went wrong if it has to be rebuilt after 2 yrs. Either the ground wasn't excavated enough, or compacting was minimal.
But as a contractor who has been in business and building steps for over 25 yrs, I've seen it all. Steps will move if built on disturbed ground. Its just a matter of time, plain and simple.

SVA_Concrete
06-19-2012, 09:41 PM
Yes there are more procedures we (as in us contractors) can take to aid in preventing the steps from moving. But what happens when we perform these procedures is the steps end up costing $6,000.00 and the patio is $7,000.00! The freakin steps are nearly as much as the patio! It's just not a wise way to spend the client's money, and they're probably going to go with a deck instead.






Excellent point, make profit on a job for ~$8K versus loose the job entirely

better business move..

I had a conversation with a pool contractor not long ago -- incredibly anal type.

He bid a pool rehab job, and lost the work because he demanded to completely overhaul the pool -- plaster, skimmers, tile, ladder, railing etc -- the owner just wanted a new pool deck and some pool tile. (he was the "ill only do the job if..." type)

I won the job because I gave the owner a new deck and some new tile -- just was they wanted--- is the tile still a bit wavy? Yes, it was installed on the same pool without restraightening the plaster, will the job last, yes-- we used proper installation methods. We have contracted 3 additional jobs as a direct referral of this job.

Point is, we won the work, because we were willing to work around a few things -- like water in the pool-- (lowered the water 1 foot and worked on floats/hung over the walls). We also used an un-convention method of forming the cantilever edge.

Not everyone can afford a $50.00 plate at Emril's resturant... do they want the $20.00 plate at texas roadhouse? if the answer is yes, then sell it to them.

ill sell a plain jane concrete dumpster pad with a profit just as happily as i will sell a fancy pants hardscape job.

scagrider22
06-19-2012, 10:42 PM
I always over dig for steps, usually around 18"s and I use a concrete pad to put the block on, I also stack the block solid all the way up. I know that is alot of burried block but it helps me sleep at night! I do this for steps, grill surrounds and seat walls.

DVS Hardscaper
06-19-2012, 10:58 PM
..............But as a contractor who has been in business and building steps for over 25 yrs, I've seen it all. Steps will move if built on disturbed ground. Its just a matter of time, plain and simple.

And thats just it, my whole point.

Most steps ARE built on disturbed ground. You gotta get the people out of the house and onto the patio. Which is why stoops are on perches.

xtreem3d
06-19-2012, 11:39 PM
I always over dig for steps, usually around 18"s and I use a concrete pad to put the block on, I also stack the block solid all the way up. I know that is alot of burried block but it helps me sleep at night! I do this for steps, grill surrounds and seat walls.

I do that too and glue every piece together

AztlanLC
06-20-2012, 08:59 AM
Some people still not get it its not about following the proper procedure whats been discussed here is about the risk issue, you can pour concrete, burry as many blocks as you want is about the total weight near the foundation of a house where most likely 100% settlement has not occurred yet.

I usually dont pay much attention to dvs posts but this one got me thinking somehow, at the same time I know there is a solution for it but not certain customers wil be willing to pay for it or afford it.

GreenLight
06-20-2012, 04:43 PM
Nieve
adjective
a frequent misspelling of naive.

Spelling Nazi on a mission.

xtreem3d
06-20-2012, 05:33 PM
not being smart but if you have problems with steps settling what do you do when you build a column like this that is about 6 rows of 4 blocks @ 80+ lbs plus a 200lb cap...about 2000lbs straight up and down ?

AztlanLC
06-20-2012, 05:55 PM
usually those columns are build away from the foundation where most likely future settlement will not be an issue.

DVS Hardscaper
06-21-2012, 06:03 PM
not being smart but if you have problems with steps settling what do you do when you build a column like this that is about 6 rows of 4 blocks @ 80+ lbs plus a 200lb cap...about 2000lbs straight up and down ?

usually those columns are build away from the foundation where most likely future settlement will not be an issue.


