Gravel, Concrete or Pavers? Driveway Design Tips from Landscape Contractors by Cindy Capparelli at Landscape East & West

June 21, 2013

Stepp_Driveway_DesignIdeally, a driveway is functional and attractive – functional enough to use on a daily basis, and attractive enough to add curb appeal to your home. The driveway is one of the first things guests notice. Just as your front door welcomes visitors into your home, your driveway welcomes guests onto your property. And because your family will be interacting with it every day, it makes sense to choose an appealing design.

If you’re considering embarking on a driveway project, we recommend taking some time to carefully consider your driveway design, common challenges, best materials, cost components and contractor qualifications, as outlined below.

Starting Questions for a Driveway Design

The most important starting question is: How will you use the space? Driveways can serve several different functions, from creating a play space for the kids to harboring parked cars to making space for lounging in the front yard. What are your main functionality goals for your driveway? Do you envision planters with lush plants on either side? How much lighting will be required to make the driveway area feel safe? How could a new driveway improve the livability of your outdoor space?

It will also be helpful to think about the driveway color and texture that would best complement your home. You may even decide to sketch out your ideas, so as to facilitate working with landscape contractors.

Common Portland Landscape Design Problems in Driveway Projects

1. City regulations and permitting. Once you have a strong design, complete with dimensions and property line measurements, begin looking into which city permits will be required. For permitting information, visit Ultimate responsibility for proper permitting lies with the homeowner. However, upon request, Landscape East & West can help clients take care of all necessary permits.

2. Proper drainage. Driveways must stand up to plenty of water. Permeable pavers will allow water to drain straight down into the ground, but solid concrete and asphalt driveways will shed water in sheets. If this water isn’t directed away from the home via driveway trench drains and other methods, the home’s foundation and lower levels risk damage. See the section below on selecting a trustworthy Portland landscape contractor to make sure you’re working with an experienced designer who can mitigate drainage issues.

3. Efflorescence. Temporary white staining on newly installed pavers, known as efflorescence, can be alarming, but isn’t a defect. This process is natural and is lime leaching out of the stone. It is easy to clean up, not a defect and will eventually stop on its own.

Best Driveway Materials in the Pacific Northwest

Exposed Aggregate Driveway with color and inset stoneYour choice of driveway materials ultimately depends on the functions you are looking to fulfill. Overall, the main structural consideration is weight – the driveway materials must be able to stand up to the weight of your vehicles as well as any guest vehicles. Here are some of the top material choices in the Pacific Northwest:

  • Poured concrete is a perennially popular choice. Concrete driveways are no longer boring. You can choose standard, smooth poured concrete if you like, or you can add pizzazz by selecting stamped concrete, colored concrete or acid-etched concrete. You can also add visual interest with mixed materials, such as a poured concrete drive with a brick border. Keep in mind that most concrete will crack as a natural drying process over the life of the concrete.  Proper base prep, finish and strategic placement of expansion joints can minimize cracking, but not eliminate it all together.
  • Pavers are one of the more popular materials used in driveways.  Permeable pavers are especially well-suited for the rainy climate of the Pacific Northwest, as they allow runoff to slowly filter into the soil instead of flooding into storm drains. Although some people have doubts about the strength of this type of driveway, the truth is that an engineered paver driveway can withstand 8,000 pounds of pressure – four times what a poured concrete driveway can hold. Another bonus: If a crack appears, you can replace only the affected pavers rather than the entire driveway. Pavers are available in a wide variety of shapes, textures and colors to perfectly complement your home’s style. Finally, maintaining a paver driveway is easy – just use a pressure washer to remove stains and mildew, and sweep clean at least once a year to discourage weed growth.
  • Gravel driveways are the choice for many rural properties. Gravel is inexpensive and attractive, but it will not hold up as well as pavers, asphalt or concrete. And because gravel must be refilled every year or two, the long-term cost may actually be lower with pavers.

Other Driveway Considerations

Paver Patio Driveway DesignSpeaking of cost, your end cost will depend on your driveway’s square footage, your property and your choice of materials. Pavers can be purchased and installed for as low as $15 per foot. Another factor for cost: compaction. While a patio doesn’t require much compaction since it doesn’t need to support much weight, a driveway must be properly compacted in order to support automobiles. In general, a driveway will need a greater depth of gravel, as well as a few different layers of gravel applied over several days.

To make sure you’re getting a trustworthy driveway contractor, be sure to ask these four questions:

Is your company licensed and bonded? If so, you will be protected from liability for accidents on your property.Do you have crews that specialize in hardscaping? Experienced hardscaping crews understand the importance of proper installation. Cutting corners during the preparation phase, for example, can spell disaster for your driveway.

Do you have crews that specialize in hardscaping? Experienced hardscaping crews understand the importance of proper installation. Cutting corners during the preparation phase, for example, can spell disaster for your driveway.

What is your plan for drainage? This is a key component of any driveway design. There are many different types of driveway drains – channel drains, bordering surface drains and so forth. Find out how the landscape contractor plans to ensure that driveway water will flow away from the house.

What kind of warranty do you offer on your work? Trustworthy contractors will provide a guarantee on their work. Our paver driveways come with a 5-year warranty against settling, for instance.

These are the basic considerations one should think about when creating a new driveway area. Landscape East & West would be delighted to be your partner in driveway design and construction. Contact us today to learn more about our hardscaping services or visit our driveway design page for more information.


Portland Landscape Contractors - Cindy CapparelliContributing author Cindy Capparelli is a Design & Sales Associate at Landscape East & West, Portland, Oregon’s landscaping professionals. Cindy specializes in hardscape design, including gravel, concrete and paver driveways and much more.