Snow management for the ignorant
February 23, 2008 11:17 AM   Subscribe

Is it necessary or worthwhile to remove the snow from my crushed-stone driveway? If so, how?

This might be an incredibly obvious question, but please bear with me; until now, I've lived my whole life in warmer climates. This past summer, my wife and I moved to Delaware and bought a house. Our driveway is crushed stone/gravel.

Like the rest of the east coast, we got some snow in the past few days. Fortunately, it wasn't very much, and the gravel seems to provide plenty of traction. Nonetheless, we still have a few questions about snow management.

1. Is it a bad idea to just leave the snow and assume that we will get good traction from the stone? So far, so good: no ice problems. Are we asking for trouble?

2. Is there any sort of unspoken etiquette rule about clearing your driveway? I don't want to annoy our very nice neighbors if there is, but we just have no clue. They've all cleared their driveways already, but they all have asphalt. For what it's worth, we're on the end of the street.

3. Eventually, we're inevitably going to get a bigger snow. Does anyone know a good way to remove snow from a crushed stone driveway? Shoveling doesn't seem to work very well since we end up moving the snow around. Someone suggested a snowblower, but we were afraid that (a) that might be real overkill and (b) we'd end up throwing stones around. My current plan is to shovel off the top layers of snow and leave an inch or two, but I'm certainly open to better ideas.

4. So far, we've been avoiding salt because we don't want it to get everywhere or kill all the plants around our house. At what point should we actually salt the driveway?

5. Should we think about replacing the stone eventually? Are there big advantages or disadvantages of which we might be ignorant?
posted by JMOZ to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
If it's supposed to melt in the next day or so, I wouldn't sweat it. If it's not too deep (about an inch or less) you can put some rock salt down. Just don't overdo it. If it's deeper, you're looking at hiring someone to plow, getting a plow yourself (they make them for some lawn tractors), or doing it with a snow blower. All of those have the obvious problem of dragging the stones around on your driveway, and you probably will need to get it regraded eventually.

If you *don't* do anything, and someone falls and hurts themselves, you're liable for the medical bills. (It's not etiquette, it's CYA.)

Having said all that.... I grew up in Buffalo, but haven't lived up north in 10 years.
posted by Doohickie at 11:34 AM on February 23, 2008

I've lived in Connecticut for my entire life, and the years that I can remember have all involved a gravel driveway, so I feel somewhat knowledgeable.

How much snow did you get? Getting, say, an inch of snow doesn't really warrant clearing it away. What's the weather supposed to be like for the next few days? If we suspect that it's going to turn from snow into that brutal snow-ice stuff, we usually clear it. During times like January, we try to make a pass through with either the plow or snowblower on any snowfall in order to make it easier for smaller cars to go up and down our driveway.

If your driveway has any significant length to it, you're going to want some mechanical aid, and a shovel isn't going to cut it. I hate using a shovel just to clear the deck; doing that on a driveway? No thanks.

We use a snowblower and a plow attachment on our small John Deere, and work as a team. Figuring out how deep to cut into the snow with the snowblower comes with doing it. At first, you might leave too much on top, or you might cut in deep and start shooting some gravel. You'll know if you're doing that. If you have houses that butt up against your driveway, try not to shoot snow out at them. I cut down right to the gravel, and I'll shoot up a few pieces of gravel. It's going to happen, I don't let it bother me that much, there's a whole driveway full of it.

I've never salted our driveway, and it's never been something I've considered. Maybe I should. Without any knowledge on it, I think that unless you're using a lot of it regularly you plant life isn't going to suffer.

The big thing with converting to asphalt from gravel is the upfront cost. We have a pretty long driveway, and although we happen to share it with two other houses, the general consensus has been the price was never worth it. After the spring thaw and showers erode the crap out of it, we borrow a pickup and make a few trips to the quarry for unwashed gravel. A few loads of gravel and an hour or two later, and you're good for another year. Total cost? About $100. A few years ago our neighbors changed over to asphalt, and that seemed to improve our erosion. So that was a benefit for us, anyway.

YMMV, of course. We have a pretty long driveway (around .15 of a mile, maybe a little more), that slopes generously uphill. If you have a short flat little thing you may not have to deal with some of these problems.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 11:35 AM on February 23, 2008

If you need more traction on the snow, sprinkle sand on it. If you happen to have more of the gravel that was used, you could use some of that instead of sand.

I do think there is some etiquette involved in clearing a path if you are expecting guests, it's simply another way of making guests comfortable. CYA and safety of household members are other reasons snow gets cleared. Safety being that the snow might get compacted or turn to ice before it melts, and people might slip.

Personally I don't bother with shoveling unless I can't get the car out of the driveway over the pile of snow that tends to form when the car is there while it is snowing. If there are any icy spots, I warn friends of mine who would be visiting. If I had someone trying to walk over this area who had balance problems, or was throwing a big party, I'd probably clear the snow more throughly.

