Whether you’re repaving your driveway or building one from scratch, selecting the right material is crucial. Here are a handful of options to choose from, each with its pros and cons with respect to price, durability, aesthetics, and eco-friendliness.
Cost: $5 to $6 a square foot
Life span: 25 to 50 years
Pros: Concrete is tops when it comes to durability and versatility. Composed of various types of stone aggregate held together by water and a lime-based binder, concrete provides a smooth, stable, and secure foundation that holds up well in any climate and requires little to no maintenance, says Allison Bean, editorial director at home improvement website TheSpruce.com. It can be painted or stamped to alter its appearance.
Cons: In addition to being relatively expensive, concrete is “not the most attractive building material,” Bean says.
Eco-friendliness: Concrete is intended to be a solid surface that nothing can penetrate — including water. Large impermeable surfaces can send excess rainwater into sewer systems and waterways instead of into the ground, taxing and polluting water systems.
Cost: $1 to $3 a square foot
Life span: Up to 100 years (depending on winter weather)
Pros: Gravel is a great option for the budget-conscious, especially people with longer driveways. And “gravel compacts much better than plain rocks,” Bean says, creating a more stable surface that sheds water easily.
Cons: Most gravel driveways need to be regraded every year or two, depending on traffic, Bean says, adding that gravel driveways tend to hold up better in warmer climes. “At the end of a long winter, you may find you need to replace a good amount of your gravel,” she says.
Eco-friendliness: “Having the second-lowest impact out of the bunch, gravel can be sourced locally and provides a porous surface for [rainwater] absorption,” says Jean-Paul LaCount, founder and editor of the Chic Ecologist, a green-living news and information website.
Cost: $2 to $5 a square foot
Life span: 12 to 20 years
Pros: When properly installed, an asphalt driveway “will feel and act much like concrete, but is much cheaper,” Bean says. Also, because asphalt is a petroleum product, similar to tar, it’s flexible and less likely to crack under the elements.
Cons: Though extremely durable, asphalt driveways have to be sealed every few years, Bean says, and can get very hot during the summer.
Eco-friendliness: Asphalt, consisting of oil and other petroleum byproducts, "is probably the least environmentally friendly out of the bunch,” LaCount says.
Cost: $15 to $30 a square foot
Life span: Up to 100 years
Pros: Capable of lasting up to a century when laid properly, paving-stone driveways “have a lot of character, making them a great option for added curb appeal,” Bean says. Made of tough granite, flagstone, or other stone, pavers require little maintenance and prevent water from pooling.
Cons: Paving stones are expensive, and installation is labor intensive.
Eco-friendliness: Paving stones can be relatively eco-friendly, especially if you can use local stones and ensure that the provider followed environmental protections during extraction. Consider using sand or small rocks between stones, rather than a cement-based filler, to allow more rainwater to soak into the ground.
Cost: $5 to $10 a square foot
Life span: About 25 years
Pros: Clay brick easily stands up to normal usage and moderate weather, Bean says. Also, when properly installed, brick provides a noticeably smooth surface.
Cons: Brick driveways require regular maintenance. They must be pressure-washed twice a year, and the bricks should be resealed after each washing to prevent the clay from flaking or peeling.
Eco-friendliness: “Most bricks today are made from mined clay heated in energy-intensive kilns,” LaCount said. “Bricks laid with mortar or other impervious filler will have the same runoff issues as concrete and asphalt, so gapping with sand or dirt would be a way to increase the eco-factor of this material.”
Cost: About $5 a square foot
Life span: One to five years. “The more you drive on the surface, the more the shells break and compact, so if you like the look of larger shell pieces, you may want to replenish the driveway from time to time,” Bean says. Also, in areas with heavy wind, erosion or water, shells can get damaged, covered in sand, or washed away.
Pros: Shells — typically a combination from clams, oysters, and scallops — break into smaller pieces over time, creating a well-dispersed, stable surface.
Cons: Because seashells aren’t readily available in all areas, installing a seashell driveway can be expensive. Shells are sharp to walk on, and like gravel, shell driveways can be difficult for snow and ice removal.