One of my wife Julie’s favorite Saturday Night Live characters is Mike Myers as the Coffee Talk lady. She famously ponders big questions such as “Why do we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway?” and then encourages the audience to “Discuss!”
As you ponder this big life question, I’ll share my perspective as a landscape architect on designing and building a driveway in Knoxville and the surrounding areas.
Material Choice: Pavers, Poured Concrete or Poured Stamped Concrete?
Material choice is the most frequently asked question I get about driveways. Most of us see the “norm” as being a poured concrete driveway, and depending on your budget, that may be the best choice. But poured concrete driveways often come with a host of problems. They’re prone to cracking because the base material is usually thinner than we’d like to see and not compacted as well as it should be for a sturdy base. The cracking of poured concrete can also be caused by the material itself. Poured concrete is usually 3,000-4,000 PSI (or pounds per square inch), which is the amount of pressure it can absorb before it fails.
In addition to the potential for cracking, some clients dislike this material because it’s not very attractive. Another common question we get is about stamped concrete, which adds a better visual aesthetic to the design than basic poured concrete. However, stamped concrete comes with added cost that often puts it more aligned with the price of a concrete paver driveway. Additionally, to control costs, the added color in stamped concrete driveways is often only added to the surface, which destroys the aesthetic when the concrete cracks.
For nearly the same cost as stamped poured concrete, you can opt for concrete pavers instead. In contrast to poured concrete, pavers are typically 12,000-15,000 PSI, which means it can withstand substantially more weight before cracking. Pavers are often used for high-weight driveways such as those for fire stations or airport tarmacs. We recently designed and installed a large driveway for a horse farm to withstand large trucks and horse trailers.
Aside from the cost, the only issue some folks see with paver driveways is that the pavers may settle, leaving a small dip or “birdbath” in the surface if the base material isn’t installed correctly. This can usually be avoided by best-practice construction methods. It’d also be much easier to fix this defect than it would be to fix a cracked poured concrete driveway.
Concrete pavers are also a better choice for the environment because the base material for pavers is typically made from recycled concrete and pavers are more permeable so they prevent run off that can carry pollutants into the water system. Concrete pavers also come in permeable varieties that are designed to allow for high flows of water into the ground.
Driveway Drainage Issues
Most landscape design clients in East Tennessee complain about drainage issues, and that’s no different when we’re talking about driveways. Replacing a driveway enables us to design the driveway with drainage concerns in mind. In addition to regrading the area, we can design for specific surface drainage, which means we can pitch the driveway at certain points to allow water to drain into appropriate areas. For example, if a driveway is getting flows of water coming in from the street (a common occurrence on streets with curbing and inadequate drainage), we can create a small rise the end of the drive to block water from entering the space.
As we’re designing to control water on your driveway, we might also install trench drains in areas of high water flow. You’ll typically see trench drains in front of garage doors or across the entry apron of the driveway. And although standard trench drain grates aren’t the most attractive pieces of hardware, we often use products from Iron Age Design to install more attractive and artistic pieces. Pictured below, check out examples of Iron Age’s drains and then see one that we installed on a paver patio.
Lastly, it’s common for Knoxville landscape design clients to have issues with draining along the side of a driveway. For this issue, often river rock or drainage gravel can help prevent erosion.
Cost Considerations for Driveways
Although I’m a big fan of concrete paver driveways, it can sometimes be out of reach for a homeowner’s budget. To control costs, sometimes we design for installing concrete pavers to only a section of a driveway, focusing on the highest (and heaviest) traffic zones at the apron of the driveway or near garage doors where there’s more weight from turning vehicles.
This client in Farragut, Tenn. had a lovely exposed aggregate driveway but it lacked a little something in visual impact at the apron, which was cracked poured concrete. To keep costs manageable and upgrade the look, we designed a concrete paver driveway apron. (Check out what this client had to say about the project.)
Because installing a paver driveway does come with a larger price tag, this is one area I recommend that clients not try to do the work themselves. There’s a lot that’s happening under the surface and with small pitches in the grading to control drainage so it’s important to let the professionals handle this project. Additionally, by using a professional landscape architect or landscape designer and construction company, you’ll receive a warranty on the paver materials, which will help protect your investment.
Contact Us for a Free Driveway Design Consultation
If you’re considering a new driveway on its own or as part of your landscape design masterplan, call me at 865-765-5550 or fill out our contact form to schedule a conversation and free consultation.