As far as annoying your neighbors, that probably varies from neighborhood to neighborhood.
posted by yohko at 11:44 AM on February 23, 2008

I live in a house with a shared gravel driveway at the moment. Unless it snows pretty heavily it does not get cleared. There are two reasons for this that I have figured out. The first is that in order to be able to shovel the driveway easily there must be a base layer of compacted/ice on it, otherwise trying to shovel it would be very difficult because the gravel would always be catching the shovel. The second reason is that the base layer of snow/ice doesn't really create a problem. The driveway is fairly short and flat and traction really isn't an issue.
posted by 517 at 11:45 AM on February 23, 2008

i live in a house with a gravel/crushed-stone driveway.
generally, we don't shovel the snow unless it's particularly high (living in southern Ontario, particularly high means we-can't-get-our-cars-out). like you said, there's enough traction because of the gravel.

there's no etiquette, at least where i'm from. you should shovel your walkways, but your driveway doesn't really matter. don't worry too much, especially if you expect it to melt soon.

if you do want to shovel it, your idea of waiting until there's a lot and then just leaving 1-2 inches is what works best. you won't be able to get an entirely clear driveway without shoveling the gravel, so leaving a little bit works.
posted by gursky at 11:46 AM on February 23, 2008

I have a 500' crushed stone driveway. I use a snowblower on a tractor. You have to fiddle with the height of the blower so that it doesn't blow the stones. I basically blow it when it has more than about four or five inches of snow or has drifted in places that make it hard to navigate. I like to leave about an inch of snow on it as that protects the gravel from getting blown.

The biggest problem is thaw and refreeze, in which case it can become pure ice.

I herniated a disk last year shovelling snow. I push it now.
posted by unSane at 11:59 AM on February 23, 2008

I don't own a snow blower, so

>6 inches of snow & snow predicted: park at the street end of the driveway before the snow.
Shovel path to door and sidewalk, area (small) around car, and massive dense icy pile of snow left by the street snow plows where the driveway meets the street.

>6 inches & not predicted, and the car is at the rear of the driveway: call a profe$$ional.
Unless it is March or April, and the stuff will melt in short order.
posted by hexatron at 12:16 PM on February 23, 2008

As I was saying--I don't own a snow blower, so

<6 inches of snow: shovel path to door and sidewalk; slam car through snow on driveway

>6 inches of snow & snow predicted etc--see above.
posted by hexatron at 12:18 PM on February 23, 2008

I just pulled out of my shared, crushed stone driveway today through about eight inches of snow and didn't give it a thought. I have a Suburu wagon, though; if your car has less fortitude it might be worth shoveling. We've never bothered.
posted by nev at 1:34 PM on February 23, 2008

I have a longish (300 feet) gravel drive on a north-facing slope. My biggest problem is that if I drive on the snow and pack it down, there will inevitably be a short warm spell, just enough to melt a bit, followed by cold that turns my tracks to ice. So if snow is predicted, I park by the road.

An alternative to salt is dry ash from a wood stove, but it's not pretty, and you can track it into the house.
posted by PatoPata at 3:33 PM on February 23, 2008

I used to live on the Eastern Shore of MD, so not too far from you. Crushed rock is hard to clear as you said. You don't get enough snow to actually worry about it. Once every few years you may get about a foot, but everything will be closed down anyhow, so you can't go anywhere anyhow. Just clear a path to the car, shovel enough so you can get out if there is an emergency, and get some old fashioned (not scoopable) cat litter that you can put on the packed down stuff for traction for walking or under the tires if needed. You can ask the neighbors' opinion if you like, but honestly if you just wait a couple of days it all melts anyhow. Snow rarely sticks around for more than a week, and when it does, well, just hope you are well stocked on toilet paper, bread and milk! (Which if you haven't figured out yet, disappear from the stores at the first mention of snow!)

wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 5:11 PM on February 23, 2008

A plow will have the same problems as a shovel or blower, it will dig into the gravel and make a mess.

If it was me, I would hire a plow driver that knows how not to wreck the gravel and/or ask him to "back drag" it. Depending on the length of the driveway and the depth of the snow, he pulls forward to the end of the driveway with the blade in the up position. Then he drops the blade down and goes in reverse to the end of the driveway, and then pushes the snow he picked up off to the side. Doing this will get the bulk of the snow, but because of the curve of the plow blade, it will sort of skim over the gravel rather than digging in.

As to the neighborliness question, I'd make sure any sidewalks are clean, and that the gravel is cleaned where the sidewalk crosses it, if it does. Also clean up the apron of the driveway so it looks cared for.
posted by gjc at 5:53 PM on February 23, 2008

All these answers are very helpful, and it seems like the consensus is that we're pretty much doing the right thing. No sidewalks, etc, and as 445supermag's wife points out, things seem to shut down for even a bit of snow. Thanks all!!
posted by JMOZ at 8:31 PM on February 23, 2008

Regarding the bread, toilet paper, and milk- we do the Costco thing for TP and thus always have a plentiful (excessive?) supply. We can live without milk for a week. As for the bread- if I can't go to work, it's a fantastic excuse to bake bread, isn't it?
posted by JMOZ at 8:33 PM on February 23, 2008

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