Front Exterior & Front Yard

Building My Front Porch Steps (The Box Method) – Part 1 – Building The Basic Frame

I started working on my front porch steps this weekend, and I got most of the basic framework finished. The steps I’m building are probably different than most steps that you’ve seen. The standard way to build steps is to cut stringers out of 2″ x 10″ or 2″ x 12″ lumber, and to secure those to the deck or porch. This is a very informative video that describes that standard method. I chose not to use that method. Instead, I chose to build a series of modified boxes that stack one on top of the other.

The reason I chose not to use the standard stringer method is because (1) drilling into concrete is just such a pain, so the idea of drilling enough holes to attach seven stringers to the concrete porch wasn’t something I wanted to do, and (2) because when I saw this large area of concrete with the huge aggregate exposed and loosely packed, I didn’t feel comfortable at all with the idea of stringers for my steps being attached to that concrete for support.

So I opted instead for the box method. This method is very secure for building steps, but you’ll see that it’s not the standard method for one very obvious reason — it uses more lumber and is therefore more costly. (The cost difference probably isn’t that big on three short steps like mine, but the difference increases with each additional step.) But in my situation, I’d rather spend more money and be confident that my steps will hold up (and will be resting securely on the concrete sidewalk) than try to secure stringers to concrete that may not hold.

But before I started building the framework for my steps, I wanted to put the posts in place for the handrail. To do that, I used these 5/8″ concrete anchors that come with washers and nuts…

And I used those along with these 4″ x 4″ post anchors…

I actually hired someone to drill those holes for me and install the concrete anchors. It’s a good thing I did, too, because he hit a piece of rebar, and it took forever to get the hole drilled for that left anchor.

But once the anchors were in place, I could then insert the posts and screw them into place, using a level to make sure they were plumb as I screwed them to the post anchors.

Next, I build the framework for the bottom step. For this, I used 2″ x 4″ treated lumber rated for ground contact, and I ripped them to the correct height using my table saw. The height of my steps is going to be 4.25 inches, so these pieces were ripped to 3.25 inches, which is the height of the step minus the thickness of the actual tread. Lumber for porches and decks is one inch thick.

I created an outer frame using one long piece the width of the steps, and then seven pieces cut to the full depth of the steps. I screwed them together using deck screws, and placed the short pieces 14 inches apart. I screwed the short pieces into place through the back side of the long back piece. (Obviously, I pulled it away from the porch in order to accomplish this.)

With the basic framework for the first step finished, I did the same process for the next step. These pieces were ripped on my table saw to the full height of the step, which is 4.25 inches. And of course, the side pieces were cut shorter to create the stair step. With the main three outer pieces of the second step framework attached to each other, I placed them on top of the framework for the bottom step.

Then I used metal corner braces to secure the two layers and to keep the corners at a 90-degree angle.

Then I pulled the whole thing away from the concrete and attached the inside frame work pieces for the second step. Again, I screwed these into place using deck screws screwed through the back frame piece and into the ends of the short pieces.

And finally, I did the framework for the top step in the same way.

Then I added a lot of support pieces to keep everything lined up and secure. I attached four pieces (just using scrap pieces of 2″ x 4″ and 2″ x 6″ treated lumber) along the back, screwed into all three layers, and then I added supports along each step support stack, with each support piece screwed into all three layers.

That’s as far as I got this weekend. You can see from the photo above that I’m going to have to cut down the skirting piece on the porch in order to get the framework for the steps secured against the concrete. I will be attaching the framework to the concrete using concrete anchors or screws to hold it into place. I do trust concrete anchors to do that much. But I feel much more confident about the concrete not having to actually hold up the structure of the steps.

Hopefully I’ll have much more to share tomorrow — possibly some actual usable steps! 🙂

Update:

The front porch steps and railings are finished! Here’s a peek at how they turned out…

You can find the next post in this project here…

Part 3 of this project is here…

And the final post, with the final details and “after” pictures, is here…



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29 Comments

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Sheila
    August 20, 2018 at 10:39 am

    Every time I se what you’ve accomplished I feel, oh I don’t know, so inadequate. Honestly, wish I had just 10% of your drive and perfection. Can’t wait to see the rest!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Adrienne
    August 20, 2018 at 10:45 am

    HI Kristi, I really enjoyed this post! I have a paver patio that has a set of 4 stairs leading up to my door. Some of the pavers on the steps have become loose and are a hazard. Also, I don’t have a hand rail. I’ve been researching replacing these stairs and asking contractors for opinions for the past 3 years but haven’t found an easy solution. Maybe this box method would work for me! The only thing is that I still could not have a post secured for a handrail. There is no way to secure a post to the pavers and if we remove the pavers and dig a hole for a post, repairing the pavers is a huge job. Ugh!

