If you live in a detached single-family home, there’s a good chance you have your own driveway. Which means that you’re responsible for its maintenance and upkeep. Lucky you!
Though nothing is guaranteed in the world of real estate, upgrading or resurfacing your driveway is one of many home improvement projects that can reduce your homeownership costs. A well-done driveway upgrade may even increase the resale value of your home.
Driveways come in several different flavors. This guide covers four: aggregate (gravel), paving stone, asphalt, and concrete. In the sections that follow, we’ll discuss the cost, durability, maintenance requirements, DIY potential, and overall suitability of each.
Before You Install: Questions and Considerations
First, some key factors to consider before you choose a driveway type and begin your project.
Is curb appeal important to you? If so, you need a driveway that stands out. Consider:
- What You’re Up Against. What’s the prevailing driveway type in your neighborhood? In rural areas and working-class urban neighborhoods, gravel might be the material of choice. In middle-class areas, asphalt and concrete probably outrank gravel and stone. In fancier precincts, stone could be the winner. You don’t have to keep up with the Joneses, but you shouldn’t pretend appearances don’t factor into your calculus.
- What’s the Right Fit for Your Property. If you’re looking to anchor a cohesive, upscale front that increases your home’s curb appeal, you’ll probably lean toward stone or brick. If utility is your top priority, gravel or concrete will do.
- Your Personal Tastes. Listen to your inner designer. If you’re willing (and can afford) to pay more for a material that speaks to you, don’t let anyone talk you out of it. By the same token, don’t give into vanity or insecurity and spring for a pricier paving option when a more pragmatic substitute will do just fine.
Budget considerations can of course make or break any home improvement project. Your driveway installation or resurfacing costs will turn on a variety of factors:
- Driveway dimensions
- Drainage features
- Design elements, such as curbs and lighting
- Adjacent landscaping, if any
- Paid assistance, if any
- Paving material
Of the four paving materials described in this guide, aggregate (gravel) is the least expensive, followed by asphalt, concrete, and paving stones. If you’re installing your driveway on a shoestring budget, gravel is your best choice. If you have more wiggle room, you’ll have more choice.
Paying for Your Driveway Project
Once you’ve set a budget for your driveway project, think about how you’ll pay for it. Consider these options:
- Low-Interest Credit Card: If you have good credit, consider using a credit card to pay for your driveway project over time. Look for low APR interest credit cards with long 0% APR introductory promotions. The category’s leading promotions stretch to 21 months – plenty of time to pay down a large purchase before the regular interest rate kicks in.
- Personal Savings: Why take on new debt if you don’t have to? Take a hard look at your personal savings and determine whether you have sufficient funds to finance your project out of pocket without compromising your emergency reserves or long-term savings. If time isn’t of the essence, consider setting up a separate home improvement and maintenance savings account out of which you fund urgent and planned projects alike. My wife and I make regular contributions into a secondary savings account that we’ve used to fund emergency plumbing repairs, HVAC maintenance, and even a backyard patio installation.
- Home Equity Loan or Line of Credit: If you have significant equity in your home, a home equity loan or line of credit offers an ideal combination of concentrated borrowing power and reasonably low financing costs (since HELOCs are secured by the equity you’ve built in your home).
- Other Home Loans: Other types of secured home loans may work here too. If you have suitable equity and you’d like to lower your monthly mortgage payments or interest rate, a cash-out refinance kills two birds with one stone. For new homeowners, renovation loans and rehabilitation loans work better.
- Unsecured Personal Loans: If you lack sufficient equity in your home and would prefer not to jump through any mortgage-related hoops, consider an unsecured personal loan from a bank, credit union, or online personal lender. Though personal loan interest rates range higher than secured loans’, prime borrowers may qualify for rates under 10% APR.
3. Shape and Dimensions
If you’re starting your driveway from scratch, you’ll need to plan its shape and course.
Most urban driveways are straightforward: rectangular or squarish pads alongside, streetside, or behind their houses. Mine is a 45-foot rectangle abutting the side of the house, with just enough width to the property line for a standard passenger car.
