Recently completed entrance stairs to a historic house on Rednersville Road in Prince Edward County, Ontario.
Plenty of planning goes into every job we take on. You know what they say, measure twice and cut once.
One of the secrets to successful projects is planning. We like to plan out every detail ahead of time, so when we show up to do the work, everyone is on the same page. Everyone gets to know what to expect next at every stage of construction.
Ordering materials is easy when you have a nice set of plans to work from.
Here you can see the existing front steps going into the raised porch to the right.
You can never be too safe. The homeowner locked the door and placed a chair in front of the door from the inside. We put a cargo bar across the entrance with some florescent flagging from the outside at railing height as an extra layer of safety.
After the old stairs were removed, a small section of surface drainage tile was rolled up under the porch until after we’re finished with the footings.
We selected to dig all the posts by hand for this project because of the proximity to a foundation of this age. It’s hard to predict what you might find when you dig beside these old homes. Many of them have very wide, stone foundation walls that prevent you from installing deck footings close to the house. We were able to position the stair footings nice and close to the house footings here.
Quick and easy way to cut through roots with a cheap reciprocating saw and a worn out blade we save just for roots and dirt.
Whenever you are building something, we always recommend taking 5 minutes and doing a little bit of measuring and layout BEFORE you start working. Here you can see a white arrow drawn on the foundation wall that makes it easy to check our footing depth as we go.
Yes it’s easy to check these things as you go but you know what, in our experience, when you’re sweating after digging for half hour, your brain doesn’t like to figure out things and you start to make mistakes. That’s why we measure twice FIRST and then start working!
Similarly, take plenty of breaks to continually check your work. You will sleep better knowing you quadruple checked that measurement – trust us. Here we are setting the centre of the first concrete footing with a regular old plumb bob and measuring tape held off the raised porch rim joist. Don’t over complicate things; the simplest way is usually the best.
Here is a handy little way to use a carpenters square and a mini level to check your footing forms for plumb and elevation against a mark on the wall.
Ever seen the flat end of a digging bar? Makes a great tamper for adding a couple inches of gravel under your footings and for tamping around your forms when backfilling.
Here is another handy trick: Use a nice big shop vac to suck up dirt while you chip it out with a digging bar or shovel. Here we put a tarp on the adjacent garden so we weren’t disturbing the topsoil. Cleaning up soil at the end of a job on a tarp is much easier.
Here is another shot showing how you can use a carpenters square and mini level to get your form tubes plumb and at the elevation you want.
It’s often easy to run a string line and put in a few nails or spikes as reference points before you start the next stage of construction.
Here you can see a pipe that passes right where we are building the upper landing for the stairs. Obviously this will have to be addressed before the stairs can be constructed.
Here is one of our favourite things to keep in the truck. You know those foam mats that fit together like a puzzle for a kids room or the classroom? Yup, they are great for many things like kneeling on, but here we found another great use. Place one over each hole with a bit of dirt or a few rocks in the middle.
The foam mats kind of flex to the shape of your holes and keeps them clean. Keeping dirt and rocks from falling back in the hole can save you a lot of work when you need to leave the holes open for any length of time
If you choose to dig post holes by hand, take your time and pace yourself. Bring a variety of tools so you can change it up when you encounter some rocks, a root, some sand, etc. It’s hard work so you want a few different tools to try when you get tired out.
Here is another way to get your forms lined up with a piece of plywood.
Safety is always the number one priority. We’ve all seen the guys that take the shortcuts, and we all know it only takes a few minutes to make things safe.
There are many different ways to do the same job. Don’t let your neighbour tell you what to do. If you are comfortable with a tool or a method, then it’s probably your best bet. Too often, it’s easy to think you are going to save all this time by renting a big fancy tool. Here we decided to mix our concrete with an electric handheld mixer in a regular wheelbarrow. For this job, this made sense. In another situation, maybe a concrete mixer rental would have been a better choice. The point is, every job is different, and you can often eliminate a lot of hassle by keeping things simple.
After the footings for the upper landing were completed, the drainage tile can be reinstalled in a shallow trench.
Here you can see the masonry repair where the old pipe used to be. Click here to read more about the masonry brick repair.
Finally, we install the first post and treat the cut end with preservative.
All four landing posts and 2X10 beams getting mocked up.
The building code requires beams in this configuration to be secured to the posts with two half inch galvanized bolts in this particular case.
Here is a good photo showing how the 6 inch posts get bolted to the footings. You can see the 2X10 beams bolted to the posts and then the 2X8 joists resting on the beams. The building code is very specific on the placement and orientation of all of these components. It’s just not good enough to grab some lumber and screws from the hardware store anymore! Note how the posts pass right through the deck and will become the railing posts. This creates a very strong structure.
Here the upper posts are cut off at the required height and the railings and pickets can be installed. Make a habit of fastening or tying off your ladders at the top = much safer!
Once the upper landing was built, the stair stringers were cut and the final location of the footings that will support the stairs can be matched up perfectly. Sure you can do all your footings at the same time, but doing the three stair footings after allowed us to ensure they landed exactly where the stairs end. Also, we weren’t tripping over the footings while we built the upper landing.
Here you can some fabric weed guard with a thin layer of gravel spread on top. We just cut slots or holes around each footing and this just keeps the weeds and moisture from growing up and rotting out the wood.
Here you can see a few pieces of plywood and the foam gym mats are great for protecting the deck boards from mud and rocks on your boots.
Here is a photo showing the 2X10 beam bolted connections.