Monday, June 30, 2014

Outdoor Stairs

In the midst of our busy lives with our new boy, we're continuing to make changes to our yard. This one has been over three years in the making: stairs outside.

Our backyard is comprised of four terraces. There are stairs from terrace1 to 2, a long, steep slope from terrace 2 to 3, and a slope with a gradual path from terrace 3 to tier 4.

We needed to build a better way to get from terrace 2 to 3. The slope is pretty steep, and both Bob and I have slipped. It's especially hazardous if it's been raining or if it's really really dry out.

So, here's the necessary "before" picture. The steepness of the slope inhibits weed-pulling, so please no judgment on the weediness. The worn path up the middle is from the dogs, not humans. That path is very difficult for humans to follow... darn pups and their lower centers of gravity!

I've been playing around a while with how to build stairs. I thought about pillars and then a staircase like this one:

But it just looked too utilitarian. Plus, I was worried about slipping on the steps in the rain when we'd have mud on our shoes. And sinking pillars requires cement and cement is a much more permanent, can't-change-your-minds-ever option. Finally, the slope is big enough that it's hard to measure how steep and deep each stair would be. I wasn't convinced that each step would be deep enough for comfortable, railing-less passage.

So I kept looking. I saw these stairs, but I really didn't want to deal with 4x4s and lots of bolts.

I hate installing bolts. And the stairs here are more uniform, and the slope is big, making uniform stairs harder to plan out.

Then, right before I was ready to throw in the towel and suck it up and install the 4x4 stairs, I saw this picture:

Boom! Perfect on several levels:
1) Artsy and pretty, but functional.
2) I could vary the width and depth and adjust as the stairs were made and it wouldn't look odd.
3) Gravel filling made drainage good and provided a slip-resistant surface.
4) Easily replaceable when the wood eventually rots
5) Easily buildable with 2x6 treated wood and screws (not bolts!)

So, I started work this weekend. I spent about three hours on Saturday and four hours on Sunday. Thanks to my husband and sister-in-law for watching James.

All in all, nine steps are complete so far.
We filled the bottom two steps with pea gravel... only to discover that pea gravel won't work because the rocks are too smooth and so your feet sink too much. Whups. Easy fix though-- we'll remove the pea gravel and use regular, non-smooth gravel.

Since I'm running out of room for stairs at the top and there is still some height to go, I've decided to make that current top step deeper and make that point the pivot point and turn the stairs 45 degrees. So, the stairs at that point will turn to the right, where you'll go up a few more steps and then go straight again. This will end the stairway exactly where the next tier begins, rather than eating into the next tier with steps. The end result will be a staircase with a couple of right turns, like this one (though obviously wood and gravel, not rock):

I'm also excited at how this is looking on the slope. There was NOTHING on the slope when we moved in. Now we have five semi-dwarf trees there and a bunch of grasses. The stairs will help us maintain the slope and start improving it in sections. Very very nice. Somehow, it's easier to imagine improving the area now that we can envison the aesthetic of the stairs.

I'm hoping to work on the stairs again tonight... though I'll have to be careful since I got a little sunburned yesterday. Oops.

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