When it comes to noticing damage and stability issues in your property, your steps are incredibly important. Damage to steps in or around your property is a strong warning sign that you should not ignore. Cracking, sinking, and unevenness, for example, are just some of the signs that your property is experiencing instability, changes, or pressures that are affecting its structural integrity. As such, you should call a professional to investigate the underlying causes of this damage, as well as any other damage that may be tied to it.
Why Do Steps Become Unlevel?
Concrete steps in and around your home can become unlevel for a number of reasons. The root cause of this issue, however, will be either an excess of pressure or a lack of support. In Kansas City, Moberly, St. Louis, and Springfield, the soil is heavily clay-based and incredibly expansive.
This means that when you see uneven, cracked, or sinking steps around your home, the problem is most likely in the soil beneath your feet. Expansive soil is heavily reactive to moisture and can change in size and texture quite dramatically, depending on its level of saturation. Of course, there is also the possibility that the concrete steps themselves are substandard.
When expansive soils, like the soils found across Missouri, come into contact with water, they are far more likely to simply absorb it rather than letting it drain away. When you have poor drainage options on your property or there is a heavy storm, this will cause the soil to swell as it absorbs huge amounts of water. If this saturation coincides with a sudden freeze, the expansion of the soil can double in terms of volume and force.
The result, either way, is an upward pressure that can be quite formidable. In smaller or lighter structures, like driveways and stand-alone garages, this can cause a process known as foundation or frost heave. This will cause an unsightly upward bulge, as well as cracks and structural damage. The other possible outcome is that heavier structures or structures placed on uniquely marshy patches of ground will start to subside. This can impact your property, as well as any steps that are attached to it.
Just as expansive soils swell when they are saturated, they can shrink quite dramatically when they are dehydrated. In fact, they can even crack as they shrink, leaving deep chasms throughout the soil. As a result of this, any structures that rest on expansive soil can be left without support during a prolonged drought.
Over time, this will lead to structures cracking and the sections that lack support sinking into the ground in a process called settlement. This happens most frequently in larger structures because the immense weight of a home exerts too much force on unsupported foundational surfaces. In smaller structures like steps, it can lead to the structure sinking as a whole, usually in an uneven manner.
Concrete Step Defects
Concrete is one of the most commonly used construction materials in the world for good reason. It is tough, strong, and resistant to fire. However, it is far from perfect and one of the most common causes of damage within concrete structures is a defect in the mix or laying process. This has much to do with the way in which concrete can be tailored to suit certain projects. After all, concrete is simply a mix of water, sand, and cement aggregate.
If the ratio of these elements is not right (for example, if there is too much water in the mix), cement will be more prone to cosmetic damage like spalling, pitting, crazing, and even staining. Likewise, surfaces that have been disturbed after they begin to set may harden with faults in the concrete that make them more prone to cracking. Once a concrete step has cracked, of course, it is more likely to sink into loose, marshy soil or voids left behind by receding, shrinking, or eroding soil.
These three basic causes can be impacted by a huge number of factors, of course, and can lead to many different kinds of damage other than unlevel, cracked, or unstable steps. That’s why it is so important that you are aware of the warning signs of damage.
Problem Signs to Be Aware Of
When it comes to concrete damage and unlevel steps, there are a few warning signs you should not ignore. Some of these problem signs can be indicative of more general problems on your property that may eventually impact your steps. Meanwhile, others are signs that there is already damage to your concrete steps.
Unevenness or Tilting Steps
The most obvious sign of an issue, of course, is unevenness in the steps themselves. Whether it is a consistent tilt from one side of the stairs to the other, a sudden angle at one side of the steps, or certain steps separating from the rest of the stairs, this is a strong sign of structural damage.
The most common causes of this kind of damage are soil erosion and washout (which are not overly common in Missouri) and marshy, weak, or expansive soil.
Spreading cracks will still be actively changing and growing, unlike static or settled cracks. These are often the result of historic damage or the natural settling process that every structure goes through. If you see cracks in a set of steps that seem to be getting wider or deeper over time, you should call a professional quickly.
The most likely causes of this damage are pressure from expansive soil, shifts in the main structure of your property caused by weak or loose soil, and repeated freeze and thaw cycles.
