If you find signs of cracking and sinking in any concrete surface in or around your home, this is frustrating and worrying. However, that is doubly the case when the surface in question is a set of stairs. As well as being unpleasant to look at, unlevel steps are genuinely dangerous to your safety and well-being. They pose a tripping hazard and can lead to accidents that result in serious injuries.
As such, it makes sense to deal with unlevel steps and their underlying causes as soon as possible. That’s where the professionals at Complete Basement Systems come in. For Colorado Springs and Denver, CO, homeowners, we can deal with even the most complex issues found in your concrete structures.
Unlevel Steps Are A Warning
Uneven concrete steps, either inside or outside of your home, may not seem like a huge problem. However, they are worth investigating. That’s because sinking or damaged concrete in or around a home is generally a sign of underlying issues within your property—or more often, the soil beneath your property. The most common underlying causes for sunken concrete steps and slabs are:
There are some benign causes for your steps growing unlevel. One of these is the natural settling process that a house goes through after construction. If this is the cause of the unevenness, the stairs will stop shifting at a certain point and stabilize. Even steps that have been affected by settling will be stable in their uneven position. This makes them relatively easy to fix.
When designing your home, the architect should have taken all factors into consideration, including the weight of the property, the climate of the area, and the type of soil the home is built upon. If they miscalculate any of these, or failed to account for certain things, this will show in your home. Unlevel steps are just one of many ways these issues could show themselves.
Dampness and moisture are notoriously destructive within a home. If your basement or crawl space regularly floods, this will contribute to a generally higher level of humidity, mold, mildew, and even issues like wood rot. This may cause steps in your property to become uneven in a number of ways. Interior staircases may be affected by damage to the floors and wooden joists that support them, for example, while exterior or basement stairs are more likely to be affected by foundation issues.
If the soil underneath a property is not capable of standing up to the weight being placed upon it, the foundation of that property is likely to become damaged or otherwise start to shift. When this happens, the whole structure of the home is affected. Uneven flooring or stairs are just a few of the potential side effects.
These are just some of the underlying problems that can lead to unlevel stairs in your home, but they are the most common. In most cases, unlevel steps are a late warning sign. Each of these problems can cause a huge range of co-occurring issues that is incredibly destructive. As such, it pays to spot the signs early on.
Unlevel Steps: Recognizing Problem Signs
There will be signs of damage present long before your stairs begin to sink drastically. If you learn to spot these red flags quickly and you respond without hesitation, you should be able to rectify the damage and its underlying cause with relative ease.
Spreading cracks are the first sign that any part of your home is facing disproportionate pressure or becoming damaged from a lack of support. In a collection of steps, this can take the form of vertical, horizontal, or even diagonal cracks. If you have brick or stone, stair-step cracks are likely to form in the mortar first, but poured concrete steps may simply crack in the middle.
If there is water pooling around steps in your property, this is a strong warning sign that they have become damaged in some way. The location and amount of water is something you should take a note of and mention to any structural repair specialist that you contact.
Gaps Between Steps
If you notice gaps starting to form between individual steps, this is a sign that they’re beginning to sink. It could even be a sign that wider foundation problems are to blame for your uneven steps.
You should also look to see if the gap is consistent in width. If it is angled, the steps are likely sinking more quickly at one side.
Finally, visible unevenness or damage is the strongest sign that your property’s steps have begun to shift. The direction of the slope can tell you a lot about what kind of damage is at work. If the steps are sinking evenly, for example, it could be settlement that’s affecting the concrete slabs under the stairs. If they are being pushed forward, however, it is more likely that the walls adjacent to them are bowing.
If you see a few of these signs around your home, you should call a professional immediately to assess your steps and recommend solutions. They will ensure there are no ongoing issues to deal with before they consider how to lift the steps back into place.
Basement Steps Are Slightly Different
If you have a basement with an external access point, there are a few things that you should be aware of. First and foremost, basement steps used to access the exterior of your property are slightly different than other steps around your home. This is because of the way basement hatchways are constructed. Basement hatchways are made up of concrete shells that are constructed separately from the main property. These shells are mounted using metal bolts that are drilled through the concrete foundation.
In older homes, the seam between the hatchway and the main property might not have been sealed. This makes the home’s basement vulnerable to flooding and dampness. Even when this seam is properly filled, however, it may cause a unique set of issues for a property. Furthermore, the hatchway itself can suffer from issues that are not necessarily present. Steps that become unlevel in this case are more likely to be incredibly wet or even see localized flooding.
However, when the issue is being caused by damage to your basement hatchway, it is also less likely to have a widespread effect on the rest of your home. This means that issues like this can often be easier and cheaper to repair, though that does depend on your specific situation.
Next Steps: What You Can Do About Your Uneven Stairs
If you’ve noticed unlevel steps in your home, it is time to think about your repair options. Even mild damage can escalate quickly, after all. Taking these simple measures to nip the issue in the bud will go a long way toward making the repair process as quick and easy as possible.
If you have noticed a tilt, slant, or unevenness in the steps around your home, there are many issues that could be contributing to this damage. In most cases, the uneven stairs are caused by wider structural issues in your home. However, if the steps are outside, it could be an issue with soil saturation.
If steps inside your home have begun to sink or tilt, it is possible that foundation damage is the underlying cause. Foundation settlement, for example, could lead to sections of your foundation sinking into the ground, leaving the floor above without support. This eventually causes the floor to sag. If you have stairs on top of these sections of flooring, they will be affected.
Alternatively, subsidence in your property (which causes the whole property to sink) will affect your steps too. If your steps are tilting consistently to one side, you should consider whether the floor around them is also sitting at a slight angle. If the entire area seems to be unlevel, you may well be dealing with foundation subsidence.
