How to Build Stone Steps with Modular Pavers


For many of us, our yards are a place of quiet refuge away from the noise of the outside world. Yet, achieving that level of beauty and tranquility can be challenging given the often-costly expense of landscape materials and yard work. Fortunately, there are a number of simple DIY projects you can use to elevate the look of your backyard for considerably less. At Pioneer Landscape Centers we are here to make your backyard, not break your bank.

When it comes to creating decks, pathways, and steps, modular pavers are your new best friend! These highly versatile and cost-effective tools give landscaping laymen the opportunity to (quite literally) elevate their outdoor spaces.

Paths and decks are often straight forward as long as you properly calculate necessary materials and ensure that your foundation is level before you begin. Creating steps, however, can be a bit more of a challenge. Rest assured, adding different elevations to your yard, gives your house unique visual interest and the illusion of expanded space.

Making the Most of Your New Steps

The key to a beautiful set of steps in your yard is attention to detail. Careful measuring and choosing placement will go a long way towards making this project a success. In the meantime, why not make the most of this opportunity by entering the Go Pro with Pioneer Sweepstakes? Pioneer is devoted to providing exceptional landscaping products and wants to give you the chance to win even more. The average set of steps cost around $500 to install. That purchase with Pioneer would give you five entries into oursweepstakes, offering up to $85,000 in prizes, so have your cake and eat it too with a gorgeous new set of steps and an even sweeter prize!

Collect the following landscaping tools before you begin:

  1. Garden hose
  2. Can of spray paint
  3. At least three wooden stakes
  4. Spool of thick, outdoor quality string
  5. A level
  6. Measuring tape
  7. Strong shovel
  8. A trowel
  9. Sand
  10. Portland Cement
  11. Retaining wall bricks
  12. Step Units
  13. Decorative slate or other decorative steps
  14. Fine grain gravel
  15. Wheelbarrow
  16. 3 lb. hammer
  17. Block of wood
  18. Cut-off saw

Don’t Forget the Planning Phase

Unfortunately, creating beautiful, properly positioned steps will take a bit of math on your part. As with any paver project, you will want to first make sure you’ve accrued the appropriate materials. The Family Handyman suggests you begin by using spray paint to sketch out the path from the bottom of your steps to the top. You can even use a garden hose to help you visualize different angles and curves before you commit to the paint. Make sure the full width of the steps are between thirty-five and forty inches to allow for two people to use the steps without discomfort or awkwardness.

Here is where the real math starts. Remember, you can easily conquer this project. Just pay attention to detail and make sure you do your homework first. SF Gate’s Home Guide explains that measuring the slope of the hill from the highest-point of your steps to the lowest-point can actually be fairly easy.

  1. Start by placing a stake in the ground at the highest point your steps will reach. Then gradually place stakes at equal intervals all the way down the path of your steps. It is best to have at least three different points of measurement.
  2. Tie a length of string tightly at the bottom of the highest stake you have placed. Extend this string to the each of the stakes in turn. Make sure they are secure but can be nudged up and down the stake for the purpose of leveling.
  3. Use a level to make sure that the position of the string on each of the consecutive stakes is level with the string at the stake at the highest point of your steps.
  4. Get ready to measure. First, measure the length of the string from the first stake to the last stake. Then measure the distance from the ground at the lowest stake to the string. It is absolutely vital that the string at the lowest stake is still level with the string at the highest stake when you take this measurement.
  5. The length of the string from the highest stake to the lowest stake is known as the “run;” whereas, the measurement from the ground to the string at the bottom stake is known as the “rise.” You will need to divide the rise by the run to calculate the slope of the hill you are about to build your steps into. For example: If the length of the string between your first and final stakes is 6 feet (72 inches) and the string on the lowest stake is tied 16 inches above the ground, then we will divide 16 by 72 giving us a slope of 22%. These calculations will help a salesperson calculate the total number of blocks you will need.

You will also use the “rise” and the slope to figure out how many levels your steps will require. Using our previous example, we would divide our rise of 16 inches by the height of the modular paving stones we wish to use. Belgard’s Catalina Slate is 2 3/8 inches high. The average step height used in the U.S. is 7.5 inches, so we would want to use a Bogert Step Unit to achieve the desired height of our steps.

Together, the slate and step unit give us an approximate height of 8 3/8 inches, so we will want to set the base of our step unit about 3/8ths of an inch down into our substrate to achieve a close to average step height that is divisible by our rise of 16 inches. Therefore, thanks to our math, we know that we will have two step elevations, each 8 inches high.

Carving Out Your Steps

You will need to start by installing small retaining walls. They can sometimes be bypassed in very small projects, but are absolutely necessary for larger projects. These walls will prevent rainfall from undermining your steps, essentially sealing them off from interior weather damage and extending the longevity of your hard work.

To begin the excavation, carve out the area where your steps will go. You’ll want to dig down about 12 inches deeper than the lowest point on the set of steps you’re building to provide space for the required substrate. Make sure you provide enough width in your excavation for a retaining wall on either side as well as your steps. Measure the widths of all your blocks carefully to ensure a good fit.

If you go a little too big, you can always backfill the leftover space behind the retaining walls. Going too small will be nearly impossible to fix without starting over. You will, undoubtedly, have to remove a lot of soil, so have a wheelbarrow nearby. Shovel all excess soil directly into the wheelbarrow, so you can easily move the soil to a desired point.

Once you’ve excavated the necessary space, put down a layer of landscape fabric, then lay down 6 inches of fine grain gravel and pack it down until it is level. At this point, you could start laying your stone, but Hunker suggests mixing two parts sand and one part Portland cement. You can put down a ¼ inch layer of this paste with a trowel to create a flat, level surface. Next, lay down a layer of 6 inch blocks, which will form the base below ground level. At the minimum, the Family Handyman suggests keeping 4 inches of the block underground for stability.

Building the Retaining Walls and Steps

At this point, you can start laying the first visible layer of your steps. Use your level to make sure each layer goes down smoothly. You can place a block of wood on top of the block to protect it and gently apply a hammer to fix any discrepancies in the level of your blocks. It is vital to make sure that the first course, in particular, is perfectly level because itwill set the foundation for everything else.

After the initial layout of both your retaining walls and your steps, you’ll want to begin staggering the joints of your blocks. You can use a cut-off saw to trim the edges of your blocks, so they fit along the edges. Follow all safety guidelines while using powerful equipment.

Welcome to the Landscaping Family

Remember, the devil is in the details. Take it one step at a time with your planning and you’ll be taking one step at a time in your new yard in no time! Contact Pioneer Landscape Centers at (866) 525-4079 for more information about Belgard’s stone pavers, Borgert’s slabs, and Pioneer’s world-class landscape supply inventory.