Cosmetic damage to a concrete surface is not always a sign that more serious issues are at work, but if it gets progressively worse, it may weaken the steps enough to allow minor soil changes to cause damage. The most common types of cosmetic damage that you may see include scaling, spalling, pitting, flaking, and staining.
The cause of this damage is either a defect in the concrete mixing or laying process or repeated freeze-and-thaw cycles.
Gaps Under Steps or Driveway Edges
If you see gaps between the edges of your steps or other exterior concrete structures, this is a huge warning sign you should not ignore. These small gaps may not look like much, but there is no way of knowing how far under your steps, driveway, or home they go. Over time, these gaps can lead to sinking or settlement as the structure struggles to cope with the inconsistent support.
The most likely cause of these gaps is soil washout, erosion, or the shrinking of expansive soil as a result of dehydration.
Exposed Sections of Foundation
If you have noticed that the soil around your home seems to be wearing away to expose sections of your property’s foundation, you should call a professional immediately. This is a warning sign that the soil around your home is weak. If left unaddressed, this can lead to serious and widespread damage that goes far beyond unlevel steps.
This is usually caused by soil that is loose, weak, or easily washed away. It’s generally compounded by poor drainage and moisture management around the property’s foundation.
Dampness in Your Crawl Space or Basement
Even if you have no visible signs of damage inside or outside of your home, persistent dampness in your crawl space or basement with seemingly no cause is a big red flag. This can be caused by seepage of course, but also more insidious issues like foundation damage (which can start bowing walls).
More than anything, this is a symptom of foundation saturation and poor drainage.
Most of these problem signs can be connected to other issues as well, which makes it hard to catch unlevel steps before they actually begin to show visible signs of damage. However, the things that can cause unlevel steps are also connected to many other structural issues around a property. Looking for these general warning signs early is a fantastic way to nip issues in the bud before they form fully.
Dealing with Unlevel Steps
Once damage has taken root, however, it must be dealt with—the sooner the better. Dealing with unlevel steps is a fairly complex undertaking that requires you to diagnose the actual causes of damage, as well as formulate a suitable solution that will return the steps to their original state. This is why we feel it is best to have a professional involved in the process from the start.
Every repair process begins with a thorough investigation of the damage as well as the potential causes of the damage. A proper investigation will look into the root cause of the damage to your steps, as well as check for warning signs of co-occurring issues. This is important because many of the things that can cause damage to exterior structures like steps can also damage your property’s foundation over time.
Create a Repair Solution
Once a professional has a solid understanding of the situation and what has caused this damage, they will be able to formulate a solution. This repair solution will not only address the underlying causes of damage but lift and level the affected steps to make them safe and stable once more. This may sound easy, but it is quite difficult to formulate a solution that is tailored to the needs and issues tied to a particular property.
Deal with Structural Damage and Underlying Causes
Once you agree upon a course of action with your repair professional, they will start by addressing the structural damage and any underlying issues that are likely to cause it to recur at a later date. For example, if your steps are uneven because of weak or marshy soil, then the solution might be to install perimeter drainage to lower the soil saturation and deploy PolyRenewal™ foam to lift them back into place. This will repair the damage and prevent it from happening again.
Implement Cosmetic Repairs
Only when the structural damage has been repaired and stabilized can cosmetic repairs begin. Cosmetic repairs are those that focus entirely on the look of the steps in question rather than their stability. For example, cosmetic repairs may include concrete resurfacing to fill and cover cracks.
Of course, before you can do any of this, you need to find a professional you can trust to give your home the treatment it deserves.
Uneven, unstable, or damaged steps are dangerous for a number of reasons. Not only can they be a sign that more trouble is on the way, but they can also be actively harmful to you and your family (as well as anyone who visits you).
Accidents are Common on Unlevel Steps
Damaged steps that have become tilted, unstable, or uneven in any way are incredibly dangerous to anyone traversing them, particularly if they are already vulnerable. Elderly people, young children, and people who have underlying issues with mobility or depth perception, for example, will be at huge risk of falling, especially if there is no handrail.
A fall on concrete steps, even small ones, can be incredibly dangerous for anyone, but especially the elderly, who are more likely to break a bone when they fall onto a hard surface. As such, it is best to deal with unlevel or unstable concrete steps and surfaces as quickly as possible. This will save you from injury and medical costs in the long run.