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Lisa Johnson
      August 20, 2018 at 10:52 am

      Hi Adrienne- I had a similar problem with loose stones on my steps. I used construction adhesive to the underside to re-adhear them to the base, works great! Now all is safe and secure, and it’s an easy DIY fix. Hope that helps-

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Michelle
    August 20, 2018 at 10:50 am

    yes your drive is unreal!! I have a million projects around the house to finish yet I spend my time watching you finish yours!! HaHa!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    sharon
    August 20, 2018 at 11:40 am

    Kristi, you never cease to amaze me! It’s so informative, and fun, to follow along as you renovate, repair and decorate your house. As time allows I hope to try some of your woodworking projects myself. Thanks for so graciously providing so much info.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Oriole
    August 20, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    How did you determine the height and length of you steps?

    I removes concrete steps from an old doorway and need to add new ones for the new door. I only need one step and haven’t done anything so far because I didn’t know how to attach a wood box to the patio and foundation. I think this post has helped me work it out.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Kristi
      August 20, 2018 at 1:25 pm

      To determine the height, I took the total height from the sidewalk to the floor of the front porch, and then divided by the number of steps I wanted. My total height is 17 inches, and I knew I wanted four steps (three separate steps plus the fourth step up onto the porch). 17/4 = 4/25 inches. You have to consider code also. Check your local codes, but generally code requires that the height of steps be no taller than 7 inches and no shorter than 4 inches. As far as the depth of the tread, I knew I wanted 12 inches just because the concrete steps that were there had 12-inch treads and they felt right. Building code generally requires a minimum tread depth of 10 inches.

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        Oriole
        August 22, 2018 at 12:24 pm

        Thanks Kristi,

        Looks like I have no excuse to build the step now. Adding one more project to do this year. FYI, I used your method for my Roman shades in the kitchen and love the pulls on the outside of the blind. I didn’t do that with one I made for my guest bath and it is a PIA when pulling it up.

        Love your site. So glad to see a woman using power tools!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Mary
    August 20, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    Kristi, I have watched you from the Reno of the condo thru all the rooms you’ve finished in your house. You amaze me every day what you accomplish by your self. I don’t think that I have commented in the past. ,But can I tell you what I am waiting for with bated breath is the pantry makeover. When do you think that you will get to that . I love your blog! You are one talented gal. But am looking forward to that pantry.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Kristi
      August 20, 2018 at 1:19 pm

      I’m actually hoping to start on the pantry very soon. I have many outdoor projects I want to do, but only two that I really need to get done — the front steps and the side entry studio steps. Once those are done, I can focus the majority of my attention on the pantry and studio for the rest of the year, while taking breaks every now and then for some fun projects for the other rooms.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Martha
    August 20, 2018 at 12:57 pm

    I have been reading your blog for about a year. You are so talented, creative and accomplished. I am 68 and have learned to do many things in my lifetime. Nothing irritates me more than when woman say “I don’t know how, or I’ve never done that”. You have to start somewhere…. I love the way you tackle any project and do such a professional job! My husband always says that couples should have to wall paper a room, put together an Ikea chest and install lighting to test their compatibility before marriage…not a bad idea. I always look forward to your posts!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Gaynell
    August 20, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    I agree with everyone else. I am so inspired to move on with my projects. You give me hope!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Carol
    August 20, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    IS there anything special you are doing to protect the would that sits on the concrete or is that not a concern?

    It is SO helpful to see this process!!!! Thank you!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Jane
    August 20, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    I am awed with everyting you do , you are so talented. I always look forward to your posts.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Marianne in Mo.
    August 20, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    I’m guessing you didn’t want to do a ledger board also because of the condition of the concrete porch. You would not have had to drill holes for each stringer, because you could have used joist hangers for that. Smart to take a hard look at that before buying supplies. I think this method is going to be sturdier, and I’m sure the extra cost will be money well spent. Have you considered what to do to prevent critters nesting, as you did for the porch deck? Is the trim you are going to do around the porch also being applied to the sides of the steps? Are you getting cooler weather yet?

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Keven
    August 20, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    Hi Kristi, your framework is looking good! I just had new steps done on the back of my house with the shallow steps like yours. Each step is wrapped front and sides with pvc board and then both ends/sides of the steps are enclosed with pvc board running vertically with each board butting to the bottom of each step wrap to the bottom pvc trim board. All of the pvc boards are 3 1/2″. I used pvc post covers that slide on over the pressure treated posts and pvc caps and pvc hand rails with round black powder coated aluminum spindles. It looks stunning, better than pictures I’ve seen on the internet. Best part is no painting or staining to do ever except for the staining and maintenance of the cedar treads!

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Lyn
      August 20, 2018 at 6:38 pm

      Keven can you post a picture. Would love to see it. I’m always looking for ideas.

