Mixing brick and concrete for steps

ls8989July 6, 2012

I ran out of bricks after doing the patio and I can't buy anything less than a pallet so I need to find something else for these steps that lead down from the house to the below deck patio and the firepit patio. What do you guys think about leaving the bricks on the edge and filling in the centers with concrete? Here's a photo.

Here is a link that might be useful: steps

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Page not found

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 7:32AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The spacing of those steps makes me shudder. There are standards for the tread and risers of steps.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 11:26AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

It will look like a bandaid to change the overall texture of the materials / design midway or towards the end. Consistancy is a key element in a well balanced design.

From the photos it looks like there is a sizable amount of height difference between the risers and irregularity of distance between the treads. Am I seeing that correctly ?

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 2:43PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Not knowing how much a pallet of bricks typically costs, even being a very cost conscious person, I would cough up the bucks. Your yard looks large enough where the remainder of the bricks could be used for edging somewhere else, a firepit etc. Having the same brick in multiple places can pull the look together. Mixing different materials such as you are suggesting I can't imagine EVER looking OK.

Are the risers and treads inconsistent or do the shadows just give that effect? Riser/tread standardization throughout the run is not about aesthetics but safety. We currently have stairs that we will be tearing out strictly because of the inconsistent riser/thread. I currently traverse the steps purposely and slowly to hopefully divert a fall.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 4:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The first three steps were existing and fi never noticed if they were oddly placed and I've been up and down them 1000 times. They are not the same length. When my builders built the next step, they were trying to keep the inside curve smooth, but it played havoc with the side facing the patio. I agree the one riser is about two inches higher than all the others which are pretty much the same height. I'm not sure why they did this and it does look and feel odd. We were going to see if we could redo it when we resolved the laver problem. My understanding is that code for risers is between four and seven inches? As far as ordering a pallet of 400 bricks in order to get the 40 I need, the cost, due to shipping is around $700. Just not possible at this stage in our budget. I've been on the website Houzz and mixing brick and concrete seems to be popular, but mainly the bricks are inside the
steps with concrete on the outside. I'm not sure what Pls8xx means by "standards"? We were trying to match the type of stairs already in place. Do you mean the size of the walking area?

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 10:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bahia(SF Bay Area)

"Standards" means the steps are built to meet safety codes, and yours definitely aren't. Your glossing over the safety factor and lack of planning in estimating material quantities to reduce shipping costs to one delivery all add up to a job poorly thought out and constructed. You aren't likely to heed advice on redoing this to be safer and hold up the better aesthetic finish, so you might as well do it the way you prefer. If a guest is the type to sue if injured on your property, your homeowner's insurance isn't going to cover your personal liability for an accident, just so you are aware of the real costs of poor design and installation.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 12:38AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Your getting a lot of feedback regarding the varying heights of the risers because aesthetics don't mean anything when safety has been compromised.

I think the max step height is around 8" depending on your municipality. The problem is not that your steps are between 4 - 7", it's that they vary.

Though you may not want to hear it, Bahia's right about tearing the entire thing out and starting over. Do you think I like the idea of tearing out steps that the PO had installed. As far as I'm concerned the $$$ and time wasted were done on the initial installation, not when we put them in correctly.

Sounds like your steps weren't installed right from the get go and instead of starting from scratch, you chose to continue on. No one wants to go through all that work only to tear it out. Again it's not about aesthetics but safety. I think you're getting the idea that this forum values safety as the number one concern.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 12:01PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Well, here again I find myself being unresponsive to the original question and giving advice that wasn't requested. My bad.

My outlook on steps has changed with my age. In my youth three steps of unequal risers didn't matter; I was going to use a single little spring step from the bottom to the top.

At my age ...

A single low step by itself can go unnoticed and trip me. Thus I prefer a minimum of two steps together. And more than six together makes a height that looks like an injury should I stumble.

As one approaches steps, it's necessary to adjust one's gait to match the steps. A series of single steps spread out repeats this and is annoying.

As soon as one has his foot on the first step up or down the brain gauges this vertical distance between the two feet and makes an assumption that all the steps will be the same. Your movement of the back foot will be based on that assumption. If the risers are unequal, you will be thrown off balanced or tripped.

