Last spring, we decided to remove a concrete walkway (and much of the soil underneath it) behind our house and replace it with either a pea gravel or decomposed granite patio with boxwoods and a fire pit. Removing the concrete and soil was fun, hard work.

Now, we need to decide how we're going to support the existing concrete steps. As you can see from the images below, we left a mound of soil next to the steps for the time being, for support. We're not sure what to do next.

We have a few questions:

  1. What should we use to hold up the concrete steps? We're hoping it could be something that would be flush with the steps and not have to stick out too much into the patio.

  2. What can we use to remove the excess concrete on the foundation wall so that it's all even (no lip)?

  3. What can we use to make an extra step on the bottom of the concrete stairs all the way to the left in the panoramic picture? Right now, we have a mound of dirt left over from when I dug out the patio area. We'd be happy with a wood step, if we could find one that would look nice.

Any advice/pointers for this project are greatly appreciated!

Thank you!

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  • do you have snow or ground frozen for many feet in the winter? Do you have a budget? Are you handy?
    – kevinskio
    Mar 28, 2016 at 22:32
  • Please post a follow-up in a few months when the project is complete! And good luck!
    – C. Kelly
    Mar 29, 2016 at 1:53
  • The winters here in Portland Oregon are pretty mild. Most of the time, the coldest it gets is in the 30's, occasionally in the 20's but doesn't last that long. It doesn't snow much at all, maybe an inch or two a year. I'm pretty handy, at least I think I am. We'd like to keep it to a couple of hundred dollars or less if possible. Mar 29, 2016 at 17:10
  • With that kind of budget you can't do much. Do you have a ready supply of stones? Twelve inch diameter and larger?
    – kevinskio
    Mar 29, 2016 at 17:28
  • Yes, we have approx 50 stones that are that big. What were you going to propose? I'm just curious (if budget wasn't really an issue). Mar 29, 2016 at 20:32

4 Answers 4


I can't give a definitive answer for most of this as I have no building experience, but the answer I would give to no 2 removal of the excess concrete on your foundation is a very loud 'don't do it'. it is as you say part of your house foundation. I don't think many would recommend reducing your foundation structure. If you wish this to be part of a social area, can I suggest that you find a way to increase this lip. And to use this as a shelf for cups, glasses etc. You may even like to have the odd small plant pot on there. This can be done by tiling up the wall against the existing concrete, and then tiling the shelf, or by boarding up the concrete and having a wooden shelf. Just a thought. How are you thinking about accessing your new patio area? Using the existing concrete steps may be awkward, and you may need to retain the soil pile and use this to have steps down to your patio, from the existing steps.


A narrow (10 to 12 inches) brick planter along that wall, which turns at the stair and follows it down, would give you a place to put small boxwood or some other foliage, which would enhance the space you are creating, and perhaps offer a place to put low, ground-facing lights.

A similar but wider planter around the lower retaining wall would give you a place to put a privacy hedge. This would visually connect with the other planter/wall and unite the overall picture. Somewhat like this, perhaps with a slightly higher box where you see the BB's:

  B  B  B  B   | BB  |------|
---------------| BB  |------|
               | BB  |------|
  Patio                     | stair landing at patio level
|C|  B  B  B  B  B |C|------| new stairs (if needed)

BB=bigger bush 
==== foundation wall
  • I like this idea, thanks. Do you mean a brick planter that starts along side the concrete steps and wraps around to the concrete wall holding up the patio? Mar 29, 2016 at 17:15
  • Yes, see the pic i just added to the post.
    – C. Kelly
    Mar 29, 2016 at 19:05
  • Interesting, thanks! We wish we could have a stair landing at the patio level, that would be nice. We're not sure that's possible since the landing right above the dirt mound is for another door to the outside. We like the diagram, thanks! Mar 29, 2016 at 20:38

I agree with Rosie, don't screw around with that "excess concrete lip". That's your foundation's footer & is a precise profile & dimension doing extremely hard & vitally important work.

For the back steps. Remove the mound of dirt & another 4-8" (based on your material selection below) under the landing & stairs. Then, lay & tamp 2"s of gravel nice & level in a clean & sculpted trench 6"s below the adjacent ground or whatever finished grade height will be. Then, pour a 4" deep by 4-8" wide concrete footing inline with the side of the stairs. Finally, install a mortared Brick (4"s wide) Concrete Block or Those Rocks you have, stacked flat on each other, (8"s wide) wall under the stairs & landing.

For the side's additional step. It's similar to the above, but you'll want to match the look of the existing steps there. If they're 7" tall, then you'll dig down 9" to put in a 2" tamped gravel bed that will continue 4"s under the existing bottom stair. Then, you'll need to make & stake a 2x8 (example) 3-sided frame for concrete to fill in under the existing bottom stair & also fill-up the 3-sided frame to the top. You'll need more tools to finish the edges to match the existing stairs' style.


There are multiple options depending on your budget.

1) using interlock build a retaining wall to stabilize the soil/gravel/concrete under the steps. Not cheap but give a nice appearance and will last a long time. This requires that you:

-dig a trench next to steps about a foot deep
-layer in 5/8" crushed gravel and compact
-build up the interlock ensuring you put geotextile or landscape fabric behind the wall
-four inch drainage pipe with sleeve inside the wall at the bottom ensures water drains out
-use stone mason adhesive on the top layer to anchor the stones ([LePages PL line][1] works well)

2) make a dry stone wall, a little more work but very satisfying. You need a trench, gravel and drain pipe as above and a supply of largish stones.
3) face the steps with a concrete wall, this requires more effort as you definitely need a footing. A trench, compacted gravel, a wood form, concrete mixer or wheel barrow and so on

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