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Building Outdoor Steps

And Tips for Installing a Stairway Up a Hill

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Picture of stone steps. Known for their durability, stone steps are also attractive.

Picture of outdoor steps made of stone.

David Beaulieu

Homeowners who live on inclines, be they steep slopes or moderate hills, may wish to consider building outdoor steps (stairs) or stairways (staircases) to facilitate mobility and usability in their landscapes. But what materials should be used in the project? And is this a suitable project for the do-it-yourselfer? These are just some of the issues covered in this interview with David Gatti of P.O.P.S. Landscaping in Atlanta.

Q. David, discuss examples of outdoor steps and stairways both in terms of aesthetics and function.

A. Outdoor steps are very similar to walkways in that they are used as a more permanent addition to the landscape and serve a particular purpose. Stairways often lead to specific destinations such as a front entries or patios. If built and designed correctly, stairways can increase the value of the home by adding usable space.

Q. In the best examples of outdoor steps and stairways you’ve observed, can you offer some examples of how different building materials have been combined creatively?

A. Using pavers and stone together. I like using pavers for walkways and stone for outdoor steps to soften the landscape and break-up straight lines. When combining the two, I try to build a few outdoor steps, and then add flat walkway space, and then add a few additional steps. This creates a warmer, more inviting walk space than a steep outdoor stairway.

Q. What about building railings to parallel the outdoor steps in your landscaping?

A. I do not typically install railings outdoors because we build our steps an average of 16-inches in depth, so a person can rotate 360 degrees without trouble. Railings are often placed inside because indoor steps are typically only about 8-inches wide. However, if a homeowner really wants a railing, a custom iron railing often suits an outdoor staircase well. I recommend putting the railing in the center of the steps instead of each side because outdoor stairs often turn, and this can be tricky. Or, a pressure treated wood post such as cedar can also make a nice split rail material. Place a vertical rail of cedar on the top and bottom and insert hand rails about 36-inches high.

Q. What materials are most often used when building outdoor steps and stairways? How would a homeowner decide between the different materials available for outdoor steps?

A. I would say 90% of all outdoor steps and stairways I design are made from stone. Homeowners might select from flagstone, field stone, stack stone, pavers and timber. The main factor homeowners consider when deciding between materials is definitely budget.

But on Page 2 of this interview, David has some ideas for those considering concrete as a material with which to build outdoor steps....

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