How should we go about repairing the front porch steps?
We have been working to remodel our first home from top to bottom, and we've finally arrived at the front porch steps. How should we go about repairing them?
—Fred and Debbie Marko, Greenfield, WIsc.
Tom Silva replies: It looks like water has been causing trouble with your brickwork, but I don't see anything that suggests problems with the underlying structure, so you may be in luck. You'll have to remove all the loose brick around the porch, which looks like pretty much all of it. Given its condition, you probably won't need much more than a pry bar.
Start by taking off the top two courses, take a look at what's behind them. It could be an inner support wall made of brick or cement block. If you notice any deterioration there, you might want to turn the rest of the work over to a mason. But if the support walls are fine, continue removing the brick. Clean off old mortar as you go and stack the bricks off to one side.
To prevent the repaired brickwork from sucking up moisture from the ground, dig a trench at least 2 feet deep along the porch and fill it with crushed stone. And to ensure a good connection with the support wall, nail one end of a metal brick tie to the wall every couple of feet. Now you can reinstall the old brick, starting at the ledge in the support wall. When you reach a tie, bend its free end up to rest on top of the brick, then cover it with the mortar for the next course.