There’s nothing more frightening than going up or down your concrete steps and feeling them wobble. Uneven, unstable concrete steps are a safety hazard that should be handled as quickly as possible. Not only is it against the city code, but there is an increased chance of injury for you or your loved ones. Over a million accidents occur nationwide from falling down stairs every year.
The Solution to Uneven Concrete Steps
Every structure eventually sinks and settles because every structure is built on soil. No matter how dense and tough, the soil underneath a structure is always moving, so the concrete it supports will too. This is especially true for concrete, which cracks and allows moisture to seep through and reach the soil underneath. When this happens, the eroded soil leaves gaps below the concrete, causing them to settle.
In order to solve this problem, the steps need to be repaired with a lifting solution. Concrete lifting involves filling the gap underneath the steps with a material that is capable of lifting the steps until they are even again. Concrete lifting is a solution available to you from your local experts, and it’s a solution you definitely want to look into at the first sign of concrete step settling.
The concrete steps that give you easy access to your home are small, but important parts of your household. When other concrete structures crack or settle, you might not notice a difference in functionality. However, the same can’t be said for concrete stairs. Sunken concrete steps are an immediate safety hazard because even the slightest horizontal tilt greatly impacts the functionality of the structure.
As a homeowner, you shouldn’t fear going up and down your own steps. Repairing them should be your number one priority to avoid injuring either yourself or your loved one. But how does one go about repairing concrete steps?
Utilizing polyurethane injections is the modern solution to lopsided concrete. But what is polyurethane foam? Polyurethane is a polymer held together by a plastic-like adhesive known as urethane. Polyurethane foam is expansive, flexible, and a lot lighter than the cement slurry used in mud jacking, which is another concrete lifting method. . Closed-cell polyurethane is used for concrete lifting, which is firmer than the open-cell polyurethane used to make sponges.
Expert installers will drill various holes in the settled concrete steps. They will then inject the polyurethane foam through the holes until there is enough to completely fill the gap and lift the steps. The polyurethane is left to cure for 15 to 30 minutes, and then the drilled holes are patched up, leaving your steps looking untampered and like-new.
While polyurethane foam is used in this method, cement is used in mud jacking. The cement is pumped underneath the concrete steps and the pressure this causes is used to lift the structure back into place. This method is known to cause problems for various reasons, which is why polyurethane foam is considered to be a more reliable material.
Polyurethane injections are a more streamlined method of concrete lifting, so the time it takes to complete the work is a lot less than with mud jacking. You can use the steps as normal within 15 minutes to an hour after the job is done. Not only that but any extra installations you would like to do on the stairs, such as rails, can be done hours after completion.
Cement takes 24 to 48 hours to cure, so waiting that long to use your steps can be incredibly inconvenient.
Not only are polyurethane injections faster than mud jacking; they are also a more effective method. Polyurethane foam is expansive, so as it fills the gap under the steps, it extends and reaches every single part of the gap. This leaves the steps completely supported, so the chances of future settling are exceedingly low. With the cement used in mud jacking, not only is blowout a risk due to the pressure used to pump the slurry in, but given the roughness of the material, the cement isn’t able to fill in the gap completely.
Polyurethane foam is also a lot lighter than cement, so it doesn’t compact the soil further. Not to mention, closed-cell polyurethane is water-resistant, so the soil underneath experiences minimal swelling and shrinking once the concrete steps are lifted.
The holes drilled for this process are a whole lot smaller, so the concrete steps look pristine once everything is finished. It’s a less invasive, quicker, more efficient process that solves all the issues mud jacking causes.
Should I Fix Uneven Concrete Steps Myself?
Construction does not follow the same rules everywhere. The climate and seismic activity of an area determine the kind of soil around your foundation. Most materials used for structures are specially chosen to fit the area. DIY methods usually ignore these rules and try to find a quick solution for everyone, but this can be immensely detrimental to your home’s construction.
Many popular DIY concrete lifting solutions suggest using a mix of mud, gravel, and sand to fill the gap between the concrete and the soil. These materials make poor foundations, especially when they are not compacted before filling the gap.
An inadequate foundation will only lead to future soil erosion, which will cause the steps to settle once more. Because of the tremors North Carolina experiences on a monthly basis, loose foundations such as sand and gravel are not a good replacement for fillers used by expert contractors.
There are also many things you have to worry about when repairing concrete steps yourself, such as trying to find a way to lift the heavy structure and being careful not to crack or break it. For a homeowner that is already stressed about having settling steps, the repair process can be even more of a headache. Allowing professionals to do the hard work for you will undoubtedly give you more peace of mind.
Who Should I Call for Concrete Step Repair?
As great as polyurethane injections sound, not a lot of companies offer them for residential repairs. Concrete lifting with polyurethane foam has been around for a while, but there aren’t many repair professionals that have switched to this newer method. Many of those who have will only reserve this type of lifting for corporate clients.
The good news is concrete step lifting typically requires a very small section to be filled. It’s a worthwhile investment given how refined it is and how it protects your soil from further shrinking.
Just how bad can settling get when it comes to concrete steps? Things like driveway and garage floor settling are often overlooked because there is no immediate change in the pavement’s overall functionality. The same can’t be said for stairs. The slightest tilting can make you lose your balance, so as soon as you spot the following problem signs, you’ll want to call an expert for help.
