Though I was asked only to repair this set of exterior brick stairs, I knew that simply repointing its crumbling mortar joints would be a case of treating the symptom and not the disease. Due to uneven settling, some sections of the brickwork were offset from adjoining areas by as much as an inch. The 65-year-old bricks themselves were in good shape, but the structure was failing; the only permanent solution would be to remove the old stairs and build new ones on a reinforced concrete footing.

When I tore out the old bricks, I wasn't surprised to see that they rested directly on the soil. This was a fairly common practice before World War II; even as recently as the mid-90s I've seen masons laying bricks for steps directly on the ground. A poor practice to begin with, in this case it was made worse by the soil's uneven quality, with...

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