Never underestimate the importance of a well-planned driveway. Done right, it should be wide enough to navigate, strong enough to withstand occasional delivery trucks and graded so water slides off like rain from a roof. A good driveway also complements the house and is a pleasure to traverse.
Start by planning the route from the road to the garage thoughtfully. A curve or two takes up more land but lends grace. Drives should be at least 10 to 12 feet wide at straight runs and 14 feet wide at curves, says This Old House landscape architect Tom Wirth. If the drive is long, provide a 12-by-18-foot (or larger) space at the top for turning around; this can double as guest parking. To make sure there's enough room, do what Tom does: Make a scale model of the cars and driveway first. "We slide the models around on the drive and make sure the turning radii are generous."
Prevent puddling by angling the paved surface slightly downhill. Or create a crown: The center of the drive is built up so water flows down the sides into the soil or drainage channels.
A drive that's too steep is slippery and dangerous. Never exceed a rise of 15 feet per 100 feet of distance (a slope of 15 percent). If the driveway must wind up a steep area, add curves to lessen the slope, or cut into the hillside.
The surface material should fit the character of the house and the landscape. Depending upon where you live, it should also stand up to snowplows, road salt and fluids, such as oil and antifreeze, that leak from cars.