Whether for a new construction project or an update on an older home, quality exterior design is a must. While many individuals spend a great deal of time thinking about home colors and landscaping, one very important focal point is often forgotten– the driveway.
Not only is the driveway the first entrance into your home but the main load-bearer of all your vehicle traffic. As such, picking the right driveway materials and ensuring they are properly enforced is a necessity that no homeowner should ignore.
Types of Driveways (and How They’re built)
Soil, when not naturally reinforced by roots, is a weak material prone to erosion, puddling, and poor support. As such, natural earth is unable to withstand the strain even the most basic driveways are put under. To counteract this, driveways are built with several layers of varying materials and support.
Before the layers of the driveway can be built, the land must first be prepared. Most commonly the path is marked off, cleared of any plants, and dug out.
A common pitfall at this stage is not making this initial clearing deep enough. Clearings that are too shallow will ultimately be built on soft earth, leading to problems with drainage, stability, and soil erosion down the line. To avoid this costly mistake, ensure the clearing is dug down until hard earth or a rock layer has been reached.
At this point, you are ready to begin choosing base materials and additional support.
Types of Driveways (and Costs)
When choosing the type of driveway material that is right for you, there are many pros and cons to consider– budget and longevity being top priorities. Below is a quick comparison between the common driveway types: gravel, asphalt, concrete, and paver.
Among all the options, gravel is the most cost effective. Not only are materials easy and affordable to acquire, but any maintenance needed (such as filling in gaps) can be completed with minimal cost, time, and effort. Furthermore, gravel allows for water to drain directly back into the soil, thus making this option the least environmentally disruptive available.
The downsides to gravel mirror some of its benefits. For instance, even though gravel is easy to maintain and fill, it requires this type of care more than any other driveway. Gravel driveways are highly susceptible to weather eroding in addition to settling as the foundation of the driveway compacts with time and use. This could mean more frequent top offs and a less even surface overall.
Asphalt is a petroleum based substance giving it an interesting set of characteristics to consider. While more expensive per square foot than gravel, asphalt is miles cheaper than either concrete of pavers while being just as durable and having a lifespan of up to 40 years.
Unfortunately, asphalt can be quite problematic for certain climates. Extreme heat will cause the asphalt to crack and require regular maintenance. This is because the heat melts the material the asphalt is made with, causing it to become gummy and pliable, only then to harden in a weaker state than when it began. Furthermore, asphalt will need professional seal coating every 2-5 years which can become incredibly inconvenient.
Concrete and Paver Driveways:
Related though material, there are relatively few differences between concrete and paver driveways. Concrete is slightly more variable as its mixture and curing is dependent on both your builder and environment. Pavers however, are manufactured in controlled environments where they are all made in the same fashion and given ideal conditions to cure.
Apart from this, concrete options tend to be the strongest (and most expensive) options one can pick for a driveway. While this durability is a selling point, many cannot afford the uptick in costs when compared to other materials. In addition to high material costs, both paver and concrete driveways are expensive to install– requiring many hours of labor and extra material.
In spite of their differences, one thing remains common between the three– the benefit from added reinforcement. This additional support is most successfully brought to the project by geotechnology. More specifically, geocells.
Why Driveways Need to Be Reinforced
Before learning what geocells are, we first need to understand why driveways should be reinforced.
The common misconception is that because driveways are one solid material over the next, they are already solid enough to serve their purpose. This might seem logical, but it is not the case.
To begin, driveway materials are not actually solid. Because driveways are built up from several layers of aggregate stone and compacted sand, there are actually tiny air pockets all throughout the foundation of the driveway. This is necessary as, without these gaps, there would be no way for the water to drain back into the earth.
When these gaps are closed over time and wear, we get what is called a “compacted” layer. This reduces the number of gaps in the substrate and makes draining water from heavy rains even more difficult. If the drainage gets too poor, water will begin to puddle on (or under) the driveway, causing a host of problems from eroding material to a sinking foundation.
This is where geocells can help.
What is a Geocell?
Geocells are a specific subgroup of geotechnology used to add stability and drainage and stability the base layers of driveway.
Unlike geotextiles which are flat, geocells are vertical, rigid, pocket-like structures. When building a driveway, these pockets are far more desirable than their flat counterparts for a variety of reasons.
With their upright shape, geocells provide vertical support to the substrate distributed over them. This support helps the rock maintain its shape and prevent premature compacting.
Because geocells cradle the substrate that is distributed over them, it staves off the compaction that comes with time. Because the substrate to maintain its placement longer, geocells airflow to remain between the rocks longer. Not only does this add strength, but it promotes drainage by allowing the water to filter successfully though the rock.
The Installation Process
The installation process for geocells is simple– nothing more than an added layer to the common driveway construction process.
Depending on your needs, geocells will be added before or after the base layer. Geocells that are added before the base layer will be responsible for stabilizing the base material swept over them. Geocells which are added after the base layer will be responsible for containing compacted sand or crushed stone.
Cost Benefit Analysis: Choosing Geocells
More often than not, the initial cost of adding geocells to your driveway pays for itself in the long term. In climates where heavy weather is a common or seasonal occurrence, geocells give unparalleled strength and longevity.
At Performance Footing, we can direct you to the right geotechnology to make your driveway installation a success.