Outdoor Staircase Design & Ideas

Posted November 15, 2012 in Blog, Landscape Design


There are two factors that ensure that an acceptable staircase design has been created – the first is that the design is safe, and the second is that it is highly appealing. To ensure that both of these factors are present in every staircase, the designer must adhere to a number of rules, otherwise you may end up with a project that was not what you expected.


  • Rise and Run: all steps must be similar height to help prevent trips and falls. The height (rise) of each step should be somewhere between 4 and 8 inches. The tread that you step on (run) should be somewhere between 9 and 12 inches.
  • Top and Bottom: the top and bottom steps must be the same height as the others, so designers must to take into account the patio or deck material used as a part of their staircase design.
  • Handrails: these must be around 36 inches high, and each of the spindles can only be a maximum of 4 inches apart. Handrails or railings only have to be included on staircases made of wood and stone that extend from above grade. They must also be able to support 200 pounds of pressure.
  • Lighting: proper lighting is a critical component of great staircase design. Steps could be the most dangerous part of your backyard, but they don’t have to be. With proper professional design and the incorporation of good lighting, they can be not only safe but also extremely attractive and inviting.
  • Materials: there are many different materials you can build outdoor staircases with. See the list below to get a better idea of what might work best for you.



Boulders- Natural boulder steps work perfectly when incorporated into a boulder wall or natural landscape design. Boulders should only be considered for a staircase that gets light foot traffic because boulders tend to be more naturally shaped and are not normally consistent enough to be used for a high traffic area.

Cut Natural Stone – Cut natural stones can be used for steps because they tend to have a more flat top and a more consistent thickness. These stones can be installed in high traffic situations and will still look very natural.

Uncut Natural Stone Steps – Uncut Natural Stones should be used in areas of light foot traffic. These stones have a more natural look over the cut natural stones and can create a real dramatic effect. The reason we use these stones in low traffic areas is because they are naturally shaped and can take some concentration to maneuver up and down them.

Segmental Block – Decorative segmental concrete block can be used for high traffic staircases because the steps can be designed and installed with an exact rise and run. These types of block can be arranged in simple rows or in long beautiful curves. The only limit to this type of material is your imagination.

Concrete – Concrete is an excellent material for high traffic staircases because it can be formed in exact shapes and heights to fit just about any project. Today’s concrete is more durable than it used to be and can be colored and textured to look like real stone. This option tends to be the more cost effective material to use when compared to real stone and concrete block.

Wood – Pressure treated wood has been used for many years to construct staircases extending from decks and other structures. It is very versatile and can be cut into just about any shape. Because of these characteristics, wood is a great price effective material to use for larger high traffic staircases. Keep in mind that wood can be a pain to maintain, so consider installing a composite or PVC decking material on the steps and risers to minimize the amount of time you will need to allocate to maintenance.

Here at MasterPLAN Landscape Design, it is our mission to educate our clients into making good informed long-term landscape decisions. Call us today @ 610-628-2480 or click here to schedule your free design consultation. Click here to find out how MasterPLAN can help you.

Joshua Gillow, owner

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