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  • Writer's pictureTom Cavan


Updated: Feb 26

Creating beautiful welcoming steps and staircases in our outdoor environment takes more than just one's imagination, it requires assessment and planning of the elevation change, the required rise and run for ease of ascent and descent, good base preparation and precise compaction, perimeter retaining with sediment control and resilient step materials all combined for success.

Whether you go formal or natural (or a combination of) the process is the same except for the desired materials chosen to suit the scene.

If the elevation is greater than 4 steps I recommend creating landings for ease of interaction (added safety) and less energy required to enjoy the experience. According to the building code law in Ontario if the intended steps are greater than 3 steps it requires a handrail that can be made of any material providing it can bear the weight. It tends to be a guideline for many, especially in a natural setting but if there is ever an accident related to the step the consequences fall on the owner of the residence. Another relatively unknown fact is any contractor building, installing steps is responsible for 7 years after the installation so best practices are wise for any project including steps.

When building steps there are always some areas that need to be retained as well, which requires proper drainage, and sediment control with geotextile cloth, drainstone, and field drainage tile (referred to as big "O"). Also in most cases requires water sealant on the foundation.

Step areas need to be safe and easily identified especially at night so lighting can be incorporated in the form of pathway lighting or integrated beneath the coping.

The planting along the steps also adds to the feeling of safety and enhances the space. This staircase was designed as multiple landings for an elderly couple to provide a much easier ascent and descent with 6" risers and the distance was divided equally and widened with each step/landing creating a beautiful, safe entranceway.

When I am designing and installing step areas I always strive to provide the WOW factor which inherently slows down the approach and interaction for added value and safety.

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