Unleveled steps become a hazard the longer the problem continues untreated. Homeowners tend to operate under the misconception that replacement is the only way to fix the problem. Fortunately, if you know the problem signs – and use them to catch the damage early – there are many ways to go about fixing your unlevel steps. This option is usually faster, cheaper, and can still leave you with an aesthetically pleasing finish.
Problem Signs of Unleveled Stairs
Whether you’re stepping up into your house or walking down into the garage, your steps must be safe to walk on. That’s especially true if children, the elderly, or those with mobility issues rely on them.
Here are the problem signs that indicate your steps are about to become uneven. They may also show that your steps are uneven already, but not in a way that’s obvious to the naked eye. Knowing this can help you avoid tripping hazards and reach out to professionals just in time.
- Cracked Concrete
A sure sign that the outside steps are unleveled or about to be unleveled are cracks in the concrete. With age and usage, concrete shifts and cracks, becoming uneven and unsightly. The cracks in concrete steps will manifest in several different patterns, from horizontal to vertical, spanning the entire length, or just a portion.
Once cracks get bad enough, they can chip off part of the stairs as well, especially at the corners. The major problem, however, is that cracking concrete means it’s moving. There is some shift, however subtle, that’s causing the concrete to lose the support it needs. The impact of that shift on the stairs means they become unleveled.
- Pooling Water
Pools of water on the stairs are a clear indicator of unleveled steps. Typically, this is one of the first signs a homeowner notices, as you’ll get wet coming in and out of the house. Whether the pools are in the corner of each step, only one step, or even in the middle of the steps, it’s a definite sign they are unleveled. As concrete shifts from one side to the other, sometimes caving in at the middle, the stairs will become unable to properly drain off water.
Low spots on the stairs hold on to the water better, causing not only a safety hazard but also further damage. Slipping on the water on the way up or down becomes a real problem and the moisture itself can begin to lead to staining and other forms of deterioration.
- Waterfall Effect
Unlike the pooling of water, unleveled steps can also cause a waterfall effect. When the steps begin to shift toward the front and away from the house, any time there is water at the top of the steps, it’ll make its way down. The effect will be a waterfall coming from the top to the bottom and likely pooling at the base.
The more water that falls down the steps, the sleeker they get and the more hazardous. This increases any tripping hazards, both from the worn-down concrete and their angle itself. The draining water can even undermine the foundation of the steps, causing them to sink over time.
One or more gaps between concrete steps will indicate that they are shifting or sinking. As the concrete that makes up the steps begins to move around, there’s a chance it’ll move downward, creating spaces in between one step and the next. These gaps pose many issues for both the homeowner and the home.
First, these gaps become safety hazards. It’s easy to catch a shoe or toe in one of these spots and trip. There’s also a chance that the stair will shift under someone’s weight at the wrong moment. This gap will even become a nest for pests or start to harbor mold, especially if the steps remain damp and the gap fills with water. Fortunately, this is one of the more advanced signs of unleveled steps. You should be able to catch the problem early before this happens.
- Uneven Concrete
If your steps have been allowed to shift or sink for a long time, the visual evidence will soon present itself. You will be able to see the unevenness at a glance. Sometimes, there’s a possibility of each step going in different directions – one slanting toward the left and one to the right.
Uneven steps are a safety hazard, even if someone had been using them for years. Steps are normally spaced apart from each other with precise measurements to ensure that someone can easily walk up and down them without tripping. The standard height and width is the same across most buildings, making it easier for people to navigate stairs without falling. Uneven stairs take away that standard spacing, which increases the chance of a fall.
Causes of Unleveled Steps
Before you can decide how to repair or replace your steps, you need to understand what caused their unevenness. After all, trying to seal cracks when the issue lies in the underlying soil will just mask the problem. Likewise, addressing the soil when the problem lies with your drainage options will just waste time and money.
Contacting a local professional is a great way to ensure you get the right solution for the right problem. Your concrete leveling expert will do a full evaluation and may be able to narrow it down to:
In particular, this is the settling of the home’s foundation and other concrete structures that are close to the stairs. With time, the home and all the structures attached to it start to settle into their final space where they were built. Depending on various factors, such as weather and soil, there will be varying degrees of settlement.
Either way, as the home and stairs settle, they undergo a point where their shifting may cause them to settle unevenly or even crack. In ideal conditions, this will be very minor, and hairline cracks are safe to ignore. In worse conditions, the settling will be more destructive and may cause unleveled steps (as well as foundation damage). This is usually a result of unstable soil or expansive soils.
