Reviewed by Henri Belisle
Updated April 13, 2023
Most homes have a driveway of some sort. Driveways can be designed to maximize the visual appeal of a home, or they can be nothing more than a place to park the car. No matter what type of driveway you have, it’s important to know how to take care of it to avoid costly or unsightly defects, and to know the house insurance considerations you may need to think about.
A driveway is like your own private little road. Driveways provide vehicle access from public thoroughfares to private buildings. A driveway can be long or short, fancy or simple. It can provide access to one house or a whole apartment complex. A key difference between a driveway and a road is that roads are usually maintained by municipal or other governments. The humble driveway doesn’t have such a luxury, so its owner must handle the upkeep.
Driveways can be built from many different materials. Concrete and asphalt driveways are the most common. Paver driveways are another prevalent type. Pavers are stones, bricks, or tiles laid in a tight pattern to form the surface of the driveway. Gravel or dirt driveways are common low-maintenance options. Resin driveways are a relatively new type that is becoming more popular.
The life expectancy of a driveway depends on a few factors. The material out of which the driveway is built, and the quality of the construction are two particularly important aspects. A well-built concrete driveway can last 30-40 years. Brick and asphalt driveways can last as long as 25 years. A solid cobblestone driveway could last a century. Gravel driveways may not be glamorous, but their lifespan is indefinite, as long as the owner wants to keep topping up the surface with new gravel. Resin driveways are estimated to last up to 20 years, but they are a relatively new construction type. We don’t have as much information about their lifespan.
Local environmental factors can also affect the driveway’s useful life. Weather makes a big difference. A driveway in Toronto that experiences frequent freeze-thaw cycles won’t survive as long as a driveway in Vancouver that sees temperate weather all year. Soil conditions and drainage also affect the driveway’s health. Drainage can be a difficult problem to fix after installation, so it’s important to address it during the driveway’s construction. The usage of the driveway will also affect its lifespan. If heavy vehicles often drive and park on the driveway, it may not last as long as expected.
Proper maintenance is a crucial factor for long-lasting driveways. If the owner neglects the maintenance, even the sturdiest driveway will fail.
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Your driveway’s maintenance needs will depend on what type of driveway you have. There are, however, some practices that apply to nearly any driveway.
It’s important to keep your driveway clean. Sweep it regularly to keep it clear of dirt, gravel, fallen leaves, and other debris. Clean up spills promptly, especially materials prone to staining like motor oil. A pressure washer is effective for deeper cleaning. If you have a paver driveway, make sure you use a lower pressure to avoid damaging the mortar between the bricks or stones.
It’s also good practice to keep grass and weeds away from the edges of the driveway. They can creep into the construction material and cause it to deteriorate over time.
Looking for specific information on maintaining a certain type of driveway? Check out the links and resources below:
If you have a concrete, asphalt, or paver driveway, sealing the surface is highly recommended. A properly sealed driveway will be less prone to cracking, staining, and discolouration. It will be less at risk of being damaged by freeze-thaw cycles in cold climates. Applying the sealcoat is straightforward. First, clean the driveway well. Once it’s completely dry, apply a layer of sealant much like you would a coat of paint. You can find the correct sealant for your driveway at most any hardware store. Sealant should be reapplied every 1-4 years, depending on the driveway material and the local climate.
Despite your best efforts at maintenance, sometimes problems arise that are outside your control.
If your driveway surface is cracking, it’s important to patch the cracks as soon as possible to prevent them worsening. The first step of the repair is to clean the crack thoroughly. If your driveway is concrete, you can fill the crack with concrete caulking. Cracks in asphalt driveways can be repaired with asphalt patching material. If the crack is too large, you may need it to be hot sealed. Hot sealing is usually done by a professional contractor. If your driveway shows an extensive network of cracks that looks like a spiderweb or alligator scales, it may not have been installed properly. If that is the case, it will need to be resurfaced entirely unless the cracking is contained to a small area.
If bricks or stones in your paver driveway start to crack, you can replace individual damaged pavers with new ones. Paver driveways also benefit from filling the cracks between the pavers with polymeric sand. This special mixture forms a powerful binding agent when mixed with water and improves the durability of the driveway. Polymeric sand is available at most hardware stores.
Driveways in cold climates may experience frost heave, leaving the surface buckled and uneven. If this happens, you will have to remove the heave and patch the area.
If you have trees on or near your property, their roots may eventually extend underneath your driveway, lifting and cracking the surface. When you plant new trees in your yard, make sure you research the distance their roots can spread to make sure they won’t eventually damage your driveway. Root systems can extend much further than you might expect. If you’ve already got roots coming up through your driveway, you’ll have to remove them by digging them up and cutting them. Large roots, with a diameter over 7 cm, usually won’t grow back once cut. Smaller roots are much more likely to regenerate, causing the problem to return in the future. In these cases, you may wish to install an underground barrier between the roots and the driveway. Cutting roots, particularly large ones, leaves the tree at risk of disease. If you’re doing extensive root removal on a tree you like, you may wish to have a professional arborist do the work to minimize the risk to the tree.
