Decoration

Our New Driveway – A Gravel/Concrete/Asphalt/Regrind Debate

Ready to nerd out over driveways?? Believe me, I didn’t want to either six months ago, but I learned SO MUCH and y’all are asking. I obviously want to remind you all that I am NOT a driveway expert and this is just based on my first-time experience doing it with the advice from the contractors that we consulted in Portland (i.e. there might be other options or very different pricing elsewhere). This is not a story that I ever wanted to tell because I never wanted to redo the driveway in the first place, but now that it’s behind us I feel very grateful that we were able to do it as it’s just so much better. We have the world’s longest driveway so this wasn’t a fun affordable “weekend project”. No, No, NO. You’ll see…

our first trip with the kids

When we first visited the property, IN 2019, we LOVED the long driveway, using words like “magical” and “enchanted”. It instantly transported you into the country (we live in the suburbs) and you rocked back and forth a bit on the broken pieces while in your car. It’s lined with trees that bend over and meet in the middle but most importantly it had this grass patch in the middle giving it an old two-track vibe. Branches would slap your windshield on the way down the road and you had to pay attention to where the road was to not accidentally get stuck in a ditch. These were all things I loved about it and reminded me of where I grew up (rural Oregon), but quite literally no one agreed with us (besides Cali, our landscape designer who got our vibe). Brian wanted it wider but loved the vibe.

photo by suraya barbee

Sure, maybe the concrete around the rest of the house was “very, totally, irreparably broken,” but it didn’t really bother me. They had patched some of the super broken areas with gravel and when it was dry most people wouldn’t notice (edit: literally every man with a wide truck would comment on it, but none of my girlfriends even noticed and I didn’t give a crap). I have so many other fish to fry, knowing that this home renovation/restoration was going to bleed us dry already. We agreed early on that we’d focus our budget on the house, namely the rooms that were to be heavily documented on the blog for my job, with projects that were tied to partnerships. There are some parts of the construction we can write off, and can actually build future business. I’m not a “driveway influencer” so when we were prioritizing construction costs we really, really didn’t want to have to redo the driveway. It was fine!!! (ish)

Aesthetically I didn’t want to touch it at all because I loved the two-track country vibe. But over the course of the construction with so many big trucks and machinery coming in and out daily + two years of heavy rain, it became more and more busted to the point of not being able to drive down it at all without fearing that you’ll pop your tire. The charm was pretty ruined and not just because it was cracked and in back shape, but because it was so narrow and surrounded by mud. No one could really turn around and every time anyone tried they would get stuck in the mud. It was starting to become very clear that we would have to redo the driveway and she is LONG. So let’s talk through the exact challenges/situation:

  1. It’s a long driveway to just get to the property, then a roundabout with a grove of fruit trees in the middle, and a massive utility space that could park like 10 cars. She BIG.
  2. It seems to be a mix of mostly broken concrete with some poured asphalt mixed in and lots of patches of gravel.
  3. Everything needed to be widened so 2023 cars could navigate without getting stuck in the mud. It was that narrow. I liked the narrowness and found it charming, but explaining that to guys that are stuck in the mud was feeling increasingly silly/annoying.
  4. And then there was MUD. Just so much mud that I think permanently scarred us. We HAD to fix this problem and before next winter.

We didn’t really have a dedicated contractor on this part of the job – ARCIFORM would weigh in as would our landscape contractor who had done many driveways, but it was on Brian and I do to all the research and to book the work. So again, this might not all be accurate for your situation but it’s what we were told, based on our research.

Concrete

Everyone seems to love concrete and I agree that new concrete looks better than new asphalt. I don’t know THAT much about this except that concrete seems to be very expensive – and shot up in the last couple of years. Based on our square footage needed it would be $75-100k. It requires a complete demo, grading, gravel base, steel rods, pouring, curing, pouring, curing, and no traffic for weeks afterward. It is what everyone thought we should do with this older home. But y’all, not to take down the concrete world right now, but all the concrete pours I see are always super cracked. Can it really hold up to the rain and heavy cars? Between the price, the length of time (3 weeks), and our doubt that it would really last long term this was a very easy NO. We thought about just doing it around the house, but then we are booking two different contractors and where would it start/stop, etc. It would be clunky and disjointed.

