5 Mistakes to Avoid When Building a Gravel Driveway

gravel driveway leading to home and garage buildings
  • 2-10 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 1,000
What You'll Need
Gravel (multiple sizes for different layers)
Geotextile fabric
Wood (for edging driveway) or bricks or concrete blocks (for retaining wall)
Tamping machine or hand-operated roller
What You'll Need
Gravel (multiple sizes for different layers)
Geotextile fabric
Wood (for edging driveway) or bricks or concrete blocks (for retaining wall)
Tamping machine or hand-operated roller

You can build a gravel driveway that will cost less than a paved driveway but last just as long. As an added bonus, it is not a difficult driveway type to build yourself without turning to professionals for aid in your driveway building endeavors.

If you don't mind the extra maintenance required, you’ll find that gravel is a very effective material for a driveway. Keep in mind that for the novice do-it-yourselfer, though, there are certain mistakes you will need to avoid, so consider the following as you plan and construct your own gravel driveway.

1. Spongy Bed

Don't even think of spreading gravel until you've prepared the ground where you'll be laying it. Many people skip this step, but it is incredibly important in order to ensure a proper gravel driveway that lasts a long time and does not have issues.

Building a driveway on soft soil that has roots, leaves, grass, weeds, and other types of debris creates a spongy surface that asks for trouble down the road.

You will need to remove all topsoil and strip the soil down to hard rock so you will have a more dependable bed over which to lay your gravel driveway. Remove your topsoil and pile it somewhere nearby where you'll be able to use it later. Do not discard it just yet.

2. Poor Drainage

A driveway that is not leveled for proper drainage will eventually be damaged by eroding water. It can even become a mud hole when silt from below is forced up into the gravel. This fine silt can cause the gravel pieces to lose their friction and begin to separate and weaken.

Under these conditions, your gravel will soon become buried in a quagmire. To keep this from happening, install a layer of geotextile fabric between your subsoil and the bottom layer of gravel.

Again, do not skip this step, as burdensome as it may seem, because you will regret it in the long run when your DIY gravel driveway has a short lifespan instead of lasting years.

3. Failure to Use Side Forms

Gravel that is spread on a surface without secure wooden forms or edges will eventually be squeezed outward from the driveway and will scatter on adjacent surfaces such as sidewalks, lawns, patios, or even a nearby street. This will make it difficult to play in your yard and can damage a lawn mower or other devices if you are using them in a yard that has gravel in it.

Another possibility is to lay a retaining wall of brick or concrete block rather than wood to prevent your gravel from spreading beyond the boundaries of the driveway.

You can get creative with the side forms. Make sure you pick an option that will secure your gravel driveway and give the area a sophisticated look. Pick a color scheme that makes sense with the rest of your entranceway. Make sure to use side forms than add to, rather than subtract from, your home.

4. Using Gravel of the Wrong Size and Shape

Unless your base layer of gravel pieces is at least 3 inches to 4 inches in diameter, you can expect them to shift and sink when the weight from vehicles is placed on top of them. These pieces should be angular and have sharp edges.

Round-edged pieces are unable to lock in place with adjacent pieces, but sharp-edged pieces can be almost as solid as a single large rock. Pieces on the final, top layer should be no larger than a golf ball. The total thickness of your driveway with layers of various-sized gravel pieces should be about 12 inches.

Make sure to pay attention to the size of gravel you are purchasing before you buy gravel for the project. When in doubt, ask someone at a store for help.

The best sizes of gravel for a driveway and for a garden path are not the same, so you should also keep in mind what you will be using gravel for when you purchase it from a home improvement store, a gardening store, or even from online.

5. Base Layers Not Compacted

Your driveway should be composed of various layers of gravel, but unless each layer is compacted, the driveway will not retain its shape. This is a complaint some people have with gravel driveways—the shape being lost—but it can be avoided if you make sure the base layers of gravel are compacted.

Each layer should be about 4 inches thick and have gravel pieces smaller than the layer below it. Compact individual layers as you lay them down by tamping with a machine or hand-operated roller.

Do not skip this step just because it will add some time to the project. It will be worth it in the long run as your project will have a longer lifeline and look much better than if you skip this step.

gravel driveway leading up hill to house

What Are the Cons of a Gravel Driveway?

While gravel may be a great driveway option for some, it is not for everyone. If you have an expensive, low-to-the-ground car, a gravel driveway may not be the best option for you, as gravel can damage the undercarriage of your vehicle when it is kicked up.

Gravel is also generally not recommended if you live in an area with lots of snow and rain. Large amounts of water on your gravel driveway can cause it to sink and cause holes in the driveway which is not good for your vehicles.

Gravel driveways wear out faster than many other driveway tops, meaning you will need to replace stones that have been lost and fill holes regularly. This makes gravel a more maintenance-heavy driveway type compared to many others. If you are getting holes from rain and snow, you will need to fill them regularly.

Gravel driveways are also less stable than other driveway types. If you are driving on a flat surface, this may not cause an issue for the average homeowner. However, if your driveway is on a slope, the lack of stability can be a huge issue. If your driveway has a large slope, gravel may not be a good option for you.

A gravel driveway can also be dustier than other driveway types and make your car dusty. This means you may need to spend extra money keeping your vehicle clean.

