Monday, July 21, 2008

Driveway Musing, Day 1

As I type this, the floor to the home office vibrates and the air is filled with the bass hums and alto chattering of power tools at work.  Today is the day work starts on our new driveway and patio.  It has been a long journey.

We remodeled our house four years ago.  We added a master suite in the back and a dining room in the front, and stirred the rooms in between vigorously.  That gave us more than enough to think about, so we didn't really consider fixing our threadbare old concrete driveway. But when the contractors poured a slab to extend our patio to our old driveway, they graded it to guide most of the runoff from our addition, garage, and back yard into the lowest spot available.  The lake it formed was impressive, so long as you didn't have to get into the garage.  

This last year saw some record rains in Los Angeles, and we watched the lake grow each time from a friendly puddle to a body of water stretching the 20 or 30 feet from our back steps to the garage door.  Wavelets lapped against the garage, the deepest part easily reached my ankles.  We joked about shorefront properties and marinas, and thought uncharitable thoughts about those that left us in this mess.  The lake evaporated eventually, only to be replaced by the next storm.  By the end of winter we definitely had had enough.

Thus began the search for the new driveway.  Did we want to just add drains and replace the old with a new one just like it?  Did we want to add brickwork?  How about pavers or cement squares with groundcover in between?  We got ads in the mail and on our doorstep from various companies; I saw cool ideas in home magazines like Sunset.  The magazine ideas were great, but most of them assumed this was a do-it-yourself project, and we knew this one was too large for us.  So we would go with a company.

We settled on pavers as our first choice, and did a bit of research into the cost of installing new driveways.  We wanted help with design, we're definitely amateurs when it comes to design options on big projects like this.  Some sound advice on shape and color, some good ideas on whether or not to widen, all of these would be worth a bit extra in cost.  

We had been getting ads from remodeling and landscaping companies, and one particular company stood out.  Every ad we got from System Pavers had a variety of pictures of walkways and driveways, and each described a special offer to make the deal even better.  We got a flyer in early July, with some very sweet sounding deals, and after doing a final review of the information on their website, my husband called and made an appointment for an estimate.

Their salesman was friendly without being familiar, assumptive without being pushy.  He was, in short, a true artist at the sales presentation and a joy to watch in action.  He steered us to the lower end of the price scale (definitely our end) without mentioning cost; instead he pointed out that the more expensive pavers were too large to look good on our narrow driveway.  He offered some extras like tumbling.  This is like getting pre-washed jeans; the stones look a bit worn around the edges.  He suggested some colors and patterns.  He suggested a \combination that looked good to us and we went for it.  That was Wednesday evening.  By Friday we had our start date, and we were set to go.

Today the crew arrived and got right to work demolishing the old driveway and patio.  They used sledgehammers, jackhammers, and a mini bobcat to break up the old concrete.  For those into concrete, our driveway was old enough that there were no reinforcing rods in it.  The bobcat was also handy for dumping the rubble into the truck to haul away.  By lunchtime they were starting to lay lines to grade the patio portion.  A bit later the gravel layer was going in.  As a portion was filled in it was leveled smooth, and then pummeled flat with a vibrating machine to compact it.  By the time they left, gravel filled all but the last quarter of the driveway, and there were piles of sand for the next layer at one end.

Until next time!

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