Keeping That Nice Rural Driveway in Good Shape
There’s not much rural homeowners in the Midwest can do which improves the safety and convenience of their homes more than a well-constructed driveway and lane. If properly
built, driveways can give twenty years or more of good service. No matter if the driveway is asphalt, concrete or even gravel or loose stone, at some point repairs will become necessary to prevent minor damage from becoming major damage and major problems for the homeowner. One certain thing about damage to driveways: potholes don’t fill themselves, and a little problem will soon become a big problem if corrective steps aren’t taken by the rural homeowner.
By becoming familiar with how driveway damage occurs and how repairs can be made, homeowners can usually keep routine wear and tear from becoming severe structural damage which requires drastic measures- like a total driveway destruction and rebuild.
In almost every case, driveway damage occurs from weather-related causes. The most common scenario is this: Water gets under the driveway. This can be rain, snowmelt, or even run-off from the home or other buildings. The weather turns cold, and then really cold. That
water which had been sitting harmlessly under the solid driveway surface freezes. When it freezes, it expands-a lot. The solid surface of the drive can’t expand to allow room for the frozen water, so the driveway cracks.
This crack may not be big-sometimes barely visible- but it allows more water an easy path below the driveway. This water freezes, the driveway cracks some more, and cracks get bigger and bigger. If left unchecked, before long the crack begins to expand, chunks of materialeither
cement or asphalt are lost, and a pothole soon develops. At this point, a real problem has happened which may involve some expense and professional help.
Gravel-Compacted Stone Drives
The biggest advantage of keeping up a gravel driveway is that damage is obvious, and it usually happens soon. Although gravel or compacted stone drives don’t have solid surfaces to crack, their bases are usually nothing more than loose gravel or stone, and regular auto traffic
will soon create potholes in the driveway. This really can’t be helped- it’s just part of the driveway situation. Gravel drives are cheap; they can be made quickly, but they need constant maintenance and reapplication of the stone or gravel material. Wet weather with heavy car traffic is very hard on gravel drives.
If a rural home comes with a gravel or loose stone drive, the owner must be prepared to make almost constant pothole filling repairs. These repairs can usually be made with a shovel and pickup load of crushed stone, but a long driveway of crushed stone construction can sometimes, after a long winter or heavy rain, seem like more potholes than driveway.
Bob Malark of Twin Cities Concrete in Blaine, Minnesota, explains how most cement driveways are damaged. He says that basically cracks occur in cold weather from water which has collected under the solid driveway material and then cold weather freezes the water, and this makes the water expand. That much is simple. But we want to know how to keep this from happening.
Malark says that if constructed properly, a driveway will have a good base which allows water to move from below the drive and not collect in pockets. Of course, if the driveway has been already been built, there’s not much we can do about the base. There are some things that homeowners can do from above to at least limit the amount of water which gets under the solid driveway.
Malark says, “Keep the surface sealed. Driveways can be sealed annually, and joints can be caulked to keep water out.”
Products are on the market which allow homeowners to make emergency crack repairs on their own. However, these repairs generally do not last very long, and they most likely won’t look like the rest of the drive. Repairs will be different color and texture from the original driveway material.
Sam Foraker, owner of Foraker Concrete in Coralville, Iowa, tell us that caulking products made especially for driveway crack repairs can be found at most local hardware outlets. These special caulks will help seal small cracks and will, at least for the short run, help keep small
cracks from being expanded by frozen water. Homeowners trying these products must make sure that the caulking is designed for driveway use only.
Homeowner repairs to driveway damage can even take the form of concrete patching of potholes. Foraker says,” Generally, a bag of concrete material is not as good as professionally mixed and applied concrete. Remember, driveways carry heavy vehicles, so you need good stuff for effective repairs.”
Professional driveway services can apply a leveling overlay to concrete drives which really helps minimize water damage and which presents a uniform, attractive appearance. This overlayment is a thin layer of self-leveling material which puts a new surface on the drive. Most of these overlay jobs will be warranted for about three years. After that time, another overlay may be required to maintain the solid, non-water leaking surface.
