Overview: The recap solution, tools and materials
Concrete steps break up, especially in northern
climates. Water soaks into the concrete,
freezes and breaks off the outside corners.
Once that starts, the damage spreads along the front edge
of the step, eventually turning the step into a ramp. That’s
not only ugly but mighty dangerous.
The best repair for severe corner and front edge breakage—short of completely replacing the steps—is to “recap”
them. You break away the damaged areas, rebuild them
with new concrete and then coat your entire steps to give
them a uniform look. It takes about two days altogether
and costs about $225 for tools and materials.
Tools and materials
Everything you need for this project is
available at home centers.
- Segmented diamond blades for a
circular saw and grinder.
- Irrigation system tubing, valves,
elbows, tee and hose adapter. Don’t
forget the GFCI extension cord!
- Concrete mixing tub, wood float,
steel trowel and edger.
- Concrete bonding adhesive. We
used Quikrete No. 9902.
- Concrete mix. A “crack-resistant”
mix is best. We used three bags of
Quikrete No. 1006.
- Resurfacer. We used Quikrete
Bust off the old concrete step surface
Start by rigging up your circular saw and
grinder with water supply lines (Photo 1).
All it takes is a few bucks’ worth of sprinkler
system parts from any home center
to fabricate a water-cooling and dust-reduction
system. Secure the assembly to
the saw with hook-and-loop tape. Build
another spray unit (with only one nozzle)
for your angle grinder.
Set the circular saw blade to full depth
and adjust the water flow. Then don your
safety gear (goggles, hearing protection,
knee pads and leather gloves) and connect
your saw/grinder to a GFCI extension
cord. Cut a grid pattern into the
steps (Photo 2) and bust off the surface
(Photo 3). You must remove at least 3/4 in.
of concrete (3/4 in. is the minimum thickness
for a cap). But a thicker cap is stronger,
so try to remove 1-1/2 in. of concrete
Switch to the angle grinder to cut the
remaining concrete where the stair tread
meets the riser (Photo 4). Once you’ve
removed the entire stair tread, run the
circular saw lengthwise down the front
and side edges of the step. Break off the
faces with the maul and chisel.
Repair or Replace Concrete Steps?
The very best way to fix concrete steps
is to demolish the old ones and pour
new ones. No repair lasts forever. And
replacement is the only real fix for
steps that are sinking or have deep
cracks. But if your steps are level and
have only the usual damage that goes
a few inches deep, you can save yourself
a ton of money and/or labor by
patching or recapping them.
Patching works well for small, shallow
chips and cracks (less than 1/4 in.
deep). Simply fill them with premixed
concrete patching material. To patch
cracked corners, chisel them out to a
depth of at least 3/4 in. Then drill
holes and drive in concrete screws as
anchors, apply a bonding adhesive and
fill with crack-resistant concrete. The
patch won’t match the color or texture
of the steps, so you may want to
recoat all the steps with concrete
resurfacer for a uniform look.
If the cracks or voids extend over
large areas of your steps, forget about
patching. Go ahead and cap the steps
following the procedure shown here.
Pour a new concrete cap
Hose down the steps and let them dry.
Then coat the chipped-out areas with
concrete bonding adhesive.
Build a concrete form to match the
original height of the step. Locate the
front of the form about 1 in. out from the
old face of the step. If that extra inch will
cause the step to overhang the sidewalk,
place a strip of 1/2-in.-thick foam under
the form to create a gap between the step
and the sidewalk. The gap will allow the
sidewalk to rise during a freeze.
Next, mix the crack-resistant concrete
and fill the form (Photo 5). Then finish
the concrete (Photo 6). Remove the form
after 24 hours.
Wait a week and then apply the resurfacer.
Mix it in small batches. Then wet
all the steps with a water spray bottle and apply the resurfacer (Photo 7).
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Video: How to Repair Concrete Steps
Usually, it's cheaper to repair concrete steps than it is to build new ones. Rick Muscoplat, an expert at The Family Handyman, will show you how to resurface the concrete after you make the repair to make the old and new concrete match perfectly.