Driveway materials

Driveways: a buyer’s guide

Expert advice on everything from driveway materials to permeability and planning considerations

By Caroline Rodrigues |

The exterior design and landscaping, including the driveway material, is almost as crucial as the house itself. ‘Access and connection to highways are a core part of planning permission,’ says Charlie Luxton of Charlie Luxton Design. ‘The journey from driveway to front door to entrance hall is an important part of the story. It’s your first impressions of the house.’

Do I need planning permission for a driveway?

Planning permission is not usually necessary if a driveway uses permeable paving, allowing water to drain through it. Or if the water flows into a lawn or border to drain away. A Sustainable Drainage System (SUDS) compliant driveway prevents excess water adding to the pressure on the national drainage network.

You will have to apply for consent if you decide against a permeable system and the area is larger than 5sqm. Check with your local authority as other restrictions may apply. For access across a footpath, you’ll need permission to drop the kerb.

Research your driveway material options

It’s important to take time to research all the materials options. ‘Eighty per cent of the cost relates to the bits you don’t see – the sub-base and ground preparation. Only 20 per cent goes on paving or other driveway materials,’ says Anna Hampshire, from Marshalls. ‘An upgrade to the surface may have less impact on the overall cost than you think. But it will have a big impact on the finish and style.’ The base is usually 100-150mm of hardcore. Factor in extra funds for specialist installation or complex laying patterns.

Go for gravel

Gravel has a lot to offer as a driveway material. It’s water permeable and has a natural look. It includes various stones including tough granite and comes in colours from gold to grey. Traditional loose gravel is usually put down in three or four layers. Each one is rolled and left for a day to settle.

It’s not the ideal choice for steep slopes or areas that get heavy snowfall. To keep it in place, you can fit a cellular plastic grid. ‘This allows you to drive over the gravel without compacting it. It stops the stones moving when you turn on it,’ says Rob Pollard of RX Architects. Also, the stones need occasional raking and topping up from time to time.

Architect Charlie Luxton project with gravel driveway at St Eval, Cornwall.

Reclaimed granite setts create a clear boundary in this driveway created by Charlie Luxton Design

Set on resin-bound gravel

Resin-bound gravel is a maintenance-free driveway material with a smoother appearance than loose gravel. The stones are set in place. You may not need a new base, as it can often be laid over asphalt and concrete. Self-binding gravel includes clay particles in the mix. Once compacted, the surface bonds together, forming both the base and surface level.

Urban front garden with planting around a circular drive.

This circular resin-bound drive by Simon Orchard Garden Design is wide enough for open car doors

Block paving

Hardwearing block paving and setts come in natural stone, clay or as more affordable concrete blocks. ‘Concrete is a great option for those looking for something low maintenance. It is easy to keep clean and products from quality manufacturers are durable and long-lasting,’ says Anna at Marshalls.

It’s best to see samples. And be aware that the blocks appear different to an individual sample when laid in quantity. Laying pattern options include random course, stretcher bond and herringbone. Herringbone is practical as the interlocking blocks won’t be shifted out of position when cars brake and turn. Cubes can create decorative fan patterns.

Lay the blocks on a free-draining base with wide joints around them. Fill with fine aggregate. For a uniform look, cover the driveway, pathways and steps with the same design. Make things more interesting by altering the size or laying pattern.

A large house with curving driveway and helipad in the centre

Developer Guy Phoenix included a sweeping drive and helipad in this Nottinghamshire home

Flags and slabs

If you decide to go with natural stone flags, check that they are suitable for driveways, as thinner versions may crack. The same applies to porcelain, and these tiles should be laid on a concrete slab or a specialist system to spread the load.

Concrete, tarmac and grass

Poured concrete design includes various block and decorative effects. Be aware that it can crack in freezing conditions, unless fitted with control joints, which are visible. Also, the colour and pattern can wear and fade.

Tarmac, though not the most beautiful option, is practical, suitable for all weathers, and for sloping sites. Grass, the eco-friendly choice, can be grown through a protective grid of open cells, such as Marshall’s Grassguard system or Bodpave 85 permeable paving grids from Groundtrax.

A large expanse of paving arranged in a herringbone pattern in front of a red brick house. A good choice for this particular setting.

StoneMaster concrete block paving from Bradstone

Advice on heated driveways

Be good to go whatever the weather, with advice from Bo Nielsen, director of Heated Driveway Systems:

  • Driveway heating systems can be fitted under all solid surfaces such as tarmac, block paving, paving slabs and concrete. They cannot be fitted under gravel, without first covering the system with concrete or tarmac. I recommend fitting drain channels so all the melt water can run away.
  • Both mat and cable systems are available. The former is much easier to fit, especially if your builder or electrician will be doing the installation.
  • If you do use a specialist company, your building or groundwork contractor will usually do all the preparation, then lay the surface finish on top of the system afterwards.
  • A fully automatic controller using moisture sensors and temperature sensors determines when the system needs to be on. It must be wired into the mains electrics by a qualified electrician. Heating cables and 15m cold leads are triple insulated for safety.
  • Normally, the driveway surface will reach a temperature of 5-10°C. Most of our systems are based on 300W per sqm, giving a running cost of approximately 5p per sqm when turned on. The programming can be changed to make the system as efficient as possible.
  • It’s maintenance-free, but you should avoid damage to the driveway surface that exposes the cables, which could lead to them being impaired.