exterior stair problems

johnmariMay 19, 2009

I'm sure this has already been discussed and I'm also sure I'm not using the correct search terms for GW's wonky search engine, so I apologize if this has been "done to death". So... I'm having a slight disagreement with my carpenter about repairs to the wraparound porch on my ca.1900 vernacular cottage in southeastern NH, which was a much-neglected rental for 30-odd years before falling into the hands of a half-@$$ed flipper and then on to us. The two sets of stairs from porch to ground must be completely replaced due to poor construction - whacked together in the 70s of junky materials - combined with completely nonexistent maintenance. They're outright dangerous.

The real difficulty is the stairs and the accompanying railings, newel posts, etc. (which will need to be made up from scratch - thankfully they are quite simple, no turnings or anything fancy like that - because city building codes are getting a bit nutso). The stair treads, like the porch floor, are to be painted the classic New England "battleship gray" with a slight nonskid texture, while the risers, banister and suchlike will be white to match the columns and other porch trim (we're a bit limited in choices thanks to the evil PO's vinyl siding sins, for which we hope to atone if we ever come up with enough money). Although he'll do whatever I tell him to, the carpenter wants to use the standard pressure-treated pine for everything... Hideous stuff IMO, and IME it doesn't take or hold paint for doodly-squat. I'm perfectly in favor of it for unseen stuff like the stringers. I pretty much ran screaming from one of the two halfway-decent non-chain lumberyards in my area because they tried to bully me into either a horrible prefabricated composite stuff that looked about as natural as Tupperware (and cost the earth) or the only thing that could get uglier than that on a house like mine, precast concrete with those skinny twisty metal railings. *shudder* The other one was a madhouse and no one really had time to deal with a relative novice's dumb questions. Budget is most definitely an issue, since the whole porch has had its own "mushroom effect"! (Thankfully except for those steps it's structurally sound. Knock on wood! It's just that every surface has gone completely to Hades.)

Most recent reasonable photo I have:

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What about using the pressure as you said for the majority of the stairs but for the actual tops of the steps themselves use flagstone? Only other thing I could thing of was maybe build the stairs out of brick or use the prefab concrete steps and cover them with faux stone or brick to make them less offensive since money is a issue.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2009 at 5:19PM
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We just rebuilt our steps using cedar. Primed first and then painted with a non-skid paint. Made it thru the first snowy winter and nobody slipped or hurt themself.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2009 at 5:25PM
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We use spanish cedar for exterior trim, and mahogany for exterior stair treads. PT for hidden structural stuff is fine. Both woods I mentioned paint very well and hold up in the weather without rot problems.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2009 at 10:00PM
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Lido, do you have any pictures of your steps? Nonskid paint is a must, definitely!

Carol, I have never heard of topping pressure-treated lumber with stone. Have any more info? I know tiling on top of any kind of wood substrate outside with extreme freeze-thaw cycles is mucho tricky.

Building brick steps is light-years out of our league. The precast concrete steps did come in an admittedly rather pretty brick-veneered option but they were very expensive and even the cheesy-looking ones weren't all that cheap because installation ran up the price for both plain and fancy styles, with our major frost-heaving they can't just be plunked on the ground, and then upgrading railings from the tacky metal ones was another pricy add-on.

Casey - mahogany sounds lovely, but it seems very nearly a sin to paint it, no? ;-) ;-) I've never seen Spanish cedar, just Western Red cedar, but I will check with the fancy-foo-foo specialty lumberyard in the next county.

This would actually be easier if we didn't have the stupid city codes regarding the handrails to deal with. There are several premade railings I've found that are attractive and appropriate to the style of the house, but they're always too large to meet code (maximum of 2 1/2" "grasping surface", which is pretty puny - the usual recommendation is to attach a skinny round railing to the inside of the larger railing which is REALLY ugly). I've seen a couple of railing setups that would do at Vintage Woodworks but their best options for exterior use are cypress and redwood. If I can find good cedar I can talk to my carpenter about how murderously expensive it would be to copy a handrail I like but isn't made in exterior-appropriate wood. I am already going to have him do the newel posts and balusters but those are just square posts with chamfered edges to match the porch columns, I could do them myself if I could hold a router anymore. :-)

    Bookmark   May 21, 2009 at 12:03AM
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You can paint PT wood or trex but the paint might not last as long as on other surfaces. But any frequently used treads will need to be repainted fairly often. Osmose even makes PT wood in different colors but any wood must be treated with an opaque or clear coating to avoid drying out and cracking. Pick one you like and move on to the next problem.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2009 at 8:31AM
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I got an email to look at Azek cellular PVC - it comes in the color I need so no need to paint/stain at all and apparently the new decking has pretty decent wet traction - so I'm going to go check it out this afternoon. Just have to see how plastic-y it looks and whether that balances out not having to repaint over and over. The Trex kind of composite (and half a dozen different brands of the same stuff) is what the aforementioned lumberyard was trying to sell me. An acquaintance has Trex and is having a devil of a time with mold, he's out with a scrub brush and some viciously stinky cleaner every couple of weeks from April to November. I'll try to get a gander at some cedar but the guy who delivered the wood for the front porch floor this morning said that what he's seen at the warehouse looks like @%$#. :-(

"Pick one you like and move on to the next problem" is not very helpful when one is trying to actually learn something, though. Picking what I "like" in total ignorance is pretty much a guarantee of getting me into trouble down the line. BTDT.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2009 at 11:36AM
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Hi -- I am dealing with the same problem with stairs that look almost identical to yours in a house built in 1900. In fact, I have a contractor coming by today to take a look (not the first, but hopefully this one's a keeper). Did you end up going with wood? If so, what kind, and did it live up to your expectations? Also, if you painted it, what kind of paint did you use and did it work out well?

    Bookmark   September 28, 2012 at 10:36AM
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