How to lay a gravel driveway
When it comes to driveways, there’s nothing better than that crunching sound of car tyres gently rolling over gravel. It invokes images of us driving up our tree-lined avenue to our country house.
Well for most of us it’s not quite like that, but none the less, even in our suburban driveways the sound is lovely.
And it’s a fabulous looking home improvement that gives your house real kerb appeal.
There is a downside though, if it’s not constructed properly, a gravel driveway can quickly look very messy and you can end up with stones absolutely everywhere, on the pavement, on the lawn and even inside the house.
Is a gravel drive cheaper than a paved drive?
The short answer is yes.
The gravel itself is normally cheaper per square metre than hard paving and of course, you’ll be saving on quite a lot of labour as the gravel is just poured on and raked as opposed to being laid and pointed.
However, the excavation and sub-base costs will normally be the same as much the same process is used.
How much gravel do I need for my driveway?
Ok, before we get into any of the ‘how to’, let’s answer the burning question. How much gravel do I need for my driveway?
Depth of gravel for a driveway
The normal depth for gravel would be around 5cm.
Which doesn’t sound a lot but the big mistake many people make when laying a gravel drive is, they make it too deep. This just makes the gravel ‘travel’ and that’s when you see unsightly areas where car tyres have pushed the gravel into heaps.
A depth of 5cm will give you good coverage, keep the costs down and you won’t suffer what’s known as ‘rutting’ or car tyre grooves.
Now measure your driveway area – length x width.
A bulk-bag of gravel will cover approximately 14 square meters at a depth of 5cm
Top tip – if you get stuck on the quantities just call us on 033 00 55 2500 and we’ll work it all out for you.
Top tip – gravel can be ordered in bulk-bags so it’s nicely contained on site. Just make sure when it’s delivered you have it as close to the driveway as possible to avoid moving it too far.
The 5 secrets to a great gravel driveway
Without doubt one of the secrets to a beautiful and functional gravel driveway is what lies beneath.
The bit you never see, the sub-base, is crucial when it comes to this type of drive and there are some key elements to understand:
A good quality weed membrane
A well-compacted MOT sub-base
Good solid edging
The right size gravel
- Weed membrane – Simple but effective. Lay this down over the bare ground before you lay the sub-base. A good quality one will stop the weeds growing and still allow water to past through. Don’t use a giant plastic sheet or your sub-base will hold water and water-log.
- Sub-base – go as deep as you can on the sub-base, we recommend 150mm.
- Gravel mats – or gravel holders are a relatively new addition to the sub-base but absolutely vital as they stop the gravel ‘travelling’. These are interlocking, plastic mesh, rigid square grids that lay on top of the MOT and then you rake all the gravel into them. They can’t be seen through the gravel, but they do a great job of keeping it all localised and in the same place, no matter how many times you drive on it.
- Edging – sometimes your driveway will be self-contained between walls, but if not, make sure you have good solid edges to contain the sub-base and the gravel. If you don’t do this, your driveway will start sprawling. Often, you’ll see a single row of block paving as an attractive but effective edge to a gravel drive.
- Size is everything – There are lot’s of really great looking gravels to choose from these days but the golden rule is trying not to go less than 20mm in size.
Anything less will tend to get stuck in your car tyres tread, get walked into the home in your shoe tread, and act as a giant cat-litter-tray for the local cat clan.
Ok, all that said, let’s go though how to install a gravel drive.
Step by step guide to laying a gravel driveway
Before we get to work, our ‘three top tips’ for any driveway construction remain the same;
- Safety first! Check for any underground cables – Chances are you will have some of these, whether it’s your cable tv or electricity and gas. Hire a CAT scanner from your local hire shop to highlight where any cables or pipes are, then proceed with caution when excavating around them.
- Hire a skip on day 1 – There’s nothing worse than a cluttered site. Get the rubbish removed as it’s produced, and you’ll find the build goes a lot more smoothly.
- Hire an excavator – Digging out a large driveway will be back-breaking so don’t do it. Either you can hire one of these and do it yourself (be careful not to demolish the garage here as these are a little tricky to use). That said with a bit of practice a competent driver should be ok. Or get a man with a digger in.
- Shovels and spades
- Long tape measure
- String and wooden pegs for alignment
- Spirit level
- A good strong rake
- Safety equipment and safety clothing
- Membrane to protect against weeds
- MOT sub-base
- Gravel mats
- Block paving (for edges if required)
- Sand and cement (for setting the edging)
Step 1 – Prepare the area
- If you are removing old driveway materials, get them all excavated and into that skip.
- If there is a good sub-base already down then you can wacker it.
If not, excavate out to a minimum depth of 100mm. Note we say a minimum, we actually recommend 150mm deep for a driveway. As mentioned above, get a man with a digger in.
Top tip – don’t cut corners here. Go as deep as you can and compact it really well. We’ve seen lots of driveways that quickly sink and subside if the sub-base is inadequate.
Note: f you are edging your driveway with block paving or similar, make sure this is all laid and dry before you install the MOT and gravel. The edging area should be excavated, and a strong cement bed laid on which you place the blocks.
Step 2 – Install the sub-base
The sub-base on a gravel drive is critical and considered to be the most important part of the job.
It provides a solid foundation and stops the gravel sinking. It also helps to spread the weight of the cars moving over it.
So, spend time of this part of the project and get it right, or your driveway will soon reveal it’s not been done properly.
- Lay down the membrane
- Add the MOT sub-base material
A nice even spread of MOT 150mm deep.
Top tip for a level sub-base – hammer wooden pegs in the ground across the site so that 150mm is showing above ground, then add the MOT to those levels. Then just remove the pegs.
- Rake it flat
Rake the sub-base around so that it’s level and even. Don’t forget, you’re looking for a consistent and even depth.
- Check the depth and level
Using a wooden peg and your spirit level, check everything is even.
A good tip is to put the spirit level on a long flat piece of wood so it will span the area better. Now tread it all in.
Compact the area using the wacker-plate
Go over the are at least twice. If there are any dips, throw on some more MOT and wacker it down again. Check for levels again and add any more MOT where needed.
Step 3 – Lay the gravel mats
Another crucial step to a great gravel driveway.
This is pretty quick as they interlock together. You might have to trim them when you get to the edges, but they generally snap quite easily.
Once this is done, you’re ready for the gravel.
Step 4 – Lay the gravel
Glory awaits you.
This is the most satisfying part of the job and the easiest.
If you’ve done all the prep and the sub-base correctly this will be a breeze and it will look fantastic in just a few minutes.
All the hard work is about to pay off.
Just make sure you rake the gravel nicely and evenly; it will nestle into the gravel mats nicely on its own.
And that’s it, you might need to hose it off to wash the dust away and once that’s done you can get the cars on it, no need to wait around for cement to dry.
Of course, it goes without saying, if all that sounds like far too much work and you’d just like to come home and find a perfect driveway, you can find a local tradesman and we can deliver all the materials right to your door.