Consider the put-upon, unsung driveway at most U.S. homes. Is it all it’s cracked up to be? While the primary function of driveways is usually parking, they can also offer recreation space for children and pets, increase property values, and enhance curb appeal.
Both building and maintaining a driveway are costs of owning a home that could benefit from financial planning and weighing options for materials, location, and design. Here’s a breakdown of key driveway ideas to help make your home improvement dream a reality.
1. Choosing a New Surface
Figuring out what material to use is a logical starting point when approaching new driveway ideas.
The chosen surface will affect the project’s cost in terms of the material itself, labor to install it, and how it will be maintained for years to come. The local climate is another factor to consider, as it plays into the durability and drainage of certain surface materials.
Let’s take a closer look at the pros, cons, and considerations for some popular driveway surfaces.
Asphalt is a leading material used for roads and driveways alike for several reasons. The smooth finish to asphalt can present a polished look that is also easy to clean. At the same time, it offers good traction for vehicles, which is a big plus for sloped driveways in particular.
Asphalt comes with some downsides, too. The leading concerns stem from frequency and cost of long-term maintenance, as resurfacing is recommended every two years. Runoff is another potential issue, but adding drainage and landscaping to capture water can help remedy the environmental impact.
The local climate can play a role in picking a material, too. Generally, asphalt is better than other surfaces in colder climates. Specifically, it is advantageous for snow plowing and handling freezing temperatures and ice.
On average, asphalt costs from $7 to $13 per square foot, and much of the price can be attributed to the labor and heavy machinery required.
Given its prevalent use in public sidewalks, it may come as no surprise that concrete is also a popular material for driveways.
On the positive side, concrete driveways can be installed quickly, offer good traction, and may last for several decades with proper maintenance, such as annual resealing to prevent cracks. Concrete is also well suited for warmer climates because it doesn’t hold heat as long as asphalt.
Conversely, concrete is not the cheapest material and can be prone to runoff, which is a concern for homeowners in regions with heavy precipitation.
Concrete driveways may range from $4 to $15 per square foot, with an average cost of $6 per square foot, according to HomeAdvisor. Factors that may increase costs include removing an existing driveway or adding reinforcement, which may be necessary if heavy vehicles like RVs are present.
Concrete requires less machinery and is safer to work with than asphalt, so construction-savvy homeowners with smaller driveways may opt to install the component concrete slabs themselves to see further savings.
If concrete doesn’t sound like the ideal aesthetic, there are options to customize a driveway to your liking. Spruce-ups include using stained or tinted concrete, adding a decorative stone border, and integrating a patchwork of unpaved greenery, which can also help with drainage.
Gravel may vary in composition and rock type, but generally speaking, it can be thought of as a mixture of loose stone. It is a common material used in pathways and playgrounds but can be applied to driveways as well.
Of all the surface options, gravel is typically the cheapest and most DIY-friendly. The cost varies by the need to clear land and type of stone, but the expected price is roughly $1 to $2 per square foot without serious excavation.
Though gravel driveways can require some topping up and reconfiguration as stones move around, it is incredibly durable and does not need costly maintenance.
Gravel may be well suited for a rustic aesthetic in rural areas, but it may be less appropriate or feasible in more urban areas and housing developments. Furthermore, gravel may not lend itself to shoveling and plowing snow from the driveway without clearing away stone.
To determine the total gravel needed, a general rule of thumb is to have at least 4 inches of coverage, though more may be necessary for extra drainage.
Stone and Brick
Stone and brick have been used for roads and as building materials for centuries.
Using stone and brick for a driveway can create a historic and refined appearance and raise the property value. Also, the ability to integrate patterns, design elements, and colors into the stone or brickwork can complement the design of a home more than other materials might.
Beyond the visual appeal, the materials can endure for decades, and maintenance can be done one stone or brick at a time instead of resealing or paving the entire surface.
The primary drawback of stone or brick driveways is cost of materials and installation. Depending on the quality of stone or brick, expect to pay between $7 and $14 per square foot. Higher-end stones can fetch a significantly heftier price tag.
Recent advances in engineering have made permeable paved surfaces an affordable reality for parking lots, roadways, and driveways.
