Front stoops are part of the American concept of community. In large cities and small towns, families gather and neighbors converse around the steps and platform that lead up to the front door of the home. Descended from the Dutch "stoep," the American stoop was first identified in the neighborhoods of the Hudson River Valley and New Amsterdam. Today these entryways grace Brooklyn brownstones and Nebraska farmhouses. Building your own stoop can be as complex --- and expensive --- as you choose.
Cover the basics. Look around in your neighborhood --- you'll want to build something that fits in with the general style of the neighborhood. If you live in a historic district or building, you may need to get a landmarks commission's approval for an exterior improvement. Your local building inspector or plan commission can help you with requirements of building codes and local ordinances governing construction of porches and entryways. Most of these regulations are pretty basic and will help you avoid do-it-yourselfers' remorse. Get any necessary building permits before starting construction.
Design a practical stoop. Use your own or professionally drawn plans. The landing --- the platform in front of the door --- should be large enough for several guests to stand. Most stoops are a foot or two deeper than door's swing so guests don't have to step back as the door opens. Many brownstone owners are fortunate; their builders solved this problem by recessing the front door into the face of the building, creating a spacious landing and ready-made roof. Steps should be neither too deep nor too shallow for the human foot (even shod in slushy boots) to navigate comfortably. A "rise" of 7 inches and "tread" of 8 inches, or a ratio of 9 inches of rise to a foot of depth, would be typical for the front.
Choose your style and materials. The heavy concrete stoop with iron railings so typical of urban row houses would probably look out of place in rural or suburban areas unless the house was built at the turn of the 20th century. Wood decks and stairs require considerable carpentry work, particularly if the stoop is to be covered. They also might be out of place in the city except in a Victorian historic district. Many stoops are a combination of cement landings and wooden steps. Whatever your choices, always buy galvanized bolts and exterior grade hardware for your deck.
Make a solid foundation and framework. Sink concrete footings or piers below the frost line. Attach platforms to buildings using ledger boards and rim joists. Pitch roofs at least 2 inches for every foot of base distance from the house (or peak). Use pressure-treated or engineered lumber for the deck and roof that is designed for exterior use. Level steps with concrete footings or set them on blocks set in gravel and sand for single or small steps can be easily leveled as you set them.
Finish it right. Cover stoop roofs as you would any other part of the house --- with lining material, shingles and flashing materials that match the rest of the house. Paint decks with oil-based deck stains or paints --- sand before painting to dull sharp corners and use wood sealer on board ends. Lay bluestone, decorative tile or other surface treatment while cement work is being done to avoid delaminating. Paint iron railings or ornamental treads with oil-based paint recommended for exterior use on metal.