Stone Steps vs. Concrete Steps in Gardens

Adding a staircase to your garden can instantly enhance the aesthetic appeal and functionality of the space. But when it comes to choosing between stone steps or concrete steps, there are several factors to consider. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll examine the pros and cons of each option to help you determine which material is best suited for your outdoor staircase project.

An Overview of Stone Steps

Stone is a classic, natural material that has been used in hardscaping and masonry projects for centuries. Stone steps come in a variety of types including bluestone, slate, sandstone, limestone, and granite. The specific mineral composition gives each stone type its own unique color, texture, and pattern.

Some benefits of using stone for garden steps include:

  • Timeless, elegant aesthetic that accentuates natural surroundings
  • Extremely durable and long-lasting, can last 50-100 years with proper installation
  • Withstands the elements; resists water damage, freeze/thaw cycles
  • Skid-resistant surface provides plenty of traction
  • Can be cut to custom sizes and shapes
  • Won’t fade over time like other materials can

However, there are a few potential drawbacks with natural stone steps:

  • More expensive upfront cost compared to concrete
  • Requires expertise to properly install
  • Can crack or deteriorate over time if not properly maintained
  • Larger slab stone steps may be excessively heavy, making DIY installation difficult
  • Surface imperfections like pits and fossils can create uneven steps

Overall, the unrivaled beauty and brawn of natural stone make it a premier choice for garden steps. But it’s worth examining if the higher initial investment will fit within your project budget.

What Makes Concrete a Viable Option?

Over the past decades, advances in concrete technology have made this material a versatile, affordable option for modern designs. Concrete offers several advantages for exterior steps:

  • Cost-effective pricing – Pre-cast concrete steps are generally the most budget-friendly option. This makes concrete a smart choice for large, multi-level staircases.
  • Low maintenance – Properly cured and sealed concrete requires very little upkeep compared to natural stone. Concrete won’t degrade due to weather exposure.
  • Customizable aesthetic – Concrete can be stained, stamped, or painted to mimic styles ranging from weathered wood to cobblestone. Integrating color creates beautiful steps.
  • Easy to install – Pre-fabricated concrete steps are lightweight and designed for simple DIY assembly. This enables quick, hassle-free installation.
  • ** ADA compliance** – Concrete’s grip and visibility make it compliant with codes for accessibility. Proper handrails can be installed with concrete steps.

Potential drawbacks of concrete steps include susceptibility to cracks over time and an industrial vibe that may feel out of sync with natural surroundings. But smart design choices can help concrete steps blend into garden aesthetics.

Now that we’ve covered the key characteristics of each material, let’s do some head-to-head comparisons of specific factors to help you determine which is right for your project.

Stone Steps vs. Concrete Steps: Factors to Compare


  • For a classic, timeless look that complements gardens and wooded yards, it’s hard to beat the raw beauty of natural stone steps. The unique colors, fossiled patterns, and textural pitting create depth and visual interest. Concrete simply can’t replicate the nuances of natural stone finishes.
  • That said, stained or stamped concrete can closely imitate materials like brick, flagstone, and cut stone. Concrete offers nearly endless customization through color, aggregate, and engraving. Proper maintenance keeps the appearance fresh.
  • Stone steps command attention as a standalone focal point and design feature. But basic concrete can risk looking industrial or out of sync with garden aesthetics if not enhanced with color or other ornamentation.
  • Concrete stepping pavers are a nice middle ground, providing the modular versatility of concrete with the shapes, patterns, and multi-toned colors of natural stone.


  • Both natural stone and properly mixed/cured concrete offer superb longevity and weather-resistance. With quality craftsmanship, either option can easily last 50+ years before replacement is needed.
  • Stone may have a slight edge for durability thanks to the tightly packed mineral composition. But porous, sedimentary stones like sandstone can deteriorate quicker than dense granites. Sealants help increase the lifespan.
  • Minor chips, cracks, and stains over time are normal with any paver material. Concrete’s susceptibility to cracking can be minimized with proper control joint installation.
  • For the most foolproof, long-lasting staircase, opt for stone steps made from resilient materials like granite, bluestone, or certain limestones.


