Design
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The Ultimate Guide to Planning and Designing Garden Steps

By Orla McGoldrick
7 min read

Most gardens need steps of some kind. Whether you have a terraced outdoor space or simply a single step up into your house, you’ll need to consider the best way to allow easy access for all.

In this blog post, we’re going to cover everything you need to know when planning steps for you garden. You’ll be able to confidently measure up for garden steps, know what layout and design would work best for you, choose the right materials and more.

Products Used: Step Risers Charcoal, Sienna Setts Silver & Historic Flags Slate
Products Used: Step Risers Charcoal, Sienna Setts Silver & Historic Flags Slate

So let’s get to it!

Measuring for garden steps

First of all, let’s talk about outdoor step terminology (which is actually the same as staircase terminology). There are two main terms to remember:

Rise

As the name suggests this is the height of your steps – or how much they ‘rise’ from point A on the ground to point B at the top.

‘Riser’ is the term used to describe the vertical part of the step.

Going

This is the distance travelled forwards from point A to point B.

‘Tread’ is the term used to describe the horizontal  part, where your foot goes.

Steps should be comfortable and safe to walk on. For that reason, there are standard measurements for the rise and going to take into consideration when designing steps.

For outdoor steps, each tread should be a minimum of 28cm and risers should be no more than 17cm. Be aware this is different to indoor steps and staircases, which often get confused!

Once you’re familiar with these terms and standard measurements, you can take a tape measure and start to calculate the number and size of steps you’ll need.

As an example, imagine you have a raised patio that drops 40cm down to your lawn. All you need to do is divide that total height by 17 (the maximum riser height for outdoor steps) to work out how many steps you’ll have in your flight.

You can of course have lower, flatter steps by dividing by a number less than 17. In these cases, it’s not recommended to go lower than 15cm.

All that’s left to do is work out how wide you want your steps to be. This will obviously depend on the available space in your garden or the distance from your door to the ground below. But if you have room to play with, you might want to consider wider steps for a spacious, more luxurious feel (as well as the accessibility benefits this brings) or narrower steps for a more compact, cottage garden feel.

Products Used: Step Risers Charcoal & Historic Flags Slate
Products Used: Step Risers Charcoal & Historic Flags Slate

Planning for garden step construction

While we’re not going to cover building garden steps in this blog post – that’s best left to a professional! – there are some useful things to know about the construction process to help you plan for your steps.

First of all, your steps will need a solid foundation. Safety is paramount and your steps should be built on proper foundations.

Your step treads should also have a very slight slop to each one (usually around 1:80). This ensures that water can run off and won’t pool on your steps – something you want to avoid especially in winter to stop your steps icing up.

If your steps are being built against your house and across a damp proof course, an additional section of damp proof membrane should be placed between your steps and the wall of your house.

Choosing materials for outdoor steps

Now we’re getting to the fun bits! Once you have your measurements and you’ve considered the construction requirements for the project, you can start to think about the design and materials for your steps.

Depending on the look and feel you want to go for, there are lots of options for materials to incorporate into your steps.

For example, your steps could include:

If your steps will be a prominent feature in your garden, you’ll want to carefully consider the materials used. Think about the age and style of your property – you’ll want your steps to complement their surroundings and not look out of place.

Products Used: Step Risers Charcoal, Sienna Setts Silver & Tegula Bracken
Products Used: Step Risers Charcoal, Sienna Setts Silver & Tegula Bracken

Let’s take a closer look at some options for materials.

Paving flags and blocks

The versatility of paving flags and blocks allows you to design and create steps in a wide range of sizes, shapes and colours.

Step Risers

Step Risers allow users to create decorative step edgings.

Products Used: Step Risers Charcoal, Sienna Setts Silver & Graphite, Mayfair Flags Silver
Products Used: Step Risers Charcoal, Sienna Setts Silver & Graphite, Mayfair Flags Silver

Kerbstones

Kerbstone offers a beautiful edging with a natural look.  It works perfectly with many block paving and paving flag products and comes in a wide range of colours to blend seamlessly with your paving. All sides of the product have a finished face so it can be laid in any orientation.

Stone

Stone is an aesthetically pleasing, long-lasting option for garden steps. Real stone is also very expensive.

For a cost-effective alternative, products such as Tobermore’s Historic Flags and Circles can give the beautiful look and feel of traditional stone in a consistent manufactured format.

With a range of vibrant, long-lasting colours and finishes, these stone alternative flags would bring a vintage charm to modern and traditional home and gardens alike.

Brick

Brick is also a popular choice for steps. But make sure you choose ones that are suitable for use. They should be frost-proof and hard-wearing.

Think carefully about the materials used in your house when selecting bricks. If you house is made of brick, you’ll probably want your brick steps to match or complement your home.

Timber

Timber steps can look great. But there are some issues you’ll need to be aware of.

Timber will rot and degrade over time unless properly and regularly maintained. Timber all gets very slippery when wet, which isn’t ideal for garden steps.

Mixed Materials

What’s to say you can’t mix up your materials for an interesting design feature?

Block paving step risers with flags or blocks for treads can create a striking patterned effect. Equally, light-coloured paving flags with a contrasting dark-coloured step riser can give a modern and classy feel. This also helps make your step edge more visible.

Common questions about garden steps

We asked our paving experts to give their answers to the most common garden step questions. Here’s what they had to say:

How many steps do I need?

This will depend on the space available in your garden. For a door step, the distance between your door and the ground below must be considered, too. It is important to remember that the step heights must all be the same.

Products Used: Step Risers Heather, Sienna Setts Sandstone & Historic Flags Heather
Products Used: Step Risers Heather, Sienna Setts Sandstone & Historic Flags Heather

What are the best Tobermore products for steps?

Check out our range of Step Risers and Kerbstones which are the most commonly used products for steps. Tobermore flags and block paving make the perfect tread for your step.

Should a step match the exterior of your home?

When choosing colours, make sure the step riser is a contrasting colour to the paving on the tread of the step. This is an important safety consideration.

Products Used: Step Risers Charcoal, Sienna Setts Graphite & Mayfair Flags Silver
Products Used: Step Risers Charcoal, Sienna Setts Graphite & Mayfair Flags Silver

A quick word on garden step safety

Steps in a garden can be a hazard if not designed and constructed properly. Contrasting coloured materials can help make steps more visible, especially for visually impaired people.

Handrails aren’t necessary for garden steps, but you may still want to install one if less mobile people will be using them.

We highly recommend having your steps installed by an experienced professional. They will take all safety requirements into consideration and make it hassle free for you.

Please refer to your local building control office regarding the regulations for your area.

Want professional help with steps in your garden?

Speak to our landscape design team today, who'll be happy to help.

Orla McGoldrick

Orla is the Consumer Marketing Manager at Tobermore. Her role involves developing and delivering marketing campaigns for the retail market across NI/ROI and GB.
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