Watch Your Steps 2018-07-15T16:39:04+00:00

Watch Your Steps. . . and Walks

Today, I tripped in a “hole” dug by a playful dog, just after warning my buyer about the “minefield” in the backyard he was about to buy. You could blame my bifocals (which I will never get used to), but there is a larger issue. Tripping and falling is a very common accident that can happen at any property. You will want to make sure your new home is safe. Here are some of the things to look out for besides burrowing dogs.

You are most likely to view a house in the daylight, so you may not notice that there is no lighting at the front sidewalk stairs. Just hope that your friends who come to visit can find the stairs with their feet when they arrive with your housewarming present; what good is a broken vase? To avoid problems, drive by the property at night and check the lighting. Perhaps lighting from a street lamp will be adequate; otherwise, plan on installing an exterior lamp.

As you walk along the sidewalk, look for wide cracks, “lips” that stick up, and dips in the surface. Any of these, whether in brick, concrete or asphalt, can serve as a place to make people lose their footing. Sidewalks should be even and not steep. A steeply graded sidewalk may need a handrail to be safe in winter. As a visual aid, try to imagine yourself walking up to the house with a package after a freezing rain.

Landscape timber stairs can be particularly treacherous if they contain settled fill and have “lips” at the treads where the timbers are higher than the level of the fill material. Another hazard at wood stairs is the presence of slimy, green growth. Steps that receive no sun should be cleaned and waterproofed periodically to avoid slippery surfaces. It is my opinion (irrespective of bifocals) that all stairs, though not required, should have handrails.

Stairs made of masonry materials such as brick, block and concrete are subject to spalling and must be maintained to remain safe. Spalling occurs when moisture penetrates porous masonry and freezes, causing the surfaces to crumble away. The damage is most severe at corners and edges of masonry where fluctuations in wind velocity can cause repeated freezing and thawing even when the outside temperature is above freezing. Broken tread edges from spalling can cause a shoe to lose its grip.

Loose bricks on stair treads are a particularly unsafe trip hazard. Missing or cracked bricks can similarly cause someone to misstep and fall. Look carefully at brick stairs as loose masonry is not always apparent; physically try to move the bricks. The presence of many loose bricks, missing and crumbling mortar and bulges in what were once flat surfaces are indications that the stairs may need a costly rebuilding, not just a repair.

I will leave you with this image. Upon exiting into the rear porch of a home, I lost my balance as I stepped down from a small red brick landing onto a red brick porch floor. The one-brick-high landing was unanticipated and camouflaged by the similarities in surface color and pattern. The buyer followed me out and also tripped at the same spot, but the broker actually fell to the floor, looking about as red as the brick! At least in this case, we all agreed that a hazard was present.