What Stone Is Best For Steps

Paul West/ Backyard Construction, Backyard Ornamental

Choosing the right stone for steps can make all the difference in creating an attractive, durable, and functional outdoor space. With many types of natural and engineered stones to pick from, it’s important to understand the factors that impact performance and aesthetics when selecting materials for steps. In this article, we’ll explore popular stones for steps, considerations for indoor vs. outdoor settings, and how elements like climate, slope, and foot traffic affect options. Let’s dive in to determine what stone is truly best for steps in different contexts.

Key Takeaways

  • Granite and bluestone are top choices for durable, low-maintenance outdoor steps.
  • Consider factors like climate, terrain, and usage when selecting steps stone.
  • Softer sedimentary stones like limestone require more frequent sealing.
  • Proper installation practices ensure stable, long-lasting steps.
  • With regular care, natural stone steps can last for decades.

An Introduction to Stone Steps

Outdoor steps and staircases create the opportunity for stunning architectural focal points in your yard, garden or commercial landscape. Natural stone steps in particular impart a sense of permanence and timeless beauty. But aesthetics are only part of the equation. Durability and slip resistance are critical for safety and longevity. Maintenance requirements also factor into material choices.

When evaluating what stone is best for steps, start by determining whether the steps will be indoors or outdoors. Outdoor steps require more weathering resistance. Indoor steps lend themselves to a wider array of stones. Purpose is also key – steps leading to a rarely used side yard may not need the same durability as a main front walkway. Let’s explore some of the most popular stones for steps and their key characteristics.

Top Stone Options for Indoor and Outdoor Steps

Rugged Granite Steps

Granite is one of the most commonly used stones for steps, prized for strength, durability and aesthetics. Solid blocks of granite cut to size make attractive and sturdy stair treads. Granite comes in various colors and finishes – from blue-gray to pink, black, and white. Polished granite lends a glossy decorative flair. Granite’s hard composition resists weathering and foot traffic over decades. Outdoor granite steps may eventually require sealing for maximum longevity.

Natural Bluestone Stair Treads

For an earthy appeal, bluestone is a top choice. Native to the Northeast U.S., bluestone gets its name from its cool gray-blue hue. Laid without mortar, bluestone steps evoke a rustic and natural appearance. The stone can also be mortared. Bluestone works for both indoor and outdoor settings. It does require more sealing than granite. But its natural cleft finish provides traction. Bluestone steps complement gardens and woodland landscapes.

Elegant Limestone Staircase

Prized for refinement, limestone steps bring versatility with a softer, varied texture. Subtle earth tones and cream colors blend into landscaping. Limestone is dense yet easier to cut into intricate designs than bluestone or granite. It works beautifully for formal indoor staircases as well as backyard patios. Outdoors, sealing is required. Avoid porous, soft limestones in colder climates susceptible to freeze-thaw damage.

Rustic, Multicolored Sandstone

Sandstone offers an array of natural tan, red, gray and brownish tones from mineral deposits. Patterns and colors vary between quarries. Sandstone steps can replicate a timeworn look while retaining good durability. The stone works well in outdoor landscaping or casually elegant indoor settings. Drawbacks include potential for erosion and discoloration. Sealing sandstone helps limit water absorption and staining. Proper drainage is key for longevity.

Natural Cleft Slate Steps

Slate’s layered appearance and soft colors lend organic beauty. From purple-grays to greens, reds and black, slate’s range imparts distinctive personality. Its natural cleft finish provides traction for steps. Slate needs to be installed with care on stable ground as its layers can delaminate over time. Sealing is required. Slate is better suited to dry vs. wet climates. With proper installation, slate steps offer a refined yet natural garden accent.

Other Stone Options

Travertine, marble, and fieldstone also see occasional use for steps, though durability may require compromises. Travertine has an aesthetic, chisel-cut appearance but needs frequent sealing. Erosion-prone fieldstone works better accented against more durable steps. Marble offers a polished, upscale look but requires vigilance against staining and etching.

Now that we’ve surveyed some of the main types of stone steps, let’s look at key factors in choosing the optimal material.

Critical Considerations When Selecting Stone Steps

Beyond aesthetic appeal, durability, maintenance and functionality should guide stone step selection. Key factors include:

Weather Resistance

For outdoor steps, resistance to the elements is paramount. Freeze-thaw cycles, driving rain, snow, and temperature extremes deteriorate less hardy stones. Granite and bluestone have excellent durability. Limestone also fares well in milder climates. Slate and sandstone are moderately resistant when properly sealed and maintained. Match stone to your specific climate.

