Not to malign traditional white concrete which has done yeoman's work for decades, today's driveways can be as fancy or informal as the homeowners want them to be when it comes to textures, colours and materials that work with the elements.
Coloured concrete, coloured patterned concrete, concrete paving stones in deep rust tones, golds and seductive pastels, exposed aggregate concrete surfaces and serviceable asphalt -- all are basic materials and processes designed to enliven home driveways that are often at the front of homes.
"Ninety per cent of it is all cosmetic," says Dick Penner, president of J&D Penner The Store, a yard decor company that sells pre-cast concrete products and has a contracting division, referring to the differences among the concrete surfaces.
But homeowners are interested in esthetics and it's one of the main criteria for buyers, said Penner. "Specifically, they want to know what kind of surface will best complement their house and neighbourhood." Cost and how well the surfaces perform are other considerations.
If you like white concrete, you might enjoy coloured concrete, although you will pay a bit more for it. "You can get just about any colour you want and they can be mixed," Penner said. The colour option will cost from 20 to 25 per cent more, said Penner.
For a first hand look at some options, take a drive to J&D Penner at 2560 McGillivray Blvd. anytime. Samples are built in to the sidewalk on the outside of the store. There, you'll find an aqua-coloured and stamped sample (with rectangles), indicative of the kind of finishes that can be applied to concrete.
White or coloured concrete can be stamped with a variety of patterns, by professional installers or by the homeowners themselves.
Those who are inclined to do the stamping themselves can buy the rubberized concrete stamps from places like Specialty Construction Products Ltd. President Joe Solomon said at least 20 different patterns are available in addition to concrete colourings, twisters and loops used to build concrete forms for poured concrete, and hand trowels for do-it-yourselfers, among other materials excluding the lumber needed to build the forms.
Many of the stamps will create different textures on the surface of the concrete.
For a completely different texture, consider an exposed aggregate concrete surface, a raised finish where the stones are visible.
For a complete change of materials, concrete paving stones may fill the bill.
Paul Koop, district manager of Barkman Concrete Ltd., a company that manufactures and sells the coloured paving stones through garden centres and retail outlets, said suitability to local climate conditions and variety of colours and patterns are the chief benefits.
He advised buyers to choose the smaller pavers of four inches to eight inches for a driveway as opposed to the large slabs, saying they are more suited to handling the weight of vehicles.
One of the most important reasons why people choose concrete pavers over straight concrete installations is the pavers' resistance to cracking, Koop said. Each of the individual paving stones is laid over layers of limestone and sand.
Poured concrete surfaces on the other hand are subject to cracking, said Koop. "It immediately develops hairline cracks," he said, noting that contractors typically place small saw cuts into the concrete to engineer where the cracks will appear.
"And that's not necessarily a shortcoming of concrete. You will still have a durable surface that will last years," said Koop.
John Berger, operations manager with Perimeter Concrete Ltd., a company that sells ready-mixed concrete, said the cuts are called control joints and encourage controlled cracking. They are shallow cuts no more than one-third the thickness of the poured concrete and do not damage the driveway, he said.
The look of the paving stone is also a hit with buyers, said Koop. "Esthetics is the clincher," he said. "You can create a unique cobblestone driveway." Some are antiqued to give them an aged look. "That makes it look more like natural stone, and that provides the warmth."
He said the concrete pavers will typically cost more than white mixed concrete but are comparable in cost to the coloured or stamped concrete when materials alone are considered, ranging from $2 per square foot to $3.20 per square foot.
Koop said do-it-yourselfers will find the paving stones relatively easy to install, an advantage. The pavers have to be laid on a bed of limestone topped by a layer of sand, but owners won't have to build a form, Koop said.
On the other hand, everyone interviewed stressed that pouring and building a concrete driveway is best left to those who have some expertise in this area because of the many variables involved in building a concrete driveway.
These include the need to buy the right kind of concrete, weather conditions and their effect on the poured concrete, how to deal with water that accumulates on the surface of the concrete, and the need not to overwork the surface, among others.
"For a homeowner to pour a sidewalk is very simple, but on a driveway that's 15 feet wide or 20 feet wide, for most people, they couldn't work fast enough on a driveway," said Jarrod Stevens, sales associate with Olympic Building Systems Ltd., referring to the process of finishing the surface. He said the concrete could begin to set in hours depending on weather conditions and other factors.
Stevens said mistakes could cost thousands of dollars if the concrete has to be ripped up and redone. In addition, creating the stamped and aggregate surfaces requires special skills.
Nevertheless, if you are experienced in working with concrete or if you are a novice who just wants to take their chances and learn something new, there are a number of basic procedures.
Prepare the ground by stripping off any grass, then lay a sand or limestone bed for the poured concrete and build a form to contain the wet concrete until it dries. Solomon said two-inch by four-inch or two-inch by six-inch lumber is suitable.
There are a number of release agents -- wax based, chemicals or treated paper -- that can make the wooden form release easily if needed, however Solomon said sticking should not be a problem because the wooden form is shallow.
Experts say the concrete should also be reinforced with horizontal and vertical bars of reinforced steel for maximum strength. A sealer must also be sprayed on the wet surface to help the concrete cure properly.
Berger said his company sells two different grades of mixed concrete suitable for driveways that it can deliver to a home. The most commonly used is 30 mega pascales air entrained (mpa), he said.
Solomon recommends that 32 mpa concrete be used. Berger said this grade is typically used on city streets.
Air entrained concrete contains air bubbles that help the concrete adjust to freeze/thaw cycles.
Asphalt, says Guy Combot, president of Superior Asphalt Paving Co., a contractor, will typically cost 30 to 40 per cent less than white concrete, can be repaired easily and wears really well over the winter.
"A lot of times we can heat up asphalt and re-roll it," he said, referring to repairs. But it may be a little hot on the feet in the summer, he said.
Marlin Wall, operations manager with Double B Paving, an asphalt paving contractor, agreed the material is easy to repair if cracking or settling occurs after years. "You can cut out small sections or repair the entire surface." Nor do you have to settle for the black asphalt look.
Top coats can be purchased in colours, say the contractors. "We have tennis court green, nice browns and rusts," said Combot.