You may take your driveway for granted, but it’s wonderful not having to worry about where you’re going to park when you get home. Being able to pull in steps from the door is a luxury that’s easy to overlook. While not forgetting that, it’s also important that the driveway is built the right away. It should serve its purpose and hold up well, but it should also add to the beauty of the property.
Lots of different materials can be used to construct a driveway. All have their pros and cons. Let’s look at some of the most popular. Whether you’re already looking at redoing your driveway or it’s a project for down the road, we hope this guide will get you pointed in the right direction.
What You Need In a Driveway
You might read this section heading and think, “The only thing I need in a driveway is space to park my car.” The second time we looked at it, that’s what passed through our minds, too. But there should be more to your driveway than that, too.
Of course, that is your primary concern. You want a driveway that is big enough to park your car – or cars. Even if you have a garage, there may be times you don’t want to pull the car inside. You might be heading out again or you’re going to wash the car. Maybe the garage has become a workshop or a storage space. So your driveway has to be big enough to accommodate the vehicles used by your household.
You may not have much control over the length of your driveway, of course. It’s going to lead from the street to your house, and you can’t move either of those to let you install a longer drive. So extra space usually has to come in the width of the driveway. For extra space, you might have to add a “spur” off to the side for that second or third car.
You also want to be sure that the driveway’s design doesn’t contribute to problems for your house. As far as possible, the slope of the driveway should direct rainwater or melting snow away from the house – either toward the street or to the side away from the house. Of course, that also is hard to control if the house sits below street level, so it takes careful planning. It might even require adding drains in front of the garage door.
Durability is another key factor that you need to take into account. You don’t want to watch your driveway crumble away in a couple years, losing both its functionality and its beauty. The right materials, installed correctly, will help you to have a driveway that holds up for the long haul.
If you live in the snow belt, you have to consider how tough it’s going to be to shovel or plow, too. Materials with a smooth, regular surface work best. They should also be resistant to scratching or damage from plow blades or snow shovels. Another thing to consider is having a heated driveway that will take care of most of the ice or snow without the backbreaking work.
You’ll also want something that’s easy to keep clean. Cars are going to leak fluids of one kind of another – whether it’s antifreeze, oil, or gas. It may not be much – it may be only a few drops of overflow. But any of these can leave stains. So you want a driveway material that’s easy to get stains out of, or at least that will hide the stains well.
Every driveway will also need occasional maintenance. Nothing lasts forever, but you can prolong the life of your driveway by regularly resealing it or providing other care. Of course, how often you have to do that depends on the material.
Even with all of this, you don’t have to forget the beauty of your driveway. It is, after all, part of the landscape and the curb appeal of your home. Driveway materials run the range from plain and drab to truly wonderful to look at.
And of course, we can’t forget to mention the cost. The type of material you choose is going to be restricted by your budget, but there are quality materials that can look great that are priced reasonably as well.
Common Types of Driveway Materials
There are a lot of options when it comes to installing a driveway or redoing one. Each material can offer advantages but none is perfect. Here are a few of the most common driveway surface types.
One of the most durable materials on our list, concrete can withstand the weight of your vehicles and almost anything the climate can throw at it.
Concrete will allow water to run off it, and if it is ordinary concrete, it’s a smooth surface that’s easy to clean. It’s also easy to remove snow from it.
It should be resealed every couple of years to prevent water from seeping into it. It’s relatively inexpensive to have that resealing done. The sealant also helps protect against stains as you clean them up promptly.
This material is somewhat inexpensive.
On the other hand, concrete can look rather drab in its regular state. It will also crack, although a good contractor will know how to control the cracks so they show up in less obvious places. If your concrete cracks a lot, it could have been mixed poorly or not poured in a thick enough layer.
Concrete can also suffer in the coldest weather, leading to buckling.
If you want something more attractive than “regular” concrete, stamped concrete might be the choice for you.
Stamped concrete is a more decorative version of concrete. Dyes add color and patterns are stamped into still-wet cement to create the appearance of other surfaces. Among the amazing patterns we’ve seen are brick, cobblestone, running and stacked bond, quarried stone, and even wood planks!
You’ll get all the benefits of regular concrete as well as most of the drawbacks. But when you want a much better-looking version, stamped concrete is the way to go.
It’s a bit more expensive than regular concrete, of course, since more materials and labor are involved. However, it’s still available at a good price point. Maintenance of stamped concrete is pretty simple, too.
Asphalt works great on roads and it translates well to the driveway. It definitely serves the purpose of providing a secure surface to park and walk on. It’s also probably the simplest material to install and maintain.
Since black absorbs heat, it might even help the snow melt a little better. Also, stains might not be so obvious.
On the other hand – it’s black. You’ve got no options here.
It’s inexpensive, at least. It does need to be resealed every 3-5 years so that it holds together and prevents water absorption.
Natural Stone Pavers
Pavers are available in other materials as well, such as brick and concrete. But natural stone has a special beauty.
They are durable as well and will hold up well to the elements.
Natural stone pavers can be costly, though, although brick and concrete versions are less expensive.
Gravel and Crushed Stone
These natural materials present an attractive driveway. Gravel is finer than crushed stone but both offer a beautiful look and are available in a variety of colors.
If you ever have spills or stains, you can mix in the stone or spread it out so that the stained stone is no longer visible. Maintenance in other ways is low, too, since you only need to add more stone.
Snow removal is tough with these, though. Traction may be tough as well if the stone isn’t packed tight, but this is a smaller concern.
It’s also best to have a border on your driveway, such as a row of brick, so that only a minimum of material will spill over into the lawn.
Gravel and crushed stone are both available for a reasonable price.
A traditional brick surface is another fantastic option for your driveway. It has a look that goes well with older homes in particular.
Brick does have a number of drawbacks, though. It needs to be sealed several times each year, as opposed to other surfaces that can go several years between resealings.
This isn’t the cheapest option, either. Although it can hold up well and looks great, both the initial cost and ongoing maintenance can be expensive.
Also known as Belgian Block, cobblestone recalls old European cities or the colonial era of the American Northeast. Whether laid in straight lines or the more elaborate fan shapes, this magnificent look may be a great match if you live in an older area.
Cobblestone is durable and will hold up over long periods. These pavers come in various colors as well.
Cobblestone’s expensive though. Its irregular surface also makes it difficult to shovel or plow. Pavers may need to be reset occasionally as the ground settles, too, to prevent tripping hazards.
Tar and Chip
Tar and chip driveways may be a great option for you as well. While the name might not be familiar to you, you’ve likely driven over this material in parking lots and roads.
It’s actually cheaper than asphalt, although asphalt is used in the creation of these surfaces. A bottom layer of asphalt has an asphalt and stone mixture added on top of it. Tar and chip holds up well, with an expected lifespan of seven to ten years.
One of the biggest benefits is that it provides great traction. Also, it can be installed on top of other surfaces, which could make it even more affordable since there’s no removal required.
Plowing might damage the surface, but it’s smooth enough to be shoveled off.
Yes, you can even have a grass driveway! Using permeable pavers, you can allow the grass to grow through them. These paver systems help protect against ruts and keep the grass healthy. Of course, you can’t leave your car parked in the same spot 24/7; the grass still needs sunlight to thrive.
This is a great environmentally-friendly alternative and is usually more economical to install and maintain than other driveway surfaces.
These grass pavers systems have been growing in popularity. They still stand out as “different” in most areas, but you can be part of this growing trend.
Driveways don’t have to be boring or unsightly. They can be a part of the beauty of your home while also offering the space you need to park your cars. While no material is perfect, there are a lot of options to fit your needs and your budget!