Permeable pavement can come in several forms, including porous asphalt and pervious concrete. The pores drain water to the stone bed below, helping the water filtrate toxins naturally instead of running off to pollute waterways via storm drains.
The majority of benefits of asphalt and concrete apply, but permeable pavement can be slightly more expensive to install and needs to be vacuumed with professional-grade equipment every one or two years to remove debris and sediment from the pores. Often, permeable-pavement companies offer vacuuming and inspection services after installation.
In addition to the environmental benefits, homeowners may be eligible for tax rebates and other financial incentives from their local government for pursuing the greener option.
For instance, Palo Alto, California, has a rebate of $1.50 per square foot of permeable pavement installed. Until recently, Washington, D.C., offered up to $6,000 for replacing impervious surfaces with vegetation or permeable pavement.
Whether building anew or updating, driveway ideas extend beyond the surface itself. Landscaping can be tied in with the project to beautify the space and reduce runoff.
Depending on how ambitious the project is, you may be able to handle part or all of the landscaping yourself. While this is an opportunity to have fun and be creative with the project, maintenance is another important consideration.
For example, choosing perennial plants that regenerate each year and shrubs that will not quickly outgrow the space could add color and greenery without putting hedge trimming and spring planting on your to-do list.
Planting perennial species that develop deep root systems, such as black-eyed Susan and bee balm, can increase the garden’s ability to hold water and prevent flooding. This could also mitigate one of the most common home repair costs—foundation repair. In some cases, those repairs could cost up to $40,000.
3. Adding Lighting
Changing up the lighting in and around the driveway area can create a more stylized setting, as well as enhance safety and functionality for entering and leaving the home.
When choosing the type of lighting, you may want to consider the upfront cost of the unit and operational expenses of electricity and replacement. LED lights are a sustainable and cost-effective driveway idea for the long run, thanks to greater efficiency and a longer lifespan than incandescent and CFL bulbs.
Installing a combination of accent and overhead lighting allows the option to adjust the setting with the flip of a switch. Syncing the lighting with either motion sensors or timers can lower the electric bill and reduce light pollution to keep the neighbors happy.
4. Building a Gate
Topping off a driveway improvement with a gate is another way to highlight a home’s curb appeal and improve safety.
Gates may give peace of mind by giving control of who enters the home. They can also help ensure that children and pets have a safe area to play in without worry of them venturing into the street.
Convenience and safety can also be added by prominently featuring the house number on the gate or pillar structure, which may help visitors and emergency services find the home more easily.
Spatial considerations, such as distance to the road, driveway width, and landscaping, will influence whether a sliding or swinging gate or vertical lift gate makes the most sense.
5. Maintaining the Driveway
A driveway is an investment, and taking proper care can help retain its value and reduce maintenance costs over time.
Depending on the type of driveway, here are some general measures to stay on top of upkeep:
• Seal the driveway as recommended to prevent cracks.
• Remove weeds from cracks in the surface. • Clean and fill cracks.
• Fill in pothole depressions caused by heavy vehicles.
For colder climates, taking care of ice is important for personal safety and driveway maintenance alike. Removing snow promptly and spreading sand, salt, or a de-icing agent helps with traction and prevents ice from forming in driveway cracks.
Checking Local Permitting and Zoning
Local governments and homeowner associations may have zoning and permitting guidelines that dictate where a driveway can be placed and what it can look like.
A zoning requirement could specify that a driveway must be at least 5 feet from the property line or that an expansion of an existing driveway requires zoning board approval.
HOA rules can be stricter and more specific. They might govern the type of surface material, adjacent landscaping, and ability to install a gate.
Checking that your desired improvements comply with such regulation could save time, money, and frustration.
Paying for Driveway Improvements
Deciding how to pay for driveway improvements is another important step. Like most home repairs, fixing the driveway could become more expensive as the problem gets worse.
Unexpected costs can do a number on a monthly budget. In fact, only 4 in 10 Americans would pay a $1,000 surprise expense from their savings, borrowing that money instead.
If you fall into this category, you still have options. Instead of depleting your savings account or pushing it off for future credit card payments, personal loans could spare you the high interest rates.
For revamping or building a driveway, a home improvement loan is another option to consider.
SoFi offers home improvement loans without hidden fees or requiring home equity as collateral. Additionally, fixed-rate payments can help keep you on track and align with your budget.
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