In the world of garden design, steps aren't just functional, they're also an aesthetic asset. They provide structure, allowing you to create levels in your garden and make the most of uneven terrain. Whether you're connecting different areas of your garden or adding an elegant touch to a sloping landscape, well-constructed steps can be a game-changer. In this guide, we'll explore why steps are useful, the best materials to use, and the differences between various options. Additionally, we'll provide detailed instructions for two popular methods: using solid stone steps and constructing steps with bricks, bullnose step treads, and risers.
Why Steps Matter in Your Garden
Steps serve a dual purpose in a garden. Firstly, they offer practicality by enabling easy access to different levels. This is especially crucial in sloped gardens where steps prevent soil erosion and make it safer for you and your guests to navigate the space. Secondly, steps add a decorative element, enhancing the visual appeal of your garden. Well-designed steps can become a focal point, leading the eye and creating a sense of rhythm in the landscape.
Choosing the Right Materials
Selecting the right materials for your garden steps is key to ensuring durability and visual harmony. Here are three popular options:
Solid Stone Steps:
Advantages: These steps, carved from natural stone like sandstone, exude timeless elegance and offer unmatched durability. They're quick and easy to use, creating instant steps.
Considerations: Natural stone can be heavy, so these stone steps are hollowed out from the back for easier handling.
Bullnose Step Treads:
Advantages: These specially formed stone treads have a rounded edge (bullnose) which provides a softer, more inviting look. They are versatile and can be used in a variety of garden styles. Some options are bullnosed on the long edge only whereas others have a short end bullnosed as well.
Considerations: Look for quality materials with a non-slip surface for safety. Bullnose step treads can be cut at a 45 degree angle to create corners.
Bullnose Step Treads with Corners:
Advantages: These specially formed stone treads have a rounded edge (bullnose) which provides a softer, more inviting look. They comprise a centre stone, plus additional curved corner sections.
Considerations: Options with matching corners are quite limited and are often more costly. Angled corners can instead be created using straight sections of bullnose tread cut at a 45 degree mitre.
Calculations to Make
When it comes to creating an inviting and functional garden, the number of steps you incorporate is crucial. Too few, and the incline may become treacherous; too many, and you risk overwhelming the space. Finding the right balance is essential.
Step Depth and Rise
To calculate the number of steps required, you'll need to consider two crucial measurements: step depth and rise.
Note: It is usual practice to allow for a slight downward slope on the step treads to prevent water from pool and ice forming during winter.
Calculating the Number of Steps You'll Need
The formula for calculating the number of steps you'll need is relatively straightforward:
Number of Steps=Total Height divided by Rise
Here's an example to illustrate this:
Let's say your garden's total height difference is 1 metre (1000mm), and you've determined that a comfortable rise for your steps is 150mm.
Number of Steps=1000 divided by 150 = 6.66 steps
In this case, you'd round up to the nearest whole number, resulting in a total of 7 steps.
Considerations and Adjustments
While the formula provides a solid starting point, it's essential to consider practical factors that may necessitate adjustments:
Calculating the Horizontal Distance the Steps will Cover
In addition to the height of the steps, you will also need to understand the total horizontal distance (or span) that the steps will cover. Sometimes, the span can be too large especially on longer flights of steps and it may be necessary to create a dog leg or arrange for the steps to turn a corner and double back on themselves. You'll firstly need to consider the number of steps and the length of each step (tread). The formula is:
Total Span=Number of steps x Step Depth
Let's use an example to illustrate this:
Suppose you have calculated that you need 7 steps, and the tread length is 300mm.
Total Span=7 steps × 300mm = 2100mm (or 2.1m)
So, in this case, the steps will cover a total horizontal distance of 2.1 metres. Bear in mind that with bullnose step treads, it's usual to have an overlapping edge to each step. Do not include the overlap in the measurement, so for example, if the step tread measurement is 320mm and 20mm is to be overlapped, only use 300mm as your depth measurement for the above calculations.
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How to Construct the Steps
There are many different methods for constructing steps depending upon the landscape you are working with and the step design and materials. The following method is suitable where you are building a new series of steps between a higher and lower ground level such as a few steps onto a lawn or patio or as a doorstep.