Unlevel Steps Are a Warning
As well as posing a risk to your immediate health and well-being, unlevel steps are a warning sign that the structure of your property is in danger, too. After all, the most common cause of damage and sinking in concrete steps (whether they are interior or exterior) is weak or expansive soil. These issues, of course, are not localized and will impact your whole property.
Weak, loose, or marshy soil, for example, can cause concrete steps and driveways to sink overtime. As such, it is only natural that they can also impact a property’s foundation and cause them to sink or subside. As such, investigating when you see damage to concrete steps may help you catch foundation problems before they snowball.
Lifting unlevel steps can be tricky thanks to the many and varied causes and co-occurring issues that can be involved. However, there are many different potential methods, some of which are now obsolete (like mudjacking). As such, PolyRenewal is the most likely option.
PolyRenewal™ Polyurethane Foam
PolyRenewal™ polyurethane foam is a minimally invasive concrete lifting procedure that uses the same basic principle as mudjacking but utilizes it in a much more sophisticated way. This two-part foam is mixed to suit the needs of each situation and injected into the cavity between sunken concrete slabs, steps, or structures. As it expands, the foam pushes the concrete upward into its original place and holds it there.
Unlike concrete, however, PolyRenewal™ foam is incredibly lightweight, water-resistant, and quick-setting. This means it will not overburden already weak soil, it will not absorb groundwater, and it will not wash away if the ground around your property becomes saturated. Furthermore, it will reach 90% rigidity within 30 minutes, meaning your steps will be eligible for use far more quickly when you use PolyRenewal™.
The Installation Process
One of the many benefits of PolyRenewal Foam Injection is the ease and speed of its installation process. In most cases, professionals can lift and level damaged concrete within a few hours using this tool, and the results are fantastic. While the precise situation in your home will have an impact on the installation process, there are four general steps which will always be present.
Firstly, holes will be drilled into the damaged concrete to ensure that it is possible to inject the foam where it is most needed. These holes are roughly the size of a penny. Next, the holes will be fitted with injection ports to ensure that the foam does not escape to expand on top of the damaged concrete. Once the ports have been fitted the foam will be injected under the concrete to allow it to lift it back into place. Once the foam has set, the injection ports will be removed and the drill sites will be smoothed over to ensure a flawless finish.
We understand that it can be incredibly tempting to try a DIY solution to your unlevel steps, especially when the solutions are so well known and widely discussed. However, we urge you not to try using PolyRenewal™ polyurethane foam by yourself. It could go very wrong incredibly quickly.
PolyRenewal™ is a Complex and Specialist Tool
PolyRenewal™ is both a very useful tool and a deceptively complicated one. The issue is in the way that this two-part foam must be mixed. The purpose of this is to let professionals tailor the expansive force and the level of expansion from job to job. This is incredibly useful for those who have the skills and knowledge to tweak the mix properly. In the hands of someone without the proper knowledge, it can over- or under-expand very easily.
If this happens, you will have a limited time to rectify your mistake before the polyurethane foam sets as hard as cement. Once it has set, the foam will be almost impossible to remove without professional help. If the foam over-expands, it poses a real risk of causing the concrete slab to buckle upward.
Professionals Offer Better Results
One of the main benefits of hiring a professional to repair your sunken or cracked concrete steps is the fact that they will be able to use the PolyRenewal™ system effectively and without issue. They can tailor it as intended to meet the needs of your specific situation. This will ensure that you get a far better, cleaner result from the process than if you were to try to do it alone. Professionals will also be able to consider any other issues at work.
Finally, your steps look good as new once a professional leaves your property. Above all else, professional concrete lifting guarantees a certain standard of work and the promise of support should something go wrong. This is something that a DIY process just cannot give.
Concrete Lifting with Foundation Recovery Systems
Foundation Recovery Systems has been helping homeowners across Missouri lift and repair their unlevel concrete steps for decades. As foundation and concrete specialists, we have the skills and tools to properly address any issues that are contributing to or exacerbating this damage. With many years of collective experience, our team has earned its reputation for excellence time and time again.
If you have concerns about your property or steps around your property, contact us today to schedule a free inspection and repair quote. These inspections come with no obligation to book repairs through us and include a same-day written estimate for all the repair costs. This helps you make an informed choice as to what is best for your home.