Repair Concrete Steps
Bernie Duggan - Bradford, PA

Hardwarian Bernie Duggan

Horns True Value Hardware

Bradford, PA

Repair Concrete Steps

Level: Experienced

Your porch's concrete steps take a lot of abuse from foot traffic, the elements and the passing of time. Eventually, the concrete can crack, crumble or fall apart, becoming a tripping or slipping hazard.

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  • Assess and Prepare

    hammer

    Carefully examine the structural shape your steps are in. Depending on what kind of damage there is, you may have to do a few different types of repair. In most cases, any damage you can see goes deeper than the surface. First and foremost, you'll need to prepare the surface of the steps. Use a hammer and mason's chisel to chip away at any soft or crumbling concrete in and around the cracks or crumbling areas. Chip Away Soft or Crumbling Concrete with a HammerClean the surface with a stiff brush to remove all loose particles. You can also try an air compressor or a can of compressed air to blow out particles and dust. Rinse the steps well, making sure the surface is damp but free of any standing water.

    Helpful Tips

    Use gloves, goggles and a dust mask when preparing the steps or handling cement products.

    Don't use a wire brush when cleaning off your steps. Any broken bits of wire left behind can cause rust stains on your steps.

    With the concrete prepared, now it's time to repair the damage. Depending on the shape your steps are in, you may need to do one of the following tasks. See below.

    Patch Small Cracks

     
    • Step 1: Apply Bonding Compound
       

      If you have thin hairline cracks, you can usually use a patching compound to make the repair. First apply a concrete bonding adhesive or primer/additive to create the best bond possible between the old surface and the patching material. Use an old or inexpensive paintbrush to work the liquid into the surface. Wash the brush immediately after use with soap and water or discard it.

      Helpful Tip

      The primer will stain so avoid getting it on any adjacent surfaces. Wash it off promptly if it does get on any other surfaces.

    • Step 2: Apply Patching Compound
       

      Depending on the size of the crack, use a putty knife or trowel to apply a vinyl patching compound in multiple layers as directed by the manufacturer. Mix only the amount of patching you'll need for each layer. Press it firmly to force the initial layer into all nooks and crannies and allow drying time between layers.

      You can also patch thin cracks with a cement mixture. In a small bucket, mix one part cement and three parts sand with enough water to make a stiff paste. In a separate container, mix a small amount of cement with more water — enough to make a cement "paint."

      If you can, ''paint'' the inside of the crack with the thinner cement mixture. This will act like a primer. Then take the paste mixture and pack it firmly into the crack with a putty knife or trowel. Level the mixture with a straight-edged concrete-finishing trowel. Let the patch sit undisturbed for about an hour, then go over the entire surface with a float or trowel in a circular motion, blending it well with the surrounding surface.

      Helpful Tip

      When applying the patch, make sure you cut deeply into the mixture with your trowel to remove any air pockets.

    Patch Large Cracks

     
    • Step 1: Prepare the Crack
       

      Simple patching is for simple cracks. If the cracks in your steps are deep (more than 1/8'' wide and 1/2'' deep), use foam backer rods. Sold in a variety of lengths and diameters, foam backer rods are great for supporting a patch and preventing it from sinking into any cracks as it dries and ages. Use a putty knife to force the flexible rod into the crack, placing it about 1/4'' below the surface. Now you can patch the area as you would with a small crack.

    • Step 2: Apply Patching Compund
       

      Once the foam backer rods are in place, follow Step 2 under Patching Small Cracks to apply the patching compound. After smoothing the patch with a trowel, let it set for a couple of hours. Then cover it with a sheet of plastic, weighing the plastic down at the edges with bricks or rocks. Keep the area covered for an entire week, making sure to give it a little water each day to keep it moist.

      Helpful Tips

      Concrete is one of very few building materials that actually likes water — and the more, the better. While you don't want to make repairs when it's soggy out, a gray, overcast day is just right.

      If you don't have the time to completely repair a crack in your stairs, try a stop-gap repair solution. Simply pack the crack with sand and seal it with waterproof tape. This type of repair will hold for the short term until you have enough time to properly repair the crack.

    Repair Broken and Crumbling Cement

     
    • Step 1: Build a Form
       
      power drill

      You'll have to build a "form" to hold the patch in place with wooden braces, bricks or concrete blocks. Measure the height of the step you are repairing and use a board that's as long and as tall as the damaged step. A 2" x 6" board will work in most cases. Set the board lengthwise against the vertical face of the damaged step and stack several bricks against it at each end, holding the board firmly in place. If the break is near the outer edge, you can wedge some upright boards on the sides against the outer edges of the lengthwise board. You can also hold the form together by screwing the boards together using a power drill and some wood screws. For best results, the top edge of the form should be level with the flat surface of the step.

      Helpful Tip

      Remember that your form doesn't need to be built to last long-term. Be sure it can be easily taken apart after your repair has set. To avoid disturbing the patch as you remove the form, remove any screws or braces/weights. Then carefully slide the form as you lift it away from the step.

    • Step 2: Apply the Patch
       

      Depending on the size of the break, you will need to use either sand mix or a standard concrete mix to make the repair. If the damage is less than 2" deep, the sand mix will do. For bigger breaks, use concrete. Apply a liquid concrete bonding agent to the inside of the break with a small, stiff paintbrush. Mix either the sand mix or concrete mix as directed by the manufacturer. Using a trowel, press the initial material firmly into the existing surface to assure a good bond and fill the broken area completely.

    • Step 3: Texture the Repair
       

      When the patch has set but before it has dried (time varies according to the mix and weather conditions), texture the area you repaired so it matches the surrounding area. After removing the form, use a block of wood or a float to smooth the surface. Use a swirling motion to level the patch and blend it into the surrounding area. If the surrounding area is a rougher texture, use a stiff brush or broom in a similar manner. For a smooth finish, use a steel trowel. Use an edging tool to round over the corners to match the existing shape.

    • Step 4: Slow Cure the Patch
       

      Cover the patch with plastic to slow down evaporation. This is also known as slow curing. This process prevents the patch from cracking. Dampen the surface a couple of times a day and recover with plastic for the next two to three days.

      Congratulations! Your concrete steps look like new again.

  • Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.

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