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Pros and Cons of a Concrete Driveway

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Concrete driveway pouring
Photo courtesy Gregs Landscaping @ flickr/Creative Commons
Concrete is a favored material for driveways, and for good reason. It is durable and requires very little maintenance. Concrete is certainly more expensive than gravel (see Pros and Cons of a Gravel Driveway) and asphalt (see Pros and Cons of an Asphalt Driveway) driveways, but it costs less than a driveway made with pavers (brick, cobblestone or concrete).

Plain concrete is pretty dull in appearance, but it can be colored and stamped to create a unique and very attractive surface.

What Is Concrete?

Concrete surfaces are often referred to as "cement," but that's a bit misleading. Cement (typically Portland cement) is one of the ingredients in the composite material known as concrete. The other common ingredients are aggregate (crushed rocks) and sand. Add some water and you create concrete.

How To Maintain a Concrete Driveway

Many people look at concrete driveways as being virtually maintenance free, but to best ensure long life, it does pay to keep the driveway clean and sealed. A good scrubbing with a hose and stiff brush will usually handle the cleaning, while concrete sealer will add a layer of protection. Sealer should be applied at least once a year. If you live in snow country, the best time to seal a driveway is in the fall. That way, it will be best able to stand up to road salt and harsh weather of winter.

How Long Will a Concrete Driveway Last?

Concrete driveways generally remain functional from 25 to 50 years, depending on how well built they were and how well they have been maintained.

What Does a Concrete Driveway Cost

A basic concrete driveway installed over a gravel base will cost $4 to $10 per square foot. These costs can nearly double, however, if you decide to go with a colored or stamped finish.

How Is a Concrete Driveway Installed?

Installing a concreted driveway starts with removing grass and other vegetation and ensuring a stable soil foundation. Wood forms are then installed around the perimeter of the intended driveway. A base of gravel (at least 4 in. deep) is added, graded and compacted.

The driveway is now ready for the concrete to be poured. This generally involves a crew of several people working quickly to fill the forms with wet concrete and finish the surface. The concrete should have adequate reinforcement, using either rebar or welded wire. The finishing crew should also ensure an adequate number of expansion joints.

One of the most important parts of a concrete driveway installation begins after all of the above work is done -- the curing. Concrete doesn't dry out; rather, it undergoes a slow chemical process that hardens and strengthens the material. It is very important that this curing process occur under the best of circumstances. That begins with the weather. Ideal curing weather is about 70 degrees, with a damp surface. In cool weather, curing will take longer. In hot weather, the surface should be dampened regularly with water to slow down the curing.

Wait at least a week before driving on the new driveway, and at least a month before parking heavy vehicles on the driveway. Wait a month or two before sealing the concrete.

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