Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gravel Driveway Repairs - long term solutions

I love the look of a nice gravel driveway. Actually here in Toronto - there are a ton of alleys with stretches of gravel. Often time some of the stores around here have small gravel parking areas in behind the streets. Too bad most of them are falling apart.

There's a simple repair that can be done with gravel driveways and gravel parking spots - which involves getting someone to come along and regrade it. This basically levels out the surface. Or you can do the "fill in" method for annoying pot holes. Pot holes are usually formed by weak spots in the underbase or in the surface. So you can buy gravel and fill those in.

Most gravel driveway repairs involve tossing down more gravel. Every year - you can add more gravel - which keeps it looking nice.

But realistically - these are "patch jobs". They don't solve the basic problem. Erosion. Potholes. Gravel migration. As rain water settles into an area it starts to erode the soil ... and as you drive over the areas the gravel compacts. Compacted gravel means that the water no longer flows through - and your gravel driveway is no longer a permeable surface. Water won't flow through it.

So what can be done?
And is there a LONG TERM solution or are you stuck paying to repair your gravel driveway forever?

Yes, it can be done...
with a bit of excavation and some ecogrid - and then more gravel. Usually, a "fella" with a bobcat can do some excavations for you - and at incredibly reasonable rates.

- excavation
- gravel
- ecogrid
- plate compactor
- some strong backs for hire (or enough pizza and beer to make the job fun)

What you are excating for is to make space for a new sub-base - a drainage base - and the grid.
What you want to do is excavate out your old gravel. Its probably pretty well mixed in with the soil... and if you've got pools of water or it takes a while to "soak in" then your driveway is compacted.
How far you should go of course really depends on the area - and its good to consult with a local soil engineer if you can. If you are going to fix it ... Fix it Right! A good sub-base preparation will save you money and time. Level it out and then add in your new gravel. (if you are really concientious you should either salvage your old gravel - or at least get it to a recycler!).
Actually - the excavation is the most difficult step - and that's where the "fella" (or gal) with a bobcat saves you time - and will help it be done right.

Some of the gravel you purchase will be for the sub base. A good sub-base will usually be a mix of gravel - and you can usually talk to the people who are selling the gravel about what you are doing. They will likely be experts and can advise you. Your sub base is a gravel drainage layer which is usually a clear or washed gravel of varying size. The better the preparation of the sub base the easier the grid can be installed. Here's your chance as well to level it all out before you put on your grid... You can rent a hand push roller

NOW the hard work is almost completely done... the rest is easy as pie.

For Residential driveways the midweight grid product will work best. Its 1.5 inches deep (40 mm) - and designed to withstand car traffic. It has re-inforced edges - so unlike roll grid products - you don't have to worry about it moving around and fraying at the edges. After all - you will build this once - and it will last for decades. You can park your future eco-car on it a decade from now!

Installing EcoGrid is ... literally - a snap! The pieces are 13in square (just over a foot). We send them out in larger sheets - so its already pretty much ready to be assembled. There are install instructions - but it is simple - can send you the install guide for grid, with some tips and tricks.

Believe it or not the job is nearly done. Order up your pizza for those 2 people who are helping you. The grid installation can be done (depending on the size of your parking area or driveway) in an hour or two. Sometimes less.

You can rent a plate compactor of various sizes from your local rental place like Stephensons. They basically will flatten out the grid incase you didn't snap it tightly - and help level your surface. You only do it once on the area.

Now you've got your base done - and the grid is down - and the pizza is on its way. Hand out a beer or two and then spread out the gravel. I personally like the look of red gravel. But its up to you. You fill in the grid (again you can consult the guide for some tips). Its a good idea to keep an inch or two ontop.


In a matter of a day you've repaired your gravel driveway - or your parking spot - and you have a long term solution. The EcoGrid stops the gravel from compacting back into the soil. This pretty much eliminates your drainage problems. There won't be mud or muck.... EcoGrid has a special base that's designed to keep the gravel in place.

And to answer the NUMBER ONE QUESTION:
yes. You can shovel it. Yes, you can plough it. Yes, it can be snowblown.
You treat it like a regular gravel driveway!
All those people who have gravel driveways already know about plowing. You just don't snowblow it all the way down to the grid. Leave some of the gravel in place .... its great for traction then.

AND to answer the Number 2 question...
the reason some gravel driveway get icy is because the water is sitting there - it stays in those potholes in the spring and makes a mess. EcoGrid stops it from compacting - and then the water flows away from the surface. Gravity at work.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Permeable Pavers vs Blacktop aka Asphalt driveways - Thinking Green - an alternative driveway solution

Almost every day I talk to people and inevitably the A-word comes up:
"I'm thinking of putting in an Asphalt Driveway...
"I've got an Asphalt Driveway and I want to get rid of it"
"How does EcoGrid compare to an Asphalt Driveway?"
"My wife/husband wants a blacktop driveway but I like gravel..."
"This stuff is more expensive than getting an asphalt driveway, right?"

So lets take a look at some basic information.

What is Asphalt:
Wiki has this to say - asphalt aka blacktop aka bitumen - "asphalt (or asphalt cement) is the carefully refined residue from the distillation process of selected crude oils." bitumen is used as a binder (5+%) in the making of asphalt. Again, wiki gives us some insite as to what that means. "Most bitumens contain sulfur and several heavy metals such as nickel, vanadium, lead, chromium, mercury and also arsenic, selenium and other toxic elements."

Not anything that really should be used in the vast quantities that it is, imho. From an Eco-perspective, this really isn't a great choice. But realistically, most people will go with the familiar and not think too deeply about what products are best for the environment.

