Paving the way

When we go house hunting my ever-loving wife, “Daisy” (not her real name) and I draw up a list of requirements for the new house. We divide these requirements into two categories: 1) Desired and 2) Non-negotiables. The list of non-negotiables for our last house was short and realistic:

  1. Not next to an apartment building
  2. Not near a train
  3. Garage and driveway.

I found the perfect house. Unfortunately it was right next to an apartment building, the train ran behind the backyard, and it didn’t have a garage or driveway. By some miracle I convinced (a very skeptical) Daisy we should buy it.

My ever-loving wife also wanted a screen porch but had to settle for an open deck. It finally occurred to me that we could turn the deck into a screen porch that would double as a carport and turn the brick sidewalk along the house into a driveway.

Daisy’s screen porch

The driveway needed to be “historically compatible” and permeable so that the rainwater would soak into the ground rather than run off and flood our neighborhood. I chose 3 ½” thick, colored pavers from Lowcountry Paver set about ½” apart. Laying the pavers is the easy part. The hard part is giving them a strong foundation, which means digging down through the clay using shovels and pick axes like the inmates at the beginning of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

The driveway is 10′ wide by 60′ long and over 8″ deep. That’s a lot of digging. I typically hauled out at least 10 wheelbarrows of dirt and clay a day and dumped it in the backyard. I decided to leave the old brick walkway running right down the middle of the new driveway and build around it because it was in good shape and too hard to dispose of.

I screwed boards from the old deck to wood stakes to form the outline the driveway and set the height of the edges. After the forms were the right height and distance from the existing brick walkway I screwed on another layer of boards to keep it rigid. Note to self: Remember to allow for the thickness of the second layer of boards when placing the first layer.

Board with adjustable depth gauge

The pavers need 1″ of sand on 5″ of compacted crush and run gravel on top of a compacted soil base. Add 3 ½” for the paver and the hole needs to be 8 ½” deep. I needed a way to measure the depth of each layer as I was digging and filling so I used some more of the lumber from the old deck to make a depth gauge. One piece was a little longer than the width of the driveway so that it could rest on top of the forms. I cut another board a couple of inches shorter than the width of the space on either side of the old sidewalk and suspended it from the long board. By adjusting the short board up and down I could set it to any desired depth.

When the hole was approximately the right depth I dragged my depth gauge contraption along the hole to screed the dirt/gravel nice and level.

Wen plate compactor with optional pad

You might have noticed a lot of references to “compacted.” You can rent a plate compactor for $300/week. It didn’t take this math student long to realize that this project was going to take a whole lot of weeks and the rental would add up to some pretty big bucks. I found a highly rated plate compactor (WEN 56035 Construction Zone Plate Compactor) on line for about $600. Purchasing the Wen rather than renting was a no-brainer and I’ve been very pleased with it. I also bought the pad that attaches to it for compacting the pavers themselves. The pad, which is some kind of thick rubbery plastic, prevents scratches.

The procedure was:

  1. Dig a square hole 8 ½” deep; screed
  2. Compact
  3. Add 2 ½” crush and run; screed
  4. Compact
  5. Add 2 ½” crush and run; screed
  6. Compact
  7. Add 1″ sand; screed
  8. Lay pavers ½” apart; level with rubber mallet
  9. Sweep sand into joints
  10. Compact with pad attached
Pallets form a paver cutting station. The fan blows the dust away from the miter saw behind it.

Click on the dots of the little slide show below to see the project at different stages.

  • Leveled soil base ready for compacting
Daisy lends a hand

Making the driveway permeable was a big challenge because “the industry” doesn’t do it that way very often.

I followed the manufacturer’s instructions to fill the gaps between pavers with sand but that is not right for a permeable driveway. The rain will quickly wash away the sand rather than soak through it. Sand is fine if the pavers are butted right against each other but not if you have a gap on the order of half an inch.

The correct joint filler if you want rain water to soak down between the pavers is ¼” stone, which can be hard to find, especially without the “fines,” i.e. smaller sandy bits.

Original “parallel” pattern

Our driveway has a pretty good downhill slope and that contributes to the runoff problem. The first pattern I used was to lay the pavers in parallel columns. (See the photo.) The advantage is that I had to cut only a few pavers: basically two in the first row and two in the last row. This formed a nice long set of rain channels that washed all of the sand out of the cracks.

I had to pull up all of the pavers along the old sidewalk and start over.

This time I laid the pavers in a herringbone pattern like I did in the backyard turnaround area. And I filled the cracks with the ¼” stone.

Original parallel sand joints
Final herringbone pattern with 1/4″ stone joints

Eventually my ever-loving wife started to run out of patience with my little project.

“What ever are you doing out there? All this digging and filling day after day. It’s like to make you crazy. What in the world will we ever use it for?”
“Driving, Miss Daisy.”
“You’re my best friend”
“No, go on Miss Daisy.”
“No, really, you are …. You are.”
“Yes’m.”


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3 thoughts on “Paving the way”

  1. I’m impressed; that was a lot of work and you really paid attention to detail.
    Also kudos to Daisy for putting up with a long project. It would have driven my Daisy crazy.

  2. You are a home improvement wizard, Gary! And this is only the 43rd most difficult project you’ve done, I’m sure. Can’t wait to see it in person!

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