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I want to add some wood steps off my wooden patio deck (which is in Iowa). The deck surface is around 30 inches above the ground, in which the steps would go from the ground to the deck. At the ground where the base of the steps would be, it is fairly level and currently grass and I plan on leaving it grass.

My question is, do I need to do anything at the base to support the steps, like either concrete footings or support posts under the steps that are buried below the frost line? Or can I just put the steps right on the ground with nothing else supporting it?

One contractor I talked to said the steps need additional support (footings) at the base, while another contractor said the steps are so small that they don't need footings at the base of the steps and the base can just sit on the ground with no additional support (he said this is standard practice).

It would be nice to put the base of the steps directly on the ground with no footings or additional support, but I would like to get a second opinion on this and whether or not this is okay or if I should have additional support at the base of the steps.

  • That guy that said no additional support is needed and that steps can just rest on the ground? Never, ever call that guy again to do anything! A pet peeve of mine are people that rationalize doing something wrong with "we always do it that way." – bcworkz Feb 6 '14 at 18:24
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If you want to land on grass you need footings below the frost line in Iowa. Just two at the bottom.

The other option is to put in a solid stone or concrete pad. Needs to be on compacted soil with gravel under. Most importantly it needs to be level. Note that this does not officially meet code but I have never seen a deck not pass if doing this.

To clarify on what an inspector would want in a pad - it needs to run the width of your stairs, the stair bottoms should be resting firmly on pad (pad should probably extend out a few inches width wise), and pad should support a reasonable human step from the lowest step you create. I have done this in your exact situations with a variety of large stone. I think with a short stair case the only reason I wouldn't do it is if the soil is disturbed.

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