Dirt/Gravel driveway

zootjs(zone 5 MA)April 16, 2007


My driveway is currently a pond, thanks the recent Noreaster. It generally puddles.

It's dirt now. Maybe it was gravel once, but it is dirt now. It's quite compacted--tough to get a shovel down it.

It is in a historic district where all driveways are similar. As chair of the local historical commission, I would forbid myself from using asphalt. It has a 1700-1850 vibe here.

The driveway is about 25 feet long and 10 feet wide.

So, here are my questions. First, is there maintenance that can be done to tune up what I've got? Do you know of any good information sources on this?

If a relatively light tune-up isn't possible, how do I know whether or not it needs to be completely dug up from scratch or something a bit less extreme? Like, maybe a new layer of 3/4 inch gravel and peastone, or something.

I'd be interested in what options you'd recommend to look natural with a late 1700s clapboard house.


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Well I don't know much about historic preservation, but I've driven down a gravel road or two in my lifetime and currently have to maintain a gravel drive and private road. Gravel drives/roads need to be routinely scraped and crowned so that pot holes get covered and the water drains away from the road. Periodically (every 5 years or so), you need to top off with new gravel. In an urban area, finding someone to do the work may be difficult, but I could be wrong. That is a pretty small job.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2007 at 1:43PM
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saypoint(6b CT)

I also have a vintage house (1837) and a gravel drive. The best way to find out what can be done to make it serviceable is to make a few phone calls and get a few recommendations and prices locally.

My drive was originally poorly made, with medium sized crushed stone that was too uniform in size. It tended to shift around. My neighbor, who has a landscape construction business, said he could remove the crushed stone and re-lay it with some new added stone for a few hundred dollars. I was thinking under $300. The drive is at least 100 ft. long and 12-13 ft. wide.

When we had to replace our septic system, the driveway came into play, so the decision was made for us. The septic guy moved as much stone out of the way as he could, and then brought in a load of stone that had medium and smaller size pieces, and redistributed the whole thing. It looks great, and functions well, I think. When it's icy out, we still have good traction on the drive, while the walks are very slippery.

I find the crunching sound when you walk or drive on it, very satisfying. Plus, it's permeable, which is a better choice for environmental reasons.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2007 at 3:02PM
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treebeard(z5 MA)

By 'gravel'...do you mean typical native New England gravel...sand / stone/ mineral soil mix? Or do you mean crushed stone or traprock?

The typical 'gravel' drive here in New England, at least for all my years, is really nothing more than the native subsoil, a sand, stone, and mineral soil mix, graded smooth to travel on, and sloped enough to drain.

Many of us, like me, have the other drive...the crushed stone or traprock (depending on just what the provider calls his material). Like plant material, the 'local' name can be different depending on where you go.

If you're looking to restore the look of a crushed stone drive (I wouldn't recommend peastone...to rounded...won't compact well at all) then you'll likely have to hire a contractor to machine grade what you have down to a good compact base, some inches below where it sits now, in order to allow for the addition of 3-4 inches of crushed stone. Make the stone too much deeper and you'll need the services of a large vibratory roller to really compact it. Keeping it 3-4 inches will allow for sufficient compaction by serveral passes of a vibratory plate compactor, a walk behind compactor about the size of a big lawn mower. Noisy, but useful and efficient.

In Massachusetts you should be able to find a decent selection of color ranges by visiting various suppliers in your area.

Understand that this type of driveway surface is constantly in need of homeowner maintenance, from raking the stone periodically, to spraying for weeds (or laboriously picking them out by hand). And then there's winter....

The look of this stone driveway is quite nice...in the late spring, summer, and early fall. Winter brings along an assortment of 'issues', not the least of which is keeping the stone in place when making any kind of attempt at snow removal...and then retrieving the stone in the early spring to put back in the driveway. But...it's the look....

Good luck...

    Bookmark   April 16, 2007 at 6:43PM
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Look into Chapel Hill Gravel from the Chapel Hill, NC area. I understand that is a natural "crush and run" 98% compaction and has a beautiful tan color.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2008 at 5:43AM
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Trucking costs will kill that idea.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2008 at 6:59AM
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Good reality check, laag. I've been doing some research and found that around here the suppliers each have a delivery zone.

I need to replace the crushed bluestone on my driveway now that an addition has been completed. With a few minutes on Google and ten minutes on the phone, I found a supplier just a few miles away from my house who gave me a good price. Now I have to figure out what to do with it once it's delivered. They suggested I have the driver "tailgate" the stone, then I can redistribute with a rake (and some help, as I'm only 5 feet tall and not known for my physical strength). Don't really know what "tailgate" means, but think it's a method of spreading it when dropping it off. I think I'm going to call them back and ask them to send someone to do what needs to be done and assume they have the proper knowledge and equipment.

Like saypoint, I like the crunching sound of the stones. It's a sound that seems to fit in this neighborhood. I also rely on that crunching sound to alert me to someone arriving in my driveway. I don't have a clue what I will do when it snows, but the snow melts pretty quickly around here so maybe I will just walk for a day or two. The main part of the addition is a garage, anyway.

And I'm not looking forward to the homeowner maintenance that treebeard describes. Weeding is one of my favorite things to procrastinate. But, as treebeard says, ...its the look.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2008 at 10:51AM
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The first thing I would do is fill the drive to a grade where water does not pool on it, using a select fill material with fines and doctored with portland cement, soil cement, or bentonite clay before the compaction is done.

Only after I have a hard well drained drive would I then add a 3 inch layer of decorative stone. An edging might be needed to keep the stone in place.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2008 at 10:02PM
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prairiepaintbrush(RedOak, TX z7/8)

If you choose to use gravel that will run off into the surrounding land, try to use gravel made of native rock so that it will be absorbed harmlessly, seamlessly, and beautifully.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2008 at 3:04AM
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saypoint(6b CT)

Snow removal is complicated a bit by crushed stone drives, but it can be done. A snowplow operator who knows what he/she is doing can raise the plow just enough to get almost all of the snow without scraping off the stone. We use a snowblower on ours when there is too much drive over, raising the front of the blower in the same way: just enough to avoid throwing gravel, low enough to get most of the snow. (My DH took the rear window out on his brand new SUV with a rock thrown by the snowblower, so be careful. I have never had this problem because I pay attention to what I'm doing, and put the cars in the garage. :O))

The rest of the time, we drive over the snow if it's only a few inches. Where the sun hits it, it melts pretty quickly.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2008 at 9:54AM
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