Concrete step settling can be a bit confusing to understand for the average homeowner. Many believe that the steps settle because of something wrong with the concrete, but this isn’t the case. The true problem lies in what cannot be seen—the soil.
Concrete steps settle due to soil displacement. Grand Junction, which is located within the Colorado Plateau, has soil that is classified as Aridisols. Aridisols have a coarse, sandy profile and drain water very easily. Most of the soil displacement that occurs in the Grand Junction region is caused by soil erosion, which is when the soil gets washed away by flowing water.
The concrete steps in your home are held up by the soil, so when water washes the soil away, your steps aren’t properly supported. As the steps are used over time and weight is placed upon them, they eventually settle against the loose soil. Soil displacement almost never occurs evenly, so the steps settle only on one side.
Usually, rain is the number one cause for soil displacement in residential areas, but in a place with semi-arid climates like Grand Junction, the most significant displacement comes from melting snow. When the snow melts in the early days of spring, it seeps through to the soil and displaces it. Other elements that cause displacement include the freeze-thaw effect and small tremors. For homes that have poor yard drainage, even simple things like watering your plants can cause the water to flow towards your steps and displace the soil underneath.
Polyurethane Foam: The Solution to Concrete Step Settling
Concrete steps are a small but key part of your home. Homeowners often don’t realize how important their steps are until they begin to settle. Steps provide easy access to certain parts of the house, so when there’s structural deterioration, they become a tripping hazard.
When encountering settled concrete steps in a home, how quickly you decide to repair them is equally as important as the repair method you choose. Many homeowners believe that they have to replace their concrete steps once they begin to settle, but luckily, this doesn’t need to happen. Instead of going through the hassle of destroying the steps and building new ones, you can repair them using concrete lifting. Concrete lifting involves filling the gap between the steps and the soil with a material that will lift and support the steps.
The two most common concrete lifting solutions are mud jacking and polyurethane foam injections. If you were to ask any concrete lifting expert, they would say that polyurethane foam injections are the superior solution.
- How Do Polyurethane Foam Injections Work?
Using polyurethane foam to lift concrete steps is a modern concept that’s a permanent solution to concrete settling. The material, polyurethane, is a polymer that is held together by a plastic-like adhesive called urethane. You might be wondering how polyurethane, which is commonly used to make sponges, can be used to lift heavy concrete. It’s because closed-cell polyurethane is used for concrete lifting, and it’s a lot firmer than the open-cell polyurethane that is used to make soft, spongy materials.
Multiple small holes the size of a penny are drilled into the steps, and the polyurethane foam is injected until there is enough to level out the sunken steps. As the foam expands, it rises until the stairs are even. Essentially, the polyurethane foam becomes the solid support the steps need to remain stable.
- How Polyurethane Foam Injections Solve Concrete Step Settling
The reason polyurethane foam injections are the best for concrete lifting is because of the foam itself. You can’t just use any material to lift the steps; it needs to be something that not only supports the concrete but also doesn’t disrupt the soil further. By using a material that disrupts the soil, you risk displacing it further, creating an even bigger gap and causing the leveling material to settle as well.
Polyurethane foam is flexible and lightweight. It’s firm enough to hold up the concrete steps but light enough to not displace the soil any further. It’s also an impermeable material that stops water from getting through to the soil and causing further erosion. This is one of the reasons polyurethane foam injections are considered a long-term solution, as opposed to other materials that give out after a few years.
After concrete steps begin settling, there’s a very good chance that they’ll crack and break. Having a solid foundation allows the concrete to evenly distribute weight when the steps are being used. When there’s settling, the steps have to bear too much pressure from a specific spot, and once that pressure exceeds the concrete’s tensile limits, it breaks the steps apart. Polyurethane foam is malleable enough to absorb the pressure the steps must bear, so they don’t crack.
- More Advantages
Because the polyurethane foam is injected in the form of dust, the holes that need to be drilled into the stairs are small. This is important if you care about keeping your stairs visually pleasing as well as structurally sound. The bigger the holes drilled, the more the concrete is compromised on a structural level. Polyurethane foam injections are also a faster repair job than any other form of concrete lifting.
Polyurethane foam injections require much less clean-up than other forms of concrete lifting. Preparation of the actual foam itself is quick, and the machinery involved does not spill its content as easily as others. So, if you’re looking for convenience, effectiveness, and permanence, then polyurethane foam is the way to go.
Why Mudjacking Doesn’t Work
Mud jacking, also known as slab jacking, is an older form of concrete lifting. It involves drilling holes into the concrete and pumping in a slurry of cement. The slurry is usually a mix of Portland cement and topsoil. Mud jacking is a method that has been used since the start of the 20th century, although it’s one of the oldest methods doesn’t mean it’s the best. There are a lot of disadvantages that come with choosing mud jacking as a concrete lifting solution.