Chip Seal

Many of you reached out to mention chip seal and I had never heard of it. Thank you! So we finally got a chip seal contractor to come quote (which held up the whole process for weeks since he was really busy and there are only a couple of guys in town but we seriously thought it would be worth it). He gave it a solid “no way” because our driveway was on a hill. He said with the rain in the PNW that he would be back in 3 years to redo it. And that’s literally coming from a chip seal contractor. It’s basically glued gravel over a base coat of gravel (I’m sure there is more to it than that, but that’s how he explained it to me). We loved the look of it online but we didn’t experience it anywhere in person but that was a moot point – when the salesperson is saying “no way, this is a bad product for you,” you don’t keep exploring or push back.

Permeable Pavers

At the last minute, ARCIFORM suggested these pavers which honestly I think is a GREAT idea. We did preliminary research which showed that it was going to be very, very expensive but could be very pretty if thoughtfully designed. Think small stone or brick pavers that have space for grass growing in between – creating a pattern. When we brought it up to our landscape contractor he talked us through the process and y’all it sounded even more expensive than all the other options. I will say that it is a great option for the planet as it allows plants/grass to grow through and rainwater to drain directly through it, but we simply couldn’t afford it (and didn’t have time to research partnership opportunities). Now if we ever have a small driveway (literally where you can only park two cars) I would love to explore this, but for our scale of driveway, it just didn’t feel like a viable option that we could afford.

Gravel

We love gravel, y’all. We love the sound of the tires when they drive over, the crunch under our feet as we walk, and the look that feels so casual for this old property. I’m not saying it’s right for everywhere (it’s not), but the vibe was what we wanted. But we had added gravel in the winter of 2022 in a bunch of places in order for trucks to navigate the property without getting stuck in the mud and it all just turned into a mud pit – all of it (granted we didn’t have it properly prepped or done). Also for gravel, we were going to have to demo out all the concrete, grade everything, line and prep and then put a gravel base, compact it, and then add a final top coat. All fine and good but it would take weeks, cost $60K+, and then we were still very, very, very worried that it would wash away in a few winters anyway!! We also just worried that it would collect mud and again, we had felt held hostage by mud for a year. We weren’t going to redo our driveway and have that be a risk. Our asphalt contractor said it for sure would wash away (but obviously he is selling a different product). Which brings me to…

Asphalt

Y’all. This was where Brian and I felt like we were going nuts because everyone seemed so bummed when we said we were highly considering asphalt. There was a “please don’t do this to this beautiful property” look and while I kinda agreed, we were like, “so are YOU going bankroll our concrete cost?” We got three quotes, all around $38k which after concrete and gravel seemed like our best option. We really liked one of the companies – their knowledge, customer service, and response time were excellent, so we set it up. Some of the pros of asphalt are that since it’s liquid tar mixed with rock (I think) it can be poured over cracked concrete and even old gravel – so less demo and prep time (and time is money). There is some prep work, but far less. It also meant that the kids could rollerblade on the driveway and bike easier than they could in gravel – which at the time seemed like a great perk. But it’s black and definitely says, “new construction”. I guess it stinks for a while and can bring black marks on shoes into the house. But it takes only a few days, cost literally 1/2 of concrete (if not even less) and the guy, John, said they could do it literally any time – like the next week.

We were so unbelievably over the mud surrounding our house, at times during the rain feeling like we had to quarantine inside because it would be that bad just walking to the car. I wore Bogs almost exclusively and had to provide rain/mud boots for guests should they want to visit. I ruined countless pairs of shoes – all fine and good, but it informs our decision making which is why I’m bringing it up. So we probably weren’t in the headspace to make this decision because we were reacting to the mud and couldn’t be objective. But we talked about it for months, really trying to see it from a $30k foot view, and asked ourselves if this is what we’d want in 10 years for this property. Were we just doing the cheapest option that we would regret??

After so much debate we decided that asphalt was good enough for us. The house is so pretty that you won’t really even notice. You’ll see the pretty windows, the plants, the pretty architecture – only certain old-house purists would think we took the cheap way out. And we started seeing asphalt everywhere and it looked fine to us!! We know that it always grays out over time, is easy/cheap/fast to redo in 15 years (just one layer and one day’s work, no demo) and ultimately it’s just not where we could spend the money. It was a decision based strictly on time and money and we were quickly running out of both, honestly.