- A spirit level - vital for ensuring that your steps are even
- Bricks or blocks
- String lines and pegs - to mark out the shape and size of your steps
- Mallet and block of wood - to securely tamp down the tread of your steps
Prepare the Site:
- Using the measurements above, calculate the point where the lowest step will finish.
- Ensure the ground under the lowest step is either already paved or has a hardstanding such as concrete already laid.
Lay the First Step:
- Lay the bricks around three sides of the step - front, and both sides.
- Build the back wall of the step to a height making the riser 150mm higher than the preceeding finished height.
- Fill the void with a concrete mix to provide full support to the tread.
- Use a spirit level to ensure the brick bases are level.
- Continue to build the step supports.
- Allow mortar to dry.
Add Step Treads:
- Lay the step treads by adding a layer of mortar onto the bricks and concrete bed and then placing the treads on top.
- It's good practice to use priming slurry on the back of the paving to aid adhesion.
- Use the spirit level to ensure the steps are level, however create a slight downward slope to ensure surface rainwater can off the front of the steps.
- Apply mortar to the back of the riser stone.
- Press it against the vertical face of the steps.
- Continue this process until all steps are in place.
Note: If the top step is to join the house and breach the damp proof course, it's recommended that a damp proof membrane is positioned between the concrete/ brick support and the house wall.
Popular Riser Ideas
When it comes to selecting a riser style for your garden steps, you have a range of creative options to consider. Brick risers offer a classic, timeless look, seamlessly blending with traditional garden designs. Their sturdy and weather-resistant nature ensures longevity. On the other hand, opting for matching or contrasting paving cut to size provides a cohesive and harmonious aesthetic. This choice allows you to coordinate the risers with the tread material, creating a seamless flow in your garden's overall design. Render and paint offers a versatile option, allowing you to achieve a smooth, clean finish. This style can be customised to complement your garden's colour scheme, adding a personalised touch. If you're leaning towards a more contemporary look, cladding presents an intriguing option. It introduces texture and depth, creating a visually striking contrast with the steps. Each of these riser styles offers its own unique character, allowing you to tailor your garden steps to perfectly suit your personal taste and the overall theme of your outdoor space.
This is the traditional option where the risers are formed using an attractive brick to complement the paving.
Using paving slabs cut to size in the same or a contrasting range as the paving creates a seamless appearance.
Render & Paint
Creating a rendered finish between step treads works well as part of a larger rendered wall or to match in with the walls of your home.
Wall cladding sections can easily be cut to size and used to cover blockwork risers for a stylish finishing touch.
Mosaic Patterned Paving
Highly detailed mosaic patterned paving can be used to make and interesting and eye catching accent to your garden.
Using block steps instead of step treads and risers creates an easy to build step option with a built in riser that reduces technical effort.
How Long will Building Steps Take?
Constructing a set of garden steps, whether it's using solid stone or a combination of bricks, bullnose treads, and risers, is a satisfying endeavour. The time required will depend on factors such as the chosen method, your level of experience, and the availability of materials. With moderate DIY skills, you can expect to complete a set of around 5 steps in approximately 3 to 5 days. This encompasses site preparation, laying the foundation, positioning the treads and risers, and ensuring everything is level and aligned. It's crucial to note that these time estimates are approximate and can vary based on individual circumstances. Factors such as weather conditions, accessibility of the construction site, and any unforeseen complications can impact the timeline. Additionally, allowing extra time for curing and setting of mortar is essential to ensure the steps are secure and stable. Before embarking on the project, it's advisable to allocate a weekend or two for the construction, ensuring you have ample time to complete the steps with care and attention to detail. Always remember that taking your time during the construction process will lead to a more durable and visually appealing end result.
Whether you choose the timeless elegance of solid stone steps or opt for the versatility of bricks, bullnose treads, and risers, the process remains a rewarding endeavour. Remember, the key lies not only in technical accuracy but also in the creative touch you bring to the project. With careful planning, attention to detail, and a touch of inspiration, you'll create a set of steps that not only enhance accessibility but also add an enchanting element to your garden's design. So, roll up your sleeves, gather your materials, and embark on this journey to elevate your outdoor space. Happy crafting!
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