There are mathematical dimensions for steps that work well with human physiology. Not everyone is in agreement with what that is, but a common equation is that twice the riser height plus the tread length should be a number. Some prefer that number to be 23, others say 27. If I put a carpenter square on my step ladder I get a 11.5 inch riser and a 3 inch tread (11.5+11.5+3 = 26) On steps I built I get 6.5" risers with 10.5 inch treads (6.5+6.5+10.5 = 23.5). I find most comfortable those steps with a riser between 6.5 and 7.25 inches.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 1:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I understand pls8's point, since I am still a person who doesn't notice much of an annoyance in step height. All the steps are approx the same height Of 7 inches but two, one is higher and the other lower than 7 inches. As these are consecutive it does feel like I'm galloping to get across them and up. The purpose of the larger "landings" between steps was to avoid too many regular steps, due to the sloping grade- that looks like a possible tumble to me. Maybe I should have done a series of steps and then a landing and then another series of steps? Bahia, your comments must give you great joy in being a snot, but you aren't helpful. I didn't order materials at all bc I am reusing some from another project . Did I count every brick? No. I thought the contractor I hired would know how to estimate materials.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 4:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You many not like what was said or even how it was said but Bahia is just restating - and very clearly, I might add - what others have indicated. The steps are not contructed in accordance with building codes and are not safe. You can very likely get around this issue without visitation by the inspectors but you do run the risk of liability should anyone fall and get injured.

FWIW, aesthetics aside, a long run to a relatively low riser is just awkward and uncomfortable to walk up or down. You have to make two steps for each riser and that is not a natural gait. It is when one tries to take each individual stair with a single step - a natural movement/gait - that missteps and tripping hazards are created. It is far better to cluster several (3-5) standard steps together and insert the larger landing steps periodically in between.

There are lots of pictoral guides to help you through this design process - your local home improvement box store is a good place to start.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 5:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
karinl(BC Z8)

It had to be said, but that doesn't mean it has to be corrected. To think the stairs will be redone is to think like a contractor, not like a homeowner. I think it is useful for Lynn to understand the problem, and perhaps she might decide to install a handrail and some lights. My guess is that there might be guests who might be drinking at the firepit, and they might have trouble with the stairs.

The safety issue does also have some bearing on the original question. Given that the stairs are in less than ideal format, I would not use concrete. But I don't see anything wrong with mixing materials - maybe a contasting colour of pavers, larger size, in the centre, for instance. Less work to alter the stair format if you do ever decide to do so.

Karin L

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 8:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
karinl(BC Z8)

... although your material delivery problem may also apply to pavers, so nothing else would offer the ease of acquisition and transport that concrete does.

I would be fine with concrete in the middle of the steps. It would probably look quite nice. As for removal, concrete can always be sledgehammered, so it's not like it can't be removed. I just hate the disposal aspect, although if you take care to pour it fairly flat, it can be broken up into "concrete flagstone" for re-use.

Karin L

    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 1:24AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
catkim(San Diego 10/24)

You ran out of bricks for your project. Other people end up with extra bricks. Try craigslist.

You've heard enough about your "steps", so I won't pile on except to say all the observations are accurate.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 12:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Just want to echo what catkin is saying. craigslist is one source. I live in a pretty rural area and I can think of 5 places that I can buy brick by the piece within a half an hours drive. You have to look beyond home depot and lowes sometimes. Try smaller nurseries that sell stone, lumber yards and salvage.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 8:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I met with another GC (a very good friend who does only large projects) yesterday who agreed with all of you that we need to bite the bullet and rework all but two of the seven steps so that they are of equal height. He liked the longer landings rather than lots of stairs bc of the curve, because this is outdoors and esp since we don't want railings. He advised that lower riser heights of 6 1/4 inches are better for natural gait when you have longer treads in between. So, out of the seven steps we currently have, we will eliminate one in the middle completely, keep the existing 6 1/4" riser at the top and the existing 6 1/4 " at the bottom and install a series of 2 double risers 6 1/4 high by 14" in between with landings. We will have to regrade a little, especially the 10 feet of the final part of this walkway (before the final step onto the firepit patio) to raise it up 3 inches, but it can be done with a shovel. He said he's doing lots of concrete + brick walkways and patios and saw nothing wrong with my original idea (copied from Houzz - in case you guys don't know that web site, it has thousands of photos for everything to do with residential design) of brick borders with concrete in the middle. He did advise me to match the depth of the concrete middles to follow the same lines all the way up, which hadn't occurred to me. I've managed to get $400 back from the first contractor who did the original steps (it really should be more, but my friend told me do NOT try to get these first guys to come back and do a better job. He said they clearly did not know what they were doing) and my OTHER landscaping contractor who built the firepit patio and retaining wall said he will fix it on the weekends for $600 provided I pay for materials. At this point, the only materials I need are bags of concrete and some more crusher run for raising the base of the 10' walkway. If you have suggestions, please feel free to detail them. If you are merely going to be critical or caustic, please don't bother. I could probably stick those solar lights in the ground for now to give us some lights along these steps.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 8:54AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Glad that you were able to figure out a safe solution.

