How to Build Concrete Steps

"How to build concrete steps" can be a fairly easy project for the average do-it-yourselfer. The most important point to stress, however, it to keep it simple. With no experience, you should attempt more than two or three small steps. Bigger and more elaborate steps should only be done by professionals.

STEP 1: Prepare the subgrade. Remove any loose dirt and thick grasses and dig a few inches below the proposed location of the step forms.

STEP 2: Determine how many steps you need and the heigth of the risers (how tall is each step). Risers can be anywhere from 4" to 7 1/2", but they must all be the same within a set of steps. The taller the rise, the fewer steps are needed, but that doesn't mean taller is better. Let's face it, none of us are getting any younger and shorter rise may be better.

Find the measurement of the total rise, from the bottom of first step to top of the porch or door threshold. Now subtract 1" for the slope you'll need away from the house. Now you can take that measurement and decide how many steps and how tall each rise should be.
For example, let's say the total rise is 25". Subtract 1" to get 24". Looking at that number, you know you'll need at least 4 risers, because 3 risers would make each one taller than 7 1/2". If you do 4 risers, 24" rise divided into 4 risers gives you 6" risers. If you want shorter risers, then you can divide 24" into 5 risers and get 4.8" risers. Keep in mind that the measurements do not have to be precise, within 1/4" is close enough. So that 4.8" measurement can be rounded to 4 3/4".
If you come up with 4 risers, then you'll need to build 3 steps. Subtract 1 to account for last rise up to the porch or door.

STEP 3: Determine the depth of the treads. Many will say that the treads need to be at least 10", but I disagree. I believe they should be at least 14" for safety. Just like the risers, the treads must also be all the same within a set of steps. You can make one of the treads much bigger than the rest to create a landing. The important point to remember is that any differences in treads must be easily visible. A landing should be at least double the size of other treads. You don't want to create a tripping hazard.

STEP 4: Make the sides of the steps and set them in place. Use 2x6's or 2x8's ripped to the same measurement as the risers. Cut those to match the treads. If the treads are 14" then you need to cut two pieces 14" long. For the second step, you need to cut two pieces 28" long (14"x2). If there's a third step, add 14" and cut two more. Then use scrape wood and nail the treads together. Drive 1x4 or 2x4 stakes to set the sides in place. Nail the side forms to the stakes. Use a level to make sure the side forms slope away from the house. Slope should be 1/4" to 1/2" per ft.

concrete step forms

STEP 5: Rip the face boards, if needed, to the heigth of the risers and set in place. It's OK if they are little longer than the step width. Nail them in place with two 3 1/2" nails. After securing one end to the side forms, measure to the other end and mark it to ensure the width of steps remains the same. Then nail it in place. Repeat this for the other face boards.

how to build concrete steps

You can use screws or nails to put step together. I prefer to use 3 1/2" common nails. Remember that you will eventually have to remove the forms. So if you use nails, don't drive them all the way. Leave the head sticking out enough that you can grab and pull them out with a claw. You can also use duplex head nails.

STEP 6: Double check all your measurements, slope from front to back, and level from side to side. Check to see it steps are square with the house. If not you can make adjusments in the next step.

STEP 7: Install braces on the sides and front. Wet concrete will put alot of pressure on the forms and the last thing you want is to have them fall apart while you're trying to pour the concrete. It's better to have too much bracing versus not enough. Istead of trying to explain how to brace the forms, refer to the pictures below. Use the braces to square the steps with the house.

building concrete steps

build concrete steps

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