Another cause of cement driveway damage comes from road salt. When we drive on the roads, the understructure of our cars and trucks pick up lots of chemical stuff that melts road ice. When this stuff drips from the car onto the driveway, it can damage the surface of the cement- this is called “scaling” from the appearance of the damaged surface. This scaling can allow water to enter the solid material, and we already know what happens then.
Malark says,” Don’t put salt on the driveway!”
When new, asphalt drives are very attractive, and properly maintained, an asphalt drive can give good service for twenty years or more. Damage can occur to asphalt drives just as readily as it does to concrete ones. The cause is the same our Midwest freeze and thaw cycles of
winter which crack and then pothole the driveway material.
The best protection against asphalt drive damage is to have the base of the drive properly constructed in the first place. A structure of proper base stonewhich is much finer than gravel, helps keep winter damage to a minimum. An average of eight inches of compacted base
stone is the best, but more base material will be needed in chronically wet locations. Of course, once the drive is built, the base is difficult to get to and repair, so we just have to make do with what’s there and hope that it is adequate.
When water gets under an asphalt drive and freezes, the asphalt can “flex” a little, but in cold winter temperatures, it can’t stretch as it does in hot summer, so the surface cracks. In just a little while, a pattern of scale-like cracks develop over the freeze-thaw locations of the drive. This creates an easily recognized pattern of cracks called “alligatoring”- because it looks like the scaly hide of a ‘gator. The next thing that happens is a small piece of the pattern comes out, the rest of the parts loosen, and pretty soon- there’s a pothole.
Again, as with concrete driveway repairs, rural homeowners can buy asphalt repair materials and do an emergency patch. However, these “cold-mix” repairs can’t be seen as anything other than a very short-term fix. The material can’t flex enough to prevent damage for long.
Professional asphalt companies can do a “hot-mix” repair which will last quite a bit longer.
Repairs to potholes should not require a great deal of time by professionals. One day’s work of digging to the base, reforming and pouring back should take less than a day, even for multiple potholes.
Sometimes, especially when the asphalt driveway is old, repairs to individual potholes becomes an every month occurrence. At this point, it might be time to think about a total overlayment done by a professional. With this procedure, the failed portions of the old driveway are removed down to the base material, new material is put in, the damaged portions are leveled with the remaining surface, and then a two inch layer of new asphalt surface is applied. This procedure creates what is, in effect, a new driveway.
It is inevitable that if we live in the Midwest, we will, sooner or later, have to do driveway repair. No matter if our drive is crushed stone, concrete, or asphalt, Old Man Winter is stronger than any of those materials.
Another thing to be aware of is that not all “professional” driveway repair services are reputable. In particular, rural homeowners need to be very cautious of repair services that knock on the door and tell you that they were working on another job in the neighborhood and had some “left-over” repair material which they can apply to the damaged portions of your driveway at a great discount price. Chances are, the work done by these nonlocal, non-traceable repair folks won’t be good, and it won’t be cheap.
Sam Foraker’s best advice to homeowners in need of driveway repair is,” Get multiple bids for any repair job. This keeps everybody in check.”
The best thing to do when repairs are needed is to contact a local, recommended driveway repair services. If a rural homeowner is new to the area, talk to neighbors and see who they recommend.
Another caution for homeowners new to the country is that snow removal equipment can do serious damage to a driveway in just an instant. Scraper blades applied wrong can crack driveways, and if an unskilled operator should drop a blade below the edge of a drive, some serious structural damage occurring at a very bad time could result. Great care should be taken when using a blade on a driveway. Foraker says, “A nice smooth driveway should be fine, and using push snow blowers or hand tools should be no problem. However, if a drive is already cracked, a blade on a truck or tractor can cause more damage.”
To Contact Repair Companies Referenced in this Article:
Twin Cities Concrete