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Question DetailsAsked on 10/14/2016

how much does it cost to install railroads ties or pressure treated wood of 6"x8"x6 feet step.there are 10 steps.

landscaping/outdoor steps

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Note railroad tie steps do not generally meet building code requirements for "stairs" - if these are leading to an entry, rather than "decorative landscaping" terraces which one might choose to walk on. Generally the building codes mandate a range of 6 to 7-3/4" rise and minimum 10" and typically 11-12" run (tread distance from front to back), though technically there is no limit on "run". Ties (by themselves) are typically about 6-1/2 to 6-3/4 high (so OK there) but 8-1/2 to 8-3/4 deep so quite a bit shy on tread depth unless you double up on the ties and make them two-deep, or do step-and-pad with a crushed rock of concrete infill before (and in under) the next tie up.

You can get (in some areas) used switch or bridge ties that are 7-1/2 high by 9-1/2" deep so closer on depth - but there is no standard tie or railroad bridge creosote bridge timber that fits both dimensions with single-tie steps. However - step-and-pad works if done with infill that is not going to kick out or settle, and double-depth ties are how many landscapers do it so each step (except the bottom one though commonly even in that case using a fully embedded in the ground tie) sits partly on the top of the second "tread" tie from the course below - keeps the step height very uniform and avoids the settlement issue. If doing two-tie treads you need to tie them together so there is no vertical separation of note between the ties - horizontal spiking or galvanized tie plates nailed on the bottoms to join them together are common methods. Horizontal rebar studs are less desireable because the open holes let water in, though you can prefill with asphaltic sealer to minimize that. Some craftsman landscapers use custom-made treated hardwood dowels to tie them together to prevent vertical offset or tilting.

Pressure treated wood you can commonly get in 6x8 (5-1/2x7-1/2 and for a lot more bucks 8x10 and 8x12 (7-1/2 by 9-1/2 or 11-1/2). My recommendation - stay miles away from the orange-treated Wolmanized" or "landscape timbers" - their 0.06-0.25 #/CF treatment retention (the amount of preservative in them) results in decays in short order - I have seen heavy rot in them in less than a year and generally pretty thorough total uselessness in 5-7 years in ground contact.

Creosoted ties or bridge timbers have the problem of not being able to sit on them without risk of damaging clothing and are technically illegal for new work in California and NY at least, and on federal lands.

Ground-contact treated copper preservative (CCA/ACA/ACC/ACQ/Copper Azeole are probably the most common preservative designations, roughly from best to lesser in terms of preservation) - and should preferably have 0.5-0.6#/CF preservative retention though a lot of current products have 0.4 or 0.35# - but still better than 0.15-0.20 like most landscape timbers have these days. If you go with copper preservative timbers (or better yet the ACC/CCA/ACC copper arsenic chromate ones, though outlawed in CA at least again) you can also retreat them after any cutting (to treat any newly exposed wood) but recoat the entire timber and let sit on blocking for a week to three minimum in dry conditions (so may need tarp tenting with airflow underneath) before installation. Retreating compound from Cupreanol and others is designed for cut ends but works on recoating too - get the paint thinner (oil) based, not water based, and wood has to be quite dry for penetration. Recoating before placement gets you closed to the old gas-carried CCA or ACA quality if you can get an oil-based treatment.

Factory treatment with an LP- designation in front of it is best - means liquified petroleum gas was used as the "carrier" for the injection, this means MUCH better penetration than other methods. LP pressure treatment generallyi gets almost to the center of the timber - many dipping or spraying methods you can see (on cut ends) only goes a fraction of an inch in - not full penetration even on 2x lumberlike decking boards, so decays much sooner.

Here is an industry standard article on the various types of treated wood out there (except creosote, which no longer is "recognized" by timber associations - only by the railway engineering association) -

A UC4A or UC4B designation (0.40 or 0.60 #/CF retention) will give you the best life - should be 30-40+ years with UC4A or more like 50+ years or more with UC4B in most conditions except very alkaline soil. I have a lot of LP-CCA and ACA 0.50# timbers in ground contact or almost complete burial situations that look slightly faded but otherwise near new and no decay after 30+ years.

Of course, bedding and embedding the timbers in crushed rock rather than "dirt" will also extend their life, as will double-treating all cut ends - which done properly means several weeks of drying time between wood purchase and completion of treatment/retreatment before they are put in.

Don't forget to read up on tiebacks/anchor bars or end embedment to prevent sliding and tilting also - just stack them up without restraining them and they will be out of alignment and tilting and need resetting in a few years. Of course, any embedment anchors (cables, rebar, etc) that is put into holes drilled in the timber should be treated also - soaking the hole in treatment solution if chemically treated and sealing at least the top of the hole with long-life industrial sealant to limit water infiltration - or using asphaltic sealant in the holes before driving rods in, then sealant or better yet coal tar or "paintable creosote" if you can get them, otherwise meltable driveway crack patch tar around the top of the hole to seal it. Works best if melted and dribbled into the hole just before driving the rebar, so it fills the void around the rebar and waterproofs it. Look at Youtube for expert videos on doing timber landscaping steps, securing them,, amount of backtilt to build-in to prevent minor settlement from creating a forward-sloping slip-and-slide situation, etc.

Cost - typically around $15-20/LF of tie for your size job, plus several hundred $ for crushed stone fill if using that for tread pads - so maybe around $1000-2000 depending on configuration, tiebacks, end embedment, if any excavation and disposal of dirt is needed in the existing slope, etc. Maybe as cheap as $800 or so for a drop in and run type lowest bid job, but expect movement within months.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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