Ian G. from Minneapolis asks,
I need my front steps replaced that go up to my entry door. I have 3 bids from different contractors. Two say I need footings and one says I don’t. What is your recommendation? Why would I need footings under these steps, when I don’t need footings under my lawn steps? When do you recommend footings?
Bruce LaMere Answers:
Hi Ian, this is a fairly common question that many people have. A footing underneath a set of steps is a foundation made of concrete and rebar. It spreads the vertical loads from the steps. A footing must be installed below the frost depth, in other words, below the maximum depth the ground will freeze in any particular area. In the Twin Cities metro area, frost depth is 3 1/2 feet. In the case of steps a footing keeps the set of steps from settling or moving, so where the steps are poured is exactly where they stay. This is important when steps are attached to any kind of a structure that is also built on a footing/foundation. In the case of your entry steps Ian, you do not want your steps to move relative to your house at all. If they sink, you could have a large step down from your house which could become dangerous. If they pull away, a gap will form in between your steps and house which can also be dangerous. This movement can also cause the steps to degrade prematurely. This is why a footing is necessary in your case and in the case of any entry steps, and why most code ordinances require it. Years ago, footings were not required by code and many contractors did not opt to install them to save on costs. This is why many of the above described problems are common with old sets of steps.
Contrary to entry steps, a set of lawn steps do not need footings because they are not attached to anything else with footings (eg. concrete sidewalk). If a set of lawn steps move due to frost heave or otherwise, the consequences do not justify the cost of installing footings. In rare cases a footing may be recommended for lawn steps, but that is few and far between.
Overall here at LaMere we always recommend installing footings for entry steps, and in most cities the codes require it. Of course that doesn’t mean there aren’t contractors out there who are willing to violate code and install steps without footings.
In the picture below, the steps near the front door have a footing installed, whereas the lawn steps do not.