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How to Build a Concrete Driveway

Concrete driveways are permanent, low maintenance additions to your home that can improve its appearance, give kids a safe place to ride scooters, decrease erosion, and make keeping your car clean easier. Building one is a labor-intensive and costly project, but for die-hard do-it-yourselfers, building your own can be a challenging, but rewarding project. Please note the safety information below when working with concrete!


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    Develop a plan for your driveway. You will want to consider a number of things so that the driveway is functional, aesthetically pleasing, and durable. Here are some considerations.
    • Where will you turn your car around to enter the street? If your home is near a blind corner where oncoming traffic can be hazardous, you may want to create a circle drive, so you have the advantage of facing the street when pulling from your driveway, or make the drive wide enough to turn your car around when pulling out.
    • What is the lay of the land? If you are building on a hill, you will need to pay special attention to drainage to decrease soil erosion, as well as being careful that the contour is not so steep that you will bottom out your vehicle.
    • What obstructions are in the way of your project? Large rocks or trees may be difficult to remove without heavy equipment, and often it is desirable to leave these in place, so determining the path of the drive so it can either curve around obstacles or bypass them is essential.
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    Do a cost estimate of the driveway. To do this, you will have to calculate the amount of concrete you will need, the type of forms you will use, and any reinforcement material you will incorporate in the concrete slab. You should also estimate the cost of any equipment you will rent for grading or finishing, and the cost of labor if you intend to hire workers to help with the project.
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    Check with the local jurisdictional agencies to determine what engineering and permitting requirements may affect your driveway. Since you are most likely abutting, or tying into, a residential street, you will probably have to egress on municipal or county right-of-way, which could impact buried utilities, stormwater runoff, or other existing conditions.
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    Determine the soil bearing characteristics of your project site. Soft, loamy soils or loose, sandy soils need amending to support your drive. This can be done by adding clay to sandy soils, sand or gravel to loamy material, or possibly by mechanically compacting the existing material. If you are in doubt, consult an experienced builder or even a civil engineer before proceeding, since an unsuitable base will lead to failure of the concrete after your investment of time, labor, and money.
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    Lay out the sides of your driveway. You can do this by driving small wooden or metal stakes at points where the drive will egress the street, then at the end point near your home, then tying builder's line on them, to help you visualize the path of the driveway.
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    Measure the width of the drive so that it corresponds with the plan you have made. This may be an appropriate step to consider the width you will build in. A minimum width for a typical residential driveway is about eight feet, but even for a single lane drive, ten or twelve feet is better. For two lane drives, sixteen feet should be considered minimum.
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    Remove any sod or other vegetation from the driveway location after you have established the edges with builder's line. Note, again, if the soil is particularly soft or unstable, you will want to remove enough so that a suitable fill material can be placed under the driveway as you build. Note that in very cold climates, a capillary fill material like crushed stone or gravel is desirable, to prevent cracks from forming and enlarging due to water expansion during freezing conditions.
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    Determine if there are any underground utilities that should be modified or installed before adding fill material or setting forms. Some typical ones might be conduits for outdoor lighting or power, water lines for irrigation, as well as telephone lines or potable water lines for you home. Your property may also slope in such a way as to require an underground stormwater drainage pipe to transfer surface water from one side of your drive to another, or you may abut the street where water flows perpendicular to the new drive, requiring a culvert pipe to be installed so this flow is not impacted.
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    Install the forms for your driveway. Typically, these will be 1x4 or 2x4 nominal lumber, anchored with wooden stakes sufficiently to support the form boards. These stakes are driven into the soil with a sledgehammer at a spacing to keep the form boards on grade and straightly aligned. For curving drives, Masonite or plywood that is strong enough to support the concrete load, but flexible enough to bend for radii may be needed.
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    Grade the fill material or existing soil so that your slab of concrete will be the correct depth, or thickness. Usually driveways are at least four inches thick; for heavier vehicles or difficult to stabilize soil conditions, thicker concrete is suggested. Grading is done by placing a straightedge or tying a string across the top of your forms and measuring down to the soil, to the correct depth. Remove or add fill material with a shovel. You may also want to thicken the edges, or make them deeper, for additional strength and to decrease the likelihood of cracking. Often, these small, monolithic footings, are eight inches deep and eight to twelve inches wide.
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    Compact the fill material using a plate compactor, rented from a local tool rental establishment, or if there is none available, a hand tamp, which can be purchased at a home improvement or hardware retailer. You may be able to compact the soil by driving a vehicle back and forth over it, taking care not to become stuck if it is particularly soft when you begin. The important thing to note, is that the compaction of the soil is what will support the weight of the concrete, as well as the subsequent load of vehicles using the drive, so the importance of having compacted, stable fill material cannot be overstated.
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    Install reinforcing steel if desired. This can be a mat of steel reinforcing bars tied in place, typically number 4 rebar on 12 inch (30.5 cm) centers, or 6X6 welded wire reinforcing wire fabric, available at building supply stores. Another option is to have polypropylene fiber reinforcing added to the concrete mixture at the concrete plant.
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    Plan your pour, that is, the placement of your concrete, carefully. You will need the proper tools for the job, sufficient help to do it, and access for concrete trucks or an alternative method of placing the concrete in the forms. Wheel barrowing the plastic concrete the length of a substantial driveway is labor-intensive, so if you cannot get the concrete trucks in a position to discharge their payload directly into your forms, consider hiring a concrete pumping contractor to place the material for you.
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    Finish the slab as desired. You will want to get the surface as flat (note, this does not mean level) as possible to avoid bird baths, or standing water, on it. You will also want to make sure the finish is not too smooth or slippery for traction for your car. A broom, or sack finish is often used. Either of these is created by dragging the aforementioned item (a push broom, or burlap sack) across the concrete while it is still slightly plastic, leaving a rough texture on its surface.
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    Cure the concrete. This is done by creating a moisture retaining barrier on the concrete's surface, either with a layer of plastic sheeting, or by applying a chemical curing compound to prevent the concrete from drying out too quickly. You should protect your concrete drive from extreme weather conditions for at least three, and preferably seven days, so that it achieves its maximum strength.
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    Test drive your driveway. After allowing the concrete to cure sufficiently to support your vehicle...a minimum of three days, preferably more, drive your car on it to test its usability.
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    Remove the forms, and repair the landscaping along the edges where the lawn was damaged in the forming process.