- Moisture Level
Soil is what supports the foundation of a home and any concrete surrounding it. Depending on your region, you may be contending with expansive soils. For these, as the moisture content inside the soil changes, so does the soil. With more moisture, such as in rainy seasons, the soil expands and pushes on everything it touches. During the dryer seasons, the soil will lose moisture and contract, leaving spaces between itself and the concrete on top.
With this expanding and contracting continuously happening, concrete steps are pushed up and then let back down. Since they are used so frequently, when they go unsupported from shrinking soil, they are likely to move or crack, becoming unlevel with the ground.
Vegetation is known for interfering with manmade things, such as homes. As roots grow and spread throughout a homeowner’s property, some of them can head in the direction of stairs or foundations. Anything in proximity to the stairs will impact them faster, such as various bushes or trees.
Roots will continue to grow no matter the obstacles that are in their way, often finding their way through cracks in concrete as well. The pushing they exhibit on concrete steps and foundations causes them to go upward, becoming unleveled.
When deciding on where plants should go around the home, it’s important to keep in mind the type of plant and how rooted it will become. Large bushes and trees will have the biggest impact and should be planted further away from concrete
- Improperly Compacted Soil
When the home’s foundation is placed, the surrounding spaces are filled with soil and then compacted into place. There are situations where the soil is not compacted enough, or it is done improperly, causing the soil to continue to move well after the entirety of the home is built.
The movement of poorly compacted soil leaves spaces and the concrete above it completely unsupported. The more the steps in and out of the home are used, the more likely they are to become unleveled as they shift with the moving soil. Weather will also have an impact in combination with the improperly compacted soil since it only further causes the soil to shrink or expand.
- Wrong Soil
It’s not something that many homeowners think about, but when the home is built, the contractor has to use the right soil around the foundation.
If the soil doesn’t provide enough support, it won’t just cause unleveled stairs. It will cause further damage to the foundation of the home and any concrete around it. Soon enough, the homeowner will see cracks and movements of concrete, such as spaces around the garage or gaps in between steps.
Solutions to Unleveled Steps
Total replacement is not the only solution to unleveled steps. There are many techniques that professionals use to get steps in proper working order:
Mudjacking is an invasive process used to fix any type of unleveled steps or uneven concrete. The first step in mud jacking is to drill holes that are roughly one inch in diameter. A mortar type of slurry is pumped into the holes and beneath the concrete. The hope is that the mixture will fill any spaces beneath the concrete and even it out. There are times when it can raise the steps if necessary.
Though the process sounds simple enough, it’s lengthy and unsightly. Once the mixture is pumped in, the holes left behind have to get sealed, leaving unattractive spots all over the steps. The mixture also does not harden right away but needs a couple of days to cure fully. It can become an inconvenience, from anyone living in the home to even a delivery person. However, it’s also a lower-cost solution, which can help those who are concerned about their budget.
A less invasive substitute for mud jacking is PolyRenewalTM. PolyRenewalTM uses expansive polyurethane foam as opposed to the slurry used with mud jacking. Because of how the different substances are composed, this solution doesn’t require as large or as invasive holes to be drilled. The required patching is limited after the work is complete, especially when compared to mud jacking, so it will leave your steps in better condition.
Apart from the smaller holes, PolyRenewalTM comes with many other benefits. The polyurethane used in place of the mud jacking slurry is a tougher substance that holds up more weight. In the long run, steps leveled out with this substance will last longer, no matter how much weight is placed on top. Polyurethane also cures faster. There’s no need to wait days before walking on the steps again. Instead, it’ll cure in a matter of hours.
You have many options outside of fully replacing the steps. However, if the cracking is severe or the unevenness can’t be fixed, then your best choice may be a full replacement. The good news is, this will give your local experts a chance to help address your soil issues, tree root issues, or other factors that led to the original unevenness.
This may include helping you adjust downspouts or re-grade the area to create a safe foundation for the steps. Once the problem areas are resolved, they can then re-pour and set your new steps so they’re brand new, well-fortified against future issues, and ready to use.
Full replacement of unleveled stairs can also be costly and time-consuming, though. That’s why most homeowners prefer PolyRenewalTM to mud jacking wherever possible. With a free inspection, a qualified professional will be able to assess your uneven stairs and see how many options are available.
