Homeless in Vancouver: Best ways to make driveways

If I was having a house built, based on what I’ve seen over the last nine years, I would want my driveway to be made from paving blocks.

Oh don’t scoff. Who sees more homes than a homeless binner? In the course of binning for returnable beverage containers in several Vancouver neighbourhhoods, I have not only seen a lot of different homes, but I’ve had the opportunity to see many of them for nine years. And I’ve noticed how they’ve held up over that time.

Mind you, I have no experience building anything more complex than a sandwich. So consider what follows accordingly.

Paving blocks are durable and really hold their looks

Paving blocks, or bricks, or stones, or whatever you call them just stand out from everything else in the way they maintain their original appearance year-after-year.

They handle gradual slopes and slight undulations quite well, and they appear to require no maintenance. Even when they’re neglected, as in the photo below, they look good.

Stanley Q. Woodvine

Concrete: homeowners get cracking by cutting corners?

Thousands of driveways look like this. There must be a point where the cracking stops.
Stanley Q. Woodvine

Concrete is far-and-away the most common driveway material by a wide margin. That could be due to both custom and cost; it can’t be durability, because they almost all inevitably start cracking. I can’t tell you how many years it takes to happen but it happens.

Flawless old concrete driveway. The sloping leading edge has been deeply embossed to reduce cracking.
Stanley Q. Woodvine

It has been explained to that done right, concrete will be more durable than blocks, bricks or asphalt. But “done right” means not cutting corners; it means going to the added time and expense of using rebar or steel mesh to reinforce the concrete.

That’s something homeowners rarely do. Concrete seems to crack first along lines where the slope changes, and I bet a lot depends on the stability of the bed the concrete is poured on. But, it seems you can only delay the inevitable—concrete will crack. And the more it cracks, the more the cracking will accelerate.

Asphalt benefits from special treatment

Stanley Q. Woodvine

The vast majority of Vancouver’s roads are made of asphalt and all I can say is public roads seem to hold up better than private driveways. I couldn’t say why.

Asphalt always looks so nice and smooth in the beginning but can looks particularly awful when it starts to crumble—which can happen surprisingly quickly.

Stanley Q. Woodvine

The City of Vancouver has experimented with patterning asphalt to look like cobblestones or paving blocks, and effect looks good and may even improve durability.

The patterned asphalt shown here is at Ontario Street and 11th Avenue; I think it was done about three years ago. The embossing was done simply with thin pieces of wood and the whole thing was painted over with a sealant paint.

It only handles pedestrian and bicycle traffic, but it’s still notable that it looks as good as the day it was made.

Special mention: gravel and carpeting

Stanley Q. Woodvine

Gravel driveways are popular. They can maintain a very consistent appearance, but I expect they require regular grooming and topping up with fresh gravel–the stuff gets everywhere.

This is weird and wonderful. One apartment building in Kitsilano “repaved” the crumbling parking lot behind their building with large chunks of carpet.

The pieces were laid over top one another in a slightly haphazard fashion, but they completely covered the old surface. The building did this a long time ago—maybe eight years—and damned if it hasn’t worked.

I think all the carpeting is overdue to be replaced but it’s still hanging in there. I can’t say it’s attractive—it’s not—but it’s been an eye-opener to see how durable it’s been

Comments (1) Add New Comment
asphalt more expensive
I spoke to one of the contractors doing major renovations 3 doors up recently, and he told me that concrete is about 1/4 the cost of asphalt.

This surprised me, considering the quality of the work done must've been more expensive than average.

They'd done a concrete driveway and retaining wall.


Gravel is good for water permeability, avoiding excessive run-off and replenishing the water table (not really an issue with how much rain we get). But it's a pain to shovel snow off of when that becomes necessary.


I do like this blog - keep it up!
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