And this would also NOT apply to patios built at homes with walk-out basements.




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Birchwood
06-21-2012, 09:42 PM
Good points good thoughts.

going to be breif, since somehow I just lost my last more detailed post, damn ctrl botton!

We pour a lot of concrete under our stoops/steps.

I've thought about using prefabed, hollow unit steps, but not sure how to work it into our designs and if they can support the weight of bricks on them.

Good prep on any work takes time and money that most hacks and home owners don't care about.

Outdoors_Unlimited
06-21-2012, 11:40 PM
I have a client who has been bugging me to repair her steps. I have been ignoring it as long as I could, because the previous two contractors couldn't get their job to last longer than 4 years.

They have 13 steps, between two planter boxes, at the top of a hill.

I am going to show her this thread, and discuss other options.
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alldayrj
06-21-2012, 11:58 PM
Let her know that shes bugging you. And that youve been ignoring her. LOL Is the hill fill? Or are the steps sliding?
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Outdoors_Unlimited
06-23-2012, 12:05 PM
The steps are sliding down the hill.
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DVS Hardscaper
06-23-2012, 02:00 PM
let her know that shes bugging you. And that youve been ignoring her. posted via mobile device



lol!


.

DVS Hardscaper
06-23-2012, 02:37 PM
I did an estimate today for a patio. New construction.

Guy calls me earlier this week. Says "we have a house being built and we want a patio".

I say "being built"? "new"?? he says "yes". I say "is this a walkout basement"? he says "yes".

So I go there today and take a look. yes, it was a walkout basement. BUT behind the house the builder had about 3-4 feet of fill leveled off!!!!!

The man was so nice and sincere - my heart sank that I had to break the news to him. I even hesitated for a few seconds thinking about how to tell him that this is not the ideal situation at this time.

I very politely and very professionally explained to the nice man that this is not a good idea at this time. I spent about 20 minutes explaining why and sharing knowledge.

I pointed out every place in his unfinished yard that was fill. And he told me I was correct. I pointed out all the places with fill to show the man that I am knowledgeable. See - you NEED to have knowledge of what to look for. You need to know what you're getting yourself and the customer into.

The nice man told me "nobody else made any concerns about the fill". LOL - how COULD THEY NOT???? it is brand NEW construction! The drywall isnt even in yet!

At the end of the meeting the man said "thank you for your honesty and for your time".

I bet you he holds off on the patio and I bet he calls me after 2 years. And if you're a local contractor in my area reading this and if you met with this man - your lack of honesty and lust for greed just cost you the job and secured work for me 2-3 years from now. You should have told the man to wait and call you in 2 years like I did. From the bottom of my heart - A big Thank you for helping me secure future work :)



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mrusk
06-23-2012, 06:46 PM
DVS- We both know 4 feet of fill will settle for years. If your going to build a patio in 2 years, you mind as well build it now. Just tell him the correct way to do it. Dig out all the fill and replace with 3/4 stone. Its not that hard. Considering its a new construction this would be very easy to do. This is the only way you can be sure the patio will never move. If you leave the fill you have no idea what its sitting on. It could be sitting on topsoil.

2 years ago we built a six figure raised patio. Something wasn't right with the soil so i kept digging. 3' down i hit 8" of topsoil. I dug the entire 3000sq ft footprint down 4' and brought in over 1000 additional tons of stone.

Im constantly digging down to basement footings on patio projects to remove any uncompacted fill. I would say any house under 5-6 years old that i work on has some type of over digging.

We build a patio on a house that was 12 years old last month. Even though the house was 12 years old I designed the patio to keep 90% of it out of the overdig area of the house. The only part of the patio that touched the house was the stoop off the back door. I poured a 10" thick concrete slab for my steps to sit on. Its little things like this that make the difference on what the patio will look like in 10 years.

DVS Hardscaper
06-23-2012, 08:17 PM
i agree Rusk.

But excavating and adding gravel blows the cost out of the water. We're talking a new tract home, by a large builder that specializes in productiin homes at low prices.