Wednesday, July 8, 2015

How to update exterior concrete steps: replace old carpet with tile

Can you use tile for a front entry makeover of worn carpet on concrete stairs?

Tile was the best solution for our front steps update. Our home was built in 1969. My husband and I bought it in 1987. Before we moved in we replaced the out dated worn out indoor flooring and painted walls. To maintain a fresh look, homeowners must keep up property on a regular basis, constantly fixing things, requiring small and large investments. We remodeled with a major addition in 1996. This stairway entrance update in 2015 taught us once again about home improvement decisions, timing, materials and labor.

Tile for front entry makeover of worn carpet on concrete steps.
Tile for front entry makeover of worn carpet on concrete steps.

Backtrack nearly three decades in remembrance of the home we rented before buying this home

My husband and I moved over 500 miles from South Dakota to Kansas in 1986 and as a couple, we rented a house. Soon after, I was expecting our first child. It was a nice place. The large kitchen had a red counter top. But the green, long shag carpet hid oodles of stick pins which couldn’t be vacuumed out. I love the word oodles—it reminds me of Grandma Sonnack. As a seamstress, I understand how all those stick pins got there. During the process of working quickly to proceed to the next step on the guide sheet, pins hastily land on the floor. It wasn’t a problem in my Mom’s sewing room because the floor was sweepable. But, I’m thinking that whoever lived in this rental house before us should have been more careful. Stick pins aren’t healthy for our baby who would crawl on this dangerous floor if we don’t move. Yikes!

The home we rented was on an unpaved gravel street. Besides indoor plumbing and mid century modern appliances; open windows and electric fans were our only amenities. As a native Minnesotan, I’d expected this to be fine, but little did I know that the move south would make such a difference in temperature. Here we were at home in our new state which bragged, “Ah, Kansas!” in their promotions. I mocked claim on this slogan as I walked outdoors on a windy summer day into heat which felt like a clothes dryer set on high. The Kansas August record high of 118° is a scary thought for a woman well into the final trimester of pregnancy. Having open windows helps, but oh the dust each time a car drove by is not so lovely. Finding a place with central air and a paved street became a priority which eventually brought much joy.

We’d purchased a couch for $1.00 at an auction. It would have been called a davenport in my childhood home. Vintage 1940s fit our eclectic decor. I liked the style and color. We cleaned it well before bringing it in. It was a great place to put up my swollen ankles, but as far as comfort… well, it would have to do until we could afford a better one.

When you buy a home, it’s wise to start a savings account to allow for replacing, fixing and making improvements later


Professionally installed porcelain tile covers old concrete steps.
Professionally installed porcelain tile covers old concrete steps.

“Before” photos don’t exist, but try to imagine wear-damaged plastic green outdoor carpet on the front steps. 

The exterior steps remained the original plastic-green until 1996 when we built an addition. At that time we replaced it with a neutral gray carpet which looked great at first, but wore out its welcome in 2015. The carpet was literally worn out with frayed edges and dark spots that were probably mold. Yuck.

Coming up with a solution came about by process of elimination—by deciding what not to do after we ripped off the old carpet on the original concrete steps.

  • Re-carpet—This would’ve been fairly cheap, but from experience we know how time flies and what to expect from it. Besides that, dirt and debris sticks to it, not to mention snow.
  • Strip to bare original concrete—The old glue amd black stuff they used to attach the past two carpets was stuck on hard. We feared it would be impossible to remove entirely, even with a lot of chemicals and elbow grease.
  • Paint over—The texture from adhesives left a tacky appearance and paint would probably wear off unattractively.
  • Tear out the old steps and put new in—The existing steps are in good condition and it seemed like such a heavy-duty project for something that’s just asking for a face lift.
  • Cover with stone—Even though it might have looked awesome, the idea of actually doing it seemed overwhelmingly out-of-the-box.
  • Cover with slate—The slate tiles we found could flake or chip easily and cause a cut if walking on barefoot.
  • Cover with cork—Fun thought, but not ideal for exterior flooring.
  • Cover with wood—Wouldn’t work with the height of the threshold.
  • Cover with recycled rubber gym flooring—It isn’t bendable enough.
  • Cover with concrete patio brick—It’s too thick for the threshold.

Finally, our solution: Cover it with tile. 

Choosing tile for covering concrete steps was fairly easy. Instead of looking for the most appealing tile, we considered the surface first and foremost. This narrowed down our choices drastically. We chose an indoor/outdoor porcelain tile with a rough surface for walking grip so it wouldn’t be slippery when wet.

An extra single piece of tile is shown in the foliage near our front steps. FYI, cut hydrangeas (the flower in the corner) stay fresh longer in a vase which has a pinch of alum added to the water. This item is marked Nutrasand Tusk 12 x 24 887275009675

For labor and expertise, we contacted a reliable and talented person who accepted the job.

The father-daughter team used a wet cut tile saw with a diamond blade for cutting the porcelain tile. I don’t know the full details of the entire process. The tile project was reasonably expensive because of the excellent quality material and craftsmanship. Consider the factors which helped us decide to do it:
  • The look.
  • Easy to shovel or sweep
  • Durable for longevity.
  • Ability to hire the service.
  • Utilize and support someone’s vocation.
What do you think? Do you have experience or ideas to share on this topic? Add a comment below.

In closing, here are Bible verses to encourage you:
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8
The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9


  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and knowledge on this topic. This is really helpful and informative, as this gave me more insight to create more ideas and solutions for my plan. I would love to see more updates from you.

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