A Definitive Driveway Paving Guide

The first thing visitors and passerbys will see when they look at your house – besides your house, of course – will be the driveway. A well designed and well installed residential driveway, made from quality materials, will accentuate the fine appearance of your home, even taking a modest home and turning it into something more. A pathetic driveway, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect – a crumbling mess can make even the nicest home look less valuable.

So, you’re probably considering a new driveway paving project, either for functional or aesthetic reasons, or perhaps both. Fortunately, and unfortunately, there are plenty of driveway paving materials available for you to choose from. Fortunately, insofar as you’ll be able to pick the perfect driveway for your home, given your budget, but unfortunately because the inexperienced homeowner may feel overwhelmed by choice. Paving a driveway is a complex affair: Which material should you use? Should you install it yourself as a DIY paving project? How do you hire a contractor? These and many other questions might be going through your mind right now. To help you out, this driveway paving guide will help you sort out the various aspects of this process, both to help answer questions you have and to better inform your ongoing research process.

A driveway is a huge investment in your home, both in your time and financial resources, so you’ll want to spend time doing your due diligence. The more research, the better. We hope that this article reveals and guides you in your quest!

BUDGETS AND COSTS

Before going further, you’ll need to sketch out your basic budget. Obviously, you’ll want to have a range, as sometimes costs can add up faster than you expect, especially if your job will require special work.

Which material is the cheapest? This is a different question from “which material is the most valuable?” You may pay more money, in absolute terms, for one material, but end up making more in the long run given the quality of the material and the potential to increase your home’s value. Thus, don’t necessarily think only in terms of sheer prices per square foot, but rather in short and long term costs and value.

If you’d like a general cost estimate to get you started, here is a general scale for price for the most common driveway materials for both materials and labor, all other things being equal: To

Stone < Asphalt < Concrete < Concrete Pavers < Brick Pavers < Natural Stone Pavers

To get a more specific estimate, you can read this article on driveway paving cost or you can find  a cost calculator for these products for a decent guide, but the only true measure will be an estimate from a local contractor.

Let’s talk about the relative merits of each material.

WHAT DO YOU WANT IN A DRIVEWAY?

After budget, the next questions you need to ask yourself are about performance and looks. First, performance – you’re going to be driving and parking on this surface, so you want to make sure it won’t break apart. Most driveway materials will have no problem standing up to this kind of abuse – as long as they’re installed in a proper manner. This is why it’s critical to find a skilled contractor – if you look for a bargain, you may get a disaster instead. Go with quality.

Next, aesthetics. This may be a very small concern of yours after the above two – paving cost and how well and long the driveway holds up – but it’s still important, especially considering you’ll be living with the driveway for many years. In general, go with the materials that have more design options – usually, these are your paving stone materials, as they come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, and thus give you more freedom to create.

Depending on your project and circumstance, you may have other concerns to consider. For example, you may have environmental concerns to balance; in this case, you’d want to avoid materials like asphalt that damage the environment or any driveway material that isn’t permeable in order to allow for proper water drainage. A good material to look into in this case are grass pavers or other permeable alternatives.

DRIVEWAY PAVING MATERIALS

As stated in the cost section above, the most popular materials for your driveway include loose stone (gravel, for example), asphalt, concrete, concrete pavers, brick pavers, and natural stone pavers. The material you choose will depend on a large number of factors, not least of which is your budget. This will probably be the main determinant of your final selection. Truth be told, if you had an unlimited budget, you’d surely go for one of the pavers options, and probably with the most expensive option – one of the natural stone pavers. However, most of us need to settle with more affordable options, which is why concrete and asphalt, in particular, are so popular.

For a long discussion of the relative merits of each material, check out this discussion on the merits of stamped concrete vs pavers and a comparison of all the other materials mentioned above in terms of strength, durability, maintenance, price/value, and more. Note, however, that there also other materials out there, from paving flags and concrete slabs to macadam and block paving and everything in between. Thus, this discussion isn’t exhaustive, but it will at least highlight the most common and popular material types available.

Even if we go with these inexpensive options, we still shouldn’t settle for “cheap” necessarily. There is a big, big difference between high quality and low quality asphalt driveway paving, for example, so keep this in mind when shopping around with potential driveway paving contractors.

