Damage in concrete steps and concrete in general typically begins small and starts to grow. This is why it is ideal to address these issues early on, as it is easier and cheaper to fix them at this point. Furthermore, having a professional evaluate the issue early on may help to detect potential larger problems that are the actual cause.
There are several solutions that people have used to address sinking in their concrete steps, with some being better than others. In fact, some of the modern “solutions” may only cover up the problem and some are only temporary fixes that will allow the issue to come back eventually. Fortunately, there are some solutions out there that are true long-term fixes that will restore your steps to their original durability.
Common Ways to Address Sinking Concrete Steps
Replacing the Steps
Probably the largest scale fix would be to tear the steps out and have them rebuilt. This will typically remedy the problem, provided that the new steps are done the right way. But, completely tearing out the steps is not necessary in many cases and it can be a very expensive fix. . Ideally, the existing steps can be saved instead of having to have them torn out. Furthermore, sometimes the actual issue causing the concrete sinking is related to the soil or erosion underneath. If the steps are torn out and rebuilt on the same exact base, but chances are, they will sink again at some point.
Replacing or Adding Footings Underneath the Steps
Another potential solution is to have the steps jacked up and have the current footings replaced. Or, in some cases, the steps may have never had footings, so they would be added at this point. This can be a solution in some cases, but if there is a water-directing issue, erosion underneath the steps could lead to them sinking again eventually.
Building Over the Steps
It may not exactly be a “solution,” per se, but some homeowners opt to build new steps or a small deck over the steps. This does cover up the issue, but it also leaves the old ruined steps underneath, which you may have to eventually deal with down the road. This solution is one of the least advised, as masking an issue is never the best way to go. In addition, building a whole new patio or deck over the already problematic area is going to add a significant amount of weight. This means that the build is likely to just keep sinking.
Adding Sand or Gravel Underneath the Steps
Some people have opted to have their steps jacked up and then gravel, sand, or both will be added underneath. This can help stop them from shifting or sinking for a period of time, but it is a temporary solution. While gravel or stone will help drainage of water, it will not stop water that is flowing toward the house. Eventually, if water flow is not deterred, then water will get underneath even the gravel and sand. This will lead to the same issues that were occurring before. Furthermore, this is a solution that is quite a labor intensive compared to more accessible solutions that are available.
Blocks Underneath the Steps
Another potential solution is to add blocks underneath the steps to get them back up the right height. This would again involve jacking up the steps in some way to get the blocks underneath or digging underneath to add the blocks. This is not necessarily a great solution because it is simply adding weight. When you have the original steps and the added weight of the blocks pushing down on the same ground that was already sinking before, then chances are that the steps will continue to sink. Any solution that adds significant weight may actually be just increasing the rate of sinking in some cases.
Mudjacking, also sometimes called slab lifting, is probably one of the most common forms of concrete lifting for steps. When steps or concrete slabs are sinking, it is because there are voids in the soil underneath as a result of water shifting it. The idea of mudjacking is to fill these voids to prevent the sinking. It begins with drilling holes into the area that needs to be lifted. After which, a concrete slurry mix will be injected into the holes to begin lifting the steps back to the level that they need to be. There are a couple of significant issues that come along with mudjacking. First of all, the holes that need to be drilled have to be a pretty decent size to be able to pump the concrete slurry in. In addition, this concrete slurry is not extremely strong and it will erode over time, meaning that this is a temporary solution and will have to be redone later. Last of all, mudjacking has a similar issue to that of adding concrete blocks, more weight. This concrete slurry mix is still a form of concrete, which means that it is adding significant enough weight that it can lead to more sinking down the line.
Polyurethane Foam Injection
One of the most efficient methods of concrete lifting is polyurethane foam injection. This involves a very similar process to that of mudjacking. First, a hole is drilled into the part of the concrete steps that need to be lifted. Instead of injecting concrete slurry, an expanding foam is sent into the hole instead. One immediate benefit over mudjacking is that holes for polyurethane foam only need to be penny-sized, which is much easier to patch and cover up. The polyurethane foam will then be injected into these holes, which will expand to fill the voids and lift up the concrete. This is a pretty quick process, with it only taking about 15 minutes for the foam to expand and stabilize. The holes will then be patched and smoothed. There is no need for concern regarding injecting this foam into the soil underneath, as it does not contain any harmful chemicals.
Moisture and Water Flow: The Main Enemy
When it comes to sinking or cracking concrete steps, then moisture and water flow are typically the main issues. When water is not being properly directed away from the home, it tends to pool around and underneath the home and its attached structures, such as the steps. When the ground underneath continues to get wet, it becomes more easily shifted or compacted. So, wet ground combined with heavy concrete steps means that they will often slowly work themselves downward. If there is not a proper system for directing water away, then nearly any solution is likely to be temporary, with some lasting much longer than others.
Early Warning Signs
There are certain early warning signs that you can see before your concrete steps have sunken significantly. One such sign is that you may start to notice a gap between the step and the landing or patio. This gap signifies that the steps have sunken enough to start separating from that spot. This gap will start out very narrow and if you do happen to notice it, it will allow you to have the problem addressed before it gets too bad. If you neglect it, you will start to notice the gap increasing and the sinking will only get worse. Another warning sign is cracking that happens in the step, as this often signifies that the steps are sinking unevenly, which causes more pressure on one side. As the one side continues to sink and gravity pulls on it, it can eventually cause the step to crack.
