Masonry steps are one of the most durable ways of building a beautiful set of steps that will last a lifetime. There are many different materials that can be used to build masonry steps. Some of these materials include brick, stone vaneer, concrete blocks, decorative interlocking block, and precast concrete.
In order to build masonry steps in our northeast environment, a footing below frost line is needed. The footing is the solid concrete, supporting the weight of the steps. The foundation meets at ground level, and is usually made from concrete blocks. From there, the body of the steps can be built off the block foundation below. If bricks or stone vaneer are used, the inner body of the steps is built with concrete block. The concrete block is then faced with culture or natural stone vaneer, adhered to it with mortar. If bricks are used, they are laid in front of the blocks creating an outer shell. Risers are usually topped with 2” thick limestone or bluestone treads.
• What is the difference between limestone and bluestone?
o They are both natural stone products. Limestone is the cheaper of the two. It comes in gray color and it is considered a soft stone. Bluestone is blue colored and more expensive. It is also stronger and harder then limestone.
The top platform of the steps is then surrounded with limestone or bluestone, centered with 4” of concrete. If a more decorative platform is desired; stone, brick, or other durable materials can be wet laid in the concrete of the platform. We never install pavers on the platform of steps because pavers have small joints between them, and are meant to sit on a gravel bed. If this is performed on a set of masonry steps it is allowing an area for water to penetrate inside the steps and cause damage in the winter months. Consequently, it can greatly cut back on the expected lifespan of the steps.
When existing masonry steps are replaced, the outer shell is usually torn to the foundation at ground level. To save the customer money, the existing footing and foundation (if in good condition or repairable condition) can be reused. If installed properly, the footing and foundation that is below grade is usually in good shape. It is insulated by the earth itself and not exposed to the weather and the elements as the other portion of the steps from ground level up.
Another way of building masonry steps and avoiding a footing below grade is by using decorative interlocking blocks. These blocks are used mainly to build retaining walls. Conversely, they can also be used to build masonry steps. These blocks sit on a compacted gravel bed with the first course of block usually below earth grade level. From there, the body of the steps is built with the blocks. The blocks are interlocked to each other with locking lips or pins. The risers are then topped with the capping blocks of the wall glued down. The top platform is then centered with 4” of concrete.