Building an Enduring Driveway
There's nothing like a rugged crunch to welcome you home.
This Old House TV: Milton house project
The "new" driveway we built in Milton harkened back to an earlier, more elegant time, when carriages and motorcars would crunch along the circular drive we saw in old photographs of the house.
But before we could drive up in our own cars, a lot of preparation needed to be done. First, down near where we wanted the new drive to enter the property stood a few skunk cabbages, practically a guarantee that the area was official wetlands. That meant the town's wetlands commission had to be petitioned. Commission members toured the property one fine Saturday and gave their permission.
Next, arborist Matt Foti and his crew came in to clear away a number of trees. The most notable was a massive Norway spruce, a storm-damaged little sister to another on the property that the former homeowner claimed was one of the largest examples of the species in North America.
Then, excavation contractor Herb Brockert brought his machines in to carefully carve a gentle curve up through the meadow, past the house, around the new circle, and out to the barn. Art and science met in his effort, as he worked to maintain pleasing lines while assuring 1) he damaged no tree roots and 2) the new driveway would shed water away, rather than toward, the house.
Finally, it was time to call in our old friend Larry Torti, the self-proclaimed "Asphalt King." Hailing from Rhode Island, he calls his product "ash-falt," though he's quick to point out it's really old-fashioned macadam—a bed of crushed recycled pavement bound together by liquid asphalt sprayed on top and top-dressed with 1/4" gravel, all crushed into a stable monolith beneath a 10-ton roller. The result was precisely what we'd all envisioned: a durable, graceful, crunching reminder of the old days. And, at $8 a square yard (versus around $15 for conventional blacktop), it's something even a Yankee can love.
To confirm that reputation for durability, we recently contacted Dean Gallant, owner of the 1993 project house in Belmont, Massachusetts, and our first client to use the macadam driveway. He reports that he and wife Lauren continue to love the look and performance of their drive—"I haven't seen an alternative I like better," he says. Any small oil leak from the car can be hidden with a quick rake of the gravel. In a year or two, as predicted by Torti, they will
need a new top dressing, as a fair amount of the loose gravel has become pressed into the pavement below. But as for losing large amounts into the lawn or street, Dean says that a little care in shoveling eliminates most of that worry: "I pile up the snow along the edge and rake whatever gravel I picked up back into the center when the snow melts. For sure some of the gravel spreads over the edges now and again, but we like that informal look. If you wanted to avoid
it, you could simply edge the drive with cobblestones."
"And oh," says Dean, "you can't beat that crunch."