The street I live on is about three-quarters-of-a-mile long, and 22 homes are scattered along its length. Of all of these homes, just one has a paved driveway, and it was laid last year. A couple of other homes’ drives have been improved over the native soil. A handful of these homes, like mine, are close to 30 years old, and have had this type of drive since the homes were built. A few of the newer homes have had recycled asphalt applied to reduce springtime muddiness. The most recent tally (2004) of roads in the US has a national rate of 65.5% paved. Our big city friends often go months and months without ever leaving the pavement, and millions and millions of other Americans also never see anything other than pavement roll by. Does it make sense to have a paved drive…even if your street is dirt?
Pro and Cons of Pavement
In many urban environments, pavement can cover vast expanses of land and create some problems that rural folks never see. The two biggest concerns with paved surfaces are usually their cost and storm runoff. When rains come, these surfaces do not allow moisture to be absorbed and great quantities of runoff often overwhelm municipal waste water facilities, instead of absorbing into forests, lawns and gardens. Billions of dollars are spent each year to clean this water, which would otherwise be an asset. Pavement also contributes to the “heat island” effect that many cities experience during the summer months.
On the positive side, pavement provides convenience for snow plowing, reduces levels of roadside dust, and prevents excess wear and tear to our cars and trucks. In the early days of automobiles it was not uncommon to see a team of horses pulling a car out of knee-deep mud - something today’s motorists simply wouldn't tolerate.
Alternatives to Concrete and Asphalt
A few years ago I cleared a bunch of trees from around my home, as part of a wildfire mitigation effort. At the end of that project, I had a nice supply of firewood and a slash pile that ran the entire length of my driveway. To kill two birds with one stone, I chipped the slash and applied it to my muddy dirt drive, thinking this would keep the mud down, and make the slash disappear. The first few years after that were great - no driveway mud and a refreshing pine scent. Eventually, the wood chips composted and I had even more mud. It was time for plan B.
Last summer I applied about 4 yards of road base (gravel) and then about 10 yards of crusher fines (some people call this crushed stone or “breeze”) to my drive. The mud is now gone, the drive is level and smooth, and it looks good. The crusher fines cost about $50 a yard and my new driveway cost me about $600 total. I saved tons of money by picking up the material myself and applying it myself. I shoveled each load (1/3 of a yard at a time) into buckets and brought it home in my truck. It took all summer to improve my driveway because I would only get one or two loads per week. I combined trips down the mountain with other errands in order to make each trip efficient. Each load could be loaded and unloaded in less than an hour and, at 1100 pounds, was about right to keep me from overloading my truck and keep me from being too worn out from the day’s effort. Another benefit to the crusher fines is I can do “touch up” work whenever I need with a few buckets of material and a rake. The gravel I chose still allows moisture to permeate, so I do not contribute to excess runoff.
The Costs and Benefits of Pavers
Other materials that allow water to percolate through that are often used in more urban areas are brick pavers, large concrete tiles, and natural stone. The gaps between these elements allow the water to percolate down and not run off. Set on packed beds of light gravel or sand, these are projects that are well within the grasp of any DIY enthusiast but are very labor intensive. I have seen prices for “installed paver” driveways from $10 to $60 a square foot. This style of drive is at the top of the list, for both the cost and the amount of work involved. If I had used 6” square bricks, my drive would have used over 7000 pieces - each one laid by hand. You can see why labor costs can be so high with this type of drive.
Concrete & Asphalt Driveway Costs
If I had used concrete for my drive, the cost would have exceeded $3000 for the concrete alone. Concrete delivered to my home runs about $130 per yard, plus truck time at $75 an hour. This cost varies by your specific locality and can range from $120 to $150 per yard. Concrete, when used for driveways, is normally 4” thick - a bit thicker than the crusher fines I used. Labor to install forms - the added cost of rebar or reinforced wire grid - and its installation cost - the labor to pour, screed, and float my drive - would have put the final figure up near $5000 to $6000. That translates to basically TEN TIMES the cost of my DIY crushed rock version.
Asphalt is cheaper than concrete, but still pricey compared to gravel or crushed stone. Asphalt is an oil based product, so it is closely tied to the price of crude oil. For an asphalt driveway to last, proper preparation is needed. This “prep” work can run from $.50-$1.50 a square foot. One advantage to larger drives is usually a cheaper rate per square foot. Labor and base “equipment cost” are pretty constant. It's not that much more work to prep 1000 square feet than 500 feet once all of the heavy machinery is transported to your site, unloaded and fired up. This is why getting an “onsite” estimate is valuable. In my neighborhood asphalt runs about $2-$2.50 per square foot, including the “prep,” so my 1800 square foot driveway would have been about $4000.
The “Greenest” Driveway
A new trend in these greener driveways is just that: Green, as in the form of grass. Many companies make a product that is comprised of a coarse plastic mesh, or a grid-like structure that allows grass to grow in the open spaces of the grid. The structure of the grid disperses the weight of the vehicle so it does not damage the root structure of the grass. This compression of the roots is why repeated driving on lawns can harm them. These companies claim that up to five trips a day over this surface will not harm the grass, which for most people is well within their schedules. The cost of these “grids” can vary, but ballpark pricing is within the $2-$3 per square foot range. Who would have thought a few years ago that people might need to mow their driveways?