Standing water pooling on your driveway is a symptom that something is wrong. Standing water can cause damage if it freezes, and can cause unsightly stains from dirt or algae. Pools form in low spots, which could be forming due to problems with the driveway’s sub-base. Prevention is better than maintenance here, which is why it’s important to make sure the driveway is installed correctly. If you’ve got pools forming, there are still things you can do. On a concrete or asphalt driveway, you can carefully apply patching material to the sunken area to raise it. Paver driveways allow you to remove the pavers at the problem site and fill the spot with dirt or gravel to raise the elevation. If the pools are more severe, you may need to excavate part of the driveway to build drainage structures underneath. You may even need to tear up the driveway completely, in order to re-level the sub-base.
There are no federal or provincial subsidies for typical driveways. However, if the driveway is being constructed to improve the home’s accessibility for a person with a disability, you can claim the expenses on your federal tax return.
Some municipalities offer driveway incentives, so be sure to check with your local government. Many places offer a subsidy for driveways that are permeable, like resin driveways. Permeable driveways allow water to pass through their surface, which reduces the amount of water runoff draining into the city’s stormwater system.
Most home insurance providers will include your driveway as part of the building’s coverage. Driveways will be covered against the same loss types as your home. For example, if your driveway is damaged by an earthquake, it will be covered by your home’s earthquake insurance. Your insurance provider may also wish to know the age, material, size, or condition of your driveway.
Home insurance policies don’t cover wear and tear. Unfortunately, most of the damage a driveway will suffer falls under this category. Tree root intrusion, frost heaves, or cracks are all considered regular wear and tear. Most home insurance policies won’t cover these types of damage, making it all the more important to stay on top of maintenance.
Make sure you’re clear on how your home insurance policy will cover your driveway. And get a home insurance quote.
On the surface, heated driveways look much like any other driveway. They’re heated from underneath by either a network of electric heating elements, or a network of hot water tubing. The system is often connected to a sensor that will detect precipitation and temperature to automatically trigger the heat at the appropriate time.
Heated driveways are among the more expensive options, costing roughly $45-$75 per square metre. There is also the added utility cost of operating the system. Hot water systems use less energy than electric systems.
The best type of driveway depends on local factors like soil and climate, as well as your personal preferences on appearance, cost, and durability. Concrete is a great all-around choice. Concrete driveways are relatively inexpensive, long-lasting, and aesthetically pleasing. They are also low-maintenance compared to other types of driveways.
Driveway resurfacing is the process of removing and replacing the top layer of a driveway. Resurfacing is a middle ground between routine repairs and full replacement. If your driveway is too damaged for patching to be effective, but not completely degraded, resurfacing may be the best option. It gives the look of a new driveway at a fraction of the cost.
A driveway alarm is a device that detects people or vehicles entering a driveway. The alarm can alert residents that someone is approaching their house. Driveway alarms are often integrated with a larger security system that can activate gates, lighting, or cameras when an approaching vehicle is detected. Driveway alarms can be useful on a large, rural property with a long driveway. A homeowner with a car-length driveway may not find the same utility.
Once oil stains have had time to deeply penetrate the driveway’s surface, they can be tough to remove. For small stains, try covering the stain with a mixture of water and dish soap or laundry detergent. Wait several minutes, then scrub the area with a wire brush. Rinse the area with a hose or pressure washer. Repeat from the beginning a few times if the stain persists. For larger or older stains, try the same process using commercial degreaser instead of soapy water. Make sure to wear the proper protective gear including safety goggles and gloves when handling cleaning chemicals. If the stain still remains, you can always try the unorthodox method of pouring cola over the stain and leaving it overnight! It sounds crazy, but some people insist that it works.
A concrete driveway will likely cost $19-$39 per square metre to install. Variables that may increase the cost include how much work is necessary to prepare the sub-base, as well as the size and shape of the driveway. Stamped concrete carries a higher cost than basic, untextured concrete.
You should avoid using typical rock salt, or sodium chloride, on your driveway. Rock salt is effective down to about -7 °C, but when temperatures drop lower, the melted snow will refreeze. This subjects your driveway to a higher frequency of freeze-thaw cycles, which can cause cracks to form or worsen existing cracks. Rock salt can also seep into concrete and speed up degradation of the metal reinforcement strengthening the driveway. The best rock salt alternative is shoveling your driveway diligently. Calcium chloride or magnesium chloride are effective alternatives if you still need to melt snow and ice.
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About the expert: Henri Belisle
Henri Belisle is the President of TQ Construction, a family-operated business founded over 35 years ago by his father Ralph Belisle. Henri is a Red Seal Carpenter trained at BCIT and continually seeks to deepen his understanding of residential construction. Henri is also the 2nd Vice Chair of the Homebuilders Association Vancouver (HAVAN) Board of Directors, Vice-Chair of HAVAN RenoCouncil and Past-Chair of HAVAN U-40 Committee.
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