One of the toughest decisions is whether a repair will be enough or if a full replacement is necessary. In many cases, both will accomplish the same thing, but with varying degrees of cost or efficacy. Surprisingly, even a full replacement may not be as effective as a concrete lift (and especially the use of PolyRenewalTM).
- Repairing with Concrete Lifting
A safe and relatively easy process, a local expert can perform a concrete lift at a fraction of the cost and with spectacular ease. Indiana Foundation Services has experts well-versed in the PolyRenewalTM system, which is a cost-effective way of fixing any unlevel steps. It’s also a quick process that isn’t spread out over a couple of days. This allows for immediate use of the steps.
The polyurethane foam used in the fixing process hardens within hours, allowing homeowners to use the steps as soon as possible. Unlike other repairs, which may have scared homeowners away, the holes made to inject PolyRenewalTM are small. They don’t leave big, lasting marks on the steps.
Concrete replacement is an effective way to fix any unlevel stairs, but it’s not mindful of the costs. There are situations where a concrete lift won’t do the trick, such as with completely shattered concrete. If your steps are beyond repair or there are massive soil issues to be addressed, a full replacement would be the best way to go to ensure safety and aesthetics.
A replacement, however, is not always the best solution if the concrete is still in good working order. It becomes an expensive and time-consuming project that may put undue strain on the homeowner. Unlike PolyRenewalTM, a concrete replacement requires the complete removal of the old concrete and a full replacement afterward. The process is lengthy and will probably disrupt the family for some time.
Many homeowners ask this question in hopes of saving funds in the long run. Others simply prefer the DIY approach, giving them weekend projects to work on and new skills to learn along the way. However, DIY often backfires when it comes to serious jobs like concrete lifting.
When choosing the DIY approach, it’s important to understand its implications and what it entails. Some have gone with a DIY way to fix unlevel steps through the use of wooden planks in the right spots. Of course, in some way, this could help and alleviate the unlevel steps, bringing them back up if they’ve sunk into the ground.
Unfortunately, this would not work long-term, since wood is too pliable and prone to moving with the soil around it. The result would be either having to keep adding planks or calling into a professional service to remove the DIY fix and start again. Likewise, the steps may grow more uneven and lead to injury, since the concrete wasn’t properly leveled and secured the first time.
Hiring professionals from the start can prove fruitful and productive. Though it sounds like a pricey endeavor to have professionals come out for unlevel steps, they bring with them the right tools and a wealth of knowledge. From the get-go, experts will know how to tackle the problem and make sure it doesn’t get repeated.
The benefits of using a professional will far outweigh the costs associated with them. The expert who comes out to your home will know exactly how to identify the root issues, the subtle problem signs, and can recommend a solution that’s worked (and lasted) in practice. For example, the PolyRenewalTM technique uses very strong polyurethane foam that holds up the concrete, so it doesn’t sink again.
- Environmentally Friendly
Polyurethane foam, the substance used in PolyRenewalTM, is a safe, non-toxic, environmentally friendly product. Because of this, it serves as a great product in the construction industry, since it’s easily moldable and strong. It also has a quick set-up time and a durable lifespan, making it a one-time solution that will help, not hinder later on.
The chemicals used to make polyurethane are what make it environmentally friendly. They do not interact with either the endocrine or hormone system of humans and animals, which means it’s perfectly acceptable to have it in the ground. Likewise, it does not contribute to any soil changes, such as the pH levels, so it won’t affect the quality of your landscaping.
On top of being environmentally friendly, polyurethane is also very durable and long-lasting. Able to withstand enormous amounts of weight, there is no need to worry about those steps becoming unlevel again. On average, a polyurethane product can last around 25 years.
That means you don’t have to worry about potential replacement costs showing up in the next couple of years. No matter how often the steps are used, or what weight is placed on them, it’s a product that will last. It’s even capable of getting recycled, should you decide to update it in the next couple of decades. There’s no need to go for a full replacement or a DIY approach when PolyRenewalTM, could be the fix.
Indiana Foundation Service for Concrete Lifting Needs
If you’re dealing with uneven steps or have just noticed the early problem signs, then don’t hesitate to reach out to your local expert. Indiana Foundation Services is happy to serve Indianapolis, IN, and the surrounding areas.
We provide free inspections and no-obligation quotes, so you can get a full picture of the work that needs to be done long before you need to make a decision. Our experts are certified and experienced, so they can help you identify all the problem signs and root causes and help you understand the best solution for your steps.