Paths, patios, driveways and paving. How to do it right

summer house we also did in their beautiful garden

Successful patios, paths, or at least ones that have been successfully built, can quickly make a real difference in both use and overall look, and can actually add value to your house if done correctly.

The driveway and all the walkways around the home need not be an expensive home improvement and various different materials are available to suit budget and taste too, so let’s have a quick look at the most common types of path or driveway and what may be suitable for your next exterior home improvement.

A path is, by definition, a route or way of getting from one place to the other, but I really don’t need to explain that further, it’s pretty obvious you all know what a path is! That goes for patios and driveways too!

Whilst we look at the different types of hardstanding, it’s worth noting that you can use this information to create a new path or drive, or to update or repair an existing one, each homeowner has different needs so this is more of a general overview and I hope it comes in handy.

It pays to plan ahead when building a pathway.

Starting with paths, in planning on creating or renewing a path around your home, or on your land, it’s important to plan ahead, even if it’s just 2 sides of A4 paper with some notes and a sketch or plan of where the new path will go.

You most certainly don’t have to produce something that would worthy of a place on an Architects office wall, but you MUST, and I really do mean MUST make some sort of plan or you stand a chance of the whole thing going wrong, even the simplest straight line and short path.

Just draw a plan of the garden, or wherever the path is located, and take some measurements of the garden and how long and wide the path is going to be if you’re building a new one.

TOP TIP: Taking some good measurements when building a new path, will also help you plan how much building materials you are going to need later on.

The planning task is not quite over yet though as there is one thing you do have to consider in the plan and the cost, even if you haven’t chosen, or even thought of, what material you are going to use on your path, it’s how are you going to make sure water drains away.

You must also plan for drainage when building your path

Rain must not be allowed to settle on your path, or it could cause problems later on.

Rain must not be allowed to settle on your path, or it could cause problems later on.

Any path or driveway needs some form or way of carrying rain water away from the surface, even if it is something as simple as a driveway built on a very slight incline so water runs back out into the street and into the drains.

When building a new path, always plan for drainage issues and work out where the water will drain away, before you start on the job! For driveways that will have a car sat on them, remember your new surface needs to withstand a lot of weight, a major factor in considering what building material to use.

The choice for foot paths is far more wide as far as what products or system you can use, and path ways allow the more adventurous of us to bring some STYLE into the proceedings too!

What else to consider when planning to build a new path?

Before we look at the types of building material on offer for paths and drives, we also need to remind ourselves of adherence to safety when building something of this nature, especially if the work is going to be done by yourself and not a contractor.

Sometimes your local garden landscaping contractor can build a path for you if you don’t fancy taking on the job yourself, and of course he or she would know how to lay your new path so as to COMPLEMENT the garden rather than looking totally out of place, or even built with the wrong materials, or even worse (!), one that is so badly built it lasts you no longer than 6 months!

A nice view of a garden with rocking chairs

It’s up to you whether you DIY it or “get a man in”, but don’t try and do major work if you don’t know what you’re doing as the risk of injuring yourself isn’t worth it.

Lastly, for now anyway, the budding path builder needs to consider planning laws, building licenses or codes that may have to be consulted, especially if your home is in a conservation/historic area or has legal stipulations governing what sort of work can and can’t be done, so if in doubt, consult a lawyer or chartered surveyor.

Depending on how your home is built and how close you are to other homes, you may find it helpful to consult your neighbour, especially if your new path abuts directly up against the boundary of their property. It is best to get any objections or concerns out of the way BEFORE work starts as it’s a damn site easier to remedy now rather than after work has finished and your neighbour is livid as you have encroached 2 inches onto his land!

Don't p*ss your next door neighbour off with the work!

Don’t p*ss your next door neighbour off with the work!

So now you know WHO will build your path, how LONG or WIDE it will be, it’s LOCATION in the yard or garden, and you are pretty sure you know WHAT you will use it for (access to bottom of garden, path to a new patio, a driveway for the car), you are ready to choose the preferred building material.

What building material should I use for my new path?

The amount of different materials to use for your new path or drive are endless so here are the 5 most common materials that people use, although there are a lot more besides this.

1. Tarmac or asphalt

This is very common sort of path or driveway, resists impact, is non slip and provides good drainage. The downside is you can’t really do this yourself, you have to call a contractor in, but it’s a good and easy material and should last a long time. It’s very well suited for car driveways.

Choose your contractor VERY carefully though as there a massive amount of cowboy companies who do a poor job, like the photo below, so be warned and choose wisely, and don’t choose the cheapest tarmac estimate either.

bad tarmac job

DON’T employ a tarmac contractor who knocks at your door or your drive could fall part within weeks.

