Best wood for porch steps in a wet climate?

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Forum topic by crampon posted 07-07-2014 08:04 PM 13817 views 0 times favorited 18 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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8 posts in 2207 days

07-07-2014 08:04 PM

Hi folks, this is a little bit off-topic, but this is the best place I know of to ask wood-related questions, so I’m hoping you’ll indulge me.

I live in Portland, OR, and I’m looking for some advice on the best material to use to replace my front steps, which see a LOT of rain. PT pine 2×12, cedar 2×6x, cedar 2×6s glued up to a 2×12 or ???

See below for the gory details:

The stairs were built approx 15 years ago (my best guess), and the space under the stairs is enclosed—that is, the house siding wraps all the way around the sides of the steps, with no vents / latticework.

I’m attaching a picture of the steps: this is what they looked like until yesterday, when I started taking out the treads and risers. The paint takes a beating during the winter here, and I wanted to replace it with something I could stain, which I thought would be easier to maintain—too many layers of paint on the existing treads. (Also, you can see that one tread is rotting out where the paint failed.) My plan was to replace the treads and riser and re-use the existing stringers.

So, here’s the question: what kind of wood should I use for the new treads / risers? To tell the truth, I got a little bit overexcited and bought a bunch of cedar 2×6s that I thought I would use for this, but as I demo’d the existing treads, I started to reconsider.

The existing treads are treated pine 2×12s, with treated pine 2×6s for the risers. The installers caulked the seams between treads and risers, and it looks like the space under the stairs stays pretty dry: the footings and stringers are in good shape. Obviously, using cedar 2×6s for the treads would let some rain in through the gap between boards, and it looks like this would cause some issues. For instance, some water would get in between the siding on the outside of the stairs and the stringers, which seems guaranteed to cause problems long term.

So, what are my options? Use the cedar for something else and replace with treated pine 2×12s to keep that space under the stairs dry? Mess around with gluing up the cedar 2×6s? Install the 2×6s and cross my fingers? Or ???

18 replies so far

View bondogaposis's profile


4682 posts in 2315 days

#1 posted 07-07-2014 08:34 PM

The best material, concrete.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View pintodeluxe's profile


5620 posts in 2777 days

#2 posted 07-07-2014 08:35 PM

I was going to say brick.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View bigblockyeti's profile


5092 posts in 1685 days

#3 posted 07-07-2014 08:43 PM

You could do treated pine again as it would likely be the least expensive short term, but you’d likely be repeating the project again, possibly in less than ~ 15 years. The new ACQ treated pine is rough on all but the most expensive fasteners.

View Paul's profile


721 posts in 1529 days

#4 posted 07-07-2014 08:44 PM

If your wanting the look of wood I would suggest a composite wood material. It is initially a little more costly than wood lumber but it’s lasts a lot longer and is easier to clean and maintain. is a product I’ve used before for decking and recommend it.


View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 3549 days

#5 posted 07-07-2014 08:50 PM

Please think in wet weather re slippage and accidents from slippage.I have problems when I made a good concrete set of front steps then painted them with gloss paint a disaster waiting to happen and yes I have fallen down once.Now we had blacksmith build a full set of handrails which helps us a lot. Warning! warning LOL Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View bandit571's profile


19720 posts in 2647 days

#6 posted 07-07-2014 08:52 PM

IF it MUST be wood, use Ipe

IF it must LOOK like wood, trex

Use a bunch of 2x stuff, build a few forms, and pour the concrete ( BTDT got the blistered hands)

See IF they carry a “Ground Contact” version of the treated lumber, like that used for Docks.

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View timbertailor's profile


1594 posts in 1388 days

#7 posted 07-07-2014 08:52 PM

I call it Hardie plank, its a cementitious material that lasts forever, takes paint well, and fairly easy to work with. Need a blade for cutting tile\ceramic and predrilling for nails is prudent but it will last a long time. Has a grain pattern, just like wood.

-- Brad, Texas,

View bandit571's profile


19720 posts in 2647 days

#8 posted 07-07-2014 08:59 PM

If one pour a set of stairs with concrete and then paint the treads…...go back and sprinkle SAND into the wet paint. Instant traction. Secondly, do NOT slick finish treads, stop at the Mag trowel stage.

They do make “inserts” that are made to install steel handrails on. Either the hollow kind with a pipe for the handrail post to go into, or, a rebar Bolt under a plate, set the plate even with the top of the tread. Handrail posts are then welded to the plate. Takes a bit of practice, to keep from blowing the crete up from the heat.


The traction strips you can buy to apply to the treads? JUNK. They will rise up, and catch a shoe, and cause a fall.

