Anatomy of an outdoor stairway: How to keep it in shape

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Are the wooden steps leading to your front door or deck still safe? Are they dingy and unsightly? You...

Are the wooden steps leading to your front door or deck still safe? Are they dingy and unsightly?

You can opt to have your entire outdoor staircase replaced or you can take a less costly approach to restoring the appearance and safety of your stairway by replacing only one part.

Stringers

Stringers are the heavy wood pieces on either side that make up the framework of your stairway. How do you know if they're safe and sturdy? Ask your contractor to make a careful inspection to assure they're sound (not rotted or decayed) and are securely attached to the porch or deck. The strength and integrity of the stringers are critical to safety because they support the entire structure.

Treads

The treads are the horizontal steps that lay across the frame. If the stringers check out, you can save a considerable amount of money by having your contractor simply replace your treads. Rain falling on the treads, as well as snow and ice during an occasional severe Atlanta weather, could have degraded them. They might have collected water that's soaked in, weakened them and made them unsightly and unwelcoming to your visitors.

Your contractor can simply remove the old treads, leaving everything else intact. Those replacement treads should not be single boards, however. A typical outdoor stairway uses treads using 2x12-inch wood. Rather than replacing each old tread with a single piece of lumber, your contractor will recommend using two 2x6-inch boards for each tread. The small gap between the boards allows water to drain from the treads, dramatically increasing the life expectancy of the entire structure.

Further, your contractor will recommend using pressure-treated lumber. It's treated with chemicals to prevent damage from termites, fungal decay and the weather. There's a minor downside to pressure-treated wood, however. You will need to wait three to six months to paint it. Also, you can ask your contractor to use specially treated zinc-galvanized nails to fasten the treads in place. Ordinary steel nails lose their holding strength due to the chemicals used in pressure treating the lumber.

Risers

Some stairs have risers. The risers are the vertical pieces of wood that close the space between each tread. They are not nearly as prone to weather damage because water does not accumulate on them. Your Atlanta-area contractor may recommend leaving the existing risers in place.

The choice is yours! You can replace the entire structure, just the treads and risers or simply - and at the lowest cost - replace only the treads. In each case you'll have an attractive, safe and sturdy new wooden stairway that compliments the appearance of your home.

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