The only few suggestions I have would be to tint the concrete in fill so it isn't so stark gray. A little lamp black or a standard Schofield or Davis concrete colorant will take the edge off.
How the concrete is finished will also make a difference. A nice sand finish complements the brick and adds just the right amount of 'tooth'.
A light scoring where the concrete infill meets the brick would be a nice finish detail. As the concrete cures it can slightly pull away from the brick, if there is a nice light score line between the two you can eliminate the eventual hair line crack that is going to occur.

Also , if you can install a bull nose / tread overhang it will greatly improve the appearence and it creates a subtle shadow so that the eye 'read's that there is a grade change .

I'll enclose a brick bullnose detail photo.

sorry that you had to redo your project, but I think you will be happier in the long run.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 6:30PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Lining up here to agree with taking up the existing dogs dinner but as from where I sit I can't see any reason for steps to be there in the first place I would return to the first place designwithapurposewise. Can you take a picture from that thing that looks like a bench by the fence and looking back towards the house?

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 5:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Deviant, Once again, you have great ideas. Will talk to the contractor in the morning about the overhang. Is sanding the same thing as brooming it? or do you add sand? Since Atlanta is rainy, any finish that keeps your feet to the ground is a good idea. My GC buddy, who insisted I redo these steps (YES, YES, you all were right) said I could "wash away the top to show the aggregate". I tried to look at pics on the internet but I can't tell if this is a good look or not. Inkognito, I'm not sure what you mean "first place designwithapurpose" Yes, will take a photo. that thing by the fence is either the woodpile or the compost bin. I would love not having to have steps but can't imagine how to get down without them.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 9:45AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Here's the photo looking from the side of the yard down the walkway, which needs to connect the patio under the deck and the new firepit pato.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 10:01AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I am still confused lynn, sorry. You say you want the steps to connect your two patios yet they run parallel to the house, is there a door at the top of the steps? I am thinking you could change the trajectory to something both practical (designwithapurpose) and more pleasing to the eye which also makes better use of the material you have.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 3:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

With your first pic of the steps, I thought your backyard was quite lovely. Your last photo really showed off how truly gorgeous it is! What a beautiful yard.

I'm glad this is all working out well for you in the end w/o "breaking the bank". I've seen the concrete in the middle with brick edges and I have thought of doing it ourselves. It was the mixing of all brick with some steps and concrete and brick on other steps that didn't sit right with me.

I like "exposed aggregate" (what you can search for on houzz). A word of caution, if you like going barefoot a lot, it's not as "soft" to walk on compared to straight concrete. It's worth it to me, but my DH likes the regular finish. With your woodland wonderland though, it would look great.

Here's a pic of some from houzz. I personally prefer less aggregate then these pics and a larger aggregate. So many options. Good luck.

Contemporary Landscape design by San Luis Obispo Landscape Architect Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape Architecture

Contemporary Landscape design by San Diego Landscape Designer debora carl landscape design

Modern Landscape design by Austin Landscape Designer D-CRAIN Design and Construction

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 9:12AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We just spent $800 redoing the steps. Good thing I got $400 back from the orignal contractor who put them in so badly. We managed to keep the original top two steps and the last step but ripped out the five in between. The steps are all 6 1/4 inches tall except for one that we simply could not manage to make taller than 5 1/4". My drunk friends better not trip on that one or they won't be invited back. We did have to patchwork lots of concrete in this stairway bc we ruined a few more pavers trying to get them out. Oh well, its not perfect but its done!!! Will post photos soon.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 9:32PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
tall hedge or tress for privacy screen.
I have posted this before in older forums. Not able...
Landscape Designer or Landscape Architect?
Can anyone tell me what is the difference? I am considering...
On Site Calculations - Area
If you do construction as well as design, sooner or...
Need landscape and hardscape plan for mediterranean style home
Remodeling home in RSF and need help with landscape...
Issue with Retainer Wall, fixable or redo?
Hi, first time posting here. I'm looking for advice...
John Turner
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™