Regrind (A.K.A. Recycled Asphalt)

So our asphalt company was prepping, about to start when we lamented that we really wanted the look/feel/sound of gravel. He suggested quickly, “What about recycled concrete” – a product he also did. I was busy in meetings so Brian tried to relay the information as best he could which was essentially this: regrind is recycled asphalt that is broken up into gravel bits but since it still has the tar in it so it can compact to be harder and with less movement than gravel. He said that the prep would be more (an additional $10k) because they would have to demo out more of the larger broken concrete chunks but the product (regrind) is cheaper than asphalt by around $8k. They still compact it so it’s much harder than gravel, but it’s a bit loose on top and not this new asphalt look/feel. It’s a $2k difference, but when you are talking about $38k-$40k then you really just decide what you think you’ll want more long term, not trying to save $2k.

We made the decision – REGRIND IT IS, with a huge thanks to a few of you who DM’d me and gave me confidence that it was the right thing to do. They began demo’ing out some of the concrete and widening the driveway with prep work when they…

It had rained heavily the weekend before, which I think was in between the prep work. As they were prepping the long driveway and widening it, the water from our hillside property was flooding the gravel and it was impossible to move the trucks around or to compact it. Cool. So I pulled up my “bad news script” and asked, “ok, what are our options and how much will they cost?”

Option #1: Wait til it dries out, extending the construction by a couple of weeks (depending on weather). But they all advised that without proper drainage it wouldn’t matter WHAT surface we had decided on – this driveway was going to get flooded and would be compromised again within a few years. This is because we had deeply disturbed the hillside by grading it for construction trucks and “disturbed soil” doesn’t retain/drain water like “established soil”. This was proving to be true everywhere there was disturbed soil. He also said that this is why the driveway seemed so patched in the first place – that there was attempt after attempt to fix this problem for decades, but without proper drainage, we would be in that same boat (haha) in a few years. Essentially if we don’t deal with this now we might be drowning in mud again soon.

Option #2: Put in a long perforated tube that would essentially line the entire length of the driveway on the hillside side and act as a French drain, taking the water away before it hits the driveway. This would extend the job by two days and cost $13k. This was obviously the recommendation, but it wasn’t $13 dollars, $130 dollars, or $1300. It was $13k gone just like that. Did we technically have it? Yes, in our savings from the sale of our LA house, which we are grateful for. But oof.

I begged him to get it under $10k and if so I’d just do it, rip the bandaid off in hopes of never having to deal with it again. He agreed and they finished it. They walked the property with us and showed us how much water there was. It’s just insidious and unless we dealt with it now we’d have a bigger problem later.

We had ZERO experience with this and didn’t have time to take a driving cruise around Portland and try to find some regrind. I put it on social and had enough of you say that you thought it was a good idea. So with the information we had at the time we went for regrind.

When I came home after it was done I have to admit I was like, “ok. sure?” Since it’s looser it isn’t this super clean concrete or asphalt smooth look. There are areas that are super compact and solid and other areas that we wondered if it was too loose. But as we’ve settled in (it’s been about two months) Brian and I both agree that we actually LOVE it. It is that perfect combination between gravel and asphalt. It feels casual and farm-like, but truly seems to be more compacted and has more longevity than gravel with the hillside + rain combination. I obviously can’t say anything about that for years, so please know this isn’t a review (yet).

It’s super dark, but not black like asphalt. It looks like dark small gravel rocks glued/compacted together with a layer of semi-loose to loose gravel on top (but very angular, so not that loose and settles in easily to the lower layer). It is about 6″ in total depth (it seems like it anyway). I walk on it in my bare feet but I have working troll feet that can handle much more than others – so I suppose that most people would say it’s like walking on gravel and not advisable with bare feet. But when I’m walking the dogs or driving up the driveway has that grave crunch that I love!

I just checked in with Brian about it – because two months ago we were both like “well, we hope we made the right decision”. And now, he said the same thing – that he has come to love it, too. We are so happy. The whole thing ended up being in the low $40k range (paid over time in payments which always helps) and it’s behind us. But again, I want to stress that the product itself isn’t that expensive, we just have an exceptionally long driveway so if you have a shorter one, all of these quotes would be far less.

If you guys have more insight/experience leave it in the comments. I truly hope that we made the right decision but only time will tell. We love the look and feel like it doesn’t compromise the overall vibe of the house, while hopefully giving us the long-term function, durability, and “NO MUD” that we so desired.

Thank you for listening to my driveway ted talk. I truly hope to not have to ever do this again 😉

*After Install Photos by Kaitlin Green

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