Rebuilding the Front Porch Steps or Stairs

Rebuild /  Redesign the Front Porch, Steps, Stairs

The front porch, steps or stairs, provides the first impression of anyone’s home. What does a person visiting the home first encounter, once they have driven up the drive, or have found the address to your home?

The front porch with it’s associated steps and stairs

The front porch is the initial impression, the welcoming into your home, and should be an entrance that identifies who you are, and welcomes the visitor into the entire home, as well as in some important cases, the entire family.

This is the reason that the front porch should identify the type of home you are presenting to your visitor, and makes that visitor understand the importance of their presence within your home.

What are the various types and designs that can be used for the front porch of your home?

Precast, wood, masonry, tile or synthetic material can all be used to create your front porch.

The construction of a new front porch is relatively straightforward, however the examination of whether an existing front porch is in need of repair, or total removal and rebuilding is a little more involved. .

Precast stairs

One of the most common types of front porches are simple precast structures that are made at precast concrete plants, and simply delivered to the home and placed in the front of the front door to allow access to the structure. In some instances there are actual footings or concrete piers that are installed in the front of the home, to support the precast front stairs. In other situations, although not in accordance with strict construction procedures, is to place the stairs directly on stone or even compacted earth. Obviously the ability of these precast stairs to remain accurately placed, in the front of the home, is totally dependent upon the type of foundations that have been installed to support these stairs.

The actual foundation under these precast stairs will determine the ability of these stairs to maintain their levelness, as well as their position accurately in front of the door. If the foundation is not adequate, such as simply sitting on stone or gravel, the stairs themselves may have shifted and become out of level. If this is the case and the stairs appear relatively intact, the removal of the stairs and the placement of either a reinforced slab of concrete, or piers to support the stairs, will correct any issue with levelness or positioning. However if the stairs were not properly installed correctly, then their condition has probably deteriorated. In this case the best correction is to simply remove the stair, break them up and discard.

The repositioning of precast stairs as well as the construction of a proper foundation is a method to correct stairs to allow, at least, a straight appearance, as well as a properly positioned approach to the front door. However, in most cases, if the construction of the precast stair lacked the proper foundation, then the ability of the stair to maintain integrity is probably compromised, and the entire front porch or front stair should be replaced.

If you are in this situation, and the precast concrete stairs that has been the entrance to your home, has been compromised and has deteriorated, then the best solution to the problem is to simply remove the stairs, discard the stairs and start again, with a new and improved entry to your home.

How do I determine if we should rebuild or replace the front entry ?

What specifics should be examined to determine if the front entry is not adequate to rebuild or refurbish?

  • Look at the treads, risers, platforms and stringers. The treads are the horizontal elements of a stairs, the risers are the vertical surfaces that connect each tread, the platforms are the longer and wider elements that connect any treads and risers, and the stringers are the sides of the stairs themselves. This visual inspection does not require any professional knowledge or information, to make a valid judgement regarding their condition.   How do they look? Are they broken down, are they deteriorated, and are they structurally firm, straight and plumb?
  • How many of the treads, risers, platforms and stringers are compromised. This visual review will determine if the stair should be refurbished, or simply removed and replaced. This is, in many cases difficult for the average individual to make this decision. However what must be understood, is that this is the entry to your home, which is important to the overall presentation of the home, however, in regards to cost, it is a very small area of space that will need to be replaced. In other words, the importance of the front stairs is high, yet the cost of providing a well designed and constructed front stairs is normally not very expensive.
  • In my opinion, it is normally best to simply remove and replace the average entry stair and porch and reconstruct new. However, I understand that I am a builder, and in many cases this is not the most economical decision that could be made. However, I will stress that in the long run, the total rebuild of an entry stair and porch is in most cases the better decision.

OK, you want to rebuild, refurbish and make what you have, better.

I understand that in some instances, it is extremely difficult, both financially and practically too totally replace the entry to your home. However, I stress, in most cases, it is the best and most logical decision to simply replace and rebuild from scratch, the front porch or entry stairs to your home.

However if you feel that there is a redeeming value, either economically or practically to fix what you have, let’s look at the alternatives to total replacement.

Precast stairs

We have already discussed the requirement that precast stairs have an adequate foundation for stability and levelness. It is important that if there is an effort to repair an existing precast stairs, that they are on a firm, structurally sufficient foundation. Once this is determined, the following procedures can be taken.

a.) Each tread must be examined for structural integrity. Are there substantial cracks or deterioration of the treads that are visually apparent? If there are no visually apparent cracks of failures in the actual treads and or risers, soak the entire stairs with water. Allow the surface water to dry off and again visually inspect the stairs. In most instances, if there is a substantial crack or failure the water will have soaked into this crack of failure and will create a remaining dark outline of the fracture or other failure. In this case, in most instances, it is much easier to identify any structural issues.

b.) Once the cracks and failures are identified, it is important to allow all the water to dry out completely from any compromises in the structure. Any moisture present will compromise any attempts to correct the deficiencies.

c.) Remove all concrete or masonry that appears to be cracked and compromised. If the issue is a crack in the precast, then the crack must be routed out to allow any repair to adhere to the remaining structure. Routing out a crack is the removal of each side of the crack to create a V appearing joint along the failure. This V joint will allow a masonry patch to remain in the joint without simply cracking out of the joint. The preparation of the joint is important to allow the repair to remain within the joint itself.

d.) Once the crack and the failure in the steps have been properly prepared, a masonry patching product must be troweled into the V joint. This masonry product can be found at the local hardware store or the large home box stores. If course, guidance should be requested to ensure that the proper material is used to fill in the V joint.

e.) If there is more damage to the precast stairs than the filling of cracks and failures then actual concrete forming work might be required. It is rare that a precast stair that is reclaimable has damage that will require actual forming of the repair. Normally if the stair has deteriorated to this extend, a replacement stair is recommended. However, if formwork is actually required, it might be smart to involve a professional mason to fix the stairs.

