Paving the way

While your driveway is a functional aspect of your home, its aesthetic appeal shouldn't be ignored. A well-maintained, attractive driveway improves the overall look and value of your home.

Driveway Basics

Driveways can be divided into two broad categories - solid surface and aggregate surface. Under the solid surface umbrella fall the two most popular driveway options: asphalt (also known as hot-top or blacktop) and concrete. Solid surface driveways stand up well to both snow melting systems and snow blowers, making them a popular choice for homes in northern climates. If you're using a snow blower on your driveway, aim the chute away from fragile trees that can be damaged by heavy flung snow.

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Aggregate surface driveways include gravel and crushed stone which are neither snow-melting-system nor snow blower compatible. Aggregate surfaces are less popular options, especially in colder climates that experience heavy snowfall during the winter months.

Between solid surface and aggregate lies tar-and-chip. It is almost a solid surface - it looks similar to asphalt, but it's not smooth enough to be categorized as a solid surface. Tar-and-chip driveways are inexpensive and maintenance free, but they're not stable enough for a snow blower.

Decorative Driveway Options

If you want to add a distinctive flair to your house, consider a decorative finish for your driveway. Interlocking brick adds class and sophistication to any home. The bricks, which can be laid in almost any pattern, can flow from the base of your driveway, into your walkway and right up to your front door. If you want your home to make a stunning first impression, an interlocking brick driveway and walkway will do it.

Patterned concrete is a newer option available to homeowners who want the beauty of interlocking brick with the durability of concrete. Available in a variety of designs, patterned concrete is slightly less expensive than interlocking bricks but creates the same effect.

Colored concrete is a great choice if you want to make your driveway truly unique. By adding pigments to the concrete mix, homeowners can break away from the grey-blues of standard concrete.

Seal in the Beauty

Just like any surface in your home, your driveway needs proper care. By protecting the surface of your driveway from water, chemicals and harmful UV rays, the foundation and the driveway itself will last longer. If you don't seal your driveway, water will permeate cracks in the surface, seep down and settle into the base, which compromises the strength of the base and leads to potholes. A concrete driveway should be sealed after it's laid and then every three to five years after.

An asphalt driveway should not be sealed immediately after it is laid. You will want to wait three to six months before the first sealing, and then reapply the protectant again every year after that if you live in a climate with harsh winters. If you live in a warmer climate, sealing your asphalt every other year will do.

To Repair or Replace, That is the Question/h3>

If you're noticing cracks in your asphalt or concrete driveway, your options are either to repair or replace it. Repairs will work for a while, but may have to be made frequently on older driveways, which don't last forever. Depending on the condition of your driveway, it may be more cost-effective to replace it rather than repair it.

You can easily repair small to medium cracks in a concrete driveway yourself with a bag of concrete mix, available at any home improvement store. Asphalt driveway repair is, however, another story. Cracks that are a half inch or less in width can be filled relatively easily with what is known as "crack filler," while cracks that are a half inch or wider will need an asphalt cold-patch.

Driveway Protection

If you have a particularly long driveway that winds up to your property, you may want to invest in a driveway alarm. The alarm system will alert you to any vehicles or people that enter your driveway. Most systems can monitor four different entry points and will chime with different sounds to indicate which direction the vehicle or person is approaching from.

Some alarms work like the bells in a gas station. A rubber hose is stretched across the driveway and when a vehicle rolls over the tube, it sends a signal to the receiver in the house, notifying you that a vehicle is approaching. Tube sensors are less likely to trigger false alarms caused by deer or other large animals.

Other systems work like standard motion sensors and can pick up movements of people as well as vehicles. Wireless motion sensors are usually easier to install than tube sensors and will work at longer ranges.

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