How to Make Floating Concrete Front Steps

Saturday, September 22, 2018 -
How to make square floating concrete step walkway in the front of your house

*This post is sponsored by The Home Depot. I have been compensated for my time and provided with product or payment in exchange. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.  

We've been working on boosting the curb appeal of our 15 year old tract home. It's a nice little house, but the exterior had been neglected and needed a little face lift. Earlier this week I  showed you guys what a difference paint and new hardware did to make-over the front porch

We used the energy from that project to start on the ambitious effort to add large concrete steps to the entryway. Here's how the front yard looked before we started. 

If you live anywhere but the Southwest, this scene probably looks pretty pathetic to you. Believe it or not, this is a very typical front yard here in Arizona. A sea of gravel with a few sage bushes.

If this was our "forever home" I'd completely re-do the entire landscaping, but we know we'll be moving sooner than later, so we decided just to address the greatest concerns.

I didn't like that there was no walk way or path to access the porch from the street. Every time my boys go get the mail, they march through the gravel and track dirty footprints across my floors.

I knew I wanted floating individual, square concrete pads instead of a solid sidewalk, but was a little unsure of the pattern. So, I did what I usually do before starting a project, which is to draw a 3D model using Google Sketch-up. 

In order to determine the dimensions of my front yard, I had to do a little surveying so I pulled out my new Bosch Blaze 165' laser measuring tool.

I love this little thing! I had a different laser measuring tool before, but this one is a major upgrade. It's full color screen is much easier to read, and it is even Bluetooth capable, allowing me to send and save measurements to my phone.

The Bosch Blaze is extremely accurate and reliable, which means I was easily able to determine the area of my front yard area, as well as the amount of slope towards the curb (about 23").

Once I settled on the design, it was time to roll up my sleeves and begin the hard work. 

By far my biggest complaint of the front yard was these horrible, dying rosemary bushes. Not only were they big and terrible looking, but one of them was right in the way from where I wanted place the walk way. It had to go. 

This bush was massive and mean looking. I figured it's removal warranted busting out the Ridgid Megamax

The Megamax is a pretty sweet tool system. Basically, you get a massively powerful, 18V brushless motor base, and you can add 3 different attachments (a reciprocating saw, 1/2" right angle drill, and a heavy duty rotary hammer). It's like 3 tools in one. 

I twisted on the reciprocating saw head attachment, and went to town cutting the bush stalk at the base. 

I had no problem cutting through the dense branches using a 9" Diablo carbide reciprocating saw pruning blade. I sliced through the rosemary like a hot knife through butter. 

You've heard me talk about Diablo blades before because they are hands-down the best! Every Diablo blade I've every used it legit. They also make reciprocating saw blades for nail embedded wood and metal.

Once the offended bush was removed, we had to rake the gravel out of the way so we could start digging a recessed area to accommodate the thickness of the concrete pads.

I'll give you a big tip. If you are planning on removing much more Earth than we did, I would highly recommend renting a Bobcat. Well, that is if your soil is packed as hard as a rock like ours is. It took pick axes, hoes, and finally soaking the dirt with water to be able to clear a track about 4' wide, 23' long and about 4" deep. Although the steps we planned on pouring were only going to be 3-1/2" thick, we needed some wiggle room.

With the main area trenched out, we spread about 400 lbs of sand over the surface. The sand does a few things. It helps even out areas that aren't quite level and aides water drainage, which also helps to avoid settling once the concrete is in place.

My husband finished spreading the sand and laid out the locations of each concrete pad. I grabbed a saw and started to build the 36" x 36", 2 x 4 wood forms. 

Since the forms were designed to be taken apart in place, I used screws instead of nails. Also, my husband suggested we run two sides of each square form a few inches long, just in case they got stuck and we needed to use a hammer to pound them off. We ended up not needing to, but that feature would have been VERY helpful if we encountered sticky steps.

Most concrete, especially when used in a structural application, needs metal reinforcement. With slabs over 3" thick, the cheapest and best material for the task is good ole rebar. To cut it, I got to try out a new tool from Ryobi

Ryobi recently release new cordless bolt cutters that run on their universal, 18-volt ONE+ battery platform. They are SO COOL!!! Cordless bolt cutters are one of those tools you don't think you need until you have them, then you use them all the time. They are perfect for cutting chain, fencing, wire shelving, and a whole bunch of other really common materials.

The hardened steel jaws had no problem biting through 3/8" diameter rebar into 30" length, which would fit inside the wood forms. We placed the forms in the trench and secured them in place with a stake driven on each side.

You want to keep metal reinforcement suspended right in the middle of the concrete if possible. To help with this, we bought these little blocks called "chairs" which hold the rebar up off the ground. We twisted a bit of bailing wire at each intersection to help hold everything in place.

At that point, we wet down the ground and began to mix and pour the concrete. For five, 36" x 36" x 3-1/2" pads, we used 2000 lbs of concrete mix (5 - 80 lb bags each). 

I didn't document the actual pour because there's no point reinventing the wheel. Family Handyman magazine has a really great overview article HERE that can offer a lot better expertise than I could. 

After pouring, screeding, edging, and troweling, we let the square steps cure overnight. The next day, I got to remove the wooden forms and check out our work. 

We used dirt removed from the trench to fill in the spaces between the walkway steps, and then raked gravel over the top.

I added a couple new plants and rinsed off all the remaining dirt. What do you think?

For a reminder, here's what it looked like before:

and after:

I love love love having a new sidewalk leading to the front door. It was REALLY hard waiting 24 hours to walk on it.

I normally am a "clean lines" girl, but I love the little jog to the side we included in the design. It seems to fit better with the plants and adds some visual interest.

No more dusty footprints inside the house was worth the two days of hard work. The materials cost about $200. Not a bad investment. The finish on the concrete isn't perfect, but I'm pretty happy with it.

Here's another before:

and after:

In our next house, I want an entire patio of these extra large square pavers! Are you ready to pour your own floating concrete steps? Feel free to ask if you have any questions. I'd love to see what you come up with!

If you like this project, you'll love these ideas: 


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