Is It Better to Repair or Replace Concrete Steps?

Few things are as delightful and rewarding as a well-tended home or business. Expressing pride in your community fosters goodwill with your neighbors, showing that you care about the place you share with them. But as time passes and home repairs begin to sprout like dandelions, noticing a crack or several in your concrete steps might seem like another problem for another day. The longer you wait, the more costly it may become. 

Sometimes, your issues could be as simple as normal wear-and-tear, easily remedied with a quick run to the home improvement or hardware store. Other times, though, it can signal a deeper problem that will only grow more significant and dangerous over time. Let’s review some of the most common issues you may experience with concrete stairs and determine whether you can DIY them on a weekend or if you need to call in the pros.

Why Choose Concrete Steps in the First Place

Most homeowners with concrete steps will attest to their longevity, listing it as one of the wisest investments they’ve made. Concrete combines cement, natural materials like stone or sand (known as “aggregates” in the industry), and water. When looking for durability and lifespan, concrete excels over other materials like wood and metal.  

Concrete doesn’t need the annual painting, staining, and sealing of other materials and can be easily cleaned with household items such as dish soap and a garden hose. Thanks to its bonded parts, concrete can withstand the shifts in outdoor weather and heavy foot traffic, making it an excellent option for commercial and community properties. 

Concrete also has several built-in safety features. Since it’s non-combustible, you won’t risk fire damage like a flammable material. You can easily add a textured finish to increase traction so wet or icy conditions don’t lead to accidents for you or your family. With an excellent weight tolerance, concrete is ideal for public spaces or companies that use and store heavy equipment.

While you may picture dull gray slabs, concrete is highly versatile and can be molded into various sizes or shapes. By choosing textures and colors that suit your style, you can create a staircase that looks anything but boring. Add affordability and sustainability to this list, and you can see why using concrete for steps is becoming increasingly popular.

When Concrete Gets Damaged

Like your car or favorite outfit, the more something is used, the quicker it begins to fall apart. Concrete is no different. Despite its ability to withstand conditions most other stair materials can’t, there are still several ways that concrete cracks.

The main culprit is water. When it rains or experiences flooding, concrete absorbs water like a sponge. Over time, this can cause issues as the cycle of wet and dry conditions expands and contracts the material, causing cracks. They can start small and look like spiderwebs, but putting off fixing them leads to more dangerous structural conditions the longer it’s ignored.

Additionally, if you live in a seasonal climate, temperature fluctuations increase the likelihood of concrete damage as the years go by. Heat waves can buckle concrete, especially when older materials are mixed with newer repairs. With the growing waves of climate change, this concern becomes more acute. 

So Which Should You Do–Repair or Replace?

When you install a set of new concrete steps for the first time, the price tag can range from $1000 to $5000. That’s a hefty investment, but as we’ve explored, the longevity and durability factor easily offset that cost. Plus, with the potential to create something aesthetically pleasing, you may find concrete worth the extra money at the start. But what happens when you see damage to your stairs? Here’s a list of the most common problems you’ll encounter with concrete steps

Small Holes and Minor Cracks–Repair

Well-worn stairs that have been around for a few years will naturally develop minor cracks and holes. These imperfections aren’t the prettiest, but unless you have already been planning to overhaul your entire staircase, these are easily repaired in an afternoon. Concrete bonding adhesive, patching compound, and a putty knife are all inexpensive tools you can grab at a home supply store.

Stains and Discoloration–Repair

Spilled liquids such as oil or even mold can seep into your concrete if it isn’t properly sealed. (Remember, it’s very porous!) Depending on where your stairs are located, they also might be exposed to long sunny days, causing unwanted patches of off-color cement. These issues can also be solved with repair–ask your local hardware store clerk to talk you through using a stain remover and how to seal the concrete when you’ve finished your repairs so you don’t have the same issue down the road.

Uneven Surfaces–Repair

This one is trickier because it depends on the severity of the issue you’re dealing with. In the last ten years, newer products and techniques have made solving the problem of an uneven surface for your stairs potentially a repair job rather than a total overhaul. 

Concrete will most often sag if the soil underneath is less compacted than it needs to be. Using polyurethane foam to fill the voids in the soil helps lift and level the concrete. Since the foam doesn’t retain moisture, it is a great choice to reinforce the foundation. The foam also sets reasonably quickly, so your stairs won’t be out of commission for long.

A caveat: If you’re experiencing a dangerously uneven surface or your stairs are connected to your home’s foundation, and everything is uneven, the problem might actually be with your home’s foundation and not the stairs. If so, you definitely need to consult with a professional foundation repair contractor.

Multiple Large Cracks–Replace

When you see multiple large cracks in your concrete stairs, the smartest and safest solution is to replace the stairs. Much like a tooth, the more the cracks divide the pavement, the sooner it will all crumble. Attempting to fix them yourself will only lead to more expensive repairs in a few years.

Not Bearing Weight Load–Replace

When the structural integrity of your stairway is failing, heavy things and constant foot traffic will continue to weaken the foundation of your steps. Over time, this gets progressively dangerous, and a terrible accident may occur. In this case, it’s always best to err on the side of safety and replace the entire set of concrete steps.

Replacing your concrete steps means the original ones will be demolished–and yes, that means dust, dirt, and the sound of jackhammers. Then, new soil is laid, new concrete is poured, and a lengthy curing process must be safely completed before you can use your replaced stairs. It’s not anyone’s idea of a fun time, but when you are dealing with the safety of your family or your employees, it’s vital. 

In Summary

Home repairs, by nature, can cause homeowners to worry and stress. However, there are many ways to solve minor issues without breaking the bank. Repairing your concrete steps yourself can be a cost-effective way to ensure the safety of your loved ones, not to mention increasing your home’s value and curb appeal. 

When it comes to more intensive repairs or replacement, having the work done by professionals will save time and money in the long run. If you’re up against deep cracks or your steps are over 25 years old, you’d be better off gutting and replacing them entirely rather than racking up a long list of annual repairs.

When faced with a project like repairing your concrete stairs, the ideal starting point is to consult a professional. What may look like a simple broken corner to you may signal a deeper problem to them, so it’s best to get some advice and a quote for your repair. If it’s out of your range now, see if there are more beginner-friendly ways to temporarily solve the issue and keep your stairway safe for use until you can make a more significant fix.