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How Can I Build a Driveway?

Sand may be used in building a driveway to help provide drainage.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2014
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The process to build a driveway is hot, heavy, long work, but it is doable for most homeowners, as long as they are patient and willing to take the time to plan before they start to build a driveway. In some instances, hiring a contractor or professional service to build a driveway is a better choice, simply because these professionals have more experience and will be able to complete the task quickly and well. If you intend to build a driveway on your own, try to remember that planning is a crucial part of the project: don't dive in head first.

Start by finding out what local building requirements for driveways involve. Many areas have codes that specify the grade of the driveway, materials that can be used, how the driveway connects to the road, and other issues: make sure that you will be in compliance with them. Once you understand the local building codes, plan out your driveway, making sketches of long it will be, how wide it will be, and the grade: make these drawings very precise, as you will use them to apply for a building permit and to build the driveway.

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There are a number of design options for driveways. Most people prefer a single slab design, which accommodates a wide variety of vehicles. A basic single slab driveway can be made with gravel and sand, or you can cover it with concrete, brick, paving stones, and other materials. For a single car driveway, plan on a driveway which measures eight to ten feet (2.5 to three meters) across, and double that distance for a two car driveway. Building codes also often specify the thickness of the slab: plan on a minimum of four inches (10 centimeters) for cars, and double that thickness for heavy trucks.

When designing your driveway, think about the location. Ideally, the driveway should run uphill for the best drainage. If this is not possible because your house is below street level, plan on installing copious drainage, especially around the garage, and ideally under the driveway in the form of culverts as well, especially if there is a low patch of ground around the driveway. You do not want water pooling on or around the driveway or the garage, if you have one, and make sure to keep the driveway entrance lower than the garage to avoid seeping water. You will also need to give the driveway pitch, so that water will not pool on it; the preferred method is to mound the driveway, creating a high point in the middle which slopes to the sides. For a driveway which is 20 feet wide, raise the high point to five inches (12 centimeters).

Once you have made plans and had them approved, you can start to build a driveway. First, prepare the site by excavating and packing the excavation with fill such as gravel and sand that will allow drainage, create a smooth surface for the driveway, and prevent the driveway from buckling. This fill is crucial: plan on at least two tightly packed layers to build a driveway which will last. After packing the fill down, you can set up oiled forms for the concrete: the oil will keep water from leaching out of the concrete and weakening the pour. Next, pour the concrete, leaving expansion joints to prevent it from cracking excessively, and plan on working quickly to smooth out the concrete before it sets. Keep the concrete covered and moist for at least three days so that it will cure properly.

If you build a driveway well, it should last for at least 20 years, especially if well cared for. The most important part of the process is the planning: make sure you know how much of each material you need, when you are going to move on to each step of the process, and how the driveway will look in the end. Recruit friends and building buddies to help you build a driveway so that the process will run quickly and smoothly, and if the process seems too daunting to you, do not be afraid to hire a reputable contractor.

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anon107387
Post 4

Hey there submariner, have you explored the use of a geofabric like terram - stops the mud mixing with the hardcore and relatively inexpensive. --Johnny Angel

submariner
Post 3

@ Comparables- A paved driveway will not work. The intermittent clay and granite base of the hill makes frost heaves a major issue. The rock will not expand when it is frozen, but the saturated soil expands a lot. The frost heaves can grow to more than a foot, and drainage is a problem. A paved driveway would be tossed about very easily.

Comparables
Post 2

@ Submariner- It seems like your in-laws know how to build a gravel driveway, but has he thought about building a paved driveway? It will probably last much longer than the driveway he has in place, and it will make the mud less of a problem.

submariner
Post 1

Sometimes the location just makes a good driveway impossible. My wife's parents own a house in Vermont, and the driveway is torn apart every year. They need to do some serious excavation to create a good driveway. During the mud season, four-wheel drive and walking are the only options.

There are multiple layers of gravel and shale packed tight, but underneath the driveway is large slabs of steep granite. The hill they live on is also steep, and the property line requires the driveway make a sharp turn to the left at the top. My wife's dad owns a construction business, so he has his own excavator. Every summer he has to re-do the driveway. The house and the property are beautiful, but the driveway is horrible. That's Vermont though.

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