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Old 04-28-2010, 05:49 AM   #1
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Need to rebuild outside steps and walls coming from basement


Hi. We have been in our house for about 10-11 years. I'm in Pittsburgh, PA. I have no idea when these steps or walls were built. They looked fine up until the last 3 or 4 years. Lack of time and money basically had me putting it off but after all the snow we got this winter it is really looking bad and I feel like I need to do something soon or one or both walls are going to collapse. I'm going to attach some pics:
































That might be too many pics but I was just trying to get all the angles. I was planning on taking a weeks vacation soon and digging this all out and replacing it. I guess that is my first question, how big a job is this? The walls are currently a little under 3 feet tall at the highest point. I'm thinking this is not a really big deal but I have never done something like this before so that is why I am hoping to get some advice from whoever might be good enough to share your experience with me.

I'm going to give a quick shot of what I was thinking of doing but I'm not sure how good of a plan it is.

First, I was going to tear both walls down. Then when I can see what is at the base I was going to try to dig a trench on both sides and put in some gravel. Then I thought I would use mason blocks to rebuild the walls, filling them with gravel as I go. Not sure how good of an idea that is?

Also, in the pic you can see on the right side, there is just a small space of dirt between that wall and some large steps that go up to our porch. I wanted to dig back as far as I can on that side so there is not such a narrow opening between walls by the door. I'm figuring there is dirt under those stairs at some point and that concrete side doesn't go down a whole lot further or it probably wouldn't be there in the first place.

Anyway, on both sides I'm going to go back at least an extra foot or so then refill behind both walls with some kind of gravel. I'm figuring that is good for drainage, etc?

Oops, I forgot, I was going to tear the steps out also when I tear out the walls. I was going to replace those last. Maybe mason blocks for the steps also?

Should I tear this all out at once or go in stages? I'm thinking if I tear it all out at once I'm going to have a big dirt hole and maybe I don't want that? I have a big tarp I could throw over it while I am working.

I am no stranger to hard work but I'll be the first to admit I really have no idea what I am getting into here, or what I am doing. I've been looking around on the internet quite a bit trying to learn. If anyone could get me started in the right direction I would really appreciate it.

Thank you very much.
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Old 04-28-2010, 06:00 AM   #2
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Need to rebuild outside steps and walls coming from basement


Yep, does not look good. I would definitely tear it all out and start over. I doubt that what is under the steps is adequate as a base. And the walls were not braced to hold back the fill on the sides. Unless you are really good at this, it does not look like a DIY job to me.
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Old 04-28-2010, 08:05 PM   #3
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Need to rebuild outside steps and walls coming from basement


Thanks 'Just Bill', I appreciate your response.

Ouch! Not really what I wanted to hear.

So is that the general consensus here? I shouldn't try this on my own?

Here is the thing, I am probably going to have to do this myself whether I want to or not. I would think if I paid someone it would be at least a couple grand. Please let me know if that is not right.

Anyway, I don't have it. So I'm either going to let it go until it collapses or dig it out myself and try my best to rebuild it.

I'm figuring I can do at least as good of a job as the last person, and that lasted at least 10 years. For all I know it lasted 30, I really don't know.

So why shouldn't I try it? Too hard, I'll screw it up?

Or is it dangerous?

The wall is only 2.5 - 3ft tall. I thought that was not a big deal at that height?

Any extra info would be appreciated.

Thank you very much
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Old 04-28-2010, 08:36 PM   #4
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So why shouldn't I try it? Too hard, I'll screw it up?

Or is it dangerous?
No, it's not particularly dangerous. It is kind of hard work. But, no, you are not likely to screw it up IF you take the time to research foundations, back-bracing ties and supports, drainage methods, and stair building, in general.

Basically, you are going to have to educate yourself on everything you can Google about this sort of project....... and there is more than meets the eye.
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Old 04-28-2010, 08:49 PM   #5
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Need to rebuild outside steps and walls coming from basement


Only 3' deep isn't that bad at all, I'd definitely DIY
How depends upon drainage around that area

There is a drain there, do you know where it goes ?
Walls on the sides probably did not have proper drainage
Ground froze w/water & pushed wall out...more water gets in, wall gets pushed out more

Stairs on the right, hopefully they have a footer going down deep
I'd be inclined not to touch that wall, looks OK (?)
That could be a can of worms

Do you have gutters & downspouts that directs water away from this area?
Does the ground slope away from the house ?
Any water in the basement ?
Any roof or anything over the stairs area to keep water/snow out ?
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Old 04-28-2010, 10:30 PM   #6
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Need to rebuild outside steps and walls coming from basement


That is a lot of bricks! The walls (both), stairs, and 5 concrete slabs should be removed. The bottom landing (3' deep and door width) should be replaced and sloped towards the drain (if it works, as Dave said). Dig down to your local frost depth, pour or form a footing, build concrete or brick (with mortar) walls, same with stairs, OR hire it out.

Be safe, Gary
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Old 04-29-2010, 05:18 AM   #7
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Need to rebuild outside steps and walls coming from basement


Hey, thanks for the replies everybody!

Drain - I am not positive but I used to be a laborer for a plumber and we used to dig up a lot of drains around here that were basically a terra cotta pipe going down into some sand or something like that. I am almost positive that is what is the case with this one. I think it is just a drain hole leading to nothing.

We have got water through the basement door twice in ten years. Once was just a little bit that just got a foot or so of water wet around the door. The other time was a freak rainstorm we had after 2 weeks of rain and the ground was all saturated. We had some bad water in that time but it was on the news and basically hundreds if not thousands of people had their basements flooded in that one.

So to make a long story short I don't think I need to worry as much about the water draining.