  • Select the location of your driveway carefully, considering future plans for any additions to your home or other building projects that it may interfere with.
  • Use caution when allowing concrete delivery trucks on to your property. Concrete trucks often weigh in excess of 65,000 lbs. In areas with soft or even slightly damp soil these heavy trucks will often leave deep tire ruts in the turf that are hard to repair (due to the soil compression). It is often better when pouring a driveway to have the truck drive on the freshly laid and compacted gravel base layer. Use caution when allowing heavy vehicles over curbs as they can crush the edges of existing curbs and roadways.
  • Consult experienced people in your area to determine specific requirements for this type of work in your area. It is very common for a local government to have specific thickness and reinforcement requirements for the segment of a driveway (often called the apron) that connects the the street or curb or are laid in an easement.
  • Consider alternative materials for your drive, such as brick, compacted crushed rock, or concrete pavers.
  • Consider using permeable concrete or other materials such as decomposed granite if stormwater runoff could create a problem.


  • Wear and use proper personal protective equipment during all phases of work. Concrete can cause severe burns and contact dermatitis. Avoid contact with the skin, especially kneeling in the concrete, or getting it into boots. Thoroughly wash any affected area immediately. In case of contact with eyes, irrigate thoroughly and seek medical attention immediately. Burns can appear after several hours and may not appear straightaway.
  • Concrete is an extremely heavy material which can weigh more than 140 lbs per cubic foot. Shoveling, lifting, raking, or carrying concrete in buckets may cause severe muscle strain in your back, arms, or legs.
  • Concrete can be difficult to grade, level, and finish. Failure to complete the finishing work will result in less than desirable results.

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