A DIY Guide to Concrete Pavers for Driveways
Get everything you need to know before kicking off your driveway remodel project.
Beyond the variety of styles, colors, textures and shapes available, pavers - often called paving stones - have distinct advantages over other driveway surfaces.
Why choose concrete pavers for your driveway?
Among other benefits, a concrete paver driveway delivers the following.
Strength, durability and longevity: Sheet concrete and asphalt look good, but they really aren't as strong and durable as you might think. Your driveway becomes nothing more than one giant slab. Although strong when in good condition, it won't handle age or freezing and thawing very well. Eventually, it will crack, calling for major repair work or replacement.
Concrete pavers, in contrast, combine the strength and comfort of newly poured, solid driveway surfaces with the flexibility they lack. Concrete pavers will not crack from weather and will likely last for decades. The biggest drawback is that pavers may settle if the foundation material underneath shifts. The fix is simple, however: Remove, readjust and reset the affected pavers.
Ease of maintenance: Whether you have to recoat, reseal, spread more of it, grade it or replace it, it seems like there's always something your driveway needs when you have a traditional driveway material. A concrete paver driveway is about as close as you can get to "install it and forget it." Once laid and sealed, it's virtually maintenance-free unless you need to adjust or replace a paver or two.
Cost: Sure, concrete pavers typically cost more upfront than stone and slab paving materials. However, a concrete paver driveway pays for itself over time in both lower maintenance costs (including time and money) and the fact that long after other driveway materials fail, your concrete pavers will likely still look - and work - wonderfully.
DIY installation: Ask anyone who has ever poured concrete or asphalt - it's hard work. Done improperly, the material is likely to fail. Even spreading dirt or rock is tiring. In contrast, most concrete pavers are fairly DIY-friendly. The hardest portion is grading and preparing the base material, and any specialized equipment is easily rented. Alternatively, consider hiring a contractor for this part of the driveway project. Next, simply start laying pavers in place like a jigsaw puzzle.
Planning your driveway
While you're looking at other concrete paver projects and considering the myriad colors, styles and other options, you're also planning the driveway project. The two steps go hand in hand. You can't really plan how many pavers you need, after all, until you know the size of your driveway and a general idea of what you want. You also can't really plan the final appearance until you choose your pavers.
Try making a sketch first. Having your vision on paper allows for more precise planning. Next, stake out the driveway area. Measure and mark the length and width, following any curve or direction you choose. Allow for a minimum driveway width of 12 feet in the vehicle parking area to provide plenty of walkway around the cars. For length, allot at least 18 feet of length for each vehicle planned.
Decide what portion - if any - of the work you wish to do yourself. If the driveway area needs excavation, professional help will be useful. It also needs to be graded - meaning slightly sloped to allow water to run off into the appropriate area. A contractor knows how to easily grade the area while digging it out.
On top of hiring out the excavation and grading, you can also hire someone to lay the substrates (two layers) and even the pavers themselves. If you go this direction, make sure to comparison shop. Ask the contractor about other projects they've worked on and ask for pictures. Find out specifically what the contractor will and will not do.
If you choose to do the work yourself, make sure to line up everything you need before you start. Besides pavers, you also need the substrate materials (usually aggregate and sand) and the tools. You can rent plate compactors, diamond blade wet saws and other heavy equipment at most tool and equipment rental stores.
DIY concrete paver installation
Even if you prefer to have someone build your concrete paver driveway for you, it's still useful to understand the general process.
The most important part of the job is a properly prepared and compacted substrate. The driveway foundation is essential for a quality installation that lasts. While the following information covers the basic steps, it isn't intended to be an exhaustive guide. If you're uncertain about any procedure or have questions, consult a concrete paver installation professional.
- Call 811 to request an underground utilities check. Never dig without first checking for these.
- Excavate the driveway area to at least 15 inches. Your area may need a deeper drainage base. Talk to local building professionals if you're uncertain. Depth depends on the results of a percolation test, which measures how fast the soil absorbs rainwater. Contact your local Cooperative Extension for more details.
- Compact the subgrade to provide a solid, stable soil base.
- Install screen, if desired, to discourage weed growth.
- Spread and compact a layer of paver base. Typically this is a 6-inch layer of washed, crushed stone (not river gravel or other rounded rock). Choose rock with a 3/4- to 2-inch diameter.
- Cover the base with a 1-inch layer of concrete sand. Screed the surface - take a long flat edge and pull it across the surface to leave it perfectly smooth and level.
- Set the edging around the driveway borders. Edging, called restraints, is critical - it isn't just ornamental. It helps keep each paver from shifting.
- Place the concrete pavers according to your design. Set pavers together closely to minimize joints.
- Spread mason sand over the pavers. Tamp down the pavers mechanically to force sand into the joints.
- Finish with a layer of concrete sealer once the driveway is completely set. Spray on with a garden sprayer, following the product instructions for best results.
Note: In colder climates, consider installing a special snow-melting system beneath the pavers. Much like radiant heating systems indoors, these driveway-warming devices use heated cables to keep ice and snow off your driving surface. Ask a professional for further information.
Concrete paver driveways don't require much maintenance if they are protected with a quality sealer and the joints are properly filled. To keep your driveway looking its best:
- Sweep regularly to keep dirt, leaves and other debris from accumulating.
- Rinse when necessary to remove heavy soiling.
- Treat oil and grease stains with a pressure washer and the appropriate cleaning solution.
- Reseal the driveway surface every few years.
- Plow or shovel in winter as needed. Avoid using sharp objects to chip at the ice, which may result in shattering or cracking the pavers.
Use sand or a noncorrosive deicer like calcium magnesium acetate, never rock salt (sodium chloride) or calcium chloride. These products may cause efflorescence - a white, chalky discoloration.
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