Concrete Steps: Precast vs. Poured in Place

    Photo: SocialAlex/flickrA new type of staircase has made its appearance on the home improvement scene lately -- precast concrete steps. These factory-molded stairs have a lot to offer in terms of ease of installation, convenience, and affordability. But how do they stack up against traditional poured-in-place concrete stairs? Here are the different advantages and disadvantages to each, as well as a number of positive characteristics that they share.

    Poured in Place Steps: Advantages

    An obvious advantage of poured-in-place (also "cast-in-place") concrete steps is that established contractors are familiar with the installation procedure through years of experience with this traditional method. They are equipped to install these concrete steps in an optimal manner and troubleshoot any problems that may arise.

    Stairs that have been poured in place will be extremely sturdy. Because the contractor digs down into the earth to set the bottom step, there is no need to worry about supplementary bracing as there is with precast. They also have the necessary strength to support handrails, providing both good looks and safety. This is especially important for accessibility in households with elderly or mobility-challenged members.

    Poured-in-place steps are easy to connect and to repair. They also offer you flexibility, since any adjustments may be made on site as necessary.

    Concrete is a versatile material, which can be formed into an enormous variety of configurations. You will be able to work with your contractor to choose the size and style you want.

    Poured in Place Steps: Disadvantages

    However, these traditional staircases are highly labor-intensive. Cast-in-place concrete step installation involves pouring a footing, followed by building removable forms to mold the rest of the steps (formwork alone accounts for 40 to 60 percent of the cost of cement stairs). A cement truck will generally be required to mix the concrete on site.

    In addition, no one will be able to use the steps for several days after installation, to allow the concrete time to cure.

    Precast Steps: Advantages

    On the other hand, precast concrete stairs are far less labor-intensive, resulting in a more affordable product. The average cost of precast concrete steps is about half to a third of the price of poured-in-place.

    The reason for this difference is that the precast versions are molded at a factory in large quantities, which reduces labor costs. They are hollow inside, making them lightweight and therefore easy for your contractor to transport to your home, as well as uncomplicated to lift and reset if adjustment is necessary. (However, for large staircases, you will need lifting equipment.)

    Another advantage is convenience. You won't have to wait for a sunny day. Instead, the installation can be done in any type of weather and is usually completed in under an hour. Precast steps can be used immediately, avoiding major disruptions in foot traffic. Installing the steps doesn't delay construction as a whole. In fact, it will make the process easier; you can access the interior of your new home or other building floor by floor, as the construction proceeds.

    In addition, precast concrete stairs are more durable and more even in appearance, because they have been cast and cured under controlled indoor conditions. Their seamless design, without gaps or cracks, enables them to resist water seeping in.

    In terms of environmental impact, precast steps are greener because they use less material and frequently incorporate recycled content. Nor does installation of these concrete stairs produce allergy- or asthma-inducing dust on site.

    Precast Steps: Disadvantages

    One disadvantage is that since they are molded in factory to precise specifications, it is essential to premeasure the steps' dimensions very accurately; they can't be adjusted once cast. If you will be installing them on rough terrain, the underside of the stairs must include spaces to accommodate any irregularities in the ground surface. (This may be accomplished using a specialized computer program.)

    Advantages Common to Both Types

    Both types of staircase are durable and highly fireproof. Concrete steps can be installed inside your home or outdoors, and hold up well in most climates. They do not create noise as, for instance, metal stairs tend to do. Concrete is a low-maintenance material, which can be readily cleaned with a garden hose or a pressure washer. It does not require painting, unless you choose to do so for esthetic reasons.

    For help choosing the right type of concrete steps for your property, consult reliable cement contractors in your area.

    Laura Firszt writes for

    Updated January 29, 2018.

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