The old deck stairs were not safe. There was no base footing– they simply rested on the ground. Standard pressure treated wood stringers were bolted together to achieve the necessary height, but years of frost heave and the stress of traffic had split one of the stringers. In addition, there was no railing of any kind.
There are a number of options for stair stringers available, from the prefabricated ones here to high quality composite systems.
I chose to use the Insta-Step brackets by Dek-Mate. This was not a cheap option, but at least I could reuse the brackets on the next deck. Unfortunately, this fine product appears to no longer be available.
The first step (no pun intended) was to have a solid base. I created a level pad using patio stones on a 4 to six inch bed of stone and stone dust for drainage.
Getting the pad in the right location took a bit of measuring and re-measuring. In a perfect world, the landing pad would be a nice level patio area, but my sloping yard was a little more challenging. In the end, though, I managed to get it right!
Building the stringers
The instructions included with the Insta-Step Brackets were pretty straight-forward. First I built the seven steps I needed, and measured the stringers and cut the required angles. The instructions include templates for the angles.
I attached the stringers to the deck skirt using Simpson Strong Ties. Then it was just a matter of installing the steps. Before getting to this point, it would have been a lot easier to lay out the stringers and pre-drill all the holes before assembling the stairs in the field.
Adding the railing
For the railing, I screwed 2×2 blocks to the stair treads, and screwed the balusters to the blocks. Next, I installed the top rail at the appropriate angle. I then trimmed the balusters even with the rail before installing the capping.
I messed up on the spacing of the balusters, choosing to center a baluster on each board of the treads. What I did not take into account was that there is a slight overhang on each step. Oh well! They may not be the best looking steps in the world, but they are a whole lot safer than what was there.
The gate: function over form
The final component of the deck railing is a simple gate. This is a definite case of function over form. I simply used two 2x4s for the top and bottom rails, and screwed several balusters to them. I really didn’t take much time to plan it out, and if it looks like a rush job, that’s because it is!
With the gate in place, the dog can come with us out on the deck without a leash and we don’t have to worry about her suddenly taking off after any squirrels or birds.
Lumber is a commodity and as such its price fluctuates. But for the record, I completed this project in the summer of 2005 and spent in the range of $600 CAD for materials. The Insta-Steps alone were close to $100. Pretty expensive project considering that it’s somewhat temporary, but this was a necessary upgrade.
Project completed Summer 2005
Update October 2015: Overall, the railing and steps have held up well. The patio stone base for the steps has shifted somewhat– I should have centered the blocks under each stringer. The gate, which was not well-constructed in the first place, has sagged and would be replaced if the deck wasn’t going to be demolished within the next year or two.