Your Foundation May Be At Risk
While the immediate concern may be your concrete steps, water, and erosion this close to the home means that your foundation may be in jeopardy as well. Consistently flowing or flooding water around your foundation can be a major concern, as it can lead to damage to the foundation. If your foundation starts sinking, it will make the concrete steps seem like a minor issue. Sinking foundations can lead to many different damages in the home above, including cracking drywall, cracking ceilings, gaps between the wall and floor, leaning walls, stuck doors, and more. So, if your concrete steps are sinking, it may only be a symptom of a much larger water or erosion-related issue.
Can Concrete Steps Sink No Matter What?
Depending on the soil and water direction of your home, there is potential for your steps to sink. But, if water issues and soil washout are addressed, then it makes the issue much less likely. Even if there was any sinking after these preventative measures, it would likely be too little to notice or be an issue. As mentioned above, water and soil washout are the primary enemies when it comes to concrete sinking because of the way it creates voids under the soil and that wet soil is compressed by weight much easier.
Concrete Step Lifting
Depending on the state of sinking steps, you may need to consider whether it would be better to replace or repair them. There are some steps that may just be too far gone to be repaired or lifted, but this is a rare case. In fact, while replacement may seem like a good idea sometimes, repair with polyurethane foam lifting may be a more long lasting solution.
- Fixing Uneven Steps with Concrete Lifting
In many cases, concrete lifting can save uneven sinking steps. The experts at Mount Valley Foundation Services are pros when it comes to sinking steps and using PolyRenewal. Polyurethane foam injection is a quick process, as the foam hardens within a couple hours so that you can be using your steps the same day.
Not only is this a much faster and easier process than replacement, but it may be the better solution. Being that uneven and sinking steps are often caused by soil issues underneath, adding more weight with new steps may not be the best idea. Polyurethane foam is lightweight, which can help lift your steps back to normal without exacerbating the sinking.
- Full Concrete Step Replacement
Full replacement of steps will definitely get the job done, but there are some downsides to it. Firstly, if the ground underneath is not addressed during replacement, then steps can sink again quite easily. Secondly, a full replacement is a much more costly option in comparison to concrete lifting.
There may be scenarios where a full replacement may be the only real option, such as when steps are fully split or shattered. In this case, it is better to just get the replacement for longevity and safety reasons. Although, in many cases where it may seem like steps are too far gone, polyurethane foam concrete lifting may still be an option, so be sure to contact Mount Valley Foundation Services for a consultation. We offer concrete lifting services in Greensville and Columbia, SC, as well as Charlotte, NC.
Steps can sink for quite a few different reasons, but it is typically related to the soil that they sit on in most cases. We have included a couple of the common ones below.
- Soil Washout
The primary and most common cause of sinking steps is uneven soil or erosion underneath the steps. As mentioned above, if water continues to flow underneath the steps, it is eroding the soil and creating voids underneath the steps, which they will slowly sink into. The extent of soil washout can vary based on a few factors, but it is not impossible to prevent.
There are around three primary causes of soil washout. The first of these is the particular type of soil that your home is built on. The second involves the general climate and weather in your area. And the third has to do with the drainage system of your home. Obviously, you cannot change the soil type of your yard and you cannot influence the weather, but you do have control over the efficiency of the drainage system in your home. A proper drainage system can combat the other two factors and help greatly decrease soil washout.
- Improper Base
When your house was built, a large hole was dug to put in the foundation and an extra perimeter was dug around this area to allow for working space. When the home is finished, this extra perimeter will be back filled, which simply means that dirt is filled back into it. This dirt needs to be properly compacted down to provide a strong base, but this is not always the case. If the backfill was not compacted or soft soils were used, then it may not be a great base for concrete to be sitting on top of. So, if your steps happen to be above this improperly backfilled area, they may be more likely to start sinking into the loose soil.
In some cases, this may mean that a more solid base or footings need to be placed under your steps. There are a couple methods that may be used either separately or together for concrete steps. It will typically begin with placing a layer of gravel to help with drainage. Secondly, a proper footing will ideally be installed. A footing is simply a foundation underneath the steps, with rebar or tubes that go down below frost level in the soil to hold for further stability.
Contact a Professional
With issues like sinking concrete steps, it is a much better idea to go with a professional. Not only will they be able to recommend immediate solutions to have your steps lifted, but they will be able to do it right the first time. In addition, a professional will be able to evaluate the whole problem and detect whether there is a further issue that needs to be addressed. Because sinking steps can be a sign of foundational issues, you should not take a risk when it comes to having the whole of the situation looked over.
Mount Valley Foundation Services is Here to Help with Your Concrete Steps
Looking to have your sinking and settling concrete steps evaluated? Let the professionals at Mount Valley Foundation Services help! We’ve been the trusted experts in the Charlotte, NC, area since 1986 and we also serve Greensville and Columbia, SC. Don’t hesitate to contact us a call for a no-cost, no-obligation inspection and estimate today!