Never underestimate the importance of a well-planned driveway. Done right, it should be wide enough to navigate, strong enough to withstand occasional delivery trucks, and graded so water slides off like rain from a roof.
A good driveway also compliments the house and is a pleasure to traverse. Start by planning the route from the road to the garage thoughtfully. A curve or two takes up more land but lends grace. Drives should be at least 10 to 12 feet wide at straight runs and 14 feet wide at curves, says This Old House landscape architect Tom Wirth.
If the drive is long, provide a 12-by-18-foot (or larger) space at the top for turning around; this can double as guest parking. To make sure there’s enough room, do what Tom does: “We slide the models around on the drive and make sure the turning radii are generous.” Prevent puddling by angling the paved surface slightly downhill.
Or create a crown: The center of the drive is built up so water flows down the sides into the soil or drainage channels. A drive that’s too steep is slippery and dangerous. Never exceed a rise of 15 feet per 100 feet of distance (a slope of 15 percent). If the driveway must wind up a steep area, add curves to lessen the slope or cut into the hillside. material should fit the character of the house and the landscape. Depending on where you live, it should also stand up to snowplows, road salt, and fluids, such as oil and antifreeze, which leak from cars.
So Long, Snow
Installing a snow-melt system means never setting shovel to pavement again. Hydronic systems work by circulating water and glycol antifreeze through plastic tubing (cross-linked polyethylene, which won’t break down when exposed to hot water) coiled beneath your driveway.
The water/glycol solution is heated between 120 and 130 degrees, enough to warm the surface. Supply and return manifolds (left) send warm solution from the system’s boiler to the driveway and direct cooled solution back to the boiler. The tubing rests on expanded polystyrene board for insulation.
The surfacing material — any type will work — goes on top. Hydronic systems are controlled manually (you flip a switch at the first sign of snow) or automatically (a sensor keeps track of air temperature and moisture). Installation by a plumbing and heating contractor, including labor and materials, runs about $3.50 per square foot. Expect some variation: A driveway on a windy north slope will require more tubing than one with a protected, southern exposure.
Electric snowmelt systems consist of a grid of heating elements installed beneath the driveway surface. These systems eat up lots of power, making them less popular.