If there is settling, there is an inherent problem with the concrete’s foundation. When the soil begins shifting and shrinking, the first thing you’ll notice is that your steps will begin to wobble slightly if you put weight on one side. That’ll be the side that has the most severe shrinkage.
As time goes on, the wobbling will get worse until you won’t be able to securely use the steps without fear of falling. Eventually, the concrete will settle. What you want to avoid is having someone be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and fully settle the steps mid-way through using them. The abrupt settling can cause a serious injury.
If wobbling is an indicator you can feel, tilting is one you can see. Most homeowners feel the difference in their settling steps before they see it, but if you notice any kind of tilting, your steps are very likely settling. Lopsided steps are uncomfortable to use, so it might not be long before you try to fix them.
Tilting can also be caused by poorly constructed steps, so the issue might not be related to concrete lifting at all. The good news is, reputable repair professionals will offer free inspections, so you can get an expert opinion on what’s going without worrying about it too much.
When concrete settles, cracks, deteriorates, and splits, there are many possible causes. The circumstances leading up to concrete settling all play a role that affects the severity of the settling. The freeze-thaw effect is something that impacts concrete as much as soil shrinkage does, but the two incidents shouldn’t get confused.
- Understanding the Freeze-Thaw Effect
When rain falls on concrete, it can freeze over and turn into ice. When water freezes, it expands by about 9%. The expanding water creates pressure on the concrete’s pores, and if the pressure exceeds the concrete’s tension limits, it will break apart the concrete. This is how some concrete surfaces manage to deteriorate over time despite not settling. This, of course, happens in places where temperatures reach freezing levels.
Over time, the freeze-thaw effect does influence settling in the sense that, upon weakening the concrete and eroding the surface, the concrete gives way faster when it settles. However, it does not cause settling—at least, not as much as soil shrinkage does.
- How Is It Different from Soil Shrinkage?
Water that reaches the soil underneath concrete can freeze over and affect the soil. However, it doesn’t affect the soil the same way soil shrinkage does. When the water freezes and expands, it pushes the soil particles outward and separates them, similarly to how moisture makes soil swell up.
When the ice melts and dries up, shrinkage occurs. However, this process is no longer considered freeze-thaw. The moisture may have been ice at one point, but shrinkage does not take place when ice is involved, only moisture.
Every kind of soil is able to cause settling. There are various types of soils that are used as foundations for buildings, both commercial and residential. Each has their own positive and negative characteristics. The sort of soil that is utilized for construction is usually picked by the site manager, not the owner of the property. The site manager chooses which kind of soil based on their own preference, the kind of property that’s constructed, and what the climate is like in the area they are working in.
Soil that is made of 10% or more clay is the kind of soil most likely to cause settling. That said, other kinds of soil either shrink and compact or erode in their own way based on their structural integrity. North Carolina’s state soil is called Cecil soil. The topsoil is loam but the rest is clay, which makes for a great combination of soil types for foundations. However, these two kinds of soils are able to cause settling despite their amazing properties.
- Clay Soils and Loam
The more clay present in the soil, the more it’s able to expand once it comes in contact with moisture. Just as it’s able to swell exponentially when wet, it’s also able to experience extreme levels of shrinkage once its moisture content dries up. You might be wondering why builders still use clay soils, given their swell-shrink capacity, but they do have their advantages. Clay soils stick together very well, and they are easier to compact, so they become proper, solid foundations quicker than other kinds of soils.
As for loam, it’s considered the best kind of soil to use as a foundation. It’s a mixture of different kinds of soils, and it has just the right amount of clay to compact easily without the extreme swell-shrink capacity of clay-rich soils. This is why Cecil soil works so well as a foundation: A low-expansion topsoil that rests atop dense clay soil is a pair that holds up for years to come. That said, loam still has clay in it, so shrinkage is still going to occur.
- Sand and Gravel
Sand and gravel might seem like the solution to soil shrinkage, but even these kinds of foundations have their faults. Sand has no clay content, so it does not compact well. Because of this, it’s loose and shifty. North Carolina may not suffer major earthquakes, but the earth is constantly trembling. There can be an average of 10 small earthquakes in a single month, and this affects all foundations, especially the ones that are a bit looser.
Something very similar occurs if the foundation is made of gravel. The particles are too large, so water streams directly through it all. When the water evaporates, the gravel will stay in place, but there’s still a lot of room left over for shifting. Sand and gravel are not used as foundations in areas that experience frequent, strong earthquakes precisely for this reason. Settling caused by shrinkage can be fixed with polyurethane injections, but a shifty concrete can bring an entire building down.
Call Tar Heel Basement Systems if You Have Uneven Concrete Steps
Tar Heel Basement Systems serves homeowners in Raleigh and Winston-Salem, NC. Since 2003, we’ve been providing homeowners with the best home repair solutions on the market. We utilize PolyRenewal™ for concrete lifting jobs. We want what’s best for every one of our customers, so we only offer the best. Our experts are always here for you, so don’t hesitate to contact us for a free inspection and repair quote if your property is having issues with uneven concrete steps.
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