  • The coarse, irregular surface of natural stone steps provides inherently excellent traction, even when wet. Rougher finishes like sandstone have incredible grip.
  • Standard concrete’s flat, uniform surface can become quite slippery when wet. For improved traction, choose a stepped or stamped finish or coat steps with anti-slip treatments. Blasted finishes also add grip.
  • In snowy climates, stone’s rugged texture prevents packed snow/ice accumulation better than smooth concrete. Melting snow drains well on stone to avoid puddles.
  • Proper installation is also key – a slight downward slope and drainage considerations will improve traction for either material. Curved steps with adequate tread width also improve safety.

Installation and Labor

  • Installing natural stone steps is best left to masonry professionals. The heavy slabs require special equipment to position without cracking or destabilizing the substrate. Proper alignment and mortar work take skill.
  • For DIYers, pre-cast modular concrete steps are by far the easiest material to self-install. Their light weight and interlocking design allow secure stacking without heavy tools or mortar.
  • Custom concrete can be poured and molded on-site but requires forms, proper curing, and finishing. Trying to tackle complex concrete staircases without experience risks poor results.
  • Labor accounts for a significant chunk of any stone staircase cost. But opting ​​for pre-fab concrete steps virtually eliminates any professional labor fees, saving potentially thousands.

Maintenance and Care

  • Concrete’s simple, monotone composition makes it very low maintenance. Rinsing dirt and debris while sealing annually is about all that’s required to keep concrete steps looking good.
  • Natural stone needs a bit more routine care and maintenance to prevent deterioration in harsh climates. Sweeping off debris, annual sealing, re-filling crevices, and re-leveling sections may be needed.
  • De-icing salts, fertilizers, and other chemical residues should be promptly rinsed off both concrete and stone to avoid damage, etching, or discoloration.
  • Cracks and chips in stone steps can often be patched and filled. Extensive concrete cracking requires replacement of damaged sections.


  • Concrete steps generally offer the most budget-friendly option. Pre-cast modular steps cost approximately $50 – $100 per step based on size, style, and finish upgrades. Pouring custom concrete costs $75 – $200 per step.
  • Natural stone step pricing varies dramatically based on the type/source of stone and cut dimensions. But expect to pay $200 – $500 per slab step on average. Large steps may cost up to $1000 each.
  • The extensive time and labor involved with stone installation also adds substantially to overall project costs compared to concrete.
  • For a 10-step garden staircase, pre-cast concrete may total just $1000 in materials. A custom bluestone stairway of the same size could easily exceed $5000+ with construction labor.


  • Using locally quarried and fabricated stone steps is quite eco-friendly, avoiding carbon emissions from transportation and manufacturing. Stone is also fully reusable if relocated in the future.
  • Concrete does have a significant carbon footprint from cement production. But modern concrete mixes include recycled aggregate and supplementary cementitious materials that reduce the environmental impact.
  • Safety issues of mining and stone fabrication must be factored into the sustainability of natural stone. Modern concrete plants adhere to much stricter environmental regulations.
  • For optimally green outdoor steps, locally fabricated concrete with recycled content is the most sustainable choice. Or use reclaimed bricks, pavers, or stone from other projects.

Key Considerations When Planning Your Steps

Beyond just the building material decision, there are several other factors to weigh when planning your dream garden steps:

  • Consider how the steps will coordinate with the home exterior and surrounding hardscapes/plantings. You want cohesive style and colors.
  • Factor in the overall rise, tread width, and length needed to comfortably navigate the slope. Curving the steps can help manage steeper climbs.
  • Outline the construction specifics – excavation, site prep, drainage, foundations, and required permits/codes. Know your DIY skill limits.
  • For accessibility, incorporate proper railings and hand grips. Reflective markers on the steps also increase nighttime visibility.
  • Think long-term and account for potential settling, erosion, freeze/thaw shifts, and drainage patterns to ensure durable stability.
  • Research qualified local contractors experienced in quality outdoor staircase construction. Verify licenses, insurance, warranties, costs, and timelines.

Stone Steps vs Concrete Steps: Which is Best for Your Garden?