For many people it comes down to price. What will save them money. That is why I get so many calls that want to talk about blacktop vs grid. So lets put aside the environment for a minute.

What does it cost????????

Now as much as I'd love to say a sq/ft of EcoGrid is XYZ price - I'm not going to do that - because as sure as faith what will happen is someone will say "according to your blog you wrote the price is XYZ and I don't care if that was 4 years ago!!! It's on the NET!" Prices go up and down, yes down. But mostly they go up. :) So you can go to and contact them for the latest price.

How does it compare in PRICE to EcoGrid????

Well first of all, I don't know what the local prices of an asphalt driveway might be. Believe it or not the costs really vary from company to company and across the country. Call up a local company and find out. Then send us an email at TerraFirm and we'll give you a quote. Or call 1-866-934-7572 and leave a message.

Now here's the trick....

So when you call up Yer-local-asphalt guy and ask him he'll say, "oh its XY price". And then you go to the EcoGrid site and ask and maybe I'll call you and say its ABC price. And then you think ABC is more than XY. Or about the same. ... and that's as far as most people think.

Here's where the hidden price costs you money - and why pinching a penny means you're losing your pounds:

1. Asphalt needs drains. And curbs. And likely its going to need ditches. That price is not going to be included when you call up the company. Its likely that the longer your drive, the higher the price. And having spent a few hours on the phone with many people - there are more and more cities requiring drainage for parking lots... especially for small parking lots. And drains are expensive to install. And maintain. And if its not done right there's silt and muck to worry about when the drains clog up.

2. Now that you've priced the asphalt with the drains, and curbing and perhaps decided to dig the gutters yourself (or decided you'll skip those - which can lead to long term problems)... What's next? So you've got your blacktop laid down. Don't forget you can't drive on your new asphalt driveway for a few days. So first there is the PITA factor.
Six months is what it takes to cure before you should seal it. And yes... you should seal it.

- so factor in sealant in your costing factor. And wait... before you seal it you need to clean it (at least if you plan on doing it right). You shouldn't just wash it off... you actually should buy specialty cleaners. That's another cost. Here's some info on sealing your blacktop chosen from a random site. Plan on doing it every 2-3 yrs.

3. If its a new blacktop driveway or parking area you should also factor in the costs of the gravel underbase. Ideally it will need to be around 10 inches plus deep. Of course that depends on your soil etc. That's a lot of gravel and excavation... but really you want this chunk of blacktop to last.

So now you have an idea of what your real costs are - at least a ballpark - then you should look at what a grid system costs:

1 . No drains needed. You can either stagger the grid for curves and/or cut it to shape.

2. If you go with gravel - you might need to brush out the gravel - and after a few years perhaps top it up. You won't need anything near the costs of topping up a non-grid gravel driveway because the grid stops it from compacting and scattering all over.

3. If you go with grass - well you'll have to cut the grass. And water it. And for a while, just like a brand new lawn, you will have to reseed bare patches. Some landscapers suggest you over-seed for the first year or two so that weeds don't get established. Since you've done some ground prep to lay the gravel - there's less chance for weeds anyway.


Asphalt cracks. If its not done right then it sinks in spots, cracks and starts falling apart. I'm sure most work out okay, but I've walked across many a parking lot full of cracks, water pools and missing chunks (especially around drains). Don't ask me about repairs to an asphalt drive - but I'm suspecting they need a lot more patching and maintenance.

EcoGrid won't crack or splinter. The EcoGrid is environmentally neutral in accordance with DIN 38412 UV and frost resistant too. If you need to pull up a section you can... sure its a bit difficult because its tabbed together but it won't be the huge project that repairing an equal section of asphalt can be. Plus you don't need to be an expert to install or pull up a section. (one of the few reasons I can think of "repairing" would be if you actually need to change your design - ie: expand or make it into a gravel driveway ... or turn a section into grass).

All in All... after all this info...


and you know what... EcoGrid is the best engineered permeable paver and soil stabilization product available today. And that's why i'm doing this. Because i honestly believe its a good, simple way to help people find a good way to make a great choice.

City Parking lots - why asphalt?

Flying over a city gives you an overview of how our land is being used. Of course there are miles of asphalt in the streets and the thousands of cars. If you live in a large urban center then you see the towering buildings, the condos and houses. If you are looking for green spaces your eyes search out the parks. Sometimes you can pick out some tree lined streets. Google Earth of course means you can see it all from the comfort of your chair.

Now just imagine for a second that all the stretches of parking lots were green. That every parking lot you drove into was either gravel or .. gasp ... grass. Take an image like this:

View Larger Map and just imagine what it would look like if it was green.

Personally, I think there should be more legislation in place to offer incentives for companies to build greener. Generally, once you factor in the costs of putting in asphalt - the drains needed, the curbing, the gutters, the very deep base needed (6-10 inches sometimes of gravel) - you're not looking at a cost savings. Then consider the repairs.

A lot of US states and local bylaws are requiring changes with parking lots. In the image you see above part of the lots just aren't being used. They sit there waiting for Christmas or Thanksgiving rush. You can see those sections - far off in the distance. They are often called overflow parking. 90% of the time they are empty.
Thousands of miles of empty parking just waiting for a small time frame for use.

Why not make those grassy places? it would mean that there are hundreds of square feet per parking lot that would DIRECLY help the environment.

I think that's what I love about the EcoGrid. Its simple. There's no need for huge drainage systems. The grid goes down, the water flows through. Plant grass. Plant seedums. Mow it or use a low maintenance grass - and all those Big box parking lots suddenly aren't ugly. They are directly impacting the environment - but this time in a positive way.