With undeveloped property, you might still want some way to drive a vehicle onto your lot. So how do you build a driveway on undeveloped property?
Getting in and out of undeveloped property without needing a lifted off-road truck can be helpful, and great for the future of your property. So how do you make your driveway?
Building a driveway depends on the material you want to use. You may need to start by removing foliage. You'll also want to determine what kind of soil you have, and potentially remove topsoil and other dirt. Finally, you’ll want to choose between asphalt, concrete, and gravel.
We'll discuss the simple processes that go into getting your driveway ready, and some ideas for what you should use depending on your lot. We'll also discuss asphalt, gravel, and concrete driveways.
We’ve written extensively about land ownership and enjoy doing home projects ourselves. We’ll give some insight about driveways on undeveloped land.
Table of Contents
Deciding on a location for a driveway on undeveloped land
Especially if your land is uninhabitated, which is rather likely for undeveloped land, you'll want to build some amount of access for construction crews-- and yourself, to drive onto the land and deliver materials. It also generally helps to be able to get in and out.
We will say that building a driveway should revolve around your future garage or home, so you should decide the layout of the buildings on your land before building a driveway. While you could build a driveway that is temporary just to get materials delivered and early arrivals to the destination, it is definitely better worth your money and effort to have a plan that involves the creation of a permanent driveway.
Building a gravel driveway
Clear the way
Once you've decided on a location, you'll want to clear all obstacles in the area. This includes trees, bushes, and anything else that might be in the way. You'll probably have to actually uproot trees – and remove the stumps too, as you don't want stumps causing bumps on what should be a flat, even surface for the purpose of whatever fill you put in.
Topsoil is great for everything but driveways. If you plan to have a garden somewhere – or just like grass, you can feel free to have a contractor scrape all the topsoil off and put it somewhere in a pile where you can distribute later. Topsoil is too permeable to make a good, soil surface for backfill and vehicles.
Put down heavier soil
Clay is fairly common when it comes to replacing topsoil. Clay packs in well and provides a good, stable surface for a driveway in all weather. Note that clay is not the final product to use. While clay is good for underneath the driveway, simply playing with clay and water will tell you that clay is not a good surface to drive on when wet.
Using clay also makes it fairly easy to level out your driveway. If part of your surface is too high, you can simple remove some and flatten it out. Too low? Add some more, or place flat rocks down.
You'll then want to add either an aggregrate rock or some lime. The purpose of this layer is to keep your clay dry and stiff. Clay can get very soft, mushy, and unstable when exceedingly wet, and other aggregrate or lime do a good job of absorbing the water before it reaches the clay.
In addition to clay, you would also lay down an underlayment that helps deflect water, An underlayment can range from a plastic sheet to a a more solid plastic layout with rings in a grid that combine their own surfaces and the backfill you pour over them. Among the many purposes of underlayment is to prevent any ruts from forming in the clay and soil underneath so that your driveway surface doesn't get bumpy or crack.
The idea behind heavier soil and plastic underlayment is not to absorb water, but allow some water to run around it and get pushed away from your land.
Putting down gravel
You might more choices than you think when it comes to laying down gravel. A land owner could choose to have smaller, pebble like gravel or larger pieces of rock or stone in their driveway. There are a few advantages and disadvantages to using gravel that we'll discuss here too:
Gravel is inexpensive compared to putting down asphalt or concrete, as gravel is literally just crushed rock in large quantities. You are typically looking at $1.25 per square foot in gravel compared to $5 to $6 per square foot for concrete.
Gravel can be gradually kicked away and eroded. A heavy rainstorm can carry a bit of gravel off too. While this does happen, you can just buy more gravel or more some around to the right spots to ensure you still have a level surface. Repairing concrete or asphalt is a lot more involved and expensive to fix.
Gravel driveways can last over 100 years, partially because they are made of many individual pebbles that will wear down more slowly. You might not have to replace your driveway in your lifetime.
Most gravel driveways end up being fairly long as the initial access point for a property. The length and cost of a gravel driveway is one of the biggest advantages, as you can build a wide gravel driveway that makes it easy to get in and out for way less than concrete or asphalt. Should your property be a bit more private or secluded, the price to length of a gravel driveway is more appealing for your bank account.
This isn't a true disadvantage, but something to think about. A gravel driveway is a bit more difficult to maintain, in part because ice and snow are more difficult to remove from a gravel driveway. Some plows won't do gravel driveways because the surface can be unpredictable and results in moving the dirt and gravel from your driveway. One of the best solutions for a gravel driveway is a smaller plow, perhaps on an ATV, or a 2-stage snowblower with an auger that you can raise. However, with a raised auger, getting your driveway completely clear of ice and snow is rather difficult – and you might just want for spring.
If you are intending to build a home on your land, a gravel driveway doesn't look “done.” In some parts of the country and in some cities, this might not matter. Check with your local realtor or research how much expected value you would get out of adding a different kind of driveway.
Gravel to Concrete
Gravel is often used as the underlayment for a concrete driveway. Gravel itself does a good job of pushing away water and with concrete laid over, is a good, stable surface. You'll want a compactor to make the gravel nice and tight to maintain and keep that stable surface over time too.
Why a concrete driveway?
We'll be the first to admit that you might not want to put the time, effort, and money into a concrete driveway for undeveloped land. Your priority might be build a home first rather than making a more suitable driveway.
Concrete driveways are very easy maintenance wise, and don't have same of the same downsides as gravel. You can readily use a snowblower or a snowblower on a concrete (or asphalt) driveway without issue or adjustment to the auger or blade.
While not everyone will agree with this statement, but in terms of resale value and looks – concrete can win. Concrete looks finished and complete, especially if any designs are implemented into the concrete. While not everyone likes the look of finished concrete, you do have the option of painting concrete too.
While you will have to replace concrete eventually, that will mostly be due to cosmetic deterioration. Concrete does good in every climate and you won't have to worry much about year to year maintenance.
Concrete is among the most expensive surfaces for a driveway, costing several times more than asphalt or gravel.
If you've ever seen someone build with concrete – especially building a concrete driveway, you'll realize that its not for everyone. Concrete asks for more attention to detail in regards to building a nice, level surface than asphalt or gravel. Unfortunately, if a contractor screws up a concrete driveway, they don't have much of a choice besides to break it and start over. This is also why we suggest having a professional built a concrete driveway – it isn't easy.
Building an asphalt driveway
This again applies more to a completed lot, but you could still pave a driveway with asphalt just to get construction materials and yourself in. Asphalt has a basic setup, and much like concrete and gravel methods, requires that you grade, flatten, and clear your driveway area to make it completely clear to be the most effective.
Asplant is made of rocks, sand, and cement – and is ultimately a product of petroleum.
Advantages to Asphalt
The price of asphalt actually varies quite widely. From $2 to $5 per square foot, which is more expensive than gravel, but probably less than concrete.
Asphalt looks nice to many people and is comparable to a concrete driveway. So long as it is maintained, it looks complete and finished.
Asphalt handles severe weather well, and is the opposite of concrete. Asphlant offer some amount of flexibility without breaking immediately while concrete is very stiff.
You'll probably need to resurface asphalt every few years, as its flexibility does come at the consequence that it does wear out more quickly. On the plus side, resurfacing your asphalt driveway can be done by yourself and is significantly cheaper than a new driveway.
Asphalt is black and readily absorbs the fun. The driveway can get quite hot, especially if you live in a climate where temperatures exceed 90 degrees