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  • Writer's picturePat Browne

Repairing stairs for safety and appearance

Do you know: if stairs are deemed unsafe, Canada Post can stop delivery. These are only a few of the many steps that I saw in need of repair.

Over the last few days we have been delivering info sheets to the neighbourhood about our upcoming flag day and have discovered just how bad many of our front stairs are. In many cases I would suggest that the stairs are so badly off that they are not safe. If this is what you are facing, what can be done? There could be both safety issues and potentially liability issues in their current state.

There are 2 segments to our stairs, the poured concrete of the main flight of stairs and then the blocks of the lower landing area. In most cases, both areas need attention, however they will require completely different repair solutions.

Generally, we think of concrete as a durable, long-lasting product that requires little maintenance. However, like everything else, water is your enemy. If there has been a crack in the concrete water can get in and do what water does, freeze in the winter and expand causing cracking and crumbling.

If your stairs and other concrete surface have cracks, they can often be repaired. In some cases, concrete crack repair can be a simple DIY project, in others it may require a professional concrete contractor to correct the damage and in the most extreme cases your concrete may need to be removed and replaced.

Most of the cracking, chipping and crumbling observed is called spalling concrete. Spalling concrete is a common problem where part of the surface peels, breaks or chips away. Also known as scaling, it is the result of a weak surface that is susceptible to damage.

Spalled concrete may be caused by any of the following:

  • Freeze-thaw cycles

  • De-icing salts

  • Poor finishing techniques

  • Improper curing

  • A bad concrete mix

Some of the challenges that I observed will require no more than a little elbow grease and some basic materials. For a description of how to repair cracks in concrete check out

For the base of the stairs, this area is created from precast-cement stones that have been dry stacked in place with loose sand in the centre. Once again, water is your enemy. To effectively repair these steps, dismantle the stones and set aside. You will need to replace the existing sand in the centre with non-freezing silica sand. Silica sand will allow the water to flow through without freezing. You will also need to install a weeping tile drain to allow water to flow out of the sand bed. Once this is done, rebuild the stacked stones (replacing any that have been too damaged). For a clean look you can have the corners mitred or replace the steps themselves with a solid precast material that spans the width of the stair. In all cases, the top steps can be adhered together with concrete glue.

If the job is much bigger (and there were some that will need serious work), then you can reach out to someone like Otto’s Masonry ( at 416-467-1717. They have been in the Don Mills/Flemington Park/Leaside area for over 40 years. If they deem the job too small, they may recommend a smaller supplier.

A final note: When we first moved into the neighbourhood, our home inspector advised us to add a railing to the stacked stone steps. It was his determination that the steps required a handrail to meet building code requirements (which is the minimum standard for safety). The current code specifies a handrail is required when there are two or more risers. Without a railing, if someone should slip and fall, your home insurance could be implicated. We had our extension created by . We also had another railing added in the backyard to ensure stability when exiting out of the back door to our patio. This was especially important when my elderly mother came to visit.

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