Laying Block Steps, Images 1-11

Rebuilding masonry steps with CMUs over a reinforced slab

Located in the historic Forest Hill section of Newark, N.J., the house was suffering from a classic case of deferred maintenance, and the owner had received a summons from the city requiring repairs to the existing façade, steps, and front walkway.

When we began pulling the steps apart, it became clear that the crumbling surfaces had contributed to the deterioration of the overall structure.

Once we had propped up the porch roof and cleared away the debris, we built forms for the two slabs that would support the upper and lower sets of stairs.

The form for the lower stairs

We left the slabs a little rough to help key the mortar and blockwork.

The lower slab

Each step is basically a platform built with 8-inch by 12-inch by 16-inch concrete masonry units (CMUs), stepped back far enough from the platform below it to allow room for a 12-inch-wide by 2-inch-thick limestone tread.

As we set the blocks for each platform, we mortared the joints around the perimeter, then infilled with more blocks set in mortar. There’s no vertical reinforcement, but we filled the perimeter cores with mortar and the interior cores with 3/4-inch stone.

Once the blockwork was completed, we scraped, powerwashed, and patched the existing retaining walls and began parging everything before setting the limestone treads.

We replaced the original bluestone treads with 2-inch-thick by 12-inch-wide limestone treads, which cost less per lineal foot in our area ($13 vs. $9, including the rock-face treatment) and seem to adhere better to mortar.

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