MAINTENANCE AND YOUR DRIVEWAY

The sticker price you pay at first installation may not be the only money you lay out over the lifetime of the driveway. Consider what maintenance costs, both in dollars and in your time, may also come with that material. It may be prudent, for example, to invest more now for a low-maintenance material (concrete) than to pay a little bit now for a material that won’t hold up as well over time and will require more maintenance and repair (e.g. asphalt).

Blacktop, for instance, will require periodic maintenance to keep it looking fine. Over time, it will fade and crack, showing the aggregate within the structure, and will thus not look as nice. To keep it looking great, you’ll probably have to get some sealcoating or resurfacing work done; if you don’t, that’s fine, but be ready to deal with a less than optimal driveway. Even paving stones will require occasional concrete paver sealer; usually homeowners will be able to go on sealing pavers themselves, so it usually is not much more of an added expense aside from the time spent working on the project.

TEN DRIVEWAY PAVING IDEAS

To finish this article, we’d like to leave you with ten design ideas and construction tips that you may want to consider when getting your new driveway. Of course, these are just suggestions, but hopefully they’ll spur your own ideas and thoughts when it comes time to craft designs and plan your own outdoor creation.

1. If you’re going with the traditional materials, like concrete or asphalt, don’t limit yourself to the standard iteration of these materials. For instance, you can get stamped concrete to look like paving stones at a fraction of the cost. You can also use stains and finishes to make your concrete look totally different from the typical drab, grey appearance.

2. Consider adding a walkway, patio, or pool deck at the same time as your driveway. You can have an integrated project while also saving more money overall if you get it all done at once.

3. Watch out for scams, especially for companies that will come in, excavate your old driveway, and leave you hanging for weeks or even months while they get other jobs in the area, all just to save them a few bucks. Read reviews, do your research – for instance, here’s some information on how to hire the best paver contractors. These questions can be asked of any contractor, as well.

4. Consider matching your new driveway with new landscaping.

5. Don’t just automatically copy the old design for your new driveway. Consider making the driveway bigger or smaller, depending on your needs, and think about the design flairs you can add, such as curves and sections.

6. You can mix and match options – if you can’t afford driveway pavers, for instance, consider mixing an asphalt or concrete driveway with a paver apron, border, or walkway. Thus, you can capture some of the beauty of this material without the full expense.

7. Don’t balk about hiring professional design services if you need the help. For a small investment up front, you can have a driveway created for your that will go best with your decor and your home’s style and theme.

8. Consider adding other flairs to your driveway, such as fans, circle kits, benches, retaining walls, and more.

9. Pick a color that complements, not necessarily matches, your home’s colors.

10. Finally, if you really need to save money but want to use a brilliant material, consider the driveway a do it yourself project. If you know how to pave a driveway yourself, and have the skills and experience and tools to do the job safely and correctly, you can save money on labor, making a job more affordable, though of course you’ll be paying some of the ‘cost’ of the driveway in your time.

Driveway Materials: What You Need to Know

If you’re thinking about or have decided to build a new driveway, one of the big decisions you have to make is which driveway materials to use. Your choice will impact how much you pay, its aesthetics (how it looks), maintenance required, and how long the driveway will last until you have to replace it. Thus, there are a lot of factors to juggle. Here is a brief run down of the driveway materials you may want to consider for your next project. At the end there will also be a brief discussion of some of the other material you may have to purchase or use in order to complete your driveway.

Concrete Driveways

A standard driveway material that has stood the test of time. If installed correctly, it will last a very long time, though cracking could be an issue in certain climates. Can also be colored, stained, and stamped in order to increase the aesthetic options, as the plain grey concrete can be rather boring. This is a relatively cheap material as well, though a homeowner will usually not have the skill to pour all the concrete by him or herself.

Asphalt Driveways

This is a great material for many driveways, as it will not show stains well and it will resist cracking. This is one of the most cheap driveway materials, so pick this if looks and overall durability aren’t your main focus. Do realize that you will probably have to repair, maintain, and eventually replace this project within a relatively short period of time compared to other options, especially depending on how well the project is installed.

Concrete Pavers Driveways

The benefits and advantages of concrete pavers have been explained in many places on this site. Overall, this material is a great balance between value, price, durability, beauty, and design flexibility. If you need truly permeable material, you could go with grass pavers. These are also eco friendly driveway materials, as they allow grass to grow between the honeycomb structure while also letting water easily drain through.