If the steps in question are outside of your home, the problem is likely caused by the soil beneath them. Extremely expansive soils, like clay and peat, may grow unstable. They shrink and grow depending upon their moisture content. This can do serious damage to light structures like stairs and small garages.
Stairs that are being affected by expansive soils can sink or bulge; it simply depends on whether the damage was done as the soil expanded or shrank. This is not an easy issue to fix, unfortunately, so you should consult a professional. If you lift and re-lay the steps, the issue is likely to reoccur.
Fixing unlevel steps can be a surprisingly difficult task. This is because many homeowners focus on the cosmetic damage rather than dealing with the underlying causes, which can be fairly complex. A professional, however, will make quick work of most jobs.
Deal with the Cause
First and foremost, you will need to hire an expert to assess the damage and diagnose the underlying cause. Only by dealing with the issues that first caused the steps to become uneven will you be able to provide a long-term solution. A professional will consider all of the red flags and warning signs before diagnosing the cause(s) of your unlevel steps.
Once the contributing factors have been identified, you can begin the process of addressing them. This will look vastly different, depending on the issues at work. If the main issue is oversaturated soil, for example, installing more drainage will be key. Meanwhile, a bowing wall will need to be stabilized with either beams or wall anchors.
Level the Steps
Once the underlying causes have been addressed, it will be possible to start repairing the cosmetic damage and leveling the uneven steps. The process of repair will depend largely on how they have deviated from their original position. If they have heaved upward, for example, it may be necessary to remove and reset them in their desired place.
If they have started to sink at one or both sides, however, it is far more likely that a professional will recommend PolyRenewal™ as a minimally invasive and durable solution. PolyRenewal™ is polyurethane foam that is injected below sunken concrete surfaces to safely lift them back into place. Unlike mud-jacking, this process is fairly quick. The foam will reach 90% hardness within hours (sometimes less).
In short, no. There are simply too many possible factors that could be at work for an amateur, even a skilled one, to tackle. This is partly because of skill and experience, but also because of the potential need for specialist tools and products.
You May Not Have All You Need
Depending on the underlying causes of your unlevel steps, you could end up finding an issue that you do not have the tools, let alone the experience, to deal with. Foundation problems are a perfect example of how something as simple as a few sunken steps can turn out to be a warning sign of a much more serious issue.
Likewise, if your steps are shifting to the side and bowing walls turn out to be the cause, it is unlikely that you will have the tools to properly install a wall brace or wall anchor. In these cases, it is far better to hire a professional with the appropriate tools. In some cases, it could even be cheaper. After all, basement and foundation specialists have the tools and the know-how already.
You Could Do More Harm Than Good
If you try to go it alone, many things could go badly. First and foremost, there is the issue of diagnosing the cause. If you identify only one contributing factor or incorrectly diagnose the cause, you will already be starting on the wrong foot. No matter how skillfully you apply a solution, it will only help if it is addressing the correct issue.
Even if you correctly identify an issue and solution, if you do not address all underlying causes, you will see the problem reoccur. Worse still, you could allow a more serious issue (like foundation damage) to grow unseen. This could result in serious damage to your home. Finally, if you try to fix a structural issue alone, you could very well cause injury to yourself or anyone helping you. With all of this in mind, it is far better to leave these kinds of repairs to those who know what they are doing and have the right tools for the job.
Call Complete Basement Systems for Quality Concrete Lifting
Have you noticed signs of damage in your home? Do you want to investigate and address the issue before it snowballs? Our inspector will assess your home and take your feedback into account before giving you a written quote that details their suggested repairs and all associated costs.
Complete Basement Systems has been one of the best foundation and concrete repair companies since 1999. Our team is dedicated, educated, and passionate about giving our clients the best possible result at every turn. This is why offer free inspection appointments to any homeowner who is concerned about damage in their property. Contact us today to learn more.
Perform a Personal Investigation
Once you notice that steps around your home are becoming uneven, you should take the time to look for other warning signs. These can give you an idea of what exactly is going on. By identifying and taking note of other damage, you can help a professional zero in on the most at-risk zones immediately. When investigating damage, look for things like:
- Spreading cracks
- Rotting wood
- Strong, musty odors
- Crumbling or damaged drywall
- Floor and wall gaps
- Mold and mildew
- Fluctuating temperatures
- Increased energy bills
- Uneven floors
Not all of these warning signs are red flags for damage to a staircase, but they will help a professional isolate co-occurring issues and identify the underlying causes that are leading to damage as a whole. Once you have taken a note of all the warning signs you see in your home, you should call a repair specialist. We know it can be tempting to try to fix the issue alone, but the complexity of problems like this makes it best to leave them to experts with the skills, tools, and experience to deal with it.
Call a Professional
A foundation repair specialist is the best person to assess and repair this kind of damage. After all, many contributing factors may be at work. As well as making sure your foundation is healthy and strong, they can investigate the rest of your property’s structure to figure out just what is causing your unlevel steps.
Once they have discovered the extent of the damage, they can formulate a tailored plan that effectively addresses all of the issues. This could mean foundation repairs, wall anchors, wall braces, and even general waterproofing before they level the stairs. The method of stair leveling, of course, depends on the ways in which the steps have become uneven. If they need to be lifted, it is likely that a professional will suggest PolyRenewal™ polyurethane injection as a lightweight and sturdy solution.
There are many benefits to calling a professional, but the most pressing are the guarantees of quality and efficiency. Not only will a professional make sure the real issues at work in your home are addressed, they will use the best products and give you a guaranteed standard of work. This means you’re more likely to get a permanent solution the first time the problem is addressed. If you take the DIY route, you are not guaranteed a quality result. You may also cause more damage to your home by undertaking inappropriate repairs.
As such, it is really best to let an expert handle any structural repairs your home may need.