Slip Resistance

Steps must provide traction through finishes with sufficient texture. A cleft or flamed surface works better than polished marble or granite. Standard building codes require a 0.5 coefficient of friction for stone steps. Skipping out on slip resistance invites accidents. Opt for naturally grippy textures.

Weight-Bearing Strength

Steps support significant weight and force from daily tread. Granite, bluestone and some limestones offer the highest impact resistance. Weaker sedimentary stones like travertine require prudent material thickness and may not stand up to heavy traffic over time. Hardness and density translate into greater durability.

Size and Thickness

Step depth impacts sturdiness. Treads should have sufficient length for footing between risers. Typical tread size is around 11-13 inches deep. Riser height averages 4-7 inches. Thicker stone reduces flexing stress. Consider thickness of at least 3 inches for bluestone and sandstone, 2 inches for dense limestone and 1.5 inches for granite. Local building codes dictate specifics.

Matching Style and Setting

Select stones harmonizing with the landscape design or interior decor. Rustic cobblestones or textured slate accentuate a casual garden. Polished marble responds better to formal interiors. Granite, sandstone and bluestone span rustic to refined. Visually preview potential stones against surroundings.

Maintenance Requirements

Consider upkeep demands of softer stones like limestone or sandstone versus lower-maintenance granite. Softer stones often require frequent sealing to prevent etching, pits and discoloration. Ensure access to sealants and willingness for periodic upkeep before selecting high-maintenance surfaces.

Cost Considerations

Material and installation costs vary based on stone type, availability locally, complexity and step size. Durable granite can cost $75-$300 per step. Bluestone runs $250-$500 per step. Limestone ranges $50-$150 per step. Local quarry access reduces transportation costs. Balance aesthetics, durability and budget.

With an understanding of key factors, it’s easier to narrow suitable stone choices. Now let’s look at how slope, climate and traffic patterns also impact optimal steps stone selection.

How Slope, Climate and Foot Traffic Affect Stone Steps Selection

Subsurface terrain, regional weather, and usage intensity also govern ideal materials for steps.

Accommodating Steeper Slopes

Steps on steeper hillsides exert greater structural pressures. Mortared step installations provide more support on sharp inclines. For dry-laid steps, bluestone’s beefy 4-inch typical thickness suits slopes up to 30 degrees. Anything steeper calls for mortared steps. Granite, limestone and sandstone also work on sloped sites when adhered. Allow sizable overhang for deeper treads on inclines.

Steps for Gradual Slopes

Gentler slopes permit flexible dry-laid or mortared options like sandstone, slate and thinner limestone. However, sufficient buried footer depth and drainage are still critical. A poured concrete sub-base topped with compacted gravel aggregates can reinforce gradual slopes. Such prepared bases distribute load better across softer stones.

Regional Climate Considerations

Northern regions with substantial snow and freeze-thaw fluctuations constrain stone choice. Granite, bluestone and some limestones resist ice damage through freeze-thaw cycles. Make drainage provisions with crushed gravel to limit water pooling under steps. In warm, humid climates, porous stones like sandstone require frequent sealing. Dry climates enable broad stone selection. Match stone porosity and permeability to the environment.

Foot Traffic Frequency

Entry walkways and steps in commercial settings or busy households necessitate the toughest stones. Granite endures constant footfalls. Limestone is also durable but needs vigilant sealing and maintenance where traffic is high. For garden accent steps only occasionally used, a wider array of softer patio stones work well. Consider long-term wear and tear from use patterns.

In summary, factoring in slope, climate and usage directs suitable stone types for steps that will perform well in actual conditions over time.

Key Benefits of Natural Stone Steps

Assuming proper installation and care, quality natural stone steps offer:

  • Longevity: Natural stone steps maintained well will last for decades before major repairs are needed. They accrue character over time. With their lasting beauty, natural stone steps add value and appeal.

  • Safety: Textured, slip-resistant natural stones provide sure footing, improving safety. Code compliant dimensions also prevent missteps.

  • Drainage: Natural stone permits drainage between steps, preventing hazardous ice buildup and limiting erosion. Angled steps assist water runoff.

  • Curb Appeal: Natural stone complements landscapes and imparts elegance. Steps create an inviting focal point and flow between outdoor living spaces.

  • Value: Natural stone steps boost property value for potential home sales. They offer long-term return on investment.