Natural Stone Pavers Driveways

This is a very expensive option, but perhaps the most beautiful out of the entire list. There are many different types of stone that can be used for driveways – such as cobblestone – and they bring the beauty of the natural world to the front of your home – for a price, of course.

Brick Pavers Driveways

Related to concrete pavers, these are not as strong, but they are generally a bit cheaper. They may also require a bit more maintenance. Made out of clay.

Gravel and Stone Driveways

These driveways are cheap and last forever.  There are many different types of stones you can use, from gravel to small stones like bluestone. These stones come in many sizes and colors to fit your design and aesthetic requirements. Combined with borders for the driveway, these stones can be kept relatively well contained in most cases. They require some maintenance when the stone goes astray, however, and it may not work with certain decors. Another idea is to have a plain driveway made out of recycled concrete. This is a great idea to save you money; plus, you’ll be using recycled driveway materials, so you’ll also be doing your part for the planet. The only disadvantage here is that the final product may not look great. If you just need function, though, it may be just fine for your purposes.

Macadam/Tar and Chip Driveways

This driveway type is essentially a mix between asphalt and stone driveways, as stones are poured on top of the hot asphalt. These are alternative driveway materials, as they are not as popular as the others discussed above – there’s not much information out there about this type. However, it is a very cheap kind of material, and it enjoys some benefits over its close neighbor, asphalts.

Other Necessary Materials

When installing a new driveway, there are some other materials you may have to use to complete the project. You may need fill if you need to do heavy excavation. You will need a sub base, such as one made from recycled concrete or crushed aggregate. You may also need sand in order to lay down the material, such as for concrete pavers. You may also need topsoil to fill in your landscaping once the driveway is completed in addition to flowers, trees, plants, and other landscaping necessities.

Further Considerations

Realize that there will be many factors that will affect your final decision. Besides the obvious ones (budget, looks, taste, function), there are some more subtle ones. For example, environment – if you have a lot of water in the area, you will need a driveway that drains well. Solid surfaces, like concrete and asphalt, will not drain as well as more porous ones. Do you need to use the driveway for specific purposes, like playing basketball? Will it see heavy vehicular traffic? How much time do you have to invest in maintenance? How will the chosen material affect the property value of your home? These questions and others will be important to think about when you make your final decision.

Pros and Cons: Pavers, Concrete, Asphalt, and Other Choices

If you are thinking about a new project for your home, garden, or landscape, you might be having trouble deciding among the various material choices at your disposal. Should you use concrete, asphalt, brick pavers, paving stones, natural pavers, or stone? The list of potential materials, and all the various permutations and variations that are possible, can be very confusing and overwhelming for the uninitiated.

To help you out, here is a brief paving guide that will help you weigh the pros and cons of each material type. There is no one “best” material, as the material you use will depend on a lot of factors. In some circumstances, stone would work best; in others, concrete; in others, pavers. What we can tell you, however, are the various features of each material so that you can make an educated decision.

The Comparisons and Categories

We will begin with the least expensive material and continue through the more expensive options available. Each material will be evaluated according to the seven following metrics:

  • Strength
  • Durability
  • Design Options
  • Installation
  • Beauty
  • Maintenance
  • Price/Value

At the end of the article, we give our basic comparisons for each material across these dimensions. You can thus compare the relative merits of concrete vs pavers, stamped concrete vs pavers, and any other comparisons you may need to make. While our decisions are arbitrary, and may differ with those of other experts and contractors, we hope at least to give you a rough guide on this topic.

STONE:

A stone driveway.

This is loose stone that is spread in the area. They are used most often for driveways, though they can also serve as parking areas or as landscaping materials. There is a large variety of stones available, from small to large, and in a variety of colors.

Strength
Obviously, these stones won’t break or crack. Stone withstands vehicular traffic, weather, sun, water, and other effects well.

Durability
You won’t have to worry about replacing this material due to damage as long as it all stays in place. Stone is a great long-term option. However, it will get thrown around, so you’ll probably have to touch the project up once in a while.

Design Options
You are relatively limited when it comes to the design options at your disposal. Obviously, you can mix and match colors and types of stone, and you can make your projects any kind of shape, from rectangular to circular and anything in between. Otherwise, however, you’re relatively limited with your design possibilities.

Installation
Installing stone is very easy. Simply clear an area, fill it in with stone to the appropriate depth, and you’re done.