Gravel driveways are also more prone to weeds than other driveway types because of the loose structure associated with gravel driveways. If you do not want to do a lot of maintenance work, a gravel driveway is probably not a good idea for you.

How Can I Make My Gravel Driveway Look Better?

If you have decided a gravel driveway is the right choice for you, the best way to make it look better is to install it properly. This will ensure a tight, compact look.

The other no-brainer when it comes to making your gravel driveway look better is to keep up with the maintenance. A driveway with weeds is always going to be an eyesore rather than an attractive feature in the entranceway to your home, so make sure to get rid of weeds as soon as they pop up on your gravel driveway. This will also keep them from spreading and furthering the problem.

Edging your driveway is another great way to increase its curb appeal. Consider planting colorful bushes or flowers at the edge of your driveway to make it look like a statement piece. You could also add it with brick pavers to give it a finished, complete look that will make it look very attractive.

You could also match the color of the gravel to other features of your home, such as the color of your roof. This will help the home and the driveway tie together and look complete.

You could also add a gate or archway at the front of your garage. This will give the driveway more charm and make it look like part of a grander entranceway to your home than a gravel driveway would on its own.

How Do I Keep My Gravel Driveway from Sinking?

The best way to prevent your gravel driveway from sinking is to install it properly, taking care to appropriately compact the base layer and use the right size pieces of gravel.

If you have found this is not enough, you could try using honeycomb trays to stabilize loose gravel. This can also prevent weed growth which is an extra benefit to using the trays.

You should also make sure you are not getting it too wet. Dosing the gravel driveway in water every day can cause the same issues as heavy rain or snowfall so make sure you are not getting the driveway too wet.

Edging the driveway with something like brick pavers will also help as it will prevent unwanted things from getting into your driveway and decreases the risk of those items sinking into the driveway in the long run.

How Do You Even Out a Gravel Driveway?

A good way to ensure a gravel driveway is level is to use a rake. This will allow you to smooth out the area and make sure the driveway is as level as possible. Take these steps as you are completing the project to give it a finished look.

A level driveway is much more visually appealing than one that is not fully level. It will also be better for your car or other vehicles that are going up and down the driveway.

What Depth of Gravel Is Needed for a Driveway?

You may be wondering just how deep your gravel driveway should be. It depends a bit on your weather conditions, among other factors, but generally speaking, you should make your gravel driveway 12 inches to 18 inches deep. If you are using larger rocks, however, you may want to make it a bit deeper than that.

This may seem deep, but making your gravel driveway deep gives it a better chance of draining properly and preventing some of the previously mentioned issues from occurring.

Do You Need a Base Layer for Gravel Driveway?

You might also wonder if you need a base layer for your gravel driveway. The simple answer is yes, you will need a base layer. A base layer ensures proper drainage and supports the gravel driveway. A base layer will help your gravel driver last longer and make it easier to maintain, both of which anyone installing a gravel driveway on their property will want.

A base layer will also prevent the gravel from moving too much. Again, this will ensure your gravel driveway has a long life span and looks great.

Someone at a home improvement store can help you with the necessary materials for this. If you are not confident about this project, you could pay someone to install the base layer and then install the rest of the gravel for the gravel driveway yourself.


By reading this article, you should know what mistakes to avoid when building a gravel driveway. All that's left to do now is actually build your driveway, keeping the above-mentioned guidance in mind.

Make sure after you build it that you also maintain it so that your gravel driveway lasts a long time and does not need to be repaired or even replaced quickly.

A gravel driveway can be a beautiful, rustic touch to a home, and depending on what types of vehicles you have and whether you have pets and kids, may be a driveway type worthy of your consideration.

gravel driveway to country house

Gravel Driveway FAQ

What are the problems with gravel driveways?

Gravel driveways are an affordable solution compared to some other options, but this is not necessarily an ideal solution. Gravel driveways can be disturbed by snow and rain.

Ruts and even sinkholes can form in a gravel driveway, which actually makes it unsafe. It's also difficult to remove snow and ice from gravel, which can make the driveway difficult to use at all in winter weather.

What should I put down before gravel driveway?

A gravel driveway requires a bit more work than simply laying down some crushed stone. First, you need to excavate the path of the driveway and clear away all grass and several inches of dirt.

Before you place any stone, it is highly recommended that you lay down a weed barrier. This will keep weeds and grass from growing.

You should also lay down several layers of rocks, not just the fine gravel you want on top of your driveway. All layers must be compacted and tamped down to create a firm foundation.

How deep should a gravel driveway be?

To properly place a gravel driveway, you should dig a path that is 12 to 18 inches deep. This will provide drainage and give enough room for multiple layers of rock that will create the needed support.

Is bigger or smaller gravel better on a driveway?

The size of the rocks you choose for your gravel driveway matters a great deal. If the rocks are too big, they will be difficult to drive on and could even damage cars.

Gravel used in driveways is between 14mm and 20mm in size. Stay within this range to create an ideal gravel driveway.

Is 2 inches of gravel enough for a driveway?

The gravel driveway must be deep enough and thick enough to support the weight of vehicles without allowing them to sink into the ground. You want to have at least four inches of rock in order to create the strong, supportive driveway you need.