Sidewalks 31 Street-level/driveway-level steps Front and side paths 32 Entry steps 32 Patio 33 Driveway 33 Checkpoint summary 35

As you walk around the house on the second pass, inspect the paths, steps, patio, and driveway. The problems normally encountered with these items usually do not require immediate correction. Nevertheless, a tripping hazard might exist, cosmetic maintenance might be needed, or a condition might make the lower level vulnerable to water penetration. If you see problems in these areas, record them on your worksheet for early correction.


Sidewalks are usually constructed of concrete, asphalt, or stone embedded in the ground. Not all communities have sidewalks. If a sidewalk is in front of or on the sides of the house, look for cracked or uneven sections because they are a potential tripping hazard. Even though the sidewalk might be on property owned by the town, its maintenance is usually the homeowner’s responsibility. If someone should be hurt because of a cracked or uneven section, you would be vulnerable to a lawsuit. Very often uneven sections are caused by the roots of trees growing nearby. Correcting the condition would require chopping that section of root away and resetting the sidewalk. You should be aware of the fact that trees adjacent to the sidewalk are often the property of the local municipality, and prior to altering the roots, permission should be obtained.

Street-level/ driveway-level steps

Steps might lead from the sidewalk or driveway to the front path. These steps should be inspected for cracked, chipped, broken, or uneven sections. Look specifically for dimensional variations in the step risers. The riser (vertical distance) for the top step or the bottom step is often a different size than those for the other steps. This difference is a tripping hazard because it interrupts the natural rhythm of ascending and descending the steps. If there are more than two steps, there should be a handrail as a safety precaution.

Front and side paths

Two general types of paths are used with residential structures. One is a ribbon type, generally constructed of concrete or asphalt; the other is a sectional type, generally inlaid with material such as stones, bricks, sections of tree trunks, or precast concrete blocks. The sectional type normally requires periodic maintenance because of the tendency toward uneven settlement and weed growth between the sections. Sometimes the sections are loose and uneven and present a tripping hazard. Occasionally, the sections are set in mortar. Look for loose, cracked, and chipped mortar joints that require repointing. When inspecting the ribbon-type path, look for cracked, uneven, and broken sections. Very often damage occurs because the base below the path was not properly prepared during construction. Look particularly for settled sections that are sloping toward the house. These areas will direct rain runoff toward the house, so that water accumulates around the foundation. This water can enter the lower level. In this case, the path should be repositioned so that it slopes away from the structure or completely rehabilitated.

While inspecting the paths, look for small, abrupt changes in the elevation. Occasionally, I have found a single step in the middle of a path. This step is a potential tripping hazard because it often goes unnoticed. A single step in a path, except at an entrance, should be avoided. If a slight elevation change is necessary and there is a step, it should be converted to a ramp, or shrubs should be planted at the step to call attention to the elevation change. An outdoor light should also be placed here. (See FIG. 4-1.) You might find a path partially blocked by overgrown shrubs; consequently it is no longer functional. In this case, if a path is needed, the shrubs should be pruned or the path repositioned.

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