Short of a bronze front door and a uniformed doorman, few things class up the front of a house more than a circular brick driveway.
Black asphalt just doesn't have the opulent look of brick and stone - or better yet, something that looks like brick and stone. And there are other surfaces available, including some that look like much more expensive materials.
You're probably already familiar with stamped asphalt but may not know it. Stamped asphalt can be made to look like bricks or paving stones, and in a variety of colors. It is tough enough that it is frequently used in crosswalks on public streets that appear to be paved in brick. It's also one of the most popular materials for the showy decorative driveways, aprons and drive-through entrances at gated communities and resort hotels.
If you're starting with an asphalt driveway in good condition, stamped asphalt starts at about $5 a square foot, or about $1.50 more if new asphalt must be laid down first, said Paul Polito, president of Tucson Asphalt Contractors Inc.
The process begins with heating the asphalt surface, either new or existing but in good condition. Then a steel wire rope template pattern is put down, and it is stamped with a plate that embosses the surface to look like stone or brick. That's followed by the colored epoxy surface material that includes texture to make the surface less slippery.
Polito said his favorite look is known as a "French pattern," formed by imprinting four different sized paverlike shapes. "But that's just me," he noted. Others may like a uniform brick or rectangular paver look. He said there are many shapes and colors to choose from.
CONCRETE PAVERS, BRICK
While brick may be the classic look for circular driveways and grand entrances, Ben Shabat of Beyond Brick of Tucson said brick is not as durable as concrete pavers.
He said concrete pavers that comply with material and installation standards from the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute can handle up to 6,000 pounds per square inch.
Although they are made from a specific concrete formula intended for carrying weight, Shabat said some of the resistance to cracking comes from the small spacers built into the edges of interlocking pavers. "They're manufactured with humps on the side, which allows the paver to interlock with the next paver. The bricks do not have spacers. That allows the bricks to sink if the ground isn't evenly compacted. The concrete pavers maintain a very tiny gap filled with fine sand which keeps them from moving."
"Part of the problem with cracks is caused by water," even here in the parched desert, Shabat said. He said properly installed pavers won't get water underneath that can, on occasion even here, freeze down an inch or 2 in very cold water and expand to push up or out to crack a solid concrete surface.
Part of the proper installation involves preparing the subsurface. Shabat said the subgrade has to be an "AB aggregate" of dirt and rock that is compacted, followed by another layer of bedding sand, which is also compacted before the final material is put down. That is followed with a sprinkling of fine sand that fills the spaces between the pavers.
Another part of doing pavers or brick the right way includes a concrete border around the prepared subsurface; that "keeps things together like a sandbox," Shabat said.
"Tons of people are installing pavers, but not the right way, and then the manufacturer will not honor the warranty," Shabat said. Done properly, he said, a paver driveway should last indefinitely. "We give a lifetime warranty," Shabat said.
He said jobs are bid by size or based on time and material. There are price breaks at 5,000 and 10,000 square feet, with larger jobs getting a lower per square foot price. Shabat said pavers typically cost $4 to $6 a square foot but "brick is a little more expensive."
He said a wide range of colors, put on as part of an epoxy top finish, are available. "I'd go dark. Dark colors don't show the tires," Polito advised.
THE GREEN SIDE OF A NEW DRIVEWAY
Putting in an attractive new driveway, or redoing an old one, sometimes can be an opportunity for water conservation.
Shabat said the design of the new surface often can include a slope to direct runoff in the direction of trees bordering the driveway or adjoining landscaping.
Another potential "green" benefit from using pavers or brick comes from tearing up the existing asphalt and sending it to a local plant for recycling, Shabat said.