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How would I go about repairing this gap in my front porch steps? Link: front steps

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They are about 20 years old. All the houses on my street have the same steps and I can see the same issue appearing in each of them. Some neighbors have used wood to block it up but I'm wondering if there's a better approach.

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  • So the bricks used to be stuck to the ledge in the concrete? Were they supported from below in any way, or just hanging by mortar? Since none of them are in place it's hard to tell exactly, and the gap looks too big to be filled by the bricks alone.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented May 8 at 1:56
  • No, the bricks were just covering the gap. I just moved in and decided to poke around behind the bricks and found this. Nothing supporting the steps from beneath as far as I can tell, so they appear to be "floating" above that cavity. I think these are precast steps? not sure what the proper term to search for is. Also forgot to mention it's a row townhouse so the steps are probably supported from the sides by my garage on one side and the neighboring porch on the other.
    – GodinLG
    Commented May 8 at 2:11
  • So, the step is fine, you just want to hide the gap? From what I'm seeing I think I'd use tiles of sufficient size, but you can really do anything you like the look of.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented May 8 at 2:16
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    If there were more pictures showing the cavity where the pieces came from to show if there is any supporting material (concrete) on the bottom to properly support the loose piece, once it is pushed back into its proper spot. Its too much of a guess right now if it is practical or not. The one pic you have, isn't capable of being enlarged to show the detail needed
    – Jack
    Commented May 8 at 2:18
  • Added a couple more images to the album. One is closer up and the other has the bricks in front, but shows the entire porch. The bricks don't seem original at all, no other houses have them. I think a previous owner slapped them in front to hide the gap. It seems that the bottom of the steps have just eroded away. (FWIW, water tends to pool near there which is a separate issue but probably contributed to this.) Interesting about the tiles, thanks! Hadn't considered that. So I would just attach some type of board there then pick whatever surface look I like. That could work
    – GodinLG
    Commented May 8 at 2:26

1 Answer 1

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The bricks should be laid back in place where they once were, even if they were not the original.

Wood that would serve as a backer for anything would be unstable. Wood expands and contracts with moisture. If the wood is there "just to block the gap" that would work, but as you know, it will look rough.

If the step is self supported, the bricks can be removed, the base that the bricks are set on needs to be made pristine clean, so that the mortar base that will hold them in place will not be dislodged by dirt or other debris that will take on moisture and pop the bricks again during freeze/thaw cycles.

Part of the cleanup process is chipping away at the top area under the ledge so that there is room for mortar to be shoved in at the top too, after the bricks are set in mud. This will finish locking in the brick so they don't end up getting loose again.

If you like the idea of a tile riser, you may need to make room for it since it will require about 1" of thickness total to add it to the rise of the step. This can be done by the removal of all the old mud/mortar that is under the ledge, and when the brick are set back into place, reset them back an additional 1" more so the ledge above projects and protects the tile below by the tile finishing at 1" behind the edge of the ledge, just like the brick used too.

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  • Thanks for the replies! It seems what I need to do is (re)build some sort of step riser here to block that space. This could be tiles or a board (not wood) attached to what remains of the step, extending down to level ground (after I remove the patio in front). I'm forming an idea based on the replies - is this reasonable? - attach an exterior-rated board to what remains of the step, extending to the ground (is cement board the only option or would exterior rated OSB with waterproofing work?) - attach tiles, or, attach metal lath to the board then apply parging on that
    – GodinLG
    Commented May 8 at 15:36
  • You have the basic idea yes, with the term "attaching a board", will be the trick. There may be a flat surface to attach an item to the concrete at the bottom, like an angle iron, which will rust, unless it is stainless steel of a given kind (very expensive), then there is still the matter of finding a way of getting a drill in the tight space to do so. Then there is the underside of the top with its rough surface. This all still sounds like fasteners and things that will corrode being used in a highly corrosive environment.
    – Jack
    Commented May 8 at 15:56
  • If you do like the idea of a tiled riser, then brick will not be needed. A few bags of concrete mix from the local hardware store, mix it up real stiff, again after all is cleaned up as mentioned before since dirt and freeze/thaw cycles is what did the damage that is there now. Mix the concrete stiff enough to stand up pretty good in a heap on its own and cram it back in the cavity. If it doesn't all fill in great at first, the rest can be touched up with layers of thinset before the tile goes on. Please make sure the concrete is back far enough to allow room for the tile to finish properly.
    – Jack
    Commented May 8 at 16:01
  • Interesting, thanks. Tiles are one option but most important is closing the gap. If it can be done by building up stiff mixed concrete as suggested to fill the gap from the ground up, that would be ideal. I was hesitant to try this as the cavity is actually several feet deep (the entire staircase is hollow) - hence the board idea, but that has its own challenges. So I suppose I'd need to insert some kind of backing in the cavity and build the concrete up against it. I would definitely replace the patio to correct the slope for drainage first, as water currently pools against the steps.
    – GodinLG
    Commented May 8 at 16:22
  • The concrete build up only needs to be 4" deep. In the deep cavity you can throw the brick in there, and gravel behind that, or leave the void with the brick being used as th back stop. After loading up the void with rock, brick or whatever material you have that will not rot or hold a lot of water, and that is about 5" back, then toss the concrete in there and shore it up with a 2X4 or something temporarily so it does not slump back out. Use a heavy item or 2 to keep it in place until the concrete sets up. Plan all this before you mix, know where it all will go ahead of time.
    – Jack
    Commented May 8 at 16:28

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