The roof of my house overhangs above it and we have fairly new gutters. So it is not like water is running off into it or anything.

Both walls are cracked near the bottom and the top part is shifting out and leaning in like they are going to fall over. The right wall does look a little straighter or better but it is still busted up.

I was going to take a weeks vacation next week and start on it. I figure I can dig it all out in a day or 2 max. Then I can see what I have and go from there. I have a big tarp I can throw over the hole. Do you think that makes sense or is that really dumb?

Maybe I should just take down one wall at a time and do it that way?

Any comments on how to start like that please?

Thanks for the advice, I really appreciate it...

Last edited by doug123; 04-29-2010 at 05:25 AM.
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Old 04-29-2010, 09:36 AM   #8
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Need to rebuild outside steps and walls coming from basement


My main concern is that wall on the right & the 2nd set of cement steps I can see
Possibly the 2nd set of stairs is partially supported by the basement wall on the right
Hopefully the 2nd set of stairs has support going down to the footing
Do you have another pic showing more of the 2nd stairs ?

Definitely start with the left side & be ready to redo the wall on the right as soon as it is ripped out
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Old 04-29-2010, 10:59 AM   #9
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Need to rebuild outside steps and walls coming from basement


Here's a pictorial trip of basically the steps you may be taking. (Drainage, back-bracing and plumbing not shown.)

Footing for the brick walls could probably be a few inches wider. (I got lazy)
Attached Thumbnails
Need to rebuild outside steps and walls coming from basement-basement-stairs-1.jpg   Need to rebuild outside steps and walls coming from basement-basement-stairs-2.jpg   Need to rebuild outside steps and walls coming from basement-basement-stairs-3.jpg   Need to rebuild outside steps and walls coming from basement-basement-stairs-4.jpg   Need to rebuild outside steps and walls coming from basement-basement-stairs-5.jpg  

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Last edited by Willie T; 04-29-2010 at 11:04 AM.
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Old 04-29-2010, 11:44 AM   #10
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Need to rebuild outside steps and walls coming from basement


HERE is a fairly easy way to build steps if you have no stair building experience. But they end up about a quarter inch high for each riser to be legal.
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Old 04-29-2010, 06:55 PM   #11
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Need to rebuild outside steps and walls coming from basement


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My main concern is that wall on the right & the 2nd set of cement steps I can see
Possibly the 2nd set of stairs is partially supported by the basement wall on the right
Hopefully the 2nd set of stairs has support going down to the footing
Do you have another pic showing more of the 2nd stairs ?

Definitely start with the left side & be ready to redo the wall on the right as soon as it is ripped out
Thanks for your concern Dave. Here are 3 more pics I just took.











I see what you are saying. I was thinking of digging over farther that way but if there is dirt underneath those steps at that level, if it comes out from underneath I guess that would be a major problem, huh?

I'll take your advice and save that side for last.

My father-in-laws' neighbor gave me an idea, I might try a timber wall. I Googled it and found a good bit of info. I'm thinking that might be the way to go. No concrete and I think I could do it much faster. Plus it looks easier for someone doing it alone.

I think I'm going to pull out the left side and maybe the steps. Then I'll build the left side wall. When I'm done with that, I'll probably have a better idea of everything I need, etc. I'll make sure I have everything together, then take down the right side and put up the new right wall as fast as I can. Then I might try to box in the end with lumber also. Then I'll worry about the steps.

Anyway, please let me know what you think about the steps if you see anything more with these pics.

Thanks!
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Old 04-29-2010, 07:00 PM   #12
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Here's a pictorial trip of basically the steps you may be taking. (Drainage, back-bracing and plumbing not shown.)

Footing for the brick walls could probably be a few inches wider. (I got lazy)
Wow, thanks for the great pics Willie T. That really helps me have a better idea what is under the dirt and what I need to do.

Thanks for the other link also on the step building. Like I said above, I think I'm going to go with lumber for the walls but I might use mason blocks for the steps the way you have in that link. Maybe I can use wood over the mason blocks somehow? Anyway, if I can box it in with the wood I'm figuring I can worry about the steps last.

I need to check out the 'sketchup' you mentioned in that other link also. I could use that for a lot of things, very nice.

Thanks again!
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Old 04-29-2010, 08:11 PM   #13
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Unfortunately, I have to warn you that lumber is going to have a very short lifespan compared to any kind of masonry.
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Old 04-29-2010, 08:58 PM   #14
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Need to rebuild outside steps and walls coming from basement


I won't weigh in on what I don't know but as far as the labor aspect of digging it out, it doesn't look terribly back breaking. As already stated there is a fair amount of research you need to do about fountations and drainage. Your ieda of backfilling with gravel sounds like it would let a lot of ground water pool down alongside the wall unless there was a plan to drain it out of there.

Not a herbologist either but that leafy vegitation on the good side looks like a thirsty breed that probably took care of a lot of the water on that side and possibly added a strong root system resulting in less damage on that side. Such an arraingement would look better on the other side than those flat rocks laying there and would probably offer similar benefit.You may be able to get away with minor shoring up and repairing on that side without a lot of tearing down and digging.

Poured concrete walls and footings sound like a better plan that timbers too.

Are your neighbors' homes similar to your's? You might look and ask around the neighborhood for similar problems and solutions.
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Old 04-30-2010, 05:02 AM   #15
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Unfortunately, I have to warn you that lumber is going to have a very short lifespan compared to any kind of masonry.
Dang. I just can't win here

How short is short? Honestly I am hoping to move in the near future. Hopefully within the next 5 years.

Do you think it would last 10 years? I'd be happy with that.

Not to leave it for the next guy but I feel confident about using wood and not so much about using concrete.
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