Stepping It Up: Step Construction Terms to Know by EP Henry

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Designing steps to work well with the home and the landscape is not a simple task. Here are some stair construction terms for homeowners to know when working with contractors.

Steps can be the focal point of any home’s facade. By emphasizing the home’s entrance and providing a tableau for seasonal decor, a person’s eye naturally follows the flow of the steps up to the home’s entrance. But when designing steps, the more practical purpose of safely elevating a person from one level to another is the most important consideration. Good step design considers aesthetics, but more importantly it concentrates on safety and comfort.

Designing steps to work well with the home and the landscape is not a simple task. Here are some stair construction terms for homeowners to know when working with contractors.

  • Stair flight: A group of steps or stairs between landings.
  • Staircase or stairway: A series of (usually indoor) stair flights separated by landings. Staircases include additional parts like balustrades, handrails, posts, etc.
  • Tread: The horizontal part of the step where the foot lands.
  • Riser: The vertical face of the step. Riser height is typically 6 to 8 inches. Risers should not exceed 8 inches, and each riser in a stair flight must be exactly the same height. Any tiny variation in height or length can pose a tripping risk.
  • Rise: The “rise” is the total vertical height of the slope from the bottom to the top of the steps. It is measured in a straight line up from the starting bottom step to the level of the finished elevation of the top step.
  • Run: The total horizontal distance of the steps. It is meant to measure how many feet the stair flight protrudes from the front of the building. The run is measured as a straight line under the steps (as viewed from the side) that begins at the bottom landing and ends at the corresponding spot on the earth where the top tread begins.
  • Overhang or Nosing: The projection of the tread past the face of the riser. Nosing is used to create a shadow line to help viewers differentiate steps or for visual appearance.

Steps may look like a simple construction, but building them requires a significant level of expertise. Contractors will take many exact measurements and calculate mathematical formulas to determine the rise and run needed to successfully build the steps. This is not a do-it-yourself project for the typical weekend warrior.

Materials are also a concern. They will vary by project and will depend on the outdoor environment and the homeowner’s budget and tastes. Weather elements like heat and moisture affect outdoor steps.

Natural stone like travertine, limestone and marble is not only expensive but also comes with a higher labor cost in installation and upkeep. Natural stone’s porous nature is brittle and prone to cracking especially in areas that encounter freezing temperatures. It encourages growth of mildew and mold. Sealing does prevent a bit of the growth but it is impossible to prevent it entirely. Sealing is something that needs to be done on average every two years.

Manufactured stone is cost-effective, efficient and beautiful, but a homeowner must do their research when shopping for materials. Using high-quality material will always pay dividends in the long haul. Materials like retaining wall block and paving stones are great options for building outdoor steps. They do not require sealing and come in a wide variety of colors and shapes. New sizes and colors let homeowners customize their curb appeal, making matching steps an achievable dream. Many manufacturers of retaining wall and paving stone products offer a warranty on them.

About EP Henry®

EP Henry®, the oldest American family-owned and operated manufacturer of unit concrete products in North America, provides the highest quality and broadest product offerings in Hardscaping(™). Based in Woodbury, New Jersey, EP Henry manufactures a wide range of paving stone and retaining wall products, including permeable pavers which are a best management practice (BMP) for stormwater management. EP Henry also offers beautiful patio pavers, outdoor kitchen kits, garden wall solutions and more. For more information on EP Henry Hardscaping products, visit or call 800-44-HENRY (800-444-3679).

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Jennifer Caviness

Ron Resnikoff
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