For one, the cement used to lift the concrete is incredibly thick. Because of this, holes as big as 1-2 inches in diameter need to be drilled to pump the cement in. Because the holes that need to be drilled are so wide, there’s a bigger chance of cracking a set of stairs that are already structurally unsound. Mud jacking is also considered a short-term solution because the cement used is so heavy that it puts a lot of pressure on the soil. This, of course, causes even more displacement, which will eventually cause the filling to settle as well.
The roughness of the cement causes problems in the way the steps handle pressure. The cement cannot be evenly distributed under the concrete. It gets pumped in by the specialist, but where the slurry stops and cures cannot be pre-determined or controlled. This unevenness leaves air pockets between the cement and the concrete. When the steps get used and weight is placed on top of them, the pressure does not evenly distribute itself through the slab due to the roughness of the cement underneath. The steps are a lot more likely to break when lifted with cement because of these pockets of air.
And if that’s not discouraging enough, cement is a material that deteriorates over time. When it rains or snows and the moisture seeps through, it displaces the cement’s particles. The cement weakens with age until it begins to break, meaning you’ll have to deal with settling steps again eventually. Its permeability also allows the moisture to reach the soil, causing further displacement.
- More Disadvantages
Mud jacking is incredibly time-consuming. The cement often has to be mixed in a large machine far from the actual steps. The mixture is then carried closer on a movable cart so it can be pumped through the holes. However, because the quantity of the material carried is so low, specialists often must go back and forth when lifting the concrete, which prolongs the job.
Because of all the cement being mixed and moved around, mud jacking is incredibly messy. The clean-up is time-consuming, and careless contractors might miss a few spots when clearing things out. Concrete steps that have been lifted via mud jacking often look tampered with for this reason.
Mud jacking can’t be done everywhere because, sometimes, the equipment cannot reach certain places. Mud jacking involves a lot of big machinery that gets in the way. This means that, if the machinery does not fit, the lifting job cannot be done. The tools used for polyurethane foam injections are smaller, so contractors can use them in difficult-to-reach areas.
After the job is done, you need to wait 24 to 48 hours for the cement to cure. So, with mud jacking, even after the job is done, you won’t be able to use your steps for days. Polyurethane foam, on the other hand, cures after only 15 to 30 minutes.
Where Can I Get Polyurethane Foam for Concrete Steps?
When comparing the two, even people who aren’t civil engineers can see that polyurethane foam injections are better than mud jacking. To recap, this method is superior because:
- The foam does not displace the soil
- The foam is impermeable
- The foam does not erode with time
- The foam takes 15 to 30 minutes to cure
- The job can be done faster than other methods
- The slimmer equipment can reach small spaces
- The holes drilled are smaller
- The foam helps the stairs support weight
With all these clear advantages, you don’t want to pass on the chance to use this method for your own home. You might be wondering where you can get some polyurethane foam. The truth is you cannot DIY a concrete lifting job with polyurethane foam. The tools needed to make the material as well as inject it into the concrete cannot be bought commercially. However, even if you do find a company that offers concrete lifting as a service, there’s no guarantee that they are able to use polyurethane foam.
Polyurethane foam for concrete lifting is still a relatively new concept. Not a lot of contractors have the proper tools to work with polyurethane foam. Many don’t even have the knowledge to use this method, as it does require special training to know how to use the tools effectively.
Foundation Repair of Western Colorado has been using PolyRenewal™ polyurethane foam injections for many years now. It’s important that you choose experienced contractors for the job because things can go wrong when lifting concrete with this method. If the foam is injected in the wrong places, the stairs will remain wobbly, or it might break. If too much foam is used, it could lift the settled half higher than it needs to be. So, before choosing professionals in your area, make sure to choose a company that has experience with this method.
Homeowners often resort to completely replacing something that has been broken in their home. Sometimes, replacing something can be a lot more inconvenient and costly than repairing it. Such is often the case with concrete settling. When concrete steps settle, many homeowners rush to find contractors who can demolish and then rebuild the steps instead of repairing them with concrete lifting solutions.
Choosing to replace it instead of repairing it is more likely to happen when the steps are cracked. However, even broken steps can be repaired with polyurethane foam. It all comes down to observing the damage and determining the severity. Of course, if you are unsure whether repairs are possible, you can always contact an expert to inspect the steps.
- When to Repair
Figuring out when you should repair concrete steps is relatively easy. Visually, you’ll notice that the stairs are uneven in some way. Sometimes, this will mean that the steps are tilting either left or right. Other times, they will settle at the first step, raising the top step higher. Or, the reverse will happen, and the back part of the steps will settle and lift the beginning of the base.
