Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Garden Elements - Landscape Timber Stairs

 As mentioned in previous posts, San Diego is the land of many slopes.  I have talked about the plants for the slope, now let’s talk about how to get up and down that slope.  Stairs can be made out of many types of materials.   Concrete, pavers and flagstone are a few that I have worked with.  For a more natural, rustic look try landscape timber stairs. 
          Landscape timbers are 6” x 6” pieces of lumber that are treated to resist water and termite damage.  The most common type of landscape timber stairs consists of a 4’ wide front piece and 2 side pieces that are usually 12 to 24 inches in length.  The 3 pieces are bolted together to form a step in the shape of a “U”.  The steps are then bolted on top of one another with rebar and filled in with decomposed granite (mix in some stabilizer to resist water damage).  These types of stairs are great for large properties with lots of little hills.  Landscape timber stairs cost a little less than concrete.  Since decomposed granite can be a loose material (even with stabilizer), it is not recommended if you have large dogs whose claws can tear into the material.
          If you are a reasonably skilled carpenter then here is great link that shows you the steps for building landscape timber stairs.  Otherwise hire a good contractor like the ones mentioned in the blog for a professional installation. 


Here are some photos of landscape timbers stairs from one of my jobs.
Photos by Doug Kalal, taken at a client's garden in Rancho Bernardo.

19 comments:

  1. So the "U"s are only 24 inches deep? Don't you worry that they will shift in the dirt since there is a curve and they don't rest on top of each other? I just recently deconstructed a set of steps, and they had an extensive frame. Would you say this would be unnecessary?
    Thanks

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  2. The stairs are bolted together with rebar that is usually 24 to 36 inches long depending on the soil.

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  3. Hi Doug,
    Thank you for sharing such nice work. I am planning to build similiar steps at my house. How do you determine the length of the sides?

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  4. What do you mean by "stairs are bolted together with rebar"? How do you bolt rebar?

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  5. Hi...if you're still 'listening'...they are technically not 'bolted', the stair elements are 'pinned' together with the re-bar which interconnects one to the next, as well as going into the soil. The method works; after nearly 4 years there has been no shifting, everything is still solid. By the way, I'm the owner, very happy with the design and construction, done by Nature Designs.

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  6. Do you have an pics of the other side of the stairs during constuction? I have a similar situation at my house. I think I'm going to use your idea.

    Thanks

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  7. I don't have any pics taken during the construction, and the ceanothus on the other side would hide the steps for a pic now. But the other side looks 'just like' what you see shown. Due to the angle of the photo you just can't see the slope. In other words, the steps curve slightly down the slope, which is about equal on both sides of the steps.

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    1. Hello I live in Escondido, and planning to do the same type of stairs. What is a quesstamation of the cost just to build the stairs?

      Ken,

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    2. Hello I live here in Escondido, and wanted to know what would it cost to build the same type of design? I will soon start this project, and would like an estimate on the stairs only. Any information on this would be appreciated .

      Ken,

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    3. Hello I live here in escondido, and would like some info on the cost of the stairs only. I would like to start this project soon.

      Thanks, Ken

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    4. Hi Ken,
      I have not built these stairs (yet) but I am planning to soon and have done some shopping at Lowes and HD. I figured on each step costing about $100. BUT, that was building them out of squares instead of U's. I imagine U's would save some $$$...

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  8. What sub-layer did you put underneath the decomposed granite? I've heard to use road base, but I want mine to drain not run down into the house below.

    Thanks,

    Zak

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  9. The link above to the instructions at diybooks is dead. Did anyone happen to keep a copy of the instructions that they could post here?

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    1. I know it has been over a year, but did you ever get a response to your request for the instructions since the link above is still dead?

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    2. Did you get the copy of instructions, if so can you share the same.

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  10. How do you determine how many of the steps you will need?

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    1. Sort of late reply but the easiest way would be to hold up a 2x4 or similar material upright from the bottom of the hill then run a string from the top of the hill to intercept the 2x4 (use a little string level) to make sure it's level. If you mark the 2x4 there and then measure from the bottom of the 2x4 to the mark you'll get your total rise. If you divide by 6 (assuming 6 inch steps) that will tell you how many steps you need.

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  11. I have a question for anyone who has built a timber staircase like this: Do you drill the pilot holes for the rebar in-place (into the ground), or pre-drill the timbers? I can't imagine how to keep all the holes aligned if they are pre-drilled.

    But if you're drilling in-place, how do you (a) keep your drill from fouling when it hits the dirt/rocks beneath, and (b) how many thicknesses of timber do you drill through? Do you have the sleeper ties overlap so that the rebar goes through the tread and then two sleeper ties beneath, or just one sleeper?

    Thanks in advance!

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  12. I would like to get the instructions as well. Please repost them.

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