Summer House Projects 2015 — Part II – The Driveway

This is the 2nd installment in my “what I did around the house this summer” series…the first one can be found here.

Project #2 – Replace the Un-Driveable Driveway

When we bought our house, the driveway was covered in about 2.5 feet of snow–so much snow that we couldn’t even tell if the driveway approach had a curb cut–we bought and hoped for the best!  When the snow melted, we discovered we did indeed have a curb cut for the approach, but we also noticed the driveway was cracked in many places, and missing a few pieces altogether in some.

Something that’s kind of unique to Minneapolis, at least compared to any other place I’ve lived, is that nobody in the city proper actually parks in their garage except when the city declares a snow emergency.  So I’m fairly confident the previous owners rarely, if ever, actually drove on the driveway.  John, on the other hand, loooooves parking in the garage.  I suppose it’s better for the car to be protected from hail and falling limbs and roving packs of teenagers and such, but it does require a clear garage space, and I’m lazy, so it’s, erm, less of a priority for me.  However, I would still like to have the option of driving up my driveway whenever I’d like!  Unfortunately, that was a losing proposition with the driveway we had.

Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to my un-driveable driveway, circa early 2015.  In addition to the amazing quality of being un-driveable (I’ll go into this in a moment), it was also un-shovelable, un-walkable, and un-attractive.

Before–in terrible shape!

The concrete was a thin veneer (literally, 2″ at the thickest places near the sides, but most spots were under 1″ thick).  So every time you drove over it, it cracked a bit more.  In addition, it was a super steep angle of approach (because our garage is situated right at the 8-foot minimum setback, but also had a 2 foot flat slab at the top, so we had to rise 4 feet over just 6 feet of distance…clearly this wasn’t built with modern vehicles in mind, as my little Honda Fit scraped bottom no matter what angle of approach I tried (John thinks the garage was actually built as a carriage house, so the steep angle wouldn’t have been an issue for that!).  And all winter, no matter how careful we were, every time we shoveled the snow off the driveway, we ended up shoveling chunks of concrete off, too.  Or running into holes with the shovel edge, which hurts!.  And was super demoralizing.  By the time spring rolled around, we were ready for a fix!

So it needed to be repoured.  We got several quotes, some of which were outlandish, some reasonable, but in the end, we decided to do it ourselves for the best price (and learning opportunity).  My brother volunteered to help, and my dad came out to help, too (really glad they came out, as they know how to pour concrete and I don’t!).  Our neighbors across the alley were in a similar spot, so we joined forces (and combined concrete loads) to save a few more bucks.  So we had a good crew!

All the concrete is gone–now to dig down a few inches.

When you think through the process of replacing a driveway, pouring the new one sounds like the worst part, right?  WRONG!  Digging out the old driveway was the absolute worst, most labor-intensive part of the whole process.  It took an entire day.  It was so much work!  Since we wanted to pour a once-and-for-all driveway, we decided to dig down to 5″ for the slab.  We also cut 18″ off the flat slab at the top of the approach so we could re-do the angle of approach to something much more friendly to our little Honda.  And both my dad and I are perfectionists, so we kept at it until it was the proper slope and depth. To further complicate matters, the soil under the concrete (there was no sand or proper base laid down) was very oily.  (Pretty sure 100 years of poor decisions and home oil changes saturated the dirt with oil.  Or they got bad fill before the last pour.  It was very different from the rest of the soil on our lot, which is good black dirt.)  The oil-soaked soil was sooooo heavy, and stuck to our shovels like crazy, so sometimes you lifted the same shovelful of dirt over and over until enough built up to stop and scrape off.  Ick.

But all the work paid off!  We were able to pour and finish the new driveway in about 2 hours.  And got my parents and brother out for a visit!  And my car doesn’t scrape going into the garage now!!  There are no chunks of concrete skittering off the drive, no fear of turned ankles as you walk across it, we’ll be able to shovel it this winter (perhaps even use a snowblower?!) without shooting loose concrete into the street.  And it looks SO MUCH BETTER.  And at 5 inches thick, it’s hopefully the last driveway I have to rip out and replace for a very long time!

Done and curing!!  You can see the angle change if you look at the retaining wall along the far edge!

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