Height of risers - upset with contractor

colorcrazySeptember 3, 2011

Our house was built in 1938 and the porch needed a major renovation to replace some floorboards, etc. It also had ugly brick steps added by the previous owner and the bricks were falling off.

The contractor worked on what we wanted and presented drawings. He consulted with us at every step and gave us options on materials, explaining the benefits/downsides of each. The porch and new stairs look lovely. Of course, there is always a "but."

The risers are 6 1/2" high because he said that would make it easier for me. He never told us that the result would mean the bottom step was above grade. So to compensate, the new side walk is above grade. He said he will "fill in" around the side walk. The side walk was not in the detailed plan that he drew for us.

It is a cement sidewalk (for safety reasons) that stops right at the porch stairs, so it has a right angle in the outside right corner, and then curves downward to the left to meet the driveway. He was going to make it straight, and we said no, we want a curve. We didn't get as much of a curve as we wanted, but it's not bad. The part we hate is that it is above grade at the porch end (it is even where it meets the driveway).

He is supposed to to the back porch next, but I am ready to ask that he wait six months until I cool off. We are really upset that (1) he didn't tell us the stairs would end above grade and (2) that we have to deal with a sidewalk where the outside corner by the steps is above grade. DH has visions of people falling off, so we will have to figure out how to landscape it.

So, my question is - what would you do? Is this a big deal or not? My steps inside the house are 8" high and I have no trouble with them, so I don't understand why he didn't give us options. Sigh.

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How high is "above grade"? It is common for sidewalk to be just above grade so rain runs off and you can push snow off(if applicable in your area). If more than 1 inch, I agree it is a problem. It is easiest to make sidewalk level, so if the ground is not level, he may have made the walkway at a constant level.

One solution which is relatively cheap is to bring in some topsoil and fill in to the desired level around the sidewalk. Be sure when you regrade that it does not slope downhill toward house. This should not be very expensive, though probably need to put down new grass seed if lawn in area.

It is important that the steps end on a level surface(landing) and that the first step up from the landing match the height of all the other steps. If this is not the case then it is a serious problem.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 1:42PM
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Thanks, zver11. After I posted this, my husband explained to me that the problem with "filling in" to meet the new height of the sidewalk is that we would be further burying the cherry tree roots. Some are very close to the surface. I would not mind a little, but this is about eight inches.

Yes, the sidewalk is at the right height for the stairs, it's just not the right height for the yard. The whole front yard (which is actually small) slopes from the house to the street. Including the driveway, it is about 50 feet wide and 35 feet deep. No matter where he puts the sidewalk, there will be some slope, unless it runs parallel to the house, which would look odd.

We are thinking of having him rip out the sidewalk and the stairs and redoing them. The drawings say the stairs will end "at grade." I don't think it is appropriate for him to tell us we have to build the ground up to meet the sidewalk. That is creating a whole new meaning for "at grade."

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 8:29PM
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8 inches is a little extreme. How many risers were there? Could he have added another step? We try to have our risers between 6 and 7 inches.

Often times we might have a landing at the bottom of a run of stairs. Sometimes this landing will then step down to the walkway.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 12:29AM
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If I understand your problem. You wanted the contractor to Lower the grade then place the sidewalk/ stairs ?? Also what happens when dirt covers up cherry tree roots ?

I agree with Mark an outside stairway always has short risers and most of the time longer treads.


    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 2:39PM
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8" risers will not meet code in my jurisdiction.

6 1/2" risers meet code in any jurisdiction.

The building department is there to help you. A permit probably would have solved this issue.

How about flower beds/ planter boxes along the sides of the sidewalk? That's what I would do if it were my house.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 7:49PM
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Aidan, we have a permit. Will call the city code office tomorrow. Yep, we (DH and I) had a long talk tonight to discuss options. We are thinking of building a brick planter box at the outside (offending) corner or planting small azaleas there at the corner and going out a bit on both sides. That way, we can get the soil back off the tree roots. Will research tonight, but we had always heard that tree roots should never be buried once they have worked their way up to the ground. (Would we prefer that the roots be deeper? Definitely. But the tree is huge and gorgeous so we don't want to lose it.)

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 10:24PM
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I have consulted with an arborist before adding a few inches of soil or DG to the top of tree roots for a couple of species, but not Cherry.

He said the Redwoods would not mind at all.

For some Live Oaks, he recommended treating the ground with hydrated lime before laying the Decomposed Granite. He said 4" of DG would be fine on top of live oak roots. We didn't do the lime, and the trees are all fine 5+ years later.

In my experience, big trees number one enemy is the lawn sprinkler. Overwatering is the "root" cause of most big tree deaths I see around here.

You should really just ask an arborist. It is definitely worth a small consultation fee.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 11:06AM
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