Regardless of which way they go when they settle, they can be lifted with polyurethane foam. Even when they settle so much that they become detached from the rest of the structure. What’s important is that they get lifted by something that can support them. Cracked steps can also be repaired, but this depends heavily on the severity of the crack and how the steps were made. Steps that were built with reinforced concrete (concrete with rebar in them) can be repaired a lot easier than precast steps.
- When Not to Repair
Precast concrete steps are a lot harder to repair when severely cracked. This is because they are made of pure concrete, so when they break in half, they’re a lot harder to put back together. Concrete steps that have multiple cracks and severe structural damage cannot be repaired. This is because the polyurethane foam cannot be used to lift multiple chunks of the concrete. Remember, it is only supposed to be used to fill the gap between the concrete and the soil; it cannot glue the steps back together.
Steps made with reinforced concrete are a lot easier to lift. That said, an effective way to tell if the steps are too far gone is if you can see the rebar. It’s important that you contact an expert from the moment you notice that the steps are settling because the more time passes the more they will settle. Advanced settling eventually causes certain structural problems that require the entire step to be replaced.
Soil displacement is the reason your concrete steps settle. It’s something that causes an immense amount of damage to your property, so it would be best to learn how to avoid it. Fully deterring soil erosion and displacement is not possible. Moisture will always find some way to reach the soil and the ground is always trembling, so some sort of shifting is inevitable. That said, there are some things you can do as a homeowner to prevent displacement and protect your concrete steps from settling.
- Home and Yard Changes
Protecting your concrete steps from soil displacement requires some changes. The most important one would be to shield the soil surrounding the steps from water. You might want to think about getting a cover or extending the one you already have so it covers the stairs as well. Don’t plant any flower beds next to the steps so you don’t end up saturating the soil when you water them. If there are any trees less than 15 feet from your steps, then you’ll need to remove them so that the tree roots don’t displace the soil either.
Any downspouts that stop near the steps should be altered so that they extend past the area, or they point away from the steps. You might want to consider speaking to a landscaping expert to determine the grade of your yard. If your yard has a negative grade, it means that water flows towards your home. You can re-grade your yard so that it has a positive grade. This way, water will stay away from your steps.
- Seasonal Changes
There are certain seasonal elements you should consider when wanting to avoid soil displacement. If you don’t want to set up a cover for your steps year-round, then you should at least consider doing so during the winter. You should protect your steps and the soil that surrounds them from snowmelt and the freeze-thaw effect. When water freezes, it expands, even when it’s only water particles in concrete or soil. This expansion displaces the soil as well as the concrete and makes it easier for water to permeate from the steps into the soil.
From November to March, the average lowest temperatures fall below freezing in Grand Junction, CO, so this is when you want to pay close attention to how much snow surrounds your steps. Around springtime, you’ll need to be extra vigilant about the snow. It all begins to melt when spring begins, meaning it could flow towards your concrete steps if you’re not careful.
Polyurethane foam injection for concrete step repair seems like a dream—so much so that you might be wondering if there are any limits to how and when it can be used. Some might be hesitant to call professionals because they believe that polyurethane foam injections might not be possible for their concrete steps. These concerns are valid, but rest assured, you will be able to use polyurethane foam for your concrete lifting needs.
Some homeowners believe that polyurethane foam does not have the compression capacity to securely support concrete steps. This might be because when people think of the word foam, they think of something soft. However, the foam made for concrete lifting is specially made to be dense. Its load-bearing capacity rivals the other material used for traditional concrete lifting methods.
Closed-cell polyurethane foam is more than capable of lifting extremely heavy concrete. It all depends on how the foam is made. Some foams are capable of lifting loads over 120 tons. No matter how big or wide you think your steps are, they’re never big enough for polyurethane foam.
One slight limitation a homeowner might encounter when looking into polyurethane foam injection would be availability. It’s a relatively new method of concrete lifting, so not many companies use it. They either don’t have the tools or have the knowledge to use polyurethane foam, so finding an expert who can do the job can be difficult.
Finding a professional with the right technical skills for the job can be very limiting. Luckily, Foundation Repair of Western Colorado has the solution if you are a homeowner in Grand Junction. Our skilled experts are always available to use polyurethane foam and make your steps even again.
Call Foundation Repair of Western Colorado for Concrete Lifting Solutions
Since 2005, Foundation Repair of Western Colorado has been keeping the homes of Grand Junction, CO safe and secure. We specialize in modern, innovative solutions that solve your home repair problems. If you are interested in PolyRenewal™ as a concrete lifting solution for your home, give us a call or use our online contact form to set up a free inspection.