Readers with a strong do-it-yourself bent sometimes ask me if they should tackle installing driveways, themselves or, short of that, what advice I'd offer on hiring driveway contractors. I examine this two-part question below:
Is Installing a Driveway a DIY Job?
The answer to the first question is, no, installing driveways is not typically for do-it-yourselfers, since such a project is large in scale and often fraught with pitfalls.
While gravel driveways are relatively straightforward, you still need access to the heavy equipment needed to work with all that gravel. For the average homeowner -- even if you need only a short driveway -- my advice would be to leave such an installation to the pros, investing your valuable time and energy, instead, in starting a new garden or starting a new lawn.
OK, but How Do I Go About Hiring a Driveway Contractor?
As is the case whenever you hire professionals to work on your property, you should begin the process of hiring driveway contractors by seeking out references. Draw up a list of questions, and contact the references provided by the driveway contractors. Include the following questions about the company:
- Do its workers have a good work ethic?
- Is it trustworthy?
- How closely did the driveway contractor follow the contract?
- What was the total cost for the job?
- Were you ultimately satisfied with the work of the driveway contractor?
But the initial phone call to the reference is just the beginning. Try to obtain permission to visit the site in question. If granted, inquire as to the date when the driveway was installed. See if it shows signs of any problems, and ask the homeowners if they're aware of any problems. Keep accurate notes, as you'll want to visit the sites of references provided by other driveway contractors and make comparisons.
Based on those comparisons, choose the top companies and ask them further questions, to get a feel for their level of professionalism. Installing driveways properly often stands or falls based on whether the driveway contractor provides adequate drainage through site grading, etc., so this is always a good line of questioning.
You should also check at this point for written proof that the company has liability insurance. Pay no attention to the attitude that says, "Well, of course we have insurance (How dare you ask!?)." Their incredulity towards your skepticism is no reason for you not to continue to be skeptical and ask the right questions. After all, if something goes wrong, you're the one holding the bag.
Finally, gain a sense of whether or not this is someone you'll want to do business with: never underestimate the personal element. If some of the driveway contractors come across as gruff and inattentive during the interviews (when you'd expect them to be on their best behavior), imagine how tough they'd be to deal with once they have what they want from you (namely, your money). You want to hire someone who is sensitive to your needs, someone who will be easy to communicate with on the job site, should unforeseen difficulties arise.
Based on the results of your interviews, narrow the list down further to those companies who left you confident about their abilities to handle the job. You're now ready to have the driveway contractors on that "short list" make bids for the job.
The final step is the contract. Before you sign anything, make sure the contract covers the following:
- What are the responsibilities of the driveway contractor, exactly? Who is responsible for bringing in other professionals (e.g., plumbers) for peripheral work?
- Compaction of the subgrade and base.
- Thickness of the pavement.
- Overall cost and payment schedule.
- A guarantee.