ONE GREAT TIP FOR LIFE ON A BLOCK
Length: 300m Created: 2002 Terrain: hilly to damn steep
When my brother bought his block, we all just about died from breathlessness walking up it to see the views from the highest point. It was going to take an epic driveway to traverse it, especially the last 100m. I have no idea of angles but I have to change my car down into the lowest gear or it doesn’t make it. Creating it was essentially a road construction. The steepness meant it required multiple, carefully-placed drains and large concrete culvert pipes to cope with the huge amounts of water which come off it, even after a small amount of rain. The contractor used a 30-tonne digger to cut back into the hillside, then a big bulldozer to carefully shape the camber. It took truck load after truck load to create a good rocky base, hours of careful rolling to make sure it was compacted to the right shape, many more truck loads of a chunky stone to top it off, and yet more rolling.
It was and remains a work of art, without so much as a pothole after 10+ years of use. That comes down to its good design and good construction, but also good maintenance. My brother uses a tractor with a grader blade to maintain its contours and keep the top layer of gravel where it should be.
He makes it look easy, but it’s not. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can make a huge mess of a great driveway and destroy the very foundation of what is an expensive investment. If you have a steep driveway it’s well worth learning how to properly maintain it, or regularly hire an expert to do it for you.
Length: 90m Created: 2007 Terrain: flat to slightly sloping
My driveway runs flat for about 80m, then takes a turn up a slight slope to the house.
I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to not have to pour the same thousands into my driveway as my brother did; the earthworks took a couple of hours and the ‘rotten rock’ base was a few hundred dollars. Total spent: $500 and a box of beer.
That turned out to be a false economy. The driveway almost immediately developed potholes, one in particular quickly becoming so deep you had to drive around it. No amount of filling it in worked – it would be level for a few days, then start to gouge out again, rain or not.
When I eventually did a story on driveway construction, I realised my mistakes: no design, no drainage, no shaping of the camber, no maintenance. It was a mess.
To make matters worse, the car parking area beside the house was also far too small – it’s odd how things look huge on paper but aren’t in real life – and it was pretty annoying when visitors had to do 15-point turns to get out.
It would take seven years before the driveway finally disintegrated into such a dire state that it was almost impassable and I had to make an investment. It took two days to reshape it, although admittedly this also included cutting into the hillside beside the house and making a huge turning area and parking space.
The new driveway features a deep, wide drain down one side – even with a slope of only half a metre on the high side, water pours off here like a waterfall during normal rainfall, let alone a storm. Now, instead of it tumbling over the driveway and sitting on it, the water is captured and drains away via proper culverts at the lowest point. Funnily enough, the lowest point was the site of the huge pothole. The sharp corner has also been reinforced so you don’t fall off the side of the driveway as you turn up it. Bonus tip: avoid sharp corners in a driveway if you can.
Fortunately, it doesn’t require much maintenance, but even so, a year later I can see it’s going to need some grading. LESSON 1: invest in the infrastructure, and get someone who knows what they’re doing. LESSON 2: if you buy a block with a driveway that features potholes, rippled areas, and/or deep wheel divots, put aside some money to get the problem fixed - these are just symptoms of design faults.
The basic rule of a good driveway is, could a fire truck easily make it up to your house? That’s a test you don’t want your drivway to fail.