Now this is a story all about how our driveway process flipped upside down.
Yes, that’s a Fresh Prince play on a driveway renovation. That’s the first thing that popped in my head, so I’m sticking to it.
months years of deliberation, we finally decided to spend some money on a legitimate driveway. It was time to put on our big kid panties on and move away from the nastiness that was our previous gravel-and-weed driveway. Phew, doesn’t that picture just stink? We were finally fed up with tracking tons of dirt into our house and kicking up gravel every time we pulled out of the driveway. Plus, it looked like junk. For our sanity and for our home’s retail value, we started to do some research. And by we, I mean Scott. The husband used his excellent internet searching skills to track down three concrete installers that had positive reviews on the Better Business Bureau. He set up appointments for all three people to come by the house, give us their recommendations and a quote for a price. Lesson #1: always shop around and find someone who you’re comfortable with and can trust (this is a bit of foreshadowing, folks). We decided to go with the professional with the lowest bid. Typically, I would go for the middle ground, but our first quote was waaaaay more expensive, and the other two were fairly close in price. We decided to go with the lower of the two since we felt the guy was trustworthy, and was probably cheaper because of his lack of overheard (ie. a one man shop). We also felt good about helping out a smaller company during this recession, rather than going for a big-box company.
Lesson #2: CYA. Since this was a small shop, I decided it would be a good idea to draft up a contract of exactly what we had discussed with him, as well as a sketch of what we expected the end product to be. We haven’t really been burned in these scenarios in the past, but I figured it was worth our time to make sure we were covered, since we’ve heard horror stories of people not being covered. Oh, and we included a quick CAD drawing because I’m just that anal.
Moving along. Our contracted concrete man showed up on a sunny Friday morning, ready to go. He began with digging out our old gravel driveway (included in the cost), hauling everything away, and framing the new driveway and sidewalk.
We went back and forth on the concrete sidewalk vs. paver walkway leading to the house, but decided that the concrete was the best bang for our buck. We decided to make the sidewalk a bit more curvy than our previous stepping stone walk, to give the path some dimension and movement. Once everything was framed up, we approved the layout of the sidewalk and driveway before he started pouring, which is key since we actually tweaked things slightly.
Then the pouring began. And I don’t mean concrete pouring – it POURED rain on the day our driveway was being poured. Charlotte had been experiencing a drought and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky when our guy started his work. But by the time he was almost done pouring and smoothing the driveway, we got a whopping 7″ of rain in a matter of hours.
Our contractor tried his best to salvage his work by covering it with plastic tarps, but the sheer volume of rain in such a short amount of time was just too much for wet concrete to handle. Just for reference, this isn’t what you want your new driveway to look like:
Le sigh. At this point, we were feeling pretty discouraged… and so was our contractor. He was pretty upset with the weather situation, but ultimately it was his decision to start pouring that day, so we knew we wouldn’t be held liable. We could also tell that he wasn’t the type of personality to abandon a job (we also made sure to pay him after completion of the job – always a must), so we were confident we’d come to a resolution with him. But we were sad. Oh so sad.
The next day our contractor came back to remove the soaked tarps and assess the situation with us. Once concrete has dried, you’re basically left with the finish it originally had, so he knew all of the work he had done wasn’t worth anything to us because of the aesthetic. He planned to come back on Monday, rip everything out, and start all over again (with no cost to us).
Lesson #3: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. We legitimately felt sorry for our contractor. He had no way of knowing that Charlotte would get the storm of the year that day, and he was going to be at least $5,000 in the hole on this job – a job that he was barely making a profit on in the first place. Before he took his sad face and slumped shoulders on home, we decided to talk negotiations with him. Was there anyway to salvage part of his work, while still giving us a good product? Could we receive something in return if we helped him out a bit?
Yes and yes. We decided to keep the existing driveway in place (except the 5′-0″ closest to the road) and pour another 2″ of concrete on top – on the condition that it was reinforced with steel mesh and rebar, to prevent sliding/separation of the two layers. We asked him to completely tear out the sidewalk and re-pour, so that the driveway, sidewalk, and our existing stoop could all be on the same level. Basically, we saved him tearing out 85% of his work and we gained a thicker, stronger, bad-ass driveway for the same price. He also threw in some fill dirt and some piping under the sidewalk for drainage as a thank you for saving his rear. Pays to negotiate, right?
In the end, we got a product that we’re really happy with. We went with a picture frame finish along the edges, and a brushed texture/finish on the sidewalk and center portion of the driveway, which really gives our driveway some POW (never thought a driveway could have POW, but it does). Lesson #4: a little bit of extra money on the front end will give you a better end product. Sure, we could have saved a few bucks and gone for a simple, straight driveway, but the little extra design elements are what really make the final product great.
We’re still in the process of growing grass in the areas that were ruined during construction (and contemplating a larger flower bed in the area at the top of the path), but having a paved walkway to our house is soooo nice. We’re positively beaming every time we walk into the house virtually dirt free, and kicking ourselves over why we didn’t do this sooner.
Lesson #5: I don’t have another lesson here, I just feel like five is a better number than four in the lesson’s department. There’s your lesson – odd numbers are always more pleasing than evens. :) Thoughts on our new ultra thick slab of super concrete?