Rebuilding Block and Paver Steps

We were contacted by a prospective client in Omro, WI inquiring about having her block and paver patio and steps repaired.  Over the 8-10 years it’d been in place, the flaws in the construction of the steps and patio starting becoming apparent; a big pocket of settling on the left side of the steps, the home’s sheathing exposed to the elements (due both to improper construction of step, using that sheathing as a retaining wall to hold back crushed stone, but also a lack of trim coil or flashing or groundbreaker to protect that sheathing from rain and snow, which can lead to rot).

failing block and paver step

And if you look at the steps above, you can see a detail we just wouldn’t ever let fly – the beautiful 45-degree herringbone pattern in the patio wasn’t duplicated in the steps.

Why did the original contractor build it this way?

Probably because slapping in a running bond pattern in a small area that would require considerable time cutting if it were instead a 45-degree herringbone would be way easier.  So whoever built this took the easy way, both for the brick pattern in the step and for many elements of the construction.

Thankfully, all we noticed with the exposed sheathing was some discoloration, and not full blown rot like on this project.

We asked the client if she liked the look of the concrete block with the clay pavers, and more importantly, would she prefer in the rebuild if we instead gave her steps that looked timeless instead of dated.  She loved the idea, so we got to work…

Construction of Masonry Steps

Once we hauled away the block and cleared out the 18″ of limestone screenings/fines, we began building steps that would never move on her again.  That meant pouring a reinforced concrete slab anchored to the home’s foundation.  Atop the slab we mortared the CMU structure for the steps, then began veneering the CMUs with beautiful clay pavers from Pine Hall that matched the existing work.

And details like the continuity of the 45-degree herringbone pattern into the steps weren’t forgotten when we rebuilt the steps and repaired the patio:

Masonry Steps 45 Degree Herringbone

It’s much more labor-intensive installing a pattern like this in a small space, but the look?  Makes all the work worth it.

Masonry Step and Paver Repair

And now, the masonry steps have a look that matches the rest of the clay paver patio, with paver veneer on the rise and tread of each step.  The sheathing is protected with trim coil, and even more importantly, a very narrow air gap was built into the new steps where they met the sheathing, so the sheathing would never be asked to support any part of the new steps, and the chance for rot reduced to zero.  With the steps built on a reinforced slab tied to the foundation, it’s virtually impervious to freeze-thaw, unlike the rolling hills of the first set of steps.

Some of these details?  They’re pretty boring to recount in an article like this.  But it’s these details that we pay attention to that make the difference between the steps at the top of this article and the ones at the bottom.