I am recirculating this post and adding to it because I have been getting quite a few calls and mail from people interested in upgrading their driveways. Since I feel I did a pretty good job with this particular post, I’m going to change it just a bit and recirculate it near the top of the blog. Sometimes, people don’t pore over the older stuff in here owing to the sheer quantity of posts I have. I am now categorizing better so that it will be a short walk to see all my relevant examples and explanations displayed easier. The categories are over on the right. Click one to take you there.
So my claim is that driveways constitute a major part of almost any landscape. The move to suburbia over the last 40 years has given Americans at least, homes of substantial size, along with, often, huge lots. Driveways get us up to the door. They are typically darn near the first things we see at a home. They are definitely, generally speaking, the largest things we see. They are also – surprisingly enough – among the most ephemeral. They crack and break and get fairly ugly in due time, causing a need for replacement.
My contention is that this is not necessary at all. Furthermore, I think it is possible to construct a driveway that can meet aesthetic ends as well as an unheard of longer-lasting durability using today’s cement technologies. Interlocking bricks are versatile as they can be, coming in many shapes and patterns – some utterly exotic – and their durability is legendary. Formed in manufacturing by machines that shake out the air voids common to all cement, they are made with additional cement and finer silicates that produce a compressed brick that is an unbelievable 8,500 PSI. To compare this to a typical poured cement driveway, consider that the typical pour uses cement with a rating of 3,500 PSI. Our curbs and gutters on our public streets come in at a “toughened-up” 4,500 PSI. Obviously, the durability is over the top in terms of expected longevity. And there is more, including a value-added dimension which I mention further down.
The segmented nature of their being composed of pieces, each snugly-fit in exact proximity with the fine tolerances and perfect shapes formed in manufacturing, means that they are flexible in essence. The heaving and malformations we see in severe climates which break monolithic slabs of cement and asphalt will not affect the composition of the surface whatsoever. Where monoliths break, then crack wider over time until they essentially disintegrate, brick pavers will be sitting there, intact and unbroken. A crack in a cement slab will never get better. The “cracks are already there” with bricks, something the old road builders knew back when bricks were the thing for streets. Indeed, Vancouver, BC, among other cities, is slowly replacing entire streets with brick pavers.
So we now see that they are a definitely superior product in the sense of durability. What do they cost?
Well, they cost more. Brick pavers typically cost about twice as much as cement and, depending on the pattern and style, they can cost more than that. They are definitely a labor-intensive application and, like all surfaces, depend mightily on the sub strata all being firmly and most completely compacted. That many omit this step in installing cement happens to also be one of its downfalls. This is not as commonly done as we would hope, I happen to know. Costing twice as much is substantial, there is no doubt. You can pay more in the end however just by addressing the same old daggone cement again, taking out the broken shards and re-pouring, ad nauseum. In this case, my point being, you really do pay for what you get. In fact, I would go so far as to say you might well exceed it. For resale purposes as well as general curb appeal, few things match brick paver driveways.
The next factor is Curb Appeal.
Composition, color and special effects can make a driveway something far more than one dreamed. The top picture is a very straightforward look at a simple design using a cheaper paver. It was done for a lady who had tried and tried to chase the cracking driveway she had been driving on for years. She had used patches in the past – ugly swaths of different-colored cement which stood out like a sore thumb. And then they started cracking too. Three of us were able to change that driveway to what you see there – complete with a walkway to her back yard and a patio in the same material – in two weeks.
The final pitch in favor of brick driveways is their resale value. Ask any real estate salesperson if they hold the value of their investment and I wager you’ll get a resounding “Yes!”. At least, in my experience it has been that way. Brick paver constructions tend to be lumped in real estate terminology with the terms “value-added” and “special”. They are often foremost in listings as described “benefits”.
These other pictures illustrate yet more possibilities in driveway compositions. I look at many expenditures in landscaping and wonder why some of it is not investing in driveways which could be made to catch the eye. A cool driveway is a unique and obvious way of welcoming people with pleasure and some style. It does not have to be overwhelming – although it can be – but it can certainly make a place look better. It can – if one wants – also show a bit of whimsy or even creativity. Driveways, like gardens, are opportunities.
You beat me to the punch! Great post on the importance of a beautiful driveway- I had this subject in mind to write about because it is a landscape element that is commonly overlooked. Too bad.
I like to integrate the driveway design with the rest of the landscape so that when there are no cars parked on it, it looks like its part of the garden.