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View Ocelot's profile


1956 posts in 2602 days

#9 posted 07-07-2014 10:30 PM

It sounds like you’ve received good advice, but if you want wood, why not Black Locust? It’s no exotic import, but has the reputation of being extremely rot resistant.


View crampon's profile


8 posts in 2207 days

#10 posted 07-07-2014 10:38 PM

Hi folks, thanks for all the responses. I LOL’d at the concrete and brick responses—you guys are totally right. Long term, I may go that way, though I’d ideally want to do slate or some other stone. For the time being though, that’s out of scope for what is supposed to be a quick ‘n’ dirty tread replacement.

Re: slick stairs, I have been mixing in anti-skid floor texture (something like this: when I paint the steps, and that seems to work fine. Good thing – as you can see from the photo, the handrail is out of service.

Because I’m re-using the existing risers, I think I need to stick with 2” x material—using 1” or 5/4 decking will screw up the space between stairs, with the bottom step being about 3/4” lower than the others, and the top step being about 3/4” higher. I’d love to have something maintenance free, but 2” x ipe is out of budget, and as far as I can tell, hardiboard only comes in siding dimensions.

There does seem to be 2” x Trex, and I’ll take a look at it as a possibility. My one concern is that it doesn’t appear to come in 12” widths, meaning there will be some water that finds its way between the boards. How much of a problem is this? Am I overthinking, or should I be trying to keep rainwater out of that space below the stairs? In particular, I’m worried about water getting in between the siding on the sides of the steps and the stringers.

View TiggerWood's profile


271 posts in 1570 days

#11 posted 07-07-2014 11:17 PM

For wood steps you don’t want ” ” x 12s. ” ” x 6 would be better for a longer lasting step.

View timbertailor's profile


1594 posts in 1388 days

#12 posted 07-08-2014 03:00 PM

I did all the facias on my mother’s house using 1”x6” Hardie Plank. Hardie is a company name, not sure what the generic name is but it comes in all sizes. Just have to look for it.

-- Brad, Texas,

View Grandpa's profile


3259 posts in 2639 days

#13 posted 07-08-2014 03:13 PM

TREX is the best if you want the wood look. I think Hardie Plank MFG by the James Hardie Company is a good product but I am not sure even Hardie would recommend this for steps. It is brittle and breaks easily. Wood is all slick when wet but TREX has a built in grain that should help. It might need extra supports.

View LiveEdge's profile


574 posts in 1584 days

#14 posted 07-08-2014 04:00 PM

I give a second to Ipe or Cumaru. I have a deck in Eugene made of it and it is holding up fine. These woods are extremely rot resistant and look great. They are, however, going to be a bit more expensive than pine. Luckily you don’t have a huge area to do. I’d use pressure treated lumber for the stringers since they aren’t visible.

View divingfe's profile


14 posts in 2146 days

#15 posted 07-08-2014 04:33 PM

If you do use a wood, then, after everything is cut to final size, finish it then. On all sides and ends. Stain will look nice for a while, but will not protect against the elements OR, U/V destruction (that’s why cut woods (cedar, etc) turn grey after a while- pretty, but is the beginning of deterioration. Poly, even many coats, will protect against the elements, but again, the U/V will get you. That leaves paint, which I think is the best choice, will protect much, much better against U/V( the paint takes the sun’s punishment, not the wood). Also paint will protect against the elements, especially if after painting, you then give a few poly coats. Sounds like a lot of work??? Yes, but that’s the way Mother Nature is for outside woods. Consider, all the old barns, they were ALL painted; that’s why they lasted as longs as they did.
As I said, cut everything to size, then do all the finishing on ALL sides, faces and ends. For spacing; either: none, with good, careful caulking, or, a wide spacing to allow the water to drain through; it’s the standing water that does the damage. Sorry, forgot to add, if using wood and paint; Be sure to give the paint a good surface first. Sand, if needed, and then PRIME with a couple of good coats, Then two or three paint coats, of good outdoor paint. Then some poly, to help protect the paint from the elements, maybe mix in the sand for traction at that point
All said and done, easiest to go with the TREX. If you use wood, either just P/T, leave it be, and it will eventually deteriorate, but you’ll have some breathing room (you did say, ‘quick & dirty’ :-)). Otherwise any of the above suggestions for wood are good- I personally am partial to cedar; this would be in the case for a more permanent fix. I used to live 20 miles SE of Seattle. I know. Have Fun.
Sorry, forgot to add, if using wood and paint; Be sure to give the paint a good surface first. Sand, if needed, and then PRIME with a couple of good coats, Then two or three paint coats, of good outdoor paint. Good luck again

-- Shortest distance between two points - a straight line. Longest distance - a shortcut.

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