How to Choose the Right Driveway Surface for Your Home

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Is paving not the right fit for your home? Our expert breaks down asphalt alternatives like gravel, fieldstones, and more to fit any property’s look.

Q: We recently moved into a Cape-style house that has good curb appeal except for the driveway, which is weedy gravel with a couple of potholes. My neatnik husband wants to pave it with asphalt, but I think that would be out of place in our rural setting. We have a limited budget. What are the options? — Petra K., Somers

A: Apparently, the driveway experts in Westchester were all out building driveways and unable to talk to me, so I turned once again to Mr. Google. Many articles on the topic of driveways appear to have been written by those for whom English is a second language, but I winkled out the following:

GRAVEL seems to have more pros than cons. It’s inexpensive, it comes in several colors, and it allows rainwater to pass through, so you don’t have issues with runoff. Installed over a base of larger stones, it will last almost forever with nothing but a periodic topping up. Even a truckload of crushed stone and gravel dumped on top of your existing driveway and raked smooth will last a long, long time. If weeds start sprouting, it means you need a top-up, when the best bet is a pea gravel called fill coat. On the con side, it scatters, and a snow-plow will usually scrape up and dump some on the lawn or whatever borders the drive, so expect a little raking come spring.

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TAR AND CHIP is essentially hot asphalt with gravel rolled into the surface, and the material of choice for cash-strapped municipalities repaving rural roads. It can be added to an existing driveway, is very durable, and less expensive than asphalt, but the surface can be damaged by an over-zealous snow-plower.

ASPHALT, installed properly over a solid base, is durable, it can be plowed, and it’s naturally flexible so it won’t easily crack when it freezes. But it’s not very attractive, and it gets hot in summer, when heavy vehicles can make ruts. You have to clean it at least once a year, and seal it every two or three years, which is a messy job. By the way, beware of traveling crews offering cheap asphalt installation or sealing using “leftover materials” from a nearby job. It’s a nationwide scam. They may actually do the job, but the result will be inferior at best.

is more expensive than asphalt, but it can be tinted various colors and have patterns stamped in it. Installation involves excavating to several inches, creating a wood form, and adding a base of compacted stone before the concrete is poured on top. You need to wait several days for the concrete to cure before you drive on it. Like asphalt, it needs to be cleaned and sealed every few years. It can crack in a severe frost, and salt will pit it.

INTERLOCKING PAVERS, dry set in sand over a bed of compacted gravel will handle the freeze-thaw problem, and you can plow them. Pavers come in a wide range of styles and colors, almost all of them handsome, and they can be laid in any number of patterns, if you want to get creative. Damage to a small area is easily fixed. Do I need to mention that they’re expensive? One website suggests dispatching any weeds that grow in the cracks with a propane torch. Equally effective, although a less dramatic spectacle for the neighbors, is to pour boiling water or white vinegar on them.

BELGIAN BLOCK is granite cut into brick shapes of various sizes. It’s sometimes wrongly referred to as cobblestones, which are actually rounder. (In fact, Wikipedia tells me, one meaning of the old English word “cob” is “rounded lump.”) Belgian block can be dry set or set into a bed of mortar. It’s expensive, but has that old European look that ages well.

For once, it looks like the best bet is the least expensive. My neatnik neighbors edged their gravel driveway with large, flat fieldstones, set about an inch above grade. They help hold the gravel in place and look appealingly country-fied. For a more tailored look, you could install decorative pavers or Belgian block as a border.