What is a Paving & Driveway Contractor?
They are the construction experts to call if you want to renew your driveway and paving. Also, they can be hired to lay garden pathways and other paving jobs.
Why hire one?
Although some of the smaller paving jobs can be tackled by the keen do-it-yourselfer, driveway paving is a large-scale project, for experienced professionals only. A contractor will have access to the specialised tools and heavy equipment needed, and also would be able to foresee any difficulties that might come up during the job. Also, a contractor will know all local council regulations.
Choosing the best paving material for your needs
Decorative vs. Durability: How do I want to use this driveway?
There are many paving materials to choose from, and the best is not necessarily the most expensive. Your choice should be determined by the use you plan on giving the paving, as well as price. A driveway for everyday, heavy traffic will require different materials than a simple decorative garden path.
A brief guide to paving
Some paving materials are quite low in initial cost but may need reinstalling often, whereas others may be expensive but will last the life of the property. Let’s start from the bottom, using a block paving as an example.
An inside look
A VERY brief outline of all the layers and prep work.
Although we only see the surface, all paving is made up of layers, which give it stability and strength. We can’t expand on the technicalities here, but a brief description is given, just so you have an idea of what the contractor will be doing to your driveway:
- Digging: First, they will break the existing paving and dig the surface, shaving off a certain extent to accommodate the following layers.
- Geo-sheet: After levelling the ground, they may install a geo-sheet, a man-made separation membrane, between the now bare earth and the next layer. This is important if the earth is soft.
- Sub-base: The sub-base is the next layer they will put in. It is very important, as it is the main load-bearing layer. Usually, the sub-base will be a mixture of crushed rock and sand. Cement or tar is sometimes added.
- Bedding Layer: A layer of sand for the paving blocks to settle on.
- Paving Layer: The paving materials are laid in the pattern of our choice. The driveway is now starting to look like it should!
- Sealing: Fine sand is then brushed over the paving material, to seal the joints. It is later compacted.
In addition to this work, additional features such as borders and kerbs may also be included in your design.
Some common paving materials
This is the part we see, so logically it’s where we would like to focus our creativity. And there are so many possibilities! The first choice is either Man-made or Natural paving. In addition to tarmac, there is a great range of durable concrete-based materials available, some quite attractively patterned, but too many to mention here. Instead, here’s a list some of the more commonly used Natural paving materials:
- Bark: Cheap and readily available at most garden centres, shredded tree bark is not very durable, needing regular ‘topping up’. Although it’s certainly not the best material for a heavily used driveway, it is ideally suited for garden pathways because of its woody, natural look and for children’s play areas because it is soft and can provide some protection in the event of a fall. Good for DIY projects.
- Gravel: Available in several sizes and styles, gravel is also relatively cheap and suited for garden pathways and even driveways, if properly installed. Care must be taken to provide good drainage and a firm concrete foundation. Gravel paving may need occasional weeding in the warmer months.
- Cubes: Variously known throughout the U.K. as ‘setts’ and even ‘cobblestones’ (although the latter name is better suited to rounded pebbles – see below), these blocks of natural stone are available in a mind-boggling array of colours and finishes. ‘Durable’ is an understatement, as ancient Roman pavements of this material are still in regular use! Price depends on the type of stone, but it is invariably on the high side due to the high level of workmanship involved.
- Flagstones or Flags: Flat natural stone, usually Slate, Granite and Yorkstone, this paving material is stunning when laid expertly, but it is very labour-intensive and thus expensive. As with setts, price increases if you choose imported stone. Besides the many stone types, some suppliers also offer a variety of textured finishes, a safety consideration if the pavement is to be used for walking. Some stone types are better suited to heavy vehicular traffic than others, so ask your contractor or supplier.
- Cobblestones: Large, rounded river pebbles. Can be uncomfortable to walk on, so it is often used as a deterrent paving to discourage pedestrians. Moderately priced and virtually maintenance-free, cobblestones can be used in driveways, if carefully laid. Not really suited for garden pathways because they can be slippery, cobblestones can, however, make an attractive border for ponds and other garden features.
DIY? Pros and Cons of not calling the pros
While a large-scale job, such as a driveway, is best left to a professional, it is certainly possible to tackle something smaller - like a garden path - on your own. If you’re interested in do-it-yourself (DIY), and have some experience and skill in home improvement, it can be an enjoyable and rewarding project. In addition to the money you will save, you will also enjoy an intense physical workout! Be sure to research the project thoroughly before you begin.
If you do choose this option, please keep in mind your safety and that of your household. The most risky stage is the initial digging, when you could come across electrical cables. In the UK, these are usually black cables covered in some sort of armour, but they can also come inside steel or red plastic ducting. They are very dangerous. If you accidentally expose cables, contact your electrical supplier immediately, and keep children and pets well away from the site. Gas (usually yellow) and water pipes (usually blue) can also be found when digging. Although you are unlikely to break these pipes with ordinary digging tools, your supplier should be contacted immediately if you expose them. The colour-coding we have mentioned here is intended as a guideline only, as services in older homes may be coloured differently. Please use common sense and notify the relevant utility company if you expose any cabling or pipes while working.
Hiring a Paving & Driveway Contractor
How do I choose one?
There are two ways to do this:
As with all home improvement professionals, your local Yellow Pages will offer a wide selection of paving and driving contractors, usually under ‘Paving’ or ‘Landscaping’. Also, many now have web pages where you can look at photographs of their work. In both cases, always look for membership in a recognised trade body, such as the Guild of Master Craftsmen (GMC), or the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). Still, this is a rather blind approach, and a disadvantage is that you will have to take the contractor at his/her word, unless you…
- Weed out the cowboys, or how to spot a dishonest contractor
It’s every homeowner’s nightmare: Hiring a contractor that seemed capable on first impression, only to have him/her make a mess of your beautiful home through lack of skill! Luckily, your best protection against this disappointment is good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Ask friends, family or neighbours for recommendations (or warnings!) regarding local contractors. Ask them if the work was completed in schedule and within budget. Also, you can ask the prospective contractor for a portfolio of references and photos of their work. Any good contractor will be happy to show you these. If they’re not, you should probably look elsewhere. A list of costumer’s addresses would also be helpful, as you could personally see the work and maybe even speak to the customer.
What comes next?
After you’ve decided on a paving material and chosen some prospective contractors (ideally 3), then it’s time to start talking shop. First, you need to arrange a visit from them to inspect the site, so that they may offer a more accurate estimate. Insist on a written estimate from each and make sure it includes the exact amount and type of material to be used, as well as any extras. VAT should also be included.
Compare the estimates. The one offering the lowest price is not always your best choice. In fact, a very low price should ring an alarm bell, as it may mean the contractor is willing to cut corners by using cheap materials. Ask if you are dealing with the contractor who will actually do the job, as some companies will sub-contract. Make sure you understand the Terms and Conditions section of the contract, and don’t hesitate to ask your contractor about anything that isn’t clear enough. He/she should be glad to go over these details with you. An intimidating contractor is not your best choice.
Once you have chosen a contractor, allow for some time before work starts, usually a few weeks. Start and estimated completion dates should be specified in the contract. Be cautious of contractor willing to start immediately, as it may mean he/she has few clients.
Questions to ask your Paving & Driveway Contractor?
- How will this job be guaranteed? (Get this in writing).
- Does the price stated include VAT?
- Do I need to leave you the keys to my home? (Warning: DON’T!)
- Are you fully insured?’ They should produce a Public Liability document.
- Does the estimate include the complete project?’ All materials and any grading or drainage work should be included.
A very thorough advice website that includes detailed coverage of every aspect of paving.
An American website with good general advice.