The Remedy for ‘Sunken Step Syndrome’ - Pro Masonry Guide
The Remedy for ‘Sunken Step Syndrome’

The Remedy for ‘Sunken Step Syndrome’

The ugly sunken step affects millions of households, but it can be fixed, step by step. Here is the remedy for ‘sunken step syndrome’.

By Brian Estill

 It’s a common problem here in Louisville, Ky. I see it all the time, and it can prevent you from selling a house or, worse, get you sued by that delivery person who trips and falls. Of course, I’m talking about the ugly sunken step.

The crafty mason contractor can and ought to learn this simple, five-step remedy for ‘sunken step syndrome’ to improve the saleability of a property. It’s easy and doesn’t take long, yet can it make a world of difference to delivery people or elderly folks.

 Materials you’ll need

  • Eight #4 4-foot pieces of rebar
  • Stakes for your concrete forms
  • Box of screws
  • Chalk
  • Tie wire and tie wire twister tool
  • Wood – thin plywood or Masonite, and 2 x 4s
  • Concrete – the aggregate is in the 60- and 80-pound bags

Tools you’ll need

  • Handheld sledge hammer
  • Hammer drill with 3/8 masonry drill bit
  • Screw gun
  • Grinder with carbon blades
  • Rebar bender – this may not necessary in all cases
  • 2-inch square trowel
  • Shovel
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Mud hole
  • Small bucket
  • Hose and spray nozzle
  • Skill saw
  • Tape measure
  • Concrete float trowel
  • Chalk gun

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  1.  Assess the situation. Take measurements, and gather materials and tools. Excavate the dirt around your work area. Chalk any cracks in the sidewalk or affected area.

image-22.  Drill holes for rebar. Your holes should be 4 inches deep. If the drill goes through the sidewalk, that’s ok. It means you may not have to cut the rebar to fit. But if you do, use a carbon blade and goggles. Rent or buy a rebar bender, or find an old flagpole hole. Epoxy rebar in holes, and build the rest of the rebar cage. Keep the rebar off the old step by 2 or more inches.

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3.  Build your form. If your design has a radius in it, then buy some really thin wood and soak it in your bathtub for a few hours. Now spray the sides of your form with concrete retarder. Big box hardware stores sell the retarder in packets in the concrete section. Don’t skip this step. The 60- or 80-pound bags of concrete at sold at the large hardware stores already have the stone in them. Mix and pour your concrete, spray the top with retarder, and cover it with plastic.
*Note: Do the math or get someone else to do the math. You will want all the gravel and concrete on the job when you begin this step. The folks at Home Depot or Lowe’s will do the math for you, if you ask. You don’t want to leave the job in the middle of a pour to go get more concrete.
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4.  Wait 24 hours, and then break your forms apart, gently. Use your softest brush and a bucket to wash away the “butter,” which is the top coat of the concrete. Go slowly, using your hose in a cone shape spray, and being careful not to wash too much, too fast. Spray evenly. The top coat is less than 1 inch thick. There are a few different types of finishes of aggregate concrete. For me, it was about three quarters of an inch revealed.
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5.  The finishing step when fixing ‘sunken step syndrome’ is the master’s touch. If there are any gouges, valleys or blowouts, here is one way to fix them. Mix Type S mortar with some of the small pebbles that were washed out of the butter – the smaller the better. Mist the area with your spray bottle. Then, using your 2-inch square trowel, apply the thick paste to the affected area. Next, use a sponge to wipe away the butter until you have the depth you desire. Wait a month, then pressure wash and seal the whole area, so that it all blends in.

Many people already think that we masons know how to work with concrete, too. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Concrete and masonry are two very different trades. Be that as it may, I have seen it done enough on jobsites to feel confident enough to do it. However, with everything I try and do the first time, I make mistakes. Sometimes, you may take two steps forward and one step back. However, you’ll get through it.

Learning the remedy for ‘sunken step syndrome’ can pay dividends to the right person. It’s a cheaper alternative to what’s out there. But even better, it’s a feather in your cap or another marketable skill that will make Grandma or Grandpa, the delivery person, or the house seller very happy. After all, you brought a 10-inch, ugly, tripping hazard of a lawsuit back up to code. You single-handedly cured Sunken Step Syndrome.

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Brian Estill is owner of Estill Masonry Artworks in Louisville, Ky. He can be reached at brian.estill@gmail.com.


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