After comparing the pros and cons, costs, and installation factors, how do you choose the right material for your project? Here are some closing recommendations:

  • For traditional garden aesthetics at a moderate price, opt for concrete pavers molded and colored to mimic natural stone shapes and textures. This balances cost, beauty, and ease of installation. Flagstone, bluestone, and ledgestone patterned pavers offer gorgeous options that don’t require heavy stone masonry equipment or expertise.
  • Choose custom poured & stamped concrete for seamless, sleek staircases at the lowest installation cost. Enhance concrete with carving, coloring, handrails, and other ornamental touches so the steps blend into the garden landscape and look like they belong.
  • Invest in classic, durable natural stone if budget allows and you prefer an aged, timeworn profile over perfect concrete steps. Local granite, bluestone, travertine, or limestone tend to offer the hardest, low-maintenance compositions appropriate for outdoor stairs.
  • For DIY projects, go with lightweight, modular pre-cast concrete units that simply stack. Maximize visual appeal with varied shapes, built-in planters, or alternating colors. This option requires minimal skills.
  • In climates with frequent rain, snow, and freeze/thaw weather, lean toward stone or concrete pavers with rougher finishes for the surest footing. Avoid polished granite or smooth concrete.

Weigh your budget, design goals, and needed stair specs before settling on the right material and style of steps for revamping your outdoor living space. With smart planning and construction, your new garden steps can become a stunning focal point to improve curb appeal, usability, and safety for decades to come. Feel free to reach out with any other questions!

Frequently Asked Questions About Stone Steps vs. Concrete Steps

Q: Are stone steps or concrete steps better for the environment?

A: Overall, locally fabricated concrete steps made with recycled content and minimal cement have the lowest carbon footprint. But stone steps fabricated and quarried regionally also rank as an eco-friendly option, avoiding transportation emissions and allowing future reuse of the stone.

Q: Can concrete steps be made to look like natural stone?

A: Yes, with stamping, etching, stains, revealed aggregates, and colorants, concrete can realistically mimic natural finishes like flagstone, travertine, bluestone, etc. Concrete offers much more flexibility than actual stone when it comes to achieving different looks.

Q: How long should outdoor steps last?

A: With quality materials and proper installation, both natural stone and concrete steps should easily last 50-100 years before major repairs or replacement are needed. Following the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance and upkeep preserves longevity.

Q: What is the standard height and depth for outdoor steps?

A: As a general rule of thumb, step risers should be between 4-7 inches in height, and tread depth from 11-14 inches deep. Wider, lower steps promote comfort and safety. ADA standards call for a maximum riser height of 7 inches and minimum tread depth of 11 inches.

Q: Can you pour concrete over existing stone or brick steps?

A: In some cases, yes – pouring a thin concrete overlay can refresh the walking surface of old steps without needing to tear out the underlying structure. But this requires proper prep, adhesive, and curing to ensure durable bonding. Rebuilding with new substrate is best for deteriorated steps.

Q: Should concrete or stone steps have rebar reinforcement?

A: Adding steel rebar is definitely recommended for poured concrete steps to strengthen the concrete and reduce cracking as the stairs settle. Natural stone has inherent strength from the dense minerals, so rebar is generally not used in stone construction.

Q: What is the cost difference between bluestone vs. concrete steps?

A: On average, high quality bluestone slab steps cost $350-$500 per tread. Pre-cast concrete steps average $50-$150 depending on size, texture, color, and other customization. So bluestone stairs generally cost 2-10x more than poured concrete.

Q: Can you DIY concrete steps if you have no experience?

A: Crafting concrete stairs properly requires some construction knowledge and skill to calculate layout, build forms, level, pour, and finish correctly. Novice DIYers often end up with cracked, crumbling steps. Consider hiring a contractor for high quality.


Weighing the pros, cons, costs, and installation considerations of stone steps versus concrete steps equips you to make the ideal material choice for your outdoor staircase project. A thoughtfully designed and constructed garden staircase seamlessly links together spaces, enhances aesthetics, and adds home value for years to come. Whether you prefer the refined elegance of natural stone or the sleek modernity of decorative concrete, new stairs open exciting possibilities for enjoying your expanded outdoor living areas.