2. Concrete for paths and driveways

Concrete has been used for centuries for paths and for roadways and its hard wearing and water resistant, plus with a bit of knowledge and a cement mixer (which can be hired), you could lay a path yourself using this method, but it does expand and contract so make sure you add expansion joints every so often in your design.

Concrete can also pick up dirt and moss, especially in shaded areas, but a light clean each year with a powerwasher is generally all you need, and this is what’s about to happen to the driveway below!

A concrete driveway from the 70s

If you are laying a concrete path, you can also create curves in the pathway, but you would need to create shuttering, a wooden frame, for the concrete to set in. Colour can also be added in the form of mixtures that are added to the mix.

3. Pattern imprinted concrete

This is a very effective and stylish way of bringing some style and colour into your garden or in front of your home. Many companies offer this, but it is not a DIY system unfortunately.

There are many styles and colours available, the only drawback being if an area needs repair in the future, for example a burst water pipe underneath the pathway, it’s virtually impossible to match in old and new.

Pattern imprinted concrete, with a black colouring added to the mix and finished with a cobblestone pattern

Pattern imprinted concrete, with a black colouring added to the mix and finished with a cobblestone pattern

Once again, extreme caution must be taken, and lots of research done before you choose a paving contractor to do this kind of work as it takes a lot of preparation to do it properly and this kind of job is NOT cheap!

4. Paving slabs

Paving slabs are often made in pre-cast form, from concrete, and usually a colour is added too. They are hard wearing, cheap to buy and come in a variety of textures and colours. One problem is that unless you are an expert with laying a foundation for a path, over the years the ground underneath can shift under each slab, causing an unsightly and uneven surface like the photo below.

This is more common when keeping a vehicle on your slab-built drive with the uneven weight usually on the same 4 slabs where the car is parked.

paving slabs

Paving slabs are cheap, can be laid by any DIY’er but they soon discolour and attract weeds in the gaps.

Another big problem with slabs is the fact that the gaps between them can easily crack and weather, attracting weed growth, like the one’s above which were laid in the 70’s or 80’s, but as they are so cheap to buy, replacing them with new ones can brighten up an entire path, patio or garden, for very little cost.

5. Gravel or chippings

Gravel is a good no-nonsense solution to creating a hard standing, a driveway or a path and due to its nature, it’s easy enough to create and always provides good drainage.

TOP TIP: For the security conscious amongst you, a gravel driveway is an excellent deterrent for would be night time burglars as its virtually impossible to walk on without creating a noise, which sounds a bit like a giant eating rice crispies. (!?)

There are many different colours and sizes of stones with which you can lay down to create your path or driveway, going all the way down to the somewhat “posh” pea gravel, which are actually pebbles, although sometimes they come from inland quarries, where the sea once was, many millions of years ago.

The pebbles used are almost identical to stones used to create traditional pebbledash and require a bit more thought in their use as they move around quite a lot with traffic on the path.

gravel driveway outside a house

This sort of driveway is easy to install, rarely requires planning permission and in future years the work can be quickly reversed if the homeowner changes their mind and wants to opt for a different drive surface.

Other driveway and patio surfaces to consider

We have looked at the most common everyday surfaces that go to make up hard landscaping projects such as a new patio or drive, however if you can stretch your budget there are other options available.

These commonly include Bonded resin driveways, an example of which can be seen in the SECOND image on this page. Stones are mixed with a flexible resin and then cold pored onto a ready-prepared exterior floor. This is ideal for undulating land too, but the process can be quite costly.

Brick paving is another popular source of paths and driveways but as we said above, it is only as good as the preparation taken to lay this and quite often when the bricks are laid, sand is simply poured onto the blocks and then brushed over, which can actually come away again over time. If the base has not been done properly the bricks can also move or at worst, crack.

Crazy paving is something that was touted as a fun DIY project back in the 70’s but unless it is done tastefully and with a good quality stone, it can look pretty awful so this is one to avoid if you can.

crazy paving

This crazy paving, done in the 1980’s, is about to be ripped up and replaced, and about time too!

One of the big problems with this, apart from its looks awful is that, as you can see in the image, the mortar soon cracks after a few winters, allowing weed growth, making it look even worse.

So what’s it going to be then?

As can be seen here, there is a variety of surfaces and materials that can be used for your path, drive or patio, but it’s best to consider a budget, consider if it is something that you can do or you have to call a contractor in, and also don’t think it’s as easy as it looks!

A new driveway can increase the value of your house especially if you live in a central city area where parking is scarce, and that goes for installing a new patio or a path where one never existed before. All the above exterior home improvements can add value to your home and make living there that much more enjoyable.

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