Once the concrete stairs has deteriorated to require formwork, one sided formwork is extremely difficult for the inexperienced homeowner to perform. A one sided form is subject to what is called blow out due to the unequal pressure that is applied by the wet concrete on the formwork. However, if the homeowner would attempt to perform this work, the following steps must be taken.

  • As with the crack and crevice repair, all the deteriorated concrete must be removed from the area to be patched.
  • The area remaining must be solid and without deterioration, otherwise the repair will simply break out and fail.
  • Clean the entire surface carefully and thoroughly to ensure that there is no material that would compromise the bond between the patch and the existing material. The wire brushing of this interface is recommended to ensure that there is a strong bond established.
  • In many situations, the application of a bonding agent is recommended to ensure that the bond is strong.
  • Sometimes it is recommended that concrete nails be hammered into the existing concrete to form an additional bonding between the patch and the existing concrete. If the homeowner is very ambitious, the drilling of inserts into the existing concrete would also strengthen the bonding of the patch. Basically any material such as stainless steel wire, nails, etc. that can be adhered to the existing surfaces will help the patching concrete to bond to the stairs.
  • Once the area has been cleaned and established a form of some sort must be installed to stop the concrete from simply pouring from the area to be patched. The actual installation of the formwork must be accomplished creatively due to the fact that no two situations will be the same. If there is someplace that the form can be actually wedged or firmly supported between, then this surface should be used. If simple weight will provide stabilization of the formwork, then the possible piling of concrete block or any other heavy material could be used to stabilize the one sided form. The real professional method is to insert a threaded rod into the existing concrete surface and use a double nut to secure the formwork. Of course this is only to be attempted by an ambitious and experienced homeowner. In most cases we have now evolved into a project that should be accomplished by a professional.

Repair of a wood or synthetic stair

The repair of a wood stair or synthetic stair is not as difficult for the homeowner as the repair of a concrete of masonry stair.

  • As with the masonry stairs a thorough examination of the stairs must be performed. It does not matter whether the stairs are wood or a synthetic material, the inspection process is the same. Each riser, tread, platform and stringer should be inspected for cracks, rotten material or structural failures of any sort.
  • Once the obvious inspection is performed, the less than obvious under the deck or steps should be done. This inspection is not as easy as the surface inspection, but is probably more important. The underside of any wooden or synthetic steps / stairs is important. The lower supports are the primary system that supports the entire deck, stairs or steps.
  • What should be looked for in the underside inspection is the posts, the support beams as well as the connectors for all the structural members? The attachment of the supports to the posts is an important structural aspect of any porch, stairs or steps. If any obvious cracking or splitting of the wood supports is observed, these may have to be replaced.
  • A large screwdriver should be used to try and prod the posts and beams to determine if any rot has softened the wood or other material being used to support the structures. If there is any termite damage or other insect compromises, then the screwdriver inserted into the wood will verify any deterioration.
  • Once the deterioration is identified and marked out, the repairs of these areas is required. Normally if the supports are wood or synthetic material, their replacement is probably required. As with the formwork on the concrete stairs, the removal and replacement of structural supports under a deck, porch, stairs or steps is probably better performed by a professional contractor.

Once the deterioration has been determined and located, the following is the basic summary of how to repair the area that has been determined as compromised.

  • Remove the deteriorated material from the deck, porch, stairs or steps. This removal should be more extensive than not. What I mean is that if you are performing this work, you should ensure that all of the deteriorated material is removed and none is left to create future issues. If the deteriorated material is decking, balustrades, or handrails, the removal is relatively straightforward. In many instances the nails that are holding the deteriorated material will simply rip out of the soft and deteriorated material with the claw of a hammer. If this is not adequate the use of a cat’s paw or a pry bar is recommended. Remove all of the deteriorated material as well as all the fasteners. Examine the supporting structure, now that the surface material has been removed.
  • Cut all replacement material to size and it is recommended that screws for fasteners are used. In most applications of older decks, simple wood nails were used to secure the decking. Any replacement will be better served if wood screws are used. I would suggest that special coated deck screws, stainless or galvanized screws be used. It is recommended that a drilled hole be located and drilled prior to replacement of the decking or other surface material. The pre-drilling of holes for the fasteners will eliminate the shaking and impact of simply screwing or nailing the replacement material down.
  • If the support structure was identified as being compromised when the surface material was removed, then this deteriorated structure will need to be repaired. In most cases, it is simpler to attach a replacement support directly to the side of the deteriorated board, unless the entire support is deteriorated. If the entire support is deteriorated and the application of sistering another board directly to the side of the deteriorated board does not appear structurally sound, then the total replacement of the support is recommended. At this point the use of a professional contractor to correct this situation is recommended.
  • The removal of the primary support members of a stairs, steps or porch is normally a project that is better performed by a professional contractor. The porch will need to be temporarily supported to allow the removal of the deteriorated materials. Unless the homeowner has the time as well as the experience and knowledge required to properly support the structure while the repairs occur, once again it is better to hire the professional.

There are several other types of front porches, steps and stairs; however, the concrete, precast, wood or synthetic steps are the most common. Any superficial repairs can be performed on these types of stairs by the homeowner, but due to the importance of the structural integrity of these entry elements, if there are major repairs to be done, I would strongly recommend the use of a professional contractor.

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