Beauty
In the right contexts, stone can look nice. However, it an also look boring. In addition, it can often get spread out throughout your lawn and home, making a big mess and a nuisance.

Maintenance
This is an area where stone suffers. You will probably have to deal with stone being scattered around your lawn and yard, making it a pain to clean up. You’ll also deal with weeds. Over time, the stone may have to be refilled as it inevitably wanders off. You may have to level it out if it ever gets distributed unevenly – this might happen if you drive on it, for instance. It’s also impossible to plow or shovel snow off it without disturbing the surface.

Price/Value
Stone is very cheap. Combined with how durable the material it is, stone is a good overall investment, though the property value of your home won’t be seriously changed.

ASPHALT:

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/91584996@N00/3710038320.

An asphalt driveway.

This ubiquitious, oil-based product is very popular for driveways, parking lots, and other outdoor projects that require vehicle traffic. Also known as ‘blacktop.’

Strength
Asphalt is very strong yet flexible, as it will stand up to both heat and cold. However, if it gets too hot, it could get soft – this could be especially problematic if you drive on it. However, asphalt will withstand stains, the sun, water, and general wear and tear.

Durability
Asphalt will last you for decades, as long as it installed and maintained properly. However, you will have to deal with cracks and fading, so you’ll probably have to do repairs along the way. Otherwise, expect to replace this after a decade or two of service.

Design Options
You’re very limited with your design options. While colored or stamped asphalt is possible, it will increase the cost of your project. Otherwise, you’re limited to the standard black driveway. You can create your own shape and dimensions, but otherwise you’re pretty locked in, unless you add a cobblestone or paver apron and border, or some other embellishment.

Installation
An asphalt driveway and other projects are usually out of the reach of most homeowner’s skills, so it’s not a great DIY project. You’ll have to hire a contractor to do it; unfortunately, asphalt contractors are notoriously unreliable, making getting the job done quickly a pain in some circumstances.

Beauty
Asphalt is very common and it doesn’t look as great as other options, especially when it cracks and fades.

Maintenance
You’ll have to seal it to maintain its strength and color. In severe circumstances, patching and resurfacing may be necessary as well. Snow can be easily removed from this surface.

Price/Value
Asphalt is relatively cheap, hence its popularity. In terms of value, it is a good buy, as the material will last you a long time, assuming it’s installed well.

CONCRETE:

An incredibly popular material due to its strength and low cost, concrete is most often used for walkways, driveways, and patios.

Strength
Concrete is incredibly strong. You won’t have to worry about force from above (cars, heavy objects, weather) damaging it. Force from below, however, can be a problem – freeze thaw cycles put pressure on the slab, often leading to cracks.

Durability
Concrete, if well-installed and maintained, can last you for decades, so you shouldn’t have to reinstall the material.

Design Options
You are rather limited with the standard concrete, as the grey color of the material can be boring. However, if you are willing to pay a little more, you can get stamped, colored, or stained concrete. This can multiply your design choices, allowing you to create concrete that will match and complement your home’s decor. You’ll have to pay for that privilege, however.

Installation
Homeowners who’ve worked with concrete before can install it themselves, especially if the project is small. Homeowners with little experience should look for a contractor; ditto for those skilled homeowners trying to tackle a large and/or complex job.

Beauty
Regular concrete is rather boring, though it is ubiquitous. Decorative concrete is far better, as long as it doesn’t crack or chip.

Maintenance
You may have to seal concrete once in awhile, especially if it’s showing signs of damage, but for the most part concrete is maintenance free – as long as everything goes right with the installation. Snow can be easily removed from this surface.

Price/Value
Concrete is quite cheap, especially given its strength and durability. Investment in concrete is an investment for the future, but don’t expect your home value to increase that much.

CONCRETE PAVERS:

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/84354764@N00/451855836/

Interlocking concrete pavers.

Made from concrete, these pavers interlock through a system of sand-filled joints, ensuring that the entire structure stays together.

Strength
Concrete pavers are incredibly strong, both individually and collectively. In fact, some pavers are two to four times stronger than concrete. Thus, they will withstand all rigors of the environment.

Durability
Due to their strength and flexibility, and the interlocking nature of pavers, this material will last you for decades. You will likely not have to worry about installing a new patio, driveway, walkway, etc. unless you want to make a change.

