Bricks are an age-old building material used for centuries throughout cultures around the world. The traditional brick format found in the United States is the red brick, commonly fired from clay, and also out of concrete and other man-made composites. They are used for exteriors as well as pathways and patio decks, but they can be used for steps, such as up to a deck around the pool or outside the home.
Layout is the most crucial stage of building brick steps. First, check the size of the bricks to determine the height of the bricks, the length and the width. Estimate at least 1/2 inch of mortar between each brick, and use those measurements to determine the height of your deck. Also estimate the width (side to side) of the overall steps, and the base platform, known as the pad. For the depth (front to back) of the pad, account for at least 15 inches depth for each stair riser, and multiply that by the amount of stairs you estimate -- based on the height you desire for each step, either single bricks or bricks stacked multiple times. This is the measurement for the pad, which is the foundation layer of your brick stairs.
Excavate the area underneath the pad to add the footer. Dig down at least 8 inches and apply a 2- to 4-inch layer of gravel, then tamp it down with a hand tamper or a machine tamper to help with drainage. On top of this layer, add another 2 to 4 inches of fine sand and tamp this down to add a layer to keep the pad from settling. Fill the remaining section of the footing area with concrete, which should be at least 2 inches thick, and should be level across the surface. Once this dries, you have the platform, or pad, for the stairs. Bear in mind that 8 inches is a minimum measurement; you can go deeper for more stability, and to thicken the concrete layer.
Steps are built in tiers, with each higher-up tier smaller than the first one (a minimum of 15 inches to account for stair depth) to create the steps. In essence, you are building a one-sided pyramid in the sense that the sides and back of the platform remain plumb and straight, but the front side of the platform is stepped with each higher tier recessed from the first one. The first layer of brick is installed directly on top of your pad, with at least 3/4 inch of concrete mortar underneath, and each subsequent layer is installed on top of the previous, with at least 1/2 inch of mortar between the bricks. For best results, only install two to four layers per day to keep the concrete from being compressed under too much weight before it has a chance to dry.
In order to drain water, remember that each step needs to be slightly angled toward the front of the stairs to keep water from pooling on the stairs. The rest of each layer can be level, but the actual stairs themselves should have the bricks angled slightly to shed water. Additional padding is added with additional concrete underneath the bricks. Keep a level handy during installation, and check each row and the overall plumbness of the platform as you go up. Tap bricks into place with a rubber mallet to ensure solid lodging in the mortar. Make up extra height as needed by adding slightly more mortar under each new row of bricks, so if you find that at the halfway point your stairs are slightly shorter than anticipated and need some extra height to reach their finishing point at the deck top, simply add some extra mortar between the layers as you go. Tamp down the final layers more firmly to achieve a perfect finish height.
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