In suburban and rural areas, you’ll have more freedom. Determine, and then mark off, your driveway’s exact route and boundaries before beginning your project. Make sure it’s wide enough for a standard passenger car, with room to spare. Factor any unorthodox shapes, like a turnaround or outdoor parking area, into your dimension calculations.
4. Local Regulations
Before you sink any money into your new driveway, make sure it’s permitted by the powers that be. Exclusive municipalities often regulate property improvements with heavy hands. Homeowners’ associations can be even less forgiving, banning certain materials or colors altogether.
5. DIY Potential
Are you looking for a project that you’re capable of managing and executing on your own from start to finish, or do you prefer to leave it to the professionals?
Your temporal and financial reserves will factor into this consideration. So will your choice of material. DIY aggregate driveway installation is well within most homeowners’ capabilities. Asphalt, concrete, and paving stones are all much trickier to do on one’s own.
How much time, money, and effort are you willing to invest in driveway maintenance?
Recommended upkeep varies widely by material – gravel is easy and cheap to maintain, while asphalt requires sustained attention every few years. Geography and climate play in as well – asphalt doesn’t hold up particularly well to repeated freezes and thaws, while gravel is prone to erosion in heavy rain and isn’t especially easy to keep clear during the winter.
- Cost Per Square Foot: $0.50 to $5, depending on material, layer count, drainage, and other factors
- Useful Lifespan: Indefinite with periodic resurfacing
- Maintenance: Low to moderate
- DIY Potential: High
Aggregate, or gravel, is the cheapest and most durable of these four common driveway materials. My wife and I chose gravel for our driveway, and we couldn’t have been happier with the result: It cost us less than $300, took a single morning to install, and will last for the remainder of our tenure as homeowners with proper care.
Aggregate varies by geography – check out the map on page 10 of this handy USGS guide to U.S. aggregates. In most parts of the U.S., Class 5 limestone is the go-to choice. Expect to pay $15 to $30 per ton. You’ll need approximately one ton per 50 square feet, or 10 tons per 50′ by 10′ section.
Since gravel is prone to erosion, some sort of drainage system is recommended on moderate to steep slopes. A basic French drain, basically a gravel-lined trench with a porous PVC pipe that redirects running water from the driveway’s center to its edges, is relatively straightforward to install. Check out this HGTV guide for details.
Advantages of Aggregate Driveways
- Relative Affordability. Pound for pound, aggregate is the cheapest of these four common driveway materials. A basic gravel driveway can cost as little as $0.50 per square foot – an order of magnitude less than a professionally installed asphalt, stone, or concrete driveway.
- Durability. Aggregate is extremely durable. With proper drainage and regular maintenance, aggregate driveways last for decades. By contrast, asphalt driveways require regular resurfacing, significantly adding to their lifetime ownership costs.
- Low Maintenance. Aggregate is low maintenance. Once the material has settled, all that’s required is periodic spreading and filling to reduce rutting and smooth bumps. The associated financial and temporal costs are minimal.
- Environmentally Friendly. Most driveway aggregates are naturally derived – they’re literally crushed rock, usually from the user’s geological neighborhood. Some aggregates have synthetic components, such as crushed concrete and asphalt, but they’re easily avoided. Plus, aggregate is naturally porous: Storm water sinks right into it, and eventually into the aquifer, rather than running off and polluting local surface water.
- High DIY Potential. Installing a gravel driveway requires no great skill, just old-fashioned elbow grease. Aside from the truck driver who delivers your aggregate, you can complete the entire job from start to finish with no professional help.
Disadvantages of Aggregate Driveways
- Lack of Aesthetic Appeal. Aggregate comes in many different colors and textures, some combinations of which are quite pleasing to the eye. But even high-end gravel has a certain unfinished – even cheap – quality to it. If your top priority is enhancing your home’s curb appeal, aggregate isn’t your best bet.
- Difficult Snow Removal. Gravel is no friend to snowplows, and vice versa. It’s hard to plow a gravel surface clean without dinging up the plow, spraying gravel everywhere (thereby shortening the driveway’s lifespan), or both.
