Gravel Driveways: Construction, Drainage and Cost
A gravel driveway is the perfect choice for a countryside residence and is also your cheapest driveway option. In this driveway guide we will look at the many different types of gravel you can use to create your own unique style. We will also address the cost of gravel driveway installation and what you should look for from a contractor. And we also tackle what you need to know about driveway gravel drainage and edging, as well as maintenance and repair costs.
BEST GRAVEL FOR A DRIVEWAY
The type of driveway gravel you select for the top layer of your driveway will affect its aesthetics, of course, and to a lesser extent, its performance.
Regardless of what the finish layer will be, most gravel driveways have a base layer of 4” to 6” stones followed by a second layer 2” to 3” stones.
The best types of gravel for a driveway are as follows:
Road gravel driveways: Road gravel is the most affordable type of driveway gravel. Its makeup is clay and small stones, typically crushed or naturally angular stones that hold together better than round, smooth stones. The exact mix, and therefore the color, in road gravel varies from region to region. Commonly blends are medium to dark brown, shades of gray, light brown or yellow and rusty red to reddish pink.
Crushed limestone driveways: Crushed limestone has an appealing gray-white color, though it can be dusty, leaving a coating of whitish powder on shoes and cars. It is quite affordable.
Crushed stone driveways: Besides limestone, granite, gneiss, dolomite and trap rock are popular for driveways. The stone is screened and sorted for size; the angled rather than round edges cause the stones to support one another to create a stable base. The color of crushed stone for driveways varies widely, and they can be dusty like limestone.
Washed stone driveways: Crushed stone that is put through a washer holds like other crushed stone but doesn’t contain the dust, so it is cleaner for you and your vehicle.
Quarry process gravel driveways: Also called QP or crusher run, quarry process stone is crushed stone and stone dust that compacts and binds quite well as the dust forms something like cement.
Pea gravel driveways: Pea-sized stones in a blend of colors are popular for upscale gravel driveways. The stone is washed. While attractive, pea gravel driveways can form ruts easier than most, and the gravel is easily scattered into the surrounding landscape.
White marble chips: This is a crushed, washed stone with a bit of glimmer. Though the cost is higher, it is visually appealing.
GRAVEL DRIVEWAY CONSTRUCTION
Here are the basic steps taken by driveway contractors when installing an upgraded or new gravel drive.
- When replacing asphalt or concrete with gravel, the asphalt or concrete is removed, and the underlying gravel is upgraded as discussed next
- When upgrading an existing gravel driveway, the drive will be graded before 2-6 inches of fresh gravel are dumped, graded, crowned or sloped if needed, and compacted
- Where no driveway exists, up to 12 inches of soil is excavated (more for topsoil and clay; less for sand and/or gravel subsoils)
- Standard construction begins with a single layer of 6” stone that is compacted
- Next, about 4 inches of 2”-3” stone is installed and compacted
- A top layer 2-3 inches thick is installed and compacted, and your options for this layer include road gravel, crushed stone and pea stone
- After the top layer is put down, the driveway is compacted and sloped or crowned for drainage
Note: In lieu of using a base layer of 6” stone and a second layer of smaller stone, some contractors install single 8-9 inches of 2”-3” before finishing the drive with the top layer.
GRAVEL DRIVEWAY DRAINAGE
Water is the nemesis of gravel because it causes erosion. Gravel drains very well, but standing water alongside gravel softens and weakens forms of it containing clay and/or dust. Running water can wash out softer types of gravel.
There are several ways to ensure good drainage around your gravel driveway.
- Driveways are graded with a slight crown in the middle or with one side higher than the other to facilitate appropriate runoff
- The driveway must be built up enough that the lowest edge is higher than or level with the surrounding landscape, so that there is no channel along the drive through which water can run and cause erosion
- A French drain system using 4” or 6” perforated pipe or drain tile installed in trenches alongside the driveway or from a low spot away from the driveway is installed to alleviate problems with standing water
- Steel water diversion channels or heavy-gauge plastic channel drains are embedded in the surface of a road gravel driveway to carry water across and off the surface in order to prevent washout, especially when there is a low area on the high side of a driveway
GRAVEL DRIVEWAY EDGING
A gravel driveway can be dressed up with edging. The most popular edging materials are pavers or blocks, though concrete is sometimes used as well. Driveway edging is also useful to hold crushed stone and pea stone in place rather than it spreading into the yard.
The driveway should be excavated wide enough to accommodate the edging material. Then, the base aggregates are poured and compacted the full width of the excavated bed. The edging is installed on top of the base before the top layer of gravel is installed and compacted.
GRAVEL DRIVEWAY COST
How much does a gravel driveway cost?
It depends on the scope of the project. Factors that push costs toward the upper end of the spectrum are deeper excavation, excavating wooded property and higher trucking costs for jobs distant from the gravel source. Then, of course, there are potential extras such as drainage and edging. These are national average costs, and costs are per square foot unless indicated.
- New gravel driveway cost: $1.50-$2.85
- Use of premium stone such as QP or pea stone: Add $0.50-$1.25
- Diversion channels installed: $12-$17 per linear foot
- Drain pipe, tile and French drains installed: $15-$28 per linear foot
- Edging installed: $2.50-$4.50 per linear foot
- Removing an asphalt driveway first: Add $1.50-$2.50
- Removing an existing concrete driveway first: Add $6-$8
Would you like to compare the cost of a gravel driveway with the price of other driveway types? Take a look at these price guides: Driveway Paver Prices | Concrete Driveway Prices | Asphalt Driveway Prices
CONTRACTORS: WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A DRIVEWAY INSTALLER
As you interview contractors as part of the process of getting gravel driveway cost estimates, look for these characteristics:
- Licensed and insured
- A reputation for dependability and excellent work
- Pulling permits required in your community
- An installer with an experienced crew-those actually doing the work
- An itemized, written estimate that shows all of the materials to be used including how deep each layer will be
- Guaranteed pricing to avoid hidden fees
- A warranty on the workmanship of the driveway installation
GRAVEL DRIVEWAY MAINTENANCE
Gravel driveways require ongoing maintenance to keep them in good repair and looking like new. These maintenance tasks are often handled by the homeowner or a handyman rather than by a driveway contractor.
- Pull vegetation and/or use products to prevent vegetation growth or to kill it
- Rake gravel back onto the driveway as needed
- Rake ruts out of pea stone
GRAVEL DRIVEWAY REPAIR
When these issues arise, it makes sense to hire gravel driveway experts in order to ensure that the work is done correctly.
- Address standing water and washout issues with the appropriate diversion or drainage methods: $12-$28 per linear foot with a possible minimum service fee
- Grade the driveway as needed to crown or level it, removing ruts and low spots: $0.40-$0.60 per square foot
- Add one to two inches of gravel to the driveway as needed, with grading, to keep its height above the surrounding landscape: $0.75-$1.15 per square foot
- Add edging in order to keep the gravel in place and to enhance the driveway’s visual appeal: $2.50-$4.50 per linear foot