Steps are one of those features no one notices — until they’re done wrong. Increasingly, package-pool customers favor steps made of concrete.
And when the liner is fitted over the steps, it gives the pool a more cohesive, high-end gunite look. Concrete steps also keep the pool from looking old prematurely: Any time you update the liner, it’s as though you have a new set of steps, too.
Otherwise, you have to match a brand-new liner with “that 8- or 10-year old plastic stair that’s going to have hairline cracks, is going to be stained, [and might] have settlement where it’s starting to get a little soft,” says Shane Bosemer, president and COO of Gym & Swim in Louisville, Ky.
But to offer concrete steps, builders must invest extra time in the project as well as training crews unfamiliar with form work. And customers must be willing to wait because this feature can delay completion for a week or two, depending on whether you order the liner before or after building the steps.
Pouring concrete steps involves a few, well, steps — and an eye for detail. Once you’ve built a few sets, it gets easier. “Our guys can set up steps in about two hours now,” Bosemer says.
Here are five pointers for building steps like a pro:
1. Form the stairs.
Begin forming the stairs after you’ve set the pool’s wall panels.
Make sure the first step will rest at least 1 or 2 inches underwater. This will help keep the liner down after the pool is filled.
You can build forms similar to the illustration at right. Major components include:
• riser boards, which outline the front of the step
• kickers, which serve as braces to hold the riser boards up
• stakes that hold everything in place
• several different boards to hold the whole thing together.
Regardless of your system, it will need extra reinforcement on the bottom step. With all the weight of the stairs bearing down on those bottom forms, they are most susceptible to falling over. The illustrated system includes extra kickers at the bottom step.
Set the riser boards first. These are made from 2-by-12-inch lumber, cut to the length of the front of the step. It’s important to set them at the right height, and bolt either side to the pool wall for added stability.
2. Anchor forms with kickers.
Start at the bottom step. Place a kicker at either end, then work toward the center, placing a kicker about every 18 inches. If you’re making the kickers from wood, set them at a 20-degree angle from the riser board. Anchor the kickers with stakes going 6 to 8 inches into the ground.
Move up one step at a time, setting the form’s kickers on the step forms below.
3. Add reinforcement and pour the concrete.
With the riser boards in place, you need to provide extra reinforcement. This system includes a crib, a 2-by-2-inch board that spans the top of all three steps. Run the board down the middle of the steps and tack it to the top of each step form and kicker. This will keep the top of each form from moving during the pour, and when installers need to round out the corners with a trowel.
To make sure the steps don’t move after they’re poured, stub out four or five pieces of rebar through the wall panel and into the concrete collar behind it.
Pour the concrete. And tap the forms to work out the air bubbles.
4. Tear forms and prepare steps.
Let the concrete sit at least a couple of hours. Depending on the timeline you choose to follow, you can tear the forms the same day or the following day. It’s easier to do it the same day, when the concrete has set enough to hold its form, but is not so hard that forms and stakes become stuck to it.
Save the boards to reuse later. After you’ve built enough steps, you’ll have forming boards for all sizes of steps.
When the forms come off, use a concrete, sponge float to rub out the surface of the steps. Fill in any pocks with a little extra concrete and rub down any burrs. If you can’t tear the forms until the next day, smooth out the burrs with a grinder, honing stone or brick. This will help make the surface more suitable to accommodate a liner on top.
Next, use spray glue to adhere 1/8-inch foam sheeting over the steps. This adds a little cushion to the steps and keeps the liner from coming into contact with the concrete, which could cause wearing over time.
5. Place the liner.
Placing the liner over all those treads and risers can be a challenge. To do this, you need an extra vacuum and some way of holding the liner down on corners as well as on the top step, where the water is very shallow.
One vacuum should be dedicated solely to the steps. Place the vac on the top tread. For better suction, try outfitting the vacuum hose with a 11/2-inch pipe with a tee. This way, the suction pulls from two sides rather than straight up from the bottom. This helps distribute the suction better and prevents the foam from getting sucked up.
It can be tough to keep the liner tight against corners where the step meets the wall. You can put sandbags or blocks in those spots to hold the liner in place until the pool is full and the water weighs it down.
The toughest corner is found where the pool wall and top tread meet. The water is so shallow, it often can’t keep the liner in place by itself. Some installers order their liners with a “pocket” in this spot. The pocket sits against the pool wall, right where the top step juts out. They then insert a rod into the pocket to keep the liner stretched and in place against that corner. Other installers use Velcro on the back of the liner and on top of the concrete to hold the liner in place in tough spots.
Check the steps frequently as the pool fills to see how the vinyl falls over each step.
Pool & Spa News would like to thank Mando Insignares, president of Cool Pool & Spa, Nanuet, N.Y., for contributing to this article.