How to design outdoor steps

Updated February 21, 2017

You will need to design outdoor steps that blend well with your home or landscaping. You want to avoid making the steps too steep or too noticeable. Blending steps with the exterior of any home or building requires using the correct design and materials that fit your home's architecture. You want the steps to last over a long period of time, so concrete is often a material of choice. You can always include some wood or other materials to provide better curb appeal as well.

Measure the length and width of the steps you will need to build. Avoid making the angle of the steps too steep. Incorporate a landing to divide the steps into two directions, if necessary. Study home design books and magazines to get ideas. Drive around neighbourhoods to review what other homeowners or building designers are building. Design steps that will support a lot of weight in case you want to hoist furniture or other materials up and down them.

Use sturdy lumber or concrete for the main steps. Buy lumber that is pressure-treated in two-by-twelve boards for constructing the risers and treads. Make the steps wide enough for two people to pass each other, if possible. Use rougher concrete steps in places where pedestrians might slip, such as near a pool or in a muddy garden area. Don't use slick concrete steps in any area that might have standing water or mud.

Build the steps in a generous width where the foot will strike. Allow 12 inches of width from heel to toe, if possible, since this makes descending the steps much safer than more narrow treads. Use treads of wood that are strong enough to hold two adults standing on them at the same time. Build handrails of smooth wood or metal that you will secure directly to the steps' risers using metal accessories. Stain the steps or paint them to match the house, if they are wood, to protect them from rotting over time.

Design larger steps for a garden area or path to be built from poured concrete. Use two-by-six boards to build a box framework for each step. Reinforce each poured concrete step with metal grid work before towelling to a semi-rough finish. Build each step approximately 8 inches higher than the next, so handrails will be optional. Allow steps to be 36 inches across the front by 24 inches from toe to heel in depth, so carrying bags of lawn supplies or tools will be relatively easy in going up and down the steps.

Design steps to blend by planting shrubs around them or leaving concrete steps encased in pressure-treated lumber to soften the look of concrete. Think in terms of using colours of nature for any wood on the steps' design, such as hunter green or dark brown, to make the steps harmonise with natural surroundings.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tools
  • Home design books
  • Home magazines
  • Two-by-twelve lumber boards
  • Wooden handrail material
  • Metal handrail material
  • Metal handrail accessories
  • Stain or paint
  • Two-by-six boards
  • Concrete
  • Metal gridwork
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About the Author

Judi Light Hopson is a national columnist for McClatchy Newspapers. She is founder of Hopson Global Education and Training and co-author of the college textbook, Burnout to Balance: EMS Stress. She holds a degree in psychology from East Tennessee State University, and has been a professional writer for 25 years.