Block Steps - don't be nieve

Discussion in 'Hardscaping' started by DVS Hardscaper, Jun 19, 2012.

  1. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,567

    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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  2. neversatisfiedj

    neversatisfiedj LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,028

    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.
  3. macgyver_GA

    macgyver_GA LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 826

    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.
  4. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,567

    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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  5. SVA_Concrete

    SVA_Concrete LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 467

    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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  6. OSdb

    OSdb LawnSite Member
    Messages: 80

    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.
  7. TomG

    TomG LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 674

    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.
  8. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,567

    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.
  9. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,567

    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?

  10. alldayrj

    alldayrj LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,793

    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.

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