What are best practices for maintaining a gravel driveway?
August 27, 2019 10:27 AM   Subscribe

So we've had this house for over five years but we've never really gotten the whole gravel driveway thing down. We just have people regrade and dump new 'stuff' on it periodically, but I would like to find out what people who know what they are doing do.


-300-400 feet long, rural area
-climate with real winters
-at one point a stream passes underneath it through a quite large metal pipe. (Has been structurally sound and is not specifically a problem)
-Gets potholes and runs through (unofficial) wetlands. We assume there is some natural water movement that may cause the potholes.
-Is imperfectly graded--we get a fun little glacier at a curved part that sticks around for months
-generally runs downhill
-Gets plowed by plow guy in the winter; gravel has a tendency to fall off the sides or get scooted to the top of the driveway. This seems a necessary evil.
-We try to be as kind as possible to our animal friends so no salt unless totally desperate situation (sand is okay)

My questions:
-How often do people regrade and/or get gravel dumped? Always the same time, or different times seasonally?
-What size do you ask for specifically that stays where it is supposed to, mostly? What kind? What's the terminology and how do you ask for it?
-Just really anything. I have to call The Guy Who Does This and ask for something because we have potholes and it will be impossible to deal with when it's frozen but I would like to be less ignorant because I usually just let him do his thing but feel like maybe I could do better if I had any idea what I was talking about.

Last Q:
-Not for right now but maybe for someday: is paving it a fool's errand?

Many thanks to you.
posted by A Terrible Llama to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Gravel roads are not actually a simple thing. You have to design them depending on slope, how they cross grades, curvature etc. They should be cambered or ‘crowned’ and should have drainage on both sides. You should have at least two and better three different layers, generally the idea is to have coarser material lower, then finer material on top. Because of interlocking, this is more stable than any single size of granular material.

Sorry I don’t have any practical help, this is just general concepts to be thinking of. See here for the kind of cross section you want to emulate. Here is the maintenance and design manual for gravel roads published by the EPA, it should have most of the info you need.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:50 AM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

If there's water running over it (or under it) in places, I probably wouldn't pave it unless the semi-regular repairs will be cheaper than an annual dump/re-grade. The paved road I live on is in constant need of repair because of ponding/flooding at one point where it runs very close to a wet-weather creek. After every big storm, the potholes return and it just sucks until they send the asphalt crew back out.
posted by jquinby at 11:00 AM on August 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Based on the long gravel road (1/2 mile?) in Canada years ago. I simply filled the potholes by hand. And never plowed the snow off in the winter. Just packed it down by driving over it, or if too deep for that, run a snowmobile over it to pack it down. The hilly part could be a challenge, but we'd just take a run at it. Oh, and snow tires helped.

As far as a culvert goes, we had the one culvert, for a stream, we had wash out twice in extreme heavy rain. Not much could be done when you get 6 inches of rain. The whole freaking road washed out. Just rebuild the road in that case.
posted by baegucb at 11:55 AM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have exactly the same thing, though longer. It's a family farm, so we've had it for 50+ years.
We've put new gravel on it every ten-fifteen years, but between that, we've leveled it, dragging the bumps over into the potholes. I never, ever use a snow-plough on it. Don't do that. My neighbor drives through with his tractor if I get snowed in, which happens, and otherwise I just pack it by driving, like baegucb. (I've sold my tractor because I never used it).
I was very worried about the gravel size and quality first time it was on me, but in the end I just bought the cheapest (following neighbors' advice) and it has worked just fine. Though don't put sand on it. When you have the spring thaw, the sand goes everywhere, and that is part of why you get potholes. Rougher gravel is better for drainage. If possible, enjoy grass and other growth in the middle, the roots help keeping the road steady and dry. Sometimes when I have woodchips, I put them in the holes, to encourage growth.
For a few weeks in spring, my driveway looks a lot like a river. I don't worry, I take pictures.
I do try to keep people from going fast in it. You don't think about it, but fast driving (over 20 km/hour) stresses the surface and wears the road more, specially in bends.
I'd love to have a little bridge instead of the culvert I have, but till now it works fine, so I'm waiting till there's a reason.
posted by mumimor at 12:23 PM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

You might want to ask if a paved road (driveway?) would increase your property taxes.
posted by Raybun at 1:57 PM on August 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

I live in Texas, so I don’t know anything about maintaining gravel roads in places with snow and ice. As far as paving, ask around for cost/availability of asphalt millings. In my area, it’s the cheapest and easiest way to pave a rural drive — we did a 500ft section for about $1000 plus the cost of renting a bobcat (not including prep and road base, which you should already have)..
posted by bradf at 2:46 PM on August 27, 2019

I don't have any firsthand experience but I did watch a fascinating YouTube video on gravel roads that you might enjoy. It's long but surprisingly engaging.
posted by kdar at 2:49 PM on August 27, 2019

My gravel driveway has evergreen trees on both sides that form a canopy over it. No need for a snow plow (well except the very end of the driveway where it meets the road can sometimes get a bit glacier-like.) farmers used to plant the trees to catch the snowdrift ON their driveway, back when it was easier to ride a align than a wagon, now you can plant the trees to stop the snowdrift. The grass/plants in the middle in cease and thick. I have not put down gravel in four years but I am going to put a small amount down just at the top of the driveway where my wheel turn has made it a bit of a dip.
posted by saucysault at 5:05 PM on August 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

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