Repairing or Replacing Driveways

AFTER one of the most turbulent winters in years, many homeowners are discovering that their driveways have fallen victim to the freeze-thaw cycle.

As snow melts, some of the runoff seeps into cracks and crevices that may be present in an otherwise sturdy-looking driveway. Then, when temperatures drop back below freezing, water trapped inside those cracks and under the driveway expands as it freezes, causing further cracking, crumbling and even heaving — and setting the stage for even more water infiltration and more damage when the next cycle occurs.

There are a number of options for repairing or replacing a damaged driveway.

“What you have to do to repair a driveway depends on how big the cracks and holes are,” said John Fix, the owner of Cornells True Value Hardware in Eastchester, N.Y.

Mr. Fix said that narrow cracks — those no wider than one-quarter inch — could often be filled with liquid crack-fillers sold in most hardware stores and home centers. “If the cracks are real deep, you should backfill them with sand first,” he said.

Slightly larger cracks, Mr. Fix said, can be filled with thicker material that can be troweled into the crack. The material, a tarlike substance with a puttylike consistency, is usually sold in one-gallon cans and costs about $7 a gallon.

For holes in a driveway, he said, it is usually necessary to fill the opening with a patching material and then tamp the material down to compress it as much as possible. Mr. Fix pointed out that before filling a hole, any debris must be cleaned away and any crumbling or loose asphalt removed from the edges.

“You almost have to make it worse to make it better,” Mr. Fix said. “But the more work you put into it, the longer the repair will last.”

Homeowners who do not have the equipment to tamp down the patching material, he said, can improvise.

“You can take a sheet of plywood, put it over the patched hole, and park the car on it for a couple of days,” he said. Mr. Fix added that in most cases, the more expensive patching material adhered better and lasted longer than less expensive material. “You can usually tell the quality of patching material by picking up the bag,” he said. “The better stuff flexes; the cheaper stuff is hard as a rock. Prices range from $5 to $9 a 60-pound bag.”

While filling and patching cracks and holes will provide temporary relief for a problem driveway, it is difficult to make such repairs without leaving tiny cracks and fissures that will allow water to penetrate — and freeze — next year. There is a way, however, to patch an asphalt driveway and leave the surface nearly as good as new.

Thomas Eosso, an owner of Eosso Brothers Paving in Matawan, N.J., said that a machine that uses infrared heat to basically melt the top three inches of driveway surface could help to make seamless, crackless patches or even to fill depressed, sunken areas that allowed water to puddle on the surface.

“I’ve heated up 30-year-old pavement,” Mr. Eosso said, explaining that once the surface was heated sufficiently, the asphalt had nearly the same consistency as it did when first installed. When that happens, he said, additional material can be added and blended with the existing material, and then raked and tamped for a virtually invisible repair.

Since the heating, raking and tamping process takes time and special equipment, the cost varies depending on the extent of the repair, with a minimum charge being about $500. And in some cases, Mr. Eosso said, a driveway is in such bad condition that the only effective solution is to replace it.

In most cases, he said, a standard quality driveway must have a base of at least four inches of three-quarter-inch gravel covered by at least two-and-a-half inches of blacktop.

“After you install the gravel, you should let it sit at least two weeks for settlement,” Mr. Eosso said, adding that installing the asphalt without allowing the gravel to settle will lead to cracks and depressions in the finished product. A contractor must also consider the soil conditions under the driveway to install a driveway that will last. For example, he said, while a standard driveway will perform well on sandy, well-drained soil, additional steps must be taken when the soil is poorly drained clay.

For such conditions, Mr. Eosso said, it is often necessary to excavate down eight inches and then install a water-permeable “road fabric” before backfilling with four inches of gravel. “The fabric allows for drainage but keeps the gravel from sinking into the clay,” he said, adding that after the gravel has settled, it is then topped off with two layers of asphalt. “That’s the gold standard,” he said, adding that such a driveway would cost about $3.25 a square foot, about a dollar more a square foot than a standard driveway.

Mr. Eosso said that there are also a number of options for lining the edges of a new driveway.

“Belgian Block is the best and the most expensive,” he said, referring to large, whitish-gray stone that costs as much $20 a linear foot. Another possibility, he said, is to set paving stones in cement along the edges of the driveway. “Pavers range from $14 to $16 a foot,” he said. Another popular option, Mr. Eosso said, is to use an L-shaped metal bracket called Permalock. “It’s easy to install and it makes the edge perfectly straight,” he said, “And it only costs about $6 a foot.”

Ron Belizze, president of Yonkers Paving Concepts in Yonkers, said that there are also options available for replacing an existing driveway using concrete or interlocking bricks known as paving stones.

Concrete, Mr. Belizze said, while durable, is also expensive. “You can spend anywhere from $6 to as much as $15 a square foot for concrete,” he said, adding that the difference would generally depend upon the thickness of the concrete, with the best-quality driveways being six to eight inches thick.

Another possibility, Mr. Belizze said, is to build a driveway out of interlocking paving blocks. “To do pavers properly, you have to excavate a minimum of eight inches and lay down a bed of crushed rock and stone,” he said, adding that pavers cost $10 to $12 a square foot.

Those who want the look of stone while paying only a bit more than they would pay for asphalt can use “imprinted asphalt” known as StreetPrint, which costs from $5 to $7 a square foot, he said.

“Basically, we install a traditional asphalt driveway and then we lay down steel wire rope templates on the fresh pavement,” Mr. Belizze said. The templates — which act like waffle irons — imprint a texture in the warm asphalt, giving it the look of individually installed paving stones. The asphalt surface is then top-coated with colored polymer material to complete the effect. In addition to enhancing the appearance of the driveway, Mr. Belizze said, the polymer coating seals it and protects against water infiltration and ultraviolet damage.

“The coatings generally last six to eight years,” he said, adding that the driveway can then be recoated for about $1 a square foot. “And if it’s done properly, you’d never know you were standing on asphalt.”