How to Build a DIY Gravel Driveway
When you live in Texas, you really have to put the cooler Winter months to good use. That means tackling all the outdoor projects you can before the heat settles in. I have always envied neighbors' clean landscaping and clearly defined driveways. And I think a 2018 visit from my family when my then 10-year-old brother shouted, "You park on the grass!" was a clear sign we deserved a better parking area.
I was also very motivated to knock out one more big project before reaching out to the bank to see if I can get the PMI dropped off my mortgage. I thought a project that raised the house's curb appeal would really drive up the home's value, and a driveway seemed like a great one to tackle. I'm still going through that process with the bank, but I have high hopes.
I'm no professional landscaper, but here is how we tackled this thing step-by-step over the course of about a month.
Step 1: Define the shape and area
The very first thing I did was define the shape of the driveway. Using a piece of twine tied to a stake, I created a straight line from the street all the way up to the garage. Then I spray painted the line with bright orange spray paint.
This gave us a good guide to follow when we started digging out the ground. All of the curved areas closer to the street and the garage door were freehanded. Because we park side-by-side, we knew we needed the top of the driveway to be wider than the entrance. So we drove our cars over the dirt and parked like we normally would. Then we just followed the tire tracks to map out the shape of the driveway, and that was a simple way to guarantee it would be wide enough.
Step 2: Dig out the defined area
This step was by far the hardest. Shout out to Santi for doing most of this work! The tools we needed for this step the most were a pickaxe, a bow rake, a hoe, a square shovel, and a wheelbarrow.
You want to dig out about 2-4 inches of dirt across the entire area of the driveway. This is also a great opportunity to level out the ground.
It wasn't until we started to dig out the dirt that we had the idea for a raised bed. We needed somewhere to dump the dirt we were digging up, but we didn't want to pay to haul it off. Plus it just seemed wasteful, so we started piling all the excess dirt off to the side and built the ground up.
During the digging process, we discovered all sorts of different materials. This area clearly used to be a gravel driveway back in the day, but the gravel had been compacted and buried over the years. This made digging and leveling really tough, because we'd run into entire chunks of compacted rocks.
Our process will differ from yours based on your soil, but roughly this is how we dug and leveled:
Pickaxe an area to break up the soil, gravel, and limestone
Shovel out as much of the dirt as you can and set it aside (or ready it for haul off)
Rake out any larger rocks
Move the remaining soil around to level things out (We mostly just eyeballed the leveling, but would also take a 2x4 occasionally and drag it along the dirt to confirm how level things were.)
Rake things smooth
Repeat for the entire area of the driveway
Step 3: Line the edge with bricks or pavers and build the retaining wall
We found a great deal on about 400 bricks on Facebook Marketplace! This saved us a ton of money. Buying new, this many bricks would have cost us close to $600, but we got these for $160 (which included delivery)! So I highly recommend checking platforms like Marketplace, Nextdoor, Craigslist, etc. before buying new.
This step wasn't hard, but it was tedious. Laying the bricks two bricks wide and lining them up end-to-end, I created the outside retaining edge of the driveway. I used this landscaping adhesive to hold them together, and then, after whacking the bricks with a rubber mallet to get them level, I filled the cracks with sand.
The wall was a similar process. I started with the same base of two bricks, so it matched the opposite edge. Then in an alternating pattern and using the same landscaping glue, I stacked four layers of brick to create the wall.
Note: I was building the wall as Santi was digging out the ground. That allowed us to have a retaining area for the dirt to go as we went. We did not dig out all the dirt and then build the wall. That would have been very hard.
As we went, we put larger pieces of rock and gravel that we were digging up from the driveway along the inside of the wall to help prevent erosion.
Allow the glue to cure for at least 24 hours before putting any weight on the wall. Once I was done with the entire edge, I filled in the space between the bricks and the yard with dirt.
Step 4: Spread sand throughout entire driveway and tamp down
If your driveway area normally grows a lot of grass, you may want to lay down landscaping fabric at this stage, before you put down the sand. Because that area of our property barely grows any grass, we decided to skip this step and save the money.
We ordered sand through a local company who delivered and dumped it on our property. This saved a lot of time (and plastic!) vs. buying individual bags. Then, using a rake, we spread out the sand, moving more to areas that weren't quite level with the rest of the driveway.
In order to save time, we tamped down the sand with our cars and used a hand tamper to tamp down the edges.
Step 5: Spread gravel
We used the same company to order the gravel as we did the sand. And if you follow me on Instagram, you know there was a big debacle where they delivered the wrong size. Once we got that all sorted out, we had 5/8" limestone gravel delivered.
Determining how much we needed to order was pretty simple. I measured the area and then used this calculator I found online. I ordered enough for a depth of 3" of gravel, which came out to 10 cubic yards.
The company delivered the gravel in a giant dump truck, and they were able to drive forward through the driveway as the gravel was being dumped. This saved us a lot of time!
We shoveled the gravel into a wheelbarrow and dispersed it even more. Then using a rake, we spread it as evenly as we could throughout the entire driveway area.
Step 6: Fill the raised bed
Obviously, if you're not building a raised bed, you can skip this part. But once the actual driveway was complete, all we had to do was finish the raised bed! We laid down some landscaping fabric to prevent weeds. Then we planted our native landscaping plants as follows:
Cut an X in the landscaping fabric and open it up. You want your hole to be about twice as big as the plant's pot.
Dig out the crappy dirt and replace it with nutrient rich soil.
Put your plant in the hole, fill with more dirt, and fold the landscaping fabric back over.
We chose two different types of yucca and Mexican grass. Both plants are drought tolerant and can also withstand freezes. Perfect for Austin weather. Finally, we covered the entire area with mulch, and we were done!
And now for the fun part, photos!
Total Cost Break Down:
Loctite Landscape Adhesive (8 bottles): $45.72
Sand for bricks (10 bags): $37.67
Sand for driveway (2 cubic yards): $97.69
Sand Delivery Fee: $100
Gravel - 5/8" limestone (10 cubic yards): $569.56
Gravel Delivery Fee: $100
Landscaping Fabric: $29.20
Plants and soil for the raised bed: $318
Mulch for the raised bed (8 bags): $32.73
Total cost: $1,490.48
A couple of things to note here. Our total area was around 2,100 sqft, because we also graveled the side yard. So if you have a smaller space, it will likely cost you much less.
The quote I got to hire out the job was $5,000, and that didn't even include a retaining wall. That means we saved over $3,500 tackling this one ourselves! And I think we added a lot more than $1,500 in value to this little casa!
I also never include the cost of tools in a project, because tools get used again and again. They are an investment into future projects! Here is a list of all the tools we used for this project:
Caulk Gun (for the adhesive)