Realize these benefits through careful design, prep work, stone choice, and artful installation.

Constructing Durable, Safe Stone Steps

Proper practices ensure natural stone steps meet their potential. Key pointers include:

  • Have a licensed stone mason or contractor install steps. Professionals properly assess site prep, subsurface stability, drainage provisions, and code compliance.

  • Excavate and prepare the footing base area with compacted gravel for stability.

  • Use stone edging or metal balusters for safety and structure. Stones should overhang risers by at least 1 inch.

  • On slopes, incorporate deeper footings and retaining walls if needed.

  • Follow manufacturer instructions for mortar use, load-bearing capacity and span limits.

  • Arrange steps to avoid pooled water through pitch and drainage ports.

  • Check steps for level and stability. Steps shouldn’t rock or see sagging.

Adhering to sound construction principles translates to sturdy, long-lasting steps able to fulfill their vital functions safely.

Caring for Natural Stone Steps

Expectations for maintenance vary between stone types. Softer sedimentary rocks like limestone and sandstone require more frequent sealing – as often as once a year in harsh climates. Granite may only need sealing every 2-3 years. Be attentive to manufacturer guidelines.

Standard maintenance involves:

  • Sweeping natural stone steps regularly using a stiff broom. This prevents buildup of abrasive debris.

  • Deep cleaning steps annually with the appropriate natural stone cleaner and power washer.

  • Resealing steps when water is no longer beading on the surface. For high traffic areas, don’t allow sealing to lapse.

  • Checking steps for cracks or deterioration. Fill minor gaps with approved mortars. Have professionals address underlying structural issues.

  • Removing weeds growing in joints or cracks through manual removal or appropriate weed killers.

Steps kept clean, sealed and secure should provide decades of reliable service and beauty. Reach out to a landscape pro for advice on optimal seasonal maintenance.

Final Thoughts on Selecting Stone Steps

Outdoor steps make a profound difference in moving us through landscapes and connecting living spaces. When thoughtfully integrated, they become an integral part of the surroundings. Durable, slip-resistant steps also ensure safe access and invitation.

While many types of natural stone steps each offer advantages, granite, bluestone and limestone tend to provide the best enduring combination of aesthetics, performance, maintenance and value. But ultimately, the ideal stone reflects your environment, tastes and needs. Consult landscaping professionals early when planning steps. Also carefully consider how climate, terrain, usage and design impact stone selection. With research and forethought, you can confidently create steps that embrace and welcome, delights the senses, and gracefully withstand decades of use. Let timeless stone steps elevate the heart of your home or business for generations to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main types of stones used for steps?

Popular stones for steps include granite, bluestone, limestone, sandstone, and slate. Each has different properties suitable for various settings.

How do you properly install stone steps?

Proper practices involve excavating a stable base, using stone edging for safety, mortaring steps on steep slopes, and ensuring adequate drainage provisions.

What maintenance is required for natural stone steps?

Maintenance involves regular sweeping, annual deep cleaning, resealing as needed, checking for cracks, and removing weeds from joints.

How long should stone steps last?

With proper installation and care, natural stone steps can last for decades before needing major repairs. Different stones have varying durability.

Can you use more than one type of stone for steps?

Yes, it’s possible to combine different types of natural stone for steps based on their properties and for aesthetic reasons.

Do stone steps add value to a property?

Natural stone steps often increase a property’s curb appeal and value. They offer long-term return on investment if properly maintained.

What edge treatments can you use on stone steps?

Some options for stone step edges include chamfered, bullnose, and rock-faced. The look depends on the specific stone type used.

Can stone steps work on a slope or incline?

Yes, steps can be installed on slopes. Mortaring provides more support on steeper inclines. Proper drainage and footings also help.

Further Reading

  • Limestone: Characteristics, Uses And Problem: An official document by the U.S. General Services Administration detailing the characteristics, uses, and common problems associated with limestone. It includes information on different types of limestone and their applications, especially in architectural contexts.
  • Step-By-Step Resource For Installing Tile: A comprehensive guide by Daltile on installing ceramic tile, porcelain tile, or natural stone. It provides step-by-step instructions and tips for best results.
  • Government Property for Sale or Disposal: A resource by the U.S. General Services Administration that may include information on the disposal or sale of stone materials, including those suitable for steps.
Paul West
Share this Post

About Paul West

Longstanding and passionate about really having family fun in the backyard. I'm no expert but I've picked up a thing or two along the way!