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        Keven
        August 20, 2018 at 8:30 pm

        I don’t mind sharing a picture of my steps at all but since this amazing site belongs to Kristi I wouldn’t do it. I would have no idea how to anyway but perhaps she could put you in touch with me via email. I would love to share a pic with Kristi also. Maybe it would give her ideas to tweak also 😉

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        Kristi
        August 21, 2018 at 8:48 am

        Here is a link to a pic of Keven’s steps and railing, and his description and sources that he sent is below.

        Pic here:

        https://www.addicted2decorating.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Kevens-outdoor-steps-and-and-railing.jpg

        Info from Keven:

        “The new back door is fiberglass with wide pvc boards framing it instead of wood brick molding.
        I have a small 3×5 landing at the top of the steps with 1 ft. past each side of the door so I can set items down to unlock the door. The framing underneath is all pressure treated wood. The posts are pressure treated and have a square pvc tube that is slid over them. Next the base trim for the bottom is then slid over the tube. The base trim sits on the decking tight and secure but slides up for ease of sanding and staining. The caps are glued on with pvc glue that comes with the caps. Rails and spindles come together in a package. Spindles are black powder coated aluminum. Before spindles are placed into the rails a rubber foam like strip (comes in the package) is inserted into the bottom rail I suppose to reduce any movement once they are installed. They are very solid and do not move. Boards for skirting and the backer board on steps are 3 1/2″ pvc boards wood grain side facing out attached with a Cortex hidden fastening system. The white plugs are invisible (no caulk over screw holes, love that). All pvc boards are left with their square edges intact and not sanded to round them because I’ve heard that sanding them opens the pvc cells and draws dirt into them unless they are going to be painted which i don’t ever intend to do. That would defeat the purpose of being maintenance free. Step treads are 12″ deep minus the thickness of the pvc backer board. Decking is cedar and has yet to be sanded and stained. All material was purchased at Lowes, Home Depot, and Menards.”

        • Reply To This Comment ↓
          Keven
          August 21, 2018 at 2:08 pm

          Hi Kristi, I’m not a man LOL! Love your blog. When I ran across it a year ago I hit pay dirt. I follow all your posts and I cant tell you how much inspiration I’ve gained from you. I love the work you’ve done on your home, various projects, and use of color. And yep I’ve copied some of your projects. I have been inspired to come out of my safety zone. Thank you for sharing with us.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Aimee Blackford
    August 20, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    You have helped me soo much from reading your blog. I have recently (2 years) become a single mom and 9 months ago moved in to a empty shell of a house. No flooring, horrid empty walls bath not sealed no shower. All walls are concrete. Since reading your blog I have done soo much and feel quite confident. Might not be major but to me it is! I’ve put curtain rails up and shelves! Hard drilling in to concrete though. Even cladded my own bathroom ready for a shower to be fitted and siliconed around my bath and sink which I would never of even thought of doing myself. Even cut 10 trees down in my garden, laid a patio and artificial grass and made the garden usable for my children. We have two big built in empty cupboards that I’m currently trying to turn in to wardrobes for us. I would never of done any of that other then hang a picture when I was married. You have gave me confidence that me as a women can do diy and well! I’ll never be able to go the lengths you do. So thank you and also Hi from uk.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Kristi
      August 21, 2018 at 10:23 pm

      I’m so excited for you and all that you’ve tackled so far, and will tackle in the future! I know you say now that you’ll never be able to go the lengths that I do, but never say never. 🙂 DIY is empowering, and if you’re anything like me, each new project will help you learn and want to flex those DIY muscles a little more the next time. Good luck!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Guerrina
    August 20, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    Loving this method! Would be a great build over my precast concrete steps!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Rachel
    August 21, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    Off topic, but I was wondering…did your haint blue porch ceiling succeed in keeping the bugs away?

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Kristi
      August 21, 2018 at 10:24 pm

      So far, so good! We generally have a problem with wasps, but so far they’ve kept away from the porch ceiling.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    ronald bakker
    June 23, 2019 at 6:28 am

    get a cheap hydro pneumatic hammerdrill from say harbour freight and a few drills for it , you’ll be supprized how mush eazier it is to drill holes intoo concrete , it makes a lot less noise too compared to the wrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeh of a normal drill just sounds like hammering on a stone realy fast
    you just let the weight of the drill drive the drill in
    think i payed 70 bucks for it and the thing has been verry usefull to me (i live in a solid concrete apartment so even hanging a picture frame involves getting the drill out )

    not for solid posts but for post made like a box : a good trick i seen to set posts for staircase banners and the sorts is to set the posts over a long threaded rod mounted in a support beam in the floor and tighten it down inside the top of the post before putting a cap over it , this makes the post REALY solid as you can hang of them and they wont fall over solid

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