Choosing the right driveway for you
Are you looking to add curb appeal to your home? A brick paver driveway makes a strong first impression to all who pass. Anything is a major upgrade from asphalt but poured-in-place concrete, stamped or brushed, cannot hold a candle to brick. Sure, with a quality concrete driveway, there is an initial cost savings over a brick driveway; but it does not compare to the look, feel, and long term durability of a brick driveway. I, myself, chose to have a concrete driveway installed at my last home because it was less expensive to pay another company full retail price to install a concrete driveway, than it was to use my own employees and equipment to install a brick paver driveway. The driveway I had served me well for a decade. However, when my wife and I decided we were going to build a new home, the thing I was most excited for was to design and install my own brick driveway. Scroll down to see a time lapse video of me and my guys installing my brick driveway. Then, keep scrolling to continue reading this article. Keep in mind, as you read this article, that I own a landscape company and I have a staff full of excellent brick paver installers, so my opinion may be a bit biased. That being said I promise that in addition to my opinions, I will provide perspective and insight that will help you make an educated decision between a concrete driveway, a brick driveway, or blacktop. Let's start with the worst option: A Blacktop Driveway (asphalt). I am going to keep this brief because I assume you are smarter than that. Pro: asphalt is the least expensive option in the first year. Con: you have to re-sealcoat your driveway year after year and on a long enough timeline that cost savings starts to disappear. In addition to the lower cost of material, asphalt driveways have a shallower base. Asphalt driveways are usually 3 inches thick with 5 inches of gravel under them. The eight inches of total depth required to install an asphalt driveway allows the contractor to save on the cost of excavating, hauling and disposing material which is part of what brings your price down. The problem is, when you are paying to have less materials installed, you are getting less and your soft asphalt on its shallow base will sag over time. No amount of seal coating will fix these depressions. Scroll down to see a before and after of an asphalt driveway we replaced with brick as well as a time lapse of that project. Scroll down a bit farther to keep reading.
Okay, can we agree that you are not going to install a blacktop driveway? Good choice! Now let's talk about poured-in-place concrete. A concrete driveway may be the right choice for you. The depth of a concrete driveway is 10 inches, yes it is only 2 more inches than asphalt but concrete is significantly harder than asphalt and the extra 2 inches you are getting is all concrete. If you have done the math you now know what is under the surface: 5 inches of stone and 5 inches of poured in place concrete. As long as your contractor uses a fiber mix concrete and/or steel mesh, you will have a very strong and clean looking driveway. I insisted the company that installed my concrete driveway at my last house use both fiber mix and steel mesh. I parked a 26,000 pound dump truck on my driveway for 10 years and it held up well. The biggest drawback with a concrete driveway is that it will crack. Concrete cracks because you are distributing variable forces (cars driving, people walking, earth settling) over a large span of solid material. If you have steel mesh, cracks should not pull too far apart but they will look ugly. If you do not have steel mesh those cracks can sink and separate. If cracks separate, do not fear! There are many mudjacking companies out there with equipment needed to relevel the entire surface. The problem with mudjacking is that you can not do it yourself and, in the end, you still have cracks and the holes are filled with a material that does not match. Below are pictures of cracked concrete and concrete repair (article continues after pictures)
Real quick, before we talk about the best option - a brick driveway - let's talk about the worst option: a stamped concrete driveway. I will keep this brief, because I think it is the worst option. Stamped concrete is slippery, it looks like a FAKE version of brick, it has to be resealed on a regular basis (so just as much maintenance to blacktop), it still cracks, and when it cracks or, worse, delaminates (because the color variation is only on the surface, unlike brick pavers that have color pigments throughout) it looks cheaper and worse than blacktop. All that being said, even though the labor to stamp concrete is far less than installing brick pavers, there is not much of a cost savings. Check out these two pictures of stamped concrete gone wrong and then keep scrolling to see why a brick driveway is the best choice
Now we get to talk about the best option: a brick driveway. I get excited every time a client hires us to install a brick driveway, because the curb appeal transformation is so dramatic that everyone, from the homeowner to my laborers, are proud when they stand back and admire the end results. We really love what we do, our clients love the results, and we appreciate the opportunity to deliver! Let's start with the beauty of a brick driveway. First, every joint is a real joint not a phony stamped depression. Second, there are so many choices that there is sure to be one that caters to your preferences. No settling for second best here! Once you have chosen the brick(s) you prefer, there is no limit to what a high end contractor can do with them. Below are a few photos of some more unconventional things we have done with brick paver driveways.
