Driveway materials are what covers the surface of your driveway, and thus must bear up to considerable weight for a long, long time. Choosing driveway surface may not be as much fun as creating a patio or other landscaping projects, but it has a big practical impact on how your landscape functions. There are four common choices when it comes to driveway surfacing materials, and choosing the right one involves weighing costs, durability, appearance, and maintenance requirements. And DIYers will want to look at which materials fit their skill levels. Here is a summary of the four materials to consider: concrete, asphalt, gravel, and pavers.
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Best for: Long-term durability.
Concrete (sometimes mistakenly called "cement") is a paving surface created by blending water, powdered Portland cement, sand, and gravel aggregate, pouring it between forms when wet, and allowing it to harden into one of the most durable of all paving surfaces. Installation is quite labor-intensive, requiring the creation of a packed sub-base layer, constructing wooden forms to hold the liquid concrete, reinforcing the concrete with rebar or wire mesh, and carefully tooling and smoothing the surface after it's poured.
While a DIY installation is possible, it is quite difficult and most people opt to have professionals pour and finish a concrete driveway. Professional installation will cost $4 to $10 per square foot, though removal of an old driveway and site preparation can add to that cost.
But although concrete is more expensive than asphalt, it can be a cost-effective choice over the long run, since the surface lasts a very long time—the lifespan of a concrete driveway can be 25 to 50 years.Pros
Very durable surface
Can be stamped or colored to improve appearance
Best surface for snow removal
Subject to cracking, water damage unless periodically sealed
Not DIY friendly; professional installation recommended
Can be damaged by deicing salt
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Best for: Long-lasting driveways where appearance is not critical.
Asphalt surfaces consist of a mixture of sand, aggregate, and a tar-like liquid, sometimes called bitumen. which is heated then laid over a 4- to 8-inch layer of compactable gravel that provides drainage and a solid base. Although this is not a DIY-friendly material (at least for the initial installation), it is usually a less-expensive option than concrete or pavers. Costs for having an asphalt driveway installed average $5 to $7 per square foot, though site preparation (such as removal of old driveway surfaces and laying a sub-base) can add to this cost.
Asphalt driveways typically last 15 to 20 years, though regular sealing and patching can extend this life somewhat. Compared to concrete, asphalt is a somewhat higher maintenance paving surface, and it can be susceptible to softening on hot days and can be deformed by tree roots growing beneath the surface. But unlike concrete, an asphalt surface can be relayered when the surface becomes damaged.Pros
Less expensive than concrete, pavers
Less prone to frost heave than concrete, pavers
Snow removal is easy
Can be refreshed with new layer
Rather unattractive surface
Needs regular resealing
Can soften on hot days
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Best for: Inexpensive surface for rustic home and landscape styles.
The very least expensive driveway paving surface is simple gravel spread out over a prepared, flattened base. It is often used for rural homes with very long driveways where asphalt or concrete would be prohibitively expensive. The gravel used for driveways is usually crushed rock or sorted aggregate with pieces 1 to 2 inches in diameter.
Different colors of gravel may be available, but choices are often limited to the type of rock indigenous to your area. In areas with limestone bedrock, for example, gravel driveways will often consist of crushed limestone, while in other areas, crushed granite might be the most common choice. Another popular choice is sorted river gravel, consisting of smooth pebbles.
Gravel is a DIY-friendly material for driveways, as it can be applied simply by dumping it on a flattened area and raking it out into smooth layer. The process is time-consuming, but not difficult. Gravel driveways can easily develop potholes, but repairs are quite easy. Maintenance is an ongoing issue with gravel driveways, but they can last 100 years or more with periodic replenishment of the gravel.Pros
Most affordable option
Easy DIY installation
Repairs are simple
Requires regular replenishment, repair
Snow removal is more difficult
Can be unattractive, prone to weediness
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Best for: Driveways where visual appeal is critical.
The label "pavers" includes a variety of natural stone and manmade clay or concrete bricks used for driveway, sidewalk, and patio surfaces. Driveway pavers are varied in size and design, ranging from large hexagonal driveway pavers to small rectangular brick driveway pavers and natural cobblestones. An increasingly popular choice is concrete pavers, which are available in a variety of geometric shapes. Pavers can be set so that joints are filled with mortar, but a more popular modern option is to set them with joints packed with fine sand or aggregate, which allows the surface to drain water more effectively.
Pavers used as driveway surfaces are extremely durable, though the installation itself may require some regular maintenance. Cobblestone pavers, in particular, are practically synonymous with longevity. Even when they do break or become dislodged, the repair is simple enough. Since they are individual units (unlike concrete or asphalt surfaces), they can be replaced individually so that you're not faced with the prospect of repairing a whole driveway.
However, snow removal can be more difficult, especially with driveways made from natural cobblestones that have a rougher texture. And pavers come at a rather steep price. Pro installation can run $30 to $40 per square foot (and more if extensive site preparation is needed). But the pavers themselves can run $3 to $10 per square foot, so if you are up to the challenge, DIY installation can save you thousands of dollars. While the work is time-consuming and physically demanding, installing pavers is not a complicated DIY process.Pros
Extremely stylish surface
Many geometric styles available
Easy to repair
Adds real estate value
Most expensive option
Snow removal can be difficult
DIY Installation is labor-intensive
Regular maintenance essential to long life
Choosing a Driveway Material
Driveway materials come in four major types, ranging from inexpensive, easy-to-install gravel, to expensive and elegant paver bricks made from natural stone, fired clay, or shaped and colored concrete. Between these extremes are the most popular paving materials for driveways: asphalt and poured concrete. Both are excellent materials for driveways, though concrete offers more design options and is a longer-lasting material. And your choice may also be governed by whether or not you want to attempt installation yourself. Be sure to check local building and zoning departments. Gravel and asphalt are not allowed in some areas.