Building Steps: Your Guide

Honeycomb Granite Step Pavers

There’s really nothing particularly difficult about building steps when talking about the technical aspects.

If you have basic skills in carpentry, it’ll be quite easy to cut the materials, assemble them, and form your stairs. But some DIY enthusiasts will agree that steps are arguably the most challenging projects one can think to undertake.

You see, steps need to comply with strict building codes to ensure utmost safety and comfort in climbing, as well as eliminate the risk of it being a tripping hazard. Stairs that are too tall make climbing difficult while creating steps that are shallow will make them not only uncomfortable but dangerous as well. For these reasons, building steps really requires careful calculations and the correct layout, with very little room for error.

Be sure to consult with your building codes office regarding local guidelines. That will start you off on the right track.

The Basic Structure of Steps

Stairs are basically composed of three elements:


These are the sloped boards that support all the other components of the stairs. Typically cut from 2 x 12s, stringers will carry the weight of the people coming up and down the steps.


The treads form the top surface of the steps. It’s the surface that the people will step on.


Risers are installed directly under the front lip of each tread. Some staircases will have no risers installed, but that’s a mistake. Risers also serve to protect the exposed end grain of the notched stringer from harsh weather conditions. It’ll prevent the stringers to crack, break, or split much sooner.

To Calculate the Rise and Run

This step involves finding the total vertical height the steps will have to cover.

Use a straight board, lay it on the top surface you want to build your stairs from. Measure down to the location of the landing. As an example, let’s say the total rise is 80 inches. Then, calculate the height or rise of each step. Divide 80 by 7, which is the typical rise of a step. That gives you 11.43 inches of total rise. Round it down to get the number of steps, and that’s 11. The actual height of each rise should then be 7.27 inches (80 divided by 11).

Lay a straight board on top of the deck, extend it from the edge, then measure down to the landing location. Let’s say the total rise is 57 in. The next job is to find the rise of each step. Divide 57 by 7 in. (the typical rise per step) to get 8.14. Round down to get the steps: eight. To then determine the actual rise, divide the 57 in. by the eight steps to get 7 1/8 in. per step.

The total run is how much horizontal distance the steps will cover as it climbs to the top. To get the total run, just multiply the number of steps by the run. The optimum run of each step should not be less than 10 inches. This will be enough to accommodate two 2 x 6 treads. So, 11 steps multiplied by 10 is 110, the total run in inches.

There’s a catch, though. If you’re working on a steeper rise, it would be practical to create one or more landings in between. A staircase can have no more than 14 steps before inserting another landing. Only because that’s the most you can cut, in a stringer made, from a 16 foot long 2 x 12. Some contractors prefer adding a landing after 7 or 8 risers, though.

Here at APC, we highly recommend using the Freestone Block to building steps. They glisten in the light adding a subtle elegance to your home. This unique product is available in a range of colours and has two surface finishes to choose from; smooth and exposed aggregate.

The most suitable method to build the Freestone ECO wall is always selected with consideration to the overall wall height, soil conditions and any loads that impact on the retaining wall such as vehicle traffic, fences or steep slopes.

To Backfill the Ground Below the Steps

Instead of Stringers present in wooden steps, constructing steps from blocks will only require you to backfill the ground that will serve as the base of your steps. You can either fill it with a 300mm wide blue metal drainage layer or with a no-fines concrete drainage layer. You can also reinforce the base with concrete, filled on a concrete footing.

The figures below detail the technicalities involved with using Freestone Block in constructing steps for your outdoor areas.

Just remember that ideally, staircases should be wide enough to make it comfortable. Contractors seldom build staircases that are less than 4 ft. wide.

Building Steps- Your Guide (with Detailed Diagrams)

If you can’t afford the time it takes to build your steps, why don’t you find a tradie instead? APC can put you in touch with a Tradie. Our preferred tradies operate independently of APC. We do our best to match a local tradie to your project, however you must conduct your own due diligence on these businesses. Please ensure they are currently licensed and insured for the work they are undertaking.