Design Options
Your design options are limitless. There are a ton of paver shapes, paver sizes, types, and colors available. You can lay them in a variety of paver patterns. In addition, you can pair your project with other accessories, like steps, stoops, barbecue pits, retaining walls, and more – all made from this material.

Installation
Pavers installation can be difficult, but since there’s no concrete involved, it can be within the skill range of some DIYers. However, most will want to have their projects installed by professional paver contractors.

Beauty
Pavers, when well-designed and installed, look beautiful. They go well with all home styles and themes, and they retain their beauty for many years.

Maintenance
Pavers are near maintenance free. You may have to seal them occasionally with concrete paver sealer, and perhaps reset pavers that have settled, but for the most part they are a hands-free material. You can easily remove snow from them.

Price/Value
Concrete pavers can be expensive, mostly because they have to be laid by hand. However, they add much value to your home, so you can consider the high initial price as an investment in your home and in your future.

BRICK PAVERS:

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/random-mike/292018480/.

Brick pavers.

A similar material to concrete pavers, these resemble the bricks you see around your house, but they are also different in many important ways.

Strength
This material is similar to concrete pavers – the only major difference is in the material they are made from. Brick pavers are made from clay, not concrete. In terms of the battle between concrete vs brick pavers, they are relatively equal in terms of strength, with perhaps a slight edge to concrete.

Durability
Brick pavers will stand up to all kinds of abuse, and your projects will last many years. You won’t have to worry about reinstalling a new material for a long time.

Design Options
Though options used to be very limited, manufacturers are coming out with new brick designs all the time. While you will largely be limited to the standard ‘brick size,’ you will be able to try different colors and textures. You can thus lay them in a variety of patterns and project designs, just like concrete pavers.

Installation
Like concrete pavers, most homeowners will want to have a contractor come in and install them, though it can be a potential DIY project.

Beauty
Brick pavers look quite nice, though perhaps not as ‘modern’ and ‘elegant’ as concrete pavers. However, with teh right home decor, brick pavers can and do look fantastic.

Maintenance
Brick pavers are very low maintenance – just some sealing and resetting of pavers on occasion. It’s very easy to remove snow from this surface.

Price/Value
These brick pavers are a bit more expensive than the concrete variety, but you can expect a good bump in your home value when you add them to your yard.

NATURAL STONE PAVERS:

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_g_travels/2704941271/

Very old stone pavers.

These pavers are literally carved from the earth. There are many different types of materials that fall into this category, from flagstone to granite and cobblestone to travertine and everything in between. Thus, we’ll have to generalize a lot here.

Strength

While it depends on the particular material, stone pavers are very strong – indeed, they are made from stone carved from the earth itself. If you are looking at flagstone vs pavers, its pretty much a toss up when it comes to compared strength. They may fade in the sun, but they stand up to all kinds of abuse.

Durability
A stone paver project will last for decades. You won’t have to worry about installing a new project ever again if you use this material, barring some unforeseen circumstance.

Design Options
Given the huge variety of stone types, colors, shapes, and sizes, you have near unlimited options when it comes to designing your project.

Installation
Given the weight and difficulty in handling this material, most homeowners will want to leave installation to the pros.

Beauty
Stone pavers are incredibly beautiful – arguably the most beautiful material out there. You are pretty much bringing the beauty of Mother Earth to your yard when you install this material.

Maintenance
Stone pavers are stone. They require almost non-existent maintenance. Snow removal is easy.

Price/Value
The major downfall of flagstone pavers and other natural stone is price. Depending on the stone you pick, you could pay double, triple, or more than any other material. However, you’re adding a ton of value to your home as well, so you can consider it an investment in the future.

THE VERDICT

Strength

Concrete Pavers = Stone Pavers > Brick Pavers > Concrete > Asphalt = Stone

Durability

Concrete Pavers = Stone Pavers > Brick Pavers > Concrete > Asphalt > Stone

Design Options

Concrete Pavers > Stone Pavers > Brick Pavers > Concrete > Stone > Asphalt

Installation

Stone > Concrete > Concrete Pavers = Brick Pavers > Stone Pavers > Asphalt

Beauty

Stone Pavers > Concrete Pavers > Brick Pavers > Concrete > Stone > Asphalt

Maintenance

Stone Pavers = Concrete Pavers = Brick Pavers > Concrete = Asphalt > Stone

Price/Value

Stone > Asphalt > Concrete > Concrete Pavers > Brick Pavers > Stone Pavers