Shirley, you go ahead and write that piece. It is not a secret – nor should it be. Like Heidi said in the other post comments, you can just treat it like a big courtyard when no cars are around. Besides – what’s wrong with big and beautiful?
I’m with you Steve. It’s too bad people waste this key space in their yards with glaring concrete that detracts from the rest of the yard. My driveway is exactly as you describe- a courtyard in the midst of a beautiful garden. Keep up with the informative posts. Nice work too!
Darn. I LIKE this gal! 😉
She has a killer blog, it turns out. Check her out.
Excellent post about driveways Steve! I have always wondered why they used so many cement/concrete driveways in the cold midwest/northeast when they crack so often. 90 Percent of driveways here in Denamrk are constructed like you describe. Most are DIY projects and I always ask them to make sure the foundations is 100 percent OK before they lie the bricks you recommend – compacting the soil, the gravel and sand before laying the bricks will prevent settings and the characteristic tire – depressions we see on driweways where the foundation was poorly or too thin, as sadly many DIY people later find out, when they have to redo their driveways. Driveways are better left up to professionals I trust – patios I can do myself – since they are less critical because they do not have to sustain the weight of vehicles.
Niels, it’s just because it was a great modern way of going about things for such a long time. Bear in mind the brick pavers have only been around since the ’70’s – the late ’70’s at that. At least those in there current incarnations of pre-stressed and durable concrete. Now it’s a mystery why people use anything else.
People also need to comprehend the deeper level UNDER the gravel they compact. Nothing in the ground is at it seems. I have added literally 2 feet of gravel for compaction purposes on top of real soft, mucky, peaty type ground. LOL, on one job, I put 16 feet of base material! I think I might blog about that next. Yup, 5 meters of sand or gravel. Long story.
You know your stuff! and incorporate an aesthetic sense.
Your blog is very informative and interesting.
Thanks Philip. That’s high praise coming from you. People, if you have not visited Philip’s blog, prepare yourself for a real treat. It’s my favorite blog out there.
(You have the address for the check, right, Philip? 😉 )
A driveway is the entrance to your house. If your driveway is attached to the garden then special care should be taken while watering the plants. Water can sometimes damage the driveway paver’s material. There are different types of pavers available which means their features are also different.
Okay, Steve, let me be the non-conformist and defend concrete driveways. For houses of a certain period and styling they’re the absolutely appropriate choice of surface and doing otherwise could be akin to tacking up crown moldings in a sleek modernist house. (I’m afraid I understand crown moldings about as well as I understand the eateries in Pittsburgh that put french fries in their sandwiches.) That said, most houses these days aren’t tying to look modern, and a driveway that complements the styling can be a lot more flattering to the house than a sleek expanse of modern concrete. I especially like the way the pavers work with the architecture of the second house.
Well said, James, but I beg to differ. I understand the logic as it relates to design. My contention regarding brick pavers deals with issues of longevity in climates unlike yours in San Diego, however. Those heaving issues I mention are very real. Besides, haven’t we had enough kitsch already?? LOL, just kidding.
You definitely opened my eyes with this one. You are so right, driveways are a huge huge element in design; most of the time I just blank them out when I look at a place because paved ones are ugly. Most drives in my area are dirt or gravel, but the compressed brick would be a beautiful way to pave. I hadn’t thought about cobble and brick streets being made to resist frost heaves and so on, but when you said it it made perfect sense. May your driveway philosophy take on.
Sometimes, other materials are used too. Cobbles, for example, comprise many Mexican streets. We did a project here in 6 x 8 by 4″ granite blocks, cut from slabs and actually “overage” salvaged from their garbage, lol. Man, it looked impressive.
Really enjoyed this post on driveways as our driveway and front entrance has been last on our list to landscape. Something about so many design choices, so little time and money but it will get done! Thanks for some inspiration and ideas – love your blog and have put it on the sidebar of mine as one I like to check out!
Great post and great pictures.
Do you have anything with natural stone or just brick pavers?
Helen, actually, yes. We did a pretty large driveway in Portland using “seconds” – very thick cuts of granite, cut on 5 sides and rough on top. I have a number of walkways and paths I have done in sand-set style, but no driveways. I have tended to shy away from doing too much in concrete, more simply because I could avoid it. Having said that, we have done a number of driveways in stamped and colored concrete.
Thanks for dropping by.