I need to replace the steps on my deck. What is the best way to do this?
Check the stringers that support the stair surfaces first. If they’re not rotted, are still level, and all the stairs are equal height, simply replace the walking surface boards. (Use coated deck screws for strength). If the stringers are rotted, you’ll need to replace them. There are strict building codes for building decks, stairways and guardrails. But since so many homeowners take on deck projects, your city’s building department (or their website) will probably have a customer- friendly brochure for you on the subject. Some offices have excellent step-by-step manuals they will gladly give you, because building an unsafe deck or stairs can be dangerous for you and anyone visiting your house. Assuming you only have 3-4 steps, you can buy new, pre-cut stair stringers at a good local builders supply. You’ll need to buy one stringer for each 16” of stair width. Attach the stringers to the rim joist of the deck using galvanized stair brackets designed for this purpose. (Grab a brochure near the deck-building supplies and read it.) Measure carefully to make sure the “rise” from the top of the stringers to the top of the deck framing (just under the decking) matches the rise of each of the steps that are pre-cut into the stringers you bought. That way, people walking up and down the stairs won’t be surprised by one top step that’s too tall or short compared to the others. Generally, a short bottom step is okay, but not at the top. If there are 3 or more risers, you’ll need to add at least one post at the foot of the stairs to attach a handrail. Depending on the style of your deck, there are many ways to do this. Just make sure the bottom post is secure (maybe even sunk into the ground) and lines up with a post up on the deck so the handrail will run up parallel to the outside stair stringer. Re-read the building department guidelines. My trick at this point is to build a box “form” out of 1x4 into which I will pour concrete to make a 3-foot wide landing pad under the foot of the stairs. I simply dig out just enough soil under the foot of the stringers to sneak the form about 10” under the stringers, then place a level on the stringers that are resting on the form and adjust the height of the form till the stringers are level from front to back and left to right. Pour concrete into the form, then when it’s set the next day, I remove the form so the stringers rest on top of the new concrete. Then install your new stair treads, toe kicks and handrails according to the building department guidelines and the store literature that goes with the products you purchased.