- Rutting. Over time, aggregate driveways are prone to rutting. Ruts are prone to hazards like snow, ice, and mud, all of which are unpleasant or unsafe to varying degrees for pedestrians and vehicles alike.
- Potential HOA Covenant Restrictions. If you live in a subdivision governed by a homeowners’ association (HOA), check your HOA’s bylaws (and the board, to be safe) before spending any money.
Paving Stone Driveways
- Cost Per Square Foot: $7 to $14, depending on material and other factors
- Useful Lifespan: 30+ years, depending on climate and use
- Maintenance: Low
- DIY Potential: Low
Stone is the most expensive of the four driveway materials in this guide. It’s also arguably the most attractive. Stone blends well with other landscaping and design elements, such as fountains, driveway islands, stone walkways, and xeriscapes.
The downside is limited DIY potential: As this guide from This Old House shows, you’ll need professional equipment to prepare, grade, and pave the driveway – within reach for extremely capable homeowners with prior advanced DIY home improvement experience, but probably not realistic for the typical weekend warrior. To reduce storm runoff, consider permeable pavers, which can absorb 10 inches of water per hour (handling all but the most apocalyptic downpours).
Advantages of Stone Driveways
- High Aesthetic Appeal. Stone and brick driveways look great. If boosting your home’s curb appeal is a priority, there’s a strong case to be made for these materials.
- Durability. In most climates, stone and brick are more durable than asphalt or concrete. Though you’ll occasionally need to swap out individual stones and eventually replace the entire driveway, you don’t need to worry about periodic resurfacing projects that jack up your driveway’s lifetime ownership costs.
- Stability. Stone is stable and clean. Unlike dirt and gravel, which can be messy in wet conditions, stone is always firm.
Disadvantages of Stone Driveways
- High Cost. Stone and brick are pricey – really pricey. A top-of-the-line, professionally installed stone driveway can easily cost $12 to $14 per square foot. The attendant increase in your home’s resale value is far from guaranteed to offset the up-front investment.
- Slipperiness. Stone and brick aren’t high-traction materials. In inclement weather, they’re more treacherous for pedestrians and drivers than asphalt and unfinished concrete – both rougher, grippier materials. If ice and snow are common where you live, one of those materials might be a better fit.
- Runoff. Stone and brick are basically impermeable, making storm runoff unavoidable. For homeowners concerned about soil erosion or surface water pollution, this is a potential deal-breaker.
- Generally Requires Professional Installation. You can try to install your stone driveway yourself, but it’ll take a long time and probably won’t turn out that well. If paying a pro isn’t in the cards for you financially, you might want to stick with a more DIY-friendly option – gravel – for the time being.
- Cost Per Square Foot: $4 to $8
- Useful Lifespan: 10 to 20 years, depending on climate and use
- Maintenance: Moderate to high
- DIY Potential: Low
Asphalt is a common, highly functional driveway material that’s cheaper than stone and concrete, its two main solid-surface competitors. The construction process is involved, though, and isn’t recommended for DIYers without prior experience operating paving equipment.
Asphalt is also relatively high-maintenance, especially in harsh climates. Experts recommend sealing asphalt driveways within a year of installation, then resealing every three to five years. Reseals are not cheap: The average cost is around $400, lower for shorter driveways and higher for longer ones. Periodic patching may be required as well, depending on use patterns and the quality and stability of the substrate. (Patching is within DIYers’ capabilities.)
Asphalt’s useful lifespan is the shortest of any material on this list. In colder climates, expect to resurface every 10 to 15 years. In milder regions, asphalt can last longer than 20 years – but other surfaces last comparatively longer as well.
Advantages of Asphalt Driveways
- Stability. Asphalt is a stable, solid material. Once cured, you can safely walk on it without worrying about mud or messy residue sticking to your shoes. That’s a big advantage over aggregate, which is prone to sloppiness in wet weather.
- Aesthetic Appeal. Aesthetically, asphalt is a known quantity. While it’s not as arresting as stone, brick, or colored concrete, it looks professional and finished. The same can’t be said for gravel.
- Easy Winter Maintenance. Asphalt is easy to plow during the winter. Unlike stone and gravel, both of which are prone to damage from plows (and vice versa), a professionally paved asphalt surface can be scraped clean and salted with little trouble. (Salt and chemical ice-melters don’t work as well on porous gravel.)
- Traction. Asphalt’s traction quotient is far higher than stone’s. This matters in wet and icy conditions, and for pedestrians with impractical footwear.
Disadvantages of Asphalt Driveways
- Relatively High Maintenance Requirements. Asphalt driveways require resurfacing every three to five years. The average resurfacing project costs $400 to $500 a pop – nearly what you’d spend on a new gravel driveway.
- Relatively High Cost. Asphalt isn’t quite as dear as stone, but it’s expensive relative to aggregate. If you’re looking for a functional, budget-friendly driveway surface, this should not be your first choice.
- Runoff and Other Environmental Issues. Like stone and brick, asphalt promotes runoff and all its attendant ills.
- Shorter Lifespan. Asphalt driveways deteriorate relatively rapidly, even with periodic resurfacing. Depending on your local climate and use rates, you can look forward to replacing your asphalt driveway every 15 to 20 years.
- Professional Installation Highly Recommended. Like stone, asphalt is best left to the pros. While hiring a professional reduces headaches down the road, it’s sure to swell the cost of your project.
- Cost Per Square Foot: $5 to $10
- Useful Lifespan: 20 to 40 years
- Maintenance: Low to moderate
- DIY Potential: Low to moderate
At a glance, concrete and asphalt have similar properties, but concrete is comparatively durable. Depending on climate and use, you can expect your concrete driveway to last 50% to 100% longer than asphalt. Concrete is also slightly more DIY-friendly, though professional installation is still ideal for most homeowners.
Concrete requires less year-to-year maintenance. Sealing is recommended shortly after installation, but other than that, upkeep involves little more than washing. Heavy use can lead to more serious problems, like cracking and breaking, especially where freezing and thawing is common. Replacing broken or damaged sections is an involved process that requires either power tools or lots of elbow grease.
While rough concrete isn’t particularly attractive, more upscale options abound if you’re willing to pay for them. Ask your installer about color options, brushing, and other fancy add-ons that can boost your driveway’s curb appeal.
Advantages of Concrete Driveways
- Stability. Unlike gravel, concrete is a stable walking and driving surface not prone to mud or slop.
- Traction. Rough concrete has ample traction. Finished, sealed concrete doesn’t hold up quite as well in inclement weather, but it’s still better than polished stone.
- Easy Winter Maintenance. Concrete is easy to plow and treat during the winter. Since it’s not particularly porous, it responds well to chemical and natural ice-melt, and its relatively smooth surface won’t damage plows or shovels with proper use.
- Relatively Long Lifespan. Concrete driveways last several decades with proper care and reasonable use – significantly longer than asphalt.
- Relatively Low Maintenance. Other than periodic resealing, concrete driveways don’t require much maintenance. The cumulative fiscal and temporal investment necessary to keep a concrete driveway in good shape is far lower than for asphalt.
Disadvantages of Concrete Driveways
- Runoff and Other Environmental Issues. Like asphalt and stone, concrete promotes storm runoff – a costly problem to mitigate, if it’s even possible to do so.
- Relatively High Cost. Concrete is second only to paving stones on this metric. Relative to asphalt, concrete’s longer lifespan and lower maintenance requirements reduce annual ownership costs, but they can’t do anything about the front-loaded cost.
- Professional Installation Recommended. Professional installation is highly recommended for anything involving concrete.
Even if you’re perfectly content in your current home, your plans could always change. It never hurts to keep one eye on the future.
An attractive driveway won’t single-handedly bring buyers to your door, but it could raise your home’s selling price. It’s certainly not one of these ill-advised home improvement projects that actually decrease resale value. Keep it on your to-do list for a future time when your budget and appetite for hands-on housework allow.
Is a new driveway in your future? Which of these materials are you leaning towards?