DIY isn’t as sexy and fun when you have to do it. Such is the case with having to replace the steps to my front porch. As these provide access to the front door, it’s a must do, for the sake of all the visitors, delivery people and misc. uninvited others that I don’t want to talk to but still don’t want to crash through the stairs.
The problem arose because of dirt. This dirt is at the base of a stringer, where it has been resting for I-have-no-idea how many years. Rot has set in, not just at the base of the stringer, but in the treads as well.
No idea what the original staircase would have been like for a 1927 house. The rotting one was a style available through your favourite home improvement store, so it’s a modern ‘improvement’ or maybe required repair.
Another issue with the stairs, not dirt-related, is a downward slope. My analysis of this, supported by current approaches to deck steps, is that the staircase is not properly supported. It was attached to the ledger/rim board with shallow L-shaped brackets under the top thread. The stringers were nailed to the threads, rather than a metal hanger attaching the stringer to the deck frame and then the treads to the stringer.
I suspect the reason the previous installation was made is the rim board on the front porch is only 5 inches high. A good hanger needs 10 to 12 inches for attachment. Nowhere to hang the hanger.
As the rot requires remediation, it was a good time to improve step stability.
The intimidating thing about this project was that it was the front steps. Down time was not acceptable from a functional perspective1. So I spent a lot of time planning although the full picture of what could be done didn’t fully emerge until the old stairs were removed. Also, it’s fall, and time is running out for good working-outside weather.
Removing the old steps wasn’t too hard, using a sawzall to cut thought boards and nails, and a hammer to convince the odd stuck bit to come unstuck. Getting the old L brackets out was a bit tricky until I slipped the sawzall blade between the facer board and the beam to cut the screw (yes, only one per bracket) that held them in place.
Instincts about physics and forces told me adding two 2×6″s underneath the existing rim should provide the right face to attach the stair stinger to. 2×6″s laid flat were perfect, as the rim had a total depth of about 5″, just under the width of a 5 1/4″ 2×6″. I secured these to the existing rim with 5 1/2″ construction screws and construction glue.
This approach gave me confidence that the stair stingers would have adequate support (force is downward from the steps, borne laterally by the rim beam tied to in the house foundation and a brick post). After replacing the lattice2, demolished to install the enhanced rim support, I was ready to put the new stairs in.
The previous base for the stringers was dirt. I used brick footings, semi-buried in the ground underneath the stringers. A poured concrete pad would be better, but the bricks are better than dirt.
To attach the stringers, I used a Simpson adjustable stair-stringer connector https://www.strongtie.com/decks_decksandfences/lsc_connect/p/lsc with manufacturer recommended nails and screws. In this case, using strong fasteners is critical because they may need to support a heavy load.
I used three stringers, which made for 19″ centres. The previous staircase had only two, almost 4 feet apart. It also had two thicknesses of tread, a 2×12″ on top of a 2×10″. Not sure why. Could have been to ensure the overhang was the same as the porch deck. New treads are 2×12″, with the same overhang as the porch deck.
The end result doesn’t look much different than before the project. But it’s better, because the stair system is rot free, more rot-resistant off the dirt, better supported by three stringers and good quality hangers and fasteners. The treads also don’t slope downwards any more. 😊
1 Yeah, there are only three steps and I can easily access my house with a bit of climbing even without the steps but overall having no front steps is a safety hazard for the occupants and visitors to the property
2 Lattice is important to prevent critters from making a home under the porch, which could lead to unfortunate events, like skunk encounters.