Pros and Cons of a Gravel Driveway

Gravel road lined by fences
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Gravel driveways are popular in some areas since they are low-cost and easy to maintain. In rural areas, gravel is the material of choice for both driveways and roadways. For many homes, it is not uncommon to have gravel driveways leading to concrete garage floors.

Gravel is far less expensive for long driveways than most other driveway materials and it can last for generations with regular maintenance.

Pros
  • Low cost

  • Easy to maintain

  • Gravel can be replenished

  • Drains well

  • Compacts well

  • Easy to fix potholes with extra gravel

Cons
  • Gravel can wash away

  • Weeds can grow in gravel

  • Not a premium driveway material

  • Difficult to snowplow

  • Hard to clean

  • Readily develops potholes

Gravel For Driveways

The term gravel can refer to any loose rock or stone that is larger than sand but smaller than cobble, which means it can range from about 1/10 inch to 2 1/2 inches in diameter.

The gravel used for driveways is typically a processed product that consists of rocks, sand, and clay. This mixture has a major advantage over plain rocks in that it compacts much better to create a stable surface.

While coarse gravel or stone paving is designed to let water flow through it, other types of gravel driveways are designed to shed water, much like solid paving materials such as concrete or asphalt.

Who Is a Gravel Driveway Best For?

Gravel driveways work best for homes in rural areas and they even work in some urban areas. It helps to have a buffer zone around the gravel driveway to capture those inevitable stray pieces of gravel.

If your property is prone to movement or if you have large tree roots, gravel driveways are flexible and extremely accommodating.

Owners of large properties often prefer gravel driveways over concrete or even asphalt because it is cost-effective.

Properties that need frequent snowplowing or scraping do not work as well for gravel driveways because the plow tends to scrape up the gravel, as well.

Maintaining a Gravel Driveway

Gravel driveways require regular maintenance, much more than concrete or asphalt driveways. Regular maintenance helps ensure the optimal performance of a gravel driveway and helps prevent costly replacement. Depending on the local climate and how much traffic the driveway receives, gravel surfaces must be regraded once a year or more.

Gravel driveways readily develop potholes, dips, and grooves, even from normal usage. More vigorous activities like turning around a vehicle will gouge out the gravel even faster.

The good side of these potholes and dips is that they are easy to fix. With a nearby, covered pile of gravel, most homeowners can quickly fill in potholes with just a shovel.

As soon as they start, potholes and dips should be filled in to prevent them from getting larger and deeper. Larger potholes require larger tools. Regrading requires heavy equipment, such as a tractor with a bucket and grader, to grade the surface and spread and compact fresh gravel.

One of the biggest drawbacks of a gravel driveway is that they are more difficult to plow or clear with a snowblower. The surface of the gravel cannot be scraped clean, as can be done with solid materials, without displacing the gravel. Even if you're careful, gravel becomes displaced over the course of a winter and must be replaced or moved back onto the driveway.

How Long Will a Gravel Driveway Last?

With proper care and maintenance, a gravel driveway can last up to 100 years. The beauty of gravel is that it can be repaired and replenished on an ongoing basis.

By contrast, wear and damage to asphalt and concrete driveways are difficult to remedy and replacement is often more cost-effective than extensive repairs.

Gravel is also less vulnerable to damage from seasonal freeze-thaw cycles, or frost heave, which can cause significant cracking and settling in solid driveway materials.

How Much Does a Gravel Driveway Cost?

The cost of a gravel driveway can vary, from about $1 per square foot to over $3 per square foot. Even at the high end, however, a gravel driveway is still about the least expensive driveway you can build.

One major factor in the discrepancy is how far the gravel has to be trucked. Another factor is the thickness of the driveway.

How Is a Gravel Driveway Built?

It is possible to create a rudimentary gravel driveway simply by having a dump truck unload some crushed rock where you want it. By hand or preferably with light motorized equipment such as a mini track loader or a stand-on skid steer, you can move the gravel into place to form the driveway.

This type of gravel driveway is far more DIY-friendly than building a concrete driveway, which requires creating concrete forms, setting and tying rebar, and ordering a load of concrete from a truck.

Gravel Driveway
  • Can be DIY-built

  • May be built over time

  • Less infrastructure than concrete

  • Ready to drive on instantly

Concrete Driveway
  • Not a DIY project

  • Time-sensitive job

  • Requires forms and rebar

  • Requires curing time

The added cost of building a proper gravel driveway—usually a contractor-driven project—pays for itself many times over in the increased lifespan and lower maintenance of the driveway.

  1. The topsoil is removed.
  2. Soil below the topsoil is compacted.
  3. Optional geotextile fabric is laid down.
  4. Above the fabric is a 4-inch layer of fist-sized rocks.
  5. The next layer above is a 4-inch layer of gravel roughly the size of golf balls.
  6. Finally, there is a third layer of marble-sized gravel.
  7. The driveway also is shaped with a crown at the center so that water flows off to either side.

Each layer is compacted thoroughly before the next layer is added.