When creating a retaining wall system, stairs can be constructed in the same manner as the retaining wall itself. The techniques are a little different because of the way that walls are stacked on top of one another to increase height as opposed to riser and treads. In this example, we will use pavers with half-length lugs that fit into full-length lugs on regular size blocks. This interlocking system is known as Versa-Lok and it’s extremely popular among homeowners and contractors alike.
Measure the rise.
Measure the rise. The rise is the distance from the bottom of one step to the next, or in other words, it’s how high each step actually is.
You’ll need to measure this for both directions: up and down (or left and right). This will help you determine how many blocks you need for each flight of stairs.
Measure the run.
Measure the run. Measure from the top of the wall to the bottom, then from the top of the wall to the top of the step. Then measure from your finished height (the highest point) down to where you want your first step to be.
- If you need more than one stairway, make sure they are spaced at least 6 feet apart and that they don’t overlap with each other or another set of stairs that might be on your property.
Calculate the total rise and run for your stairway.
The rise and run are simply the vertical and horizontal distances between the top of your stairs, respectively. If you’re building a straight staircase, this will be easy to calculate—simply measure how high you want your stairs to be, then measure out how far apart they should be from each other. If you want a curved staircase because it looks better with your design or for some other reason, then there’s another step: calculating what angle your stairway needs to have in order for it to look right.
If we know our desired rise and run numbers (in feet), then we can use this formula: Rise = Run * Cosine(Sine). This formula will give us an angle (in degrees) that tells us how high our steps should be relative to each other. For example, if we want 2-foot risers and 8-foot runs with a total rise/run of 20 feet (meaning 10 feet up plus 10 feet down), then we need 4 degrees of angle because 4 * Cosine(8) = 4 * 0.78539815 = 3.99753253 ~~~
Mark your stairway.
To mark your stairway, use a tape measure to measure the rise and run of each step. You can also use a string line or laser level for this. Finally, you can use chalk lines to mark your steps if you do not have any other equipment available.
Excavate your stairway area.
Excavate your stairway area. Use a shovel to remove dirt and rocks, a pick to remove larger rocks, a tamper to level the dirt, a rake to smooth it out and remove debris.
Add base material.
Add base material. The base material should be the same height as the blocks and level with each one, so you’ll want to measure and mark a line 1/2″ from each edge of your first block and then create another line 1/2″ from that, making sure to keep it level with all sides of all blocks. Once you have your lines drawn, use a string level to ensure they’re all straight.
Once you’ve got your four lines drawn and everything is level, it’s time to add your base material! If this is going onto grass or dirt, use landscaping fabric between layers if necessary; if it’s going in concrete patios or driveways (which are much harder surfaces), skip this step.
Build a frame for your stairs.
- Build a frame for your stairs.
To create the foundation for your stairway, build a 16-inch-tall frame out of 2x4s that is about 18 inches wide and 24 inches long. The exact size is not important as long as it is at least 1 foot bigger than the height of your retaining wall blocks (i.e., if you have 12-inch blocks, make sure your frame is at least 13 inches tall). This will ensure that when you place them in the ground they will be able to hold up their own weight while also supporting the weight of people walking on them later on down the road!
Lay pavers behind each riser.
Lay pavers behind each riser.
Next, fill in the area between each block with sand and a smooth layer of pavers. Leave about ½-inch between each block for paver sand filler. As you go up the stairway, fill in gaps with sand as needed.
Add riser blocks to each step, leaving about ½-inch between each block for paver sand filler.
- Add riser blocks to each step, leaving about ½-inch between each block for paver sand filler.
- Fill joints between the blocks with sand (the same kind used in concrete) mixed with a little water until it is the consistency of peanut butter.
Fill in with pavers as you go up the stairway, filling in gaps with sand as you go.
Fill in with pavers as you go up the stairway, filling in gaps with sand as you go. This will ensure that your pathway is flush with each step and not uneven or raised.
Building stairs with retaining wall blocks is not hard to do and is definitely worth it!
Building stairs with retaining wall blocks is not hard to do and is definitely worth it! Stairways are a great way to add value, functionality, beauty and safety to your home.
There are many reasons why you might want stairs in your home:
- To make it easier for family members who use mobility scooters or other equipment that requires more space than an elevator.
- To allow access to a balcony or patio on the second floor of your home.
- To provide better access for anyone who has trouble walking up steps like those with arthritis or knee problems.
And that’s it: your easy-peasy guide to building stairs with retaining wall blocks. You can get going on your new staircase right away by ordering some of our DIY blocks or getting in touch with us for a free estimate. Good luck and happy building.