No matter if you are looking for an eccentric look or a classic look, brick is still the best choice. Yes, your initial cost will be higher, but you are buying a lifelong product. Now let’s talk about durability. The depth of a brick driveway is 21 inches (over 2 times deeper than concrete). Not only do contractors have to dig out and dispose of twice the subgrade material, the stone under the driveway is compacted every 2 inches. With all that extra labor the durability of your brick driveway is far superior to any other option.
Above is a picture of a 26,000 pound truck one of my clients parked on his driveway for 6 years without a single problem. That being said, if you do happen to have a problem with your brick pavers, they could be pulled up and reset. Unlike concrete, you can repair pavers yourself. We are currently working on an article with more information about Brick paver repair so check back soon. This does require some specialized, rented equipment. If you need pavers repaired, and you do not want to rent a plate compactor and reset your pavers yourself, there are many companies (including mine) that could do this for you. This comes at a fraction of the cost to replace a cracked concrete driveway. Below is a time lapse video of us fixing a 28 year old brick patio that settled over time. We reused their 3-decade-old pavers and added a contrasting border to freshen it up a little bit. By now you know a brick driveway is, without a doubt, the best choice and one you will not regret. If you live in the south or west suburbs of Chicago you have already found the number one installer: scott flanagan landscape. If you are outside of our territory, do not fear! As long as you ask the right questions you should still be ok. If you keep scrolling, I have provided advice and a few questions I think you should ask your contractor when looking for the best landscape company to install your brick driveway. Before the practical advice, enjoy a few fun pictures of a colossal brick driveway we installed a few years back.
How to interview your brick driveway contractor: When considering a project, always get 2 or 3 quotes. Keep in mind that this is a lifetime investment and price should not be the determining factor (you get what you pay for). Question 1: How deep is the base you put under your driveways? My answer: We excavate 21 inches, and install 18 inches of stone compacting the stone evenly every 2 inches. We then use the least amount of sand possible to level the surface and the top 3 inches are your bricks. Note: depth of stone may be less in warmer climates, so if you are not in Illinois, do some research for your climate. Question 2: How long have you been doing this and how many paver projects have you installed? My answer: We have been providing high-end design build services since 2007, brick pavers make up the largest component of what we do, and we install a little more than 75 projects a year. Note: if the contractor you are talking with has not installed a driveway before, but they have installed at least 20 paver projects, ask to see their work. A driveway is no more difficult than a patio. The only difference is the depth of base, which you should have covered in question 1. Question 3: What pavers do you use? My answer: UNILOCK is our first choice but we also work with other contractor-grade manufacturers that sell in our region. UNILOCK just happens to be manufactured in the west suburbs of Chicago, they put out a great product, and I think there styles are the best on the market. Note: contractor-grade manufactures vary from state to state, so do some research. Drop into a few landscape supply stores and get familiar with what is available and ask their sales representatives lots of questions about their products. I hope you have found this article informative and enjoyable. If you live in the suburbs of Chicago, and you are in the market for design build services, give us a call at (708) 460-5884. If you live outside our area, still check out some of the other articles written by me and some of the other experts on our staff. You can find them under the connect tab above. We love what we do and we are here to help, not only our clients, but all homeowners looking to engage with and improve their outdoor space. Reconnect with the outdoors any way you can!!! Written By: Scott Flanagan