Level changes Sustainable steps and ramps

Steps are used where the terrain is too steep to walk on; they provide a controlled way to move up and down. Ramps are handy when the slope is gentle enough that steps aren't necessary. They make it easy to wheel things in and out, and they're safer than steps because there's nothing to trip on.

Steps and ramps should be wide, even, and well marked with edges defined by stones or other edging. They should also have handrails for safety. Because the ground isn't level, safety is the most important consideration. However, you don't have to use unsustainable approaches. As long as they aren't a hazard, natural materials often fit the bill just as well as high-tech ones.

fftNG/ In the old days, we built steps (and walls) of railroad ties. They were a waste-stream product, having been removed from railroad tracks when they became split or just old. Railroad ties have downsides, though. They're heavy and difficult to cut; and even worse, they're soaked with creosote, which is a health hazard. Their overall nastiness makes railroad ties a bad choice.

Better options include steps made of

  • Urbanite, which is flat, usually around 4 inches thick, easy to stack up, and quite handsome. Turning your old patio into steps is ultrasustain-able (assuming that you don't need your patio anymore, of course).
  • Landscape ties, which aren't perfect but provide choices including pressure-treated wood, recycled plastic, melted plastic from automobiles, and rot-resistant wood timber made from sustainably harvested or urban trees. Of the bunch, this last choice, made from trees such as black locust, white oak, cedar, or cypress, is a sustainable choice because these ties tend to be local, are possibly a waste-stream item, aren't chemically treated, and aren't plastic.
  • Stone from on-site or nearby. Stone is natural, has a low embodied energy, is nontoxic, and is mighty easy on the eyes.
  • Concrete, which can be lower in its impact if you choose high-volume fly ash content concrete. Or perhaps try a new carbon-sequestering or even pollution-absorbing concrete, which may be on the market by the time you read this.

As you can see, no one option is perfect but there are some excellent choices.

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