Keep New Driveway Costs Down by Using Loose Materials

Consider using budget-friendly gravel, stone, and tar and chip

A stone driveway
A stone driveway. Cultura RM/Stephen Lux/Getty Images

Driveways are not cheap, but there are definitely low-cost options to consider when planning a new or replacement driveway. One of the best ways to save money is to use loose materials such as gravel, stone, or macadam and tar.

Gravel and Loose Stone Driveways

A loose material driveway is your best option when keeping costs down is your top priority. But you can expect additional cost savings, too, from these basic driveway materials.

Gravel and loose stone driveways are pretty much indestructible, so you can plan on them lasting a lifetime.

What's more, gravel and stone driveways new few repairs. Unlike asphalt and concrete, for example, they are not going to crack. You may lose some stones or gravel over time, but the repair involves little more than throwing some replacement stones or gravel on the driveway.

Gravel is the Least Expensive Option

The gravel used for driveways these days is often a processed product consisting of rocks, sand, and clay. This mixture has a major advantage over plain rocks in that it compacts much better into a stable surface. 

The cost of a gravel driveway can vary from under $1 per square foot to more than $3 per square foot. Even at the high end, it's still about the least expensive driveway you can build, depending on how far the gravel has to be trucked and the thickness of the driveway.

Stone is the Second Least Expensive Option

According to the choice of stone and the depth of the stone and gravel base, a stone driveway will cost about $1 to $4 per square foot. You can keep costs to a minimum by doing much of the work yourself.

A stone driveway typically comprises loose stones dumped over a fairly deep gravel base.

To maintain this simple construction, every once in a while you just rake in loose stones that have strayed. You can minimize this small chore, however, by building a border for the driveway with bricks or cobblestones. It will also be necessary to smooth and grade the surface regularly, and you can use the same rake for this job. Plus, you'll want to clear any weeds that grow through the stones. With this minimal maintenance, there's no reason why a loose stone driveway can't last a lifetime.

Tar-and-Chip Driveways: the Third Least Expensive Option

Driveways made with a combination of tar and chip (macadam) are included among the loose material options because the chips here are loose stones. Once the tar is poured over the macadam (the stones), the mixture is rolled and the final result is a solid surface. This method is also known as chip-and-seal, seal chip, macadam, and liquid-asphalt-and-stone. 

While driveways like this only cost in the range of $2 to $5 per square foot, they are not built for the long haul and will remain sound for just seven to 10 years. At that point, you may have to add another layer of tar and macadam.

Planning Your Driveway

Driveway costs are subject to market fluctuations in the costs of materials (oil-based products in particular) and labor, and they can vary with the location and design of the driveway, the depth of material, and the prep work necessary, among other factors.

Finding a Contractor

As with any kind of contracting work, do your homework before giving the job to someone. Take some time to find a good contractor. Insist on hiring a licensed, bonded, and insured contractor. This is a must. Otherwise, as the property owner, you are liable if a member of the work crew gets injured on the job. 

Before you hire a contractor, be sure you understand their qualifications, including any certifications they have from national trade organizations, which bind them to a strict code of ethics. Some of these memberships, titles, and abbreviations include certified graduate remodeler (CGR), local Building Industry Association member (BIA), and National Association of Home Builders member (NAHB). 

Then be sure to compare contractors' estimates. Remember that the lowest cost is not necessarily the best choice.

Above all, you need someone who has the experience and expertise to do the job right. 

Save by Doing Some Work Yourself

If you have a straight driveway and a reasonably flat surface, you should be able to have a loose material driveway installed for around $3 per square foot. For a typical 12-foot-wide by 50-foot-long driveway, which is 600 square feet, installation would cost you about $1,800.

Some of the work on these driveways could be handled by a DIYer; in fact, there is really no reason why you couldn't manage a gravel or stone driveway installation all by yourself, aside from having the material delivered. Even with asphalt and concrete driveways, you may be able to save some money by handling the prep work yourself. Doing some or all of the work yourself is usually one of the best ways to cut costs.