How to Make a Gravel Driveway (Project Summary)

How to Make a Gravel Driveway (Project Summary)

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Aggregate Driveways

  • Cost Per Square Foot: $0.50 to $5, depending on material, layer count, drainage, and other factors.
  • Useful Lifespan: Indefinite with periodic resurfacing
  • Maintenance: Low to moderate
  • DIY Potential: High

Aggregate, or gravel, is the cheapest and most durable of these four common driveway materials. My wife and I chose gravel for our driveway, and we couldn’t have been happier with the result: It cost us less than $300, took a single morning to install, and will last for the remainder of our tenure as homeowners with proper care.

Aggregate varies by geography – check out the map on page 10 of this handy USGS guide to U.S. aggregates. In most parts of the U.S., Class 5 limestone is the go-to choice. Expect to pay $15 to $30 per ton. You’ll need approximately one ton per 50 square feet, or 10 tons per 50′ by 10′ section.

Cheaper types of gravel cost even less. With DIY installation, a basic gravel driveway can cost as little as $0.50 per square foot – an order of magnitude less than a professionally installed asphalt, stone, or concrete driveway.

Since gravel is prone to erosion, some sort of drainage system is recommended on moderate to steep slopes. A basic French drain, basically a gravel-lined trench with a porous PVC pipe that redirects running water from the driveway’s center to its edges, is relatively straightforward to install. Check out this HGTV guide for details.

Advantages of Aggregate Driveways

  1. Relative Affordability. Pound for pound, aggregate is the cheapest of these four common driveway materials. A basic gravel driveway can cost as little as $0.50 per square foot – an order of magnitude less than a professionally installed asphalt, stone, or concrete driveway.
  2. Durability. Aggregate is extremely durable. With proper drainage and regular maintenance, aggregate driveways last for decades. By contrast, asphalt driveways require regular resurfacing, significantly adding to their lifetime ownership costs.
  3. Low Maintenance. Aggregate is low maintenance. Once the material has settled, all that’s required is periodic spreading and filling to reduce rutting and smooth bumps. The associated financial and temporal costs are minimal.
  4. Environmentally Friendly. Most driveway aggregates are naturally derived – they’re literally crushed rock, usually from the user’s geological neighborhood. Some aggregates have synthetic components, such as crushed concrete and asphalt, but they’re easily avoided. Plus, aggregate is naturally porous: Storm water sinks right into it, and eventually into the aquifer, rather than running off and polluting local surface water.
  5. High DIY Potential. Installing a gravel driveway requires no great skill, just old-fashioned elbow grease. Aside from the truck driver who delivers your aggregate, you can complete the entire job from start to finish with no professional help.

Disadvantages of Aggregate Driveways

  1. Lack of Aesthetic Appeal. Aggregate comes in many different colors and textures, some combinations of which are quite pleasing to the eye. But even high-end gravel has a certain unfinished – even cheap – quality to it. If your top priority is enhancing your home’s curb appeal, aggregate isn’t your best bet.
  2. Difficult Snow Removal. Gravel is no friend to snowplows, and vice versa. It’s hard to plow a gravel surface clean without dinging up the plow, spraying gravel everywhere (thereby shortening the driveway’s lifespan), or both.
  3. Rutting. Over time, aggregate driveways are prone to rutting. Ruts are prone to hazards like snow, ice, and mud, all of which are unpleasant or unsafe to varying degrees for pedestrians and vehicles alike.
  4. Potential HOA Covenant Restrictions. If you live in a subdivision governed by a homeowners’ association (HOA), check your HOA’s bylaws (and the board, to be safe) before spending any money.

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How much does a driveway cost?

A typical concrete driveway costs between $65 to $150 per square metre, with price variations due to materials and labour. A 1-car concrete driveway typically costs between $1000 to $2000 depending on the area size along with the quality and type of materials used, while a 2-car driveway typically costs around $3000. A quick trip to your local hardware store will allow you to get expert DIY advice and the right tools for the project. Additionally, if you want to outsource parts like the pouring and curing, you can employ a concrete professional through our loaded database of suppliers and services!

What is a Geocell?

Geocells are a specific subgroup of geotechnology used to add stability and drainage and stability the base layers of driveway.

Unlike geotextiles which are flat, geocells are vertical, rigid, pocket-like structures. When building a driveway, these pockets are far more desirable than their flat counterparts for a variety of reasons.

Vertical Support:

With their upright shape, geocells provide vertical support to the substrate distributed over them. This support helps the rock maintain its shape and prevent premature compacting.

Improved Drainage:

Because geocells cradle the substrate that is distributed over them, it staves off the compaction that comes with time. Because the substrate to maintain its placement longer, geocells airflow to remain between the rocks longer. Not only does this add strength, but it promotes drainage by allowing the water to filter successfully though the rock.

Revived Crushed Shell Driveway

Photo courtesy of Remodeling Guy
Photo courtesy of Remodeling Guy

This idea is great for a coastal area where you can utilize some crushed shells to establish a no-frills driveway with interesting textures that is still functional. The creator of these plans said he was able to get one cubic yard of crushed seashells for about $50 from a local supplier, which is a great low-cost option.

Related Post: Egg Shell Art

This simple driveway does have two disadvantages: Shells aren’t super comfy to step on with bare feet, and they are prone to pesky weeds.

Find the project at Remodeling Guy

Asphalt Driveways

  • Cost Per Square Foot: Between $7 and $13 per square foot for a new asphalt driveway, according to Angi. Chip sealing is less expensive — around $3 per square foot, according to HomeAdvisor.
  • Useful Lifespan: 10 to 20 years, depending on climate and use
  • Maintenance: Moderate to high
  • DIY Potential: Low

Asphalt is a common, highly functional driveway material that’s cheaper than stone and concrete, its two main solid-surface competitors. The construction process is involved, though, and isn’t recommended for DIYers without prior experience operating paving equipment.

Asphalt is also relatively high-maintenance, especially in harsh climates. Experts recommend sealing asphalt driveways within a year of installation, then resealing every three to five years. Reseals are not cheap: The average cost is around $400, lower for shorter driveways and higher for longer ones. Periodic patching may be required as well, depending on use patterns and the quality and stability of the substrate. (Patching is within DIYers’ capabilities.)

Asphalt’s useful lifespan is the shortest of any material on this list. In colder climates, expect to resurface every 10 to 15 years. In milder regions, asphalt can last longer than 20 years – but other surfaces last comparatively longer as well.

Advantages of Asphalt Driveways

  1. Stability. Asphalt is a stable, solid material. Once cured, you can safely walk on it without worrying about mud or messy residue sticking to your shoes. That’s a big advantage over aggregate, which is prone to sloppiness in wet weather.
  2. Aesthetic Appeal. Aesthetically, asphalt is a known quantity. While it’s not as arresting as stone, brick, or colored concrete, it looks professional and finished. The same can’t be said for gravel.
  3. Easy Winter Maintenance. Asphalt is easy to plow during the winter. Unlike stone and gravel, both of which are prone to damage from plows (and vice versa), a professionally paved asphalt surface can be scraped clean and salted with little trouble. (Salt and chemical ice-melters don’t work as well on porous gravel.)
  4. Traction. Asphalt’s traction quotient is far higher than stone’s. This matters in wet and icy conditions, and for pedestrians with impractical footwear.

Disadvantages of Asphalt Driveways

  1. Relatively High Maintenance Requirements. Asphalt driveways require resurfacing every three to five years. The average resurfacing project costs $400 to $500 a pop – nearly what you’d spend on a new gravel driveway.
  2. Relatively High Cost. Asphalt isn’t quite as dear as stone, but it’s expensive relative to aggregate. If you’re looking for a functional, budget-friendly driveway surface, this should not be your first choice.
  3. Runoff and Other Environmental Issues. Like stone and brick, asphalt promotes runoff and all its attendant ills.
  4. Shorter Lifespan. Asphalt driveways deteriorate relatively rapidly, even with periodic resurfacing. Depending on your local climate and use rates, you can look forward to replacing your asphalt driveway every 15 to 20 years.
  5. Professional Installation Highly Recommended. Like stone, asphalt is best left to the pros. While hiring a professional reduces headaches down the road, it’s sure to swell the cost of your project.

DIY Interlocking Concrete Paver or Brick Permeable Paver Driveway

Pros: It has low long-term maintenance requirements and adds aesthetic patterns and colors to your pavement for your front yard. Maintenance costs should be modest if installed correctly and the material should last a long time.

Cons: Usually more expensive than other options and installation is costly and extremely time-consuming. Most can be permeable but over time sediment fills in and can take away permeability. 

Tie Into the Existing Slabs

When you’re joining two concrete slabs, connect the two with rebar to keep them at the same height. Drill the holes as deep as you can (the entire length of the bit) so the rebar fits snugly into the holes. Insert chunks of rebar and tie them into the grid.

If you’re working in a cold climate, never tie a floating slab into a house or any structure that’s resting on footings. The slab will likely be pushed up by the frost, but the house will not. This will almost certainly result in cracks where the two are connected.

A Good Base Is Everything!

Concrete will crack and crumble if it’s not poured over a solid, stable base. Bringing in 4 to 6-in. of a good compact-able base is a good rule of thumb, but the exact amount of base a concrete driveway needs depends on the condition of the existing soil, the climate, and what you plan to park on your driveway.

You may be able to pour directly over sandy or gravelly soil without bringing in any additional base. But if you live in a cold climate, are pouring over heavy clay or organic soil, or plan to park heavy vehicles on the driveway, you may want to increase the base layer to 10 or 12-in.

The best way to find out how much base you need is to contact the nearest concrete supplier. If you explain your soil conditions and the slab’s intended use, the supplier should be able to recommend the proper base depth and the type to use and provide contact info for a nearby base supplier. Your municipality may also have a handout of recommended base depths in your area.

Driveway Garden

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Dan Carlson (@wigglestemgardens)

Usually, that small strip between the tracks for your tires goes completely unused, and is filled with gravel or grass. The idea of using that space to plant some succulents or ground cover is genius! It will add a pop of color to your otherwise bland driveway. Plus, who couldn’t benefit from a little extra garden space?

Lighting

Adding lighting to your driveway ups your function and style. Lights will draw attention to your driveway and increase safety by helping you and your guests see at night. Whether you choose to install pagoda-style lights in the grass along the side of the driveway, lights on poles or pillars framing the driveway, or build lights into the pavers on the side of the driveway, lights are a fantastic way to show your creativity while working within your budget. Lights can be hardwired to a switch in the house or turn on automatically when the sun goes down.

What machines do I need to build a driveway?

Depending on the type of driveway you are building, you will typically need one or two of the following machines:

DIY Hybrid Paver Driveways

Pros: These driveways are a hybrid of two different types of pavement but they all consist of two stripes that are thick enough for a tire to drive over. The most popular combination is typically with grass pavement and any other impermeable pavement such as concrete. These types of driveways are perfect for homes who have tricky street access with little to no visibility of incoming traffic. Having a circular driveway allows you to turn your vehicle around to face the street and exit the driveway safely. This is the most common type of driveway and it is straightforward but you can still take advantage of its width to allow more parking area. To fit the grid in organically-shaped areas, outline trim marks on the plastic paver to cut with a reciprocating saw and attach it to the rest of the grid.

Installation

Once the grid is completely connected and laid down, fill in the hollow space of the grid with gravel and smooth it out with a rake or push broom. Take note that angular ¾ inch gravel is the best for no gravel migration.

After you’ve completed all the previous steps, you can now tamper down your gravel across the grid. This top layer can be customized to whatever color gravel you prefer.

Start from the bottom of your driveway and start placing the grid about an inch below street level. Cover the entire area with the grid and snap the pieces together. Do not cut pieces to fit into odd shapes until the grid is completely laid down. Here is when we start creating the sub-base. Depending on your expected load and drainage needs, lay down 3 – 6 inches of ¾ inch crushed stone, preferably pervious stone such as limestone or granite. Compact this layer with your tamper for a solid foundation. This will be the foundation and the most important step in the process. A solidly flat foundation guarantees a sturdy grid system with no floating sections.

Ensure your location is safe to dig in. Call a utility locating service.

From street grade level, start digging down about 6 inches in your outlined area, depending on expected load and drainage needs. For drainage needs, spend some time figuring out the slope of your ground and how much detention area you want underneath the grass paver system. Consider the fact that a shorter sub-base means less detention area to hold water.

Flatten down the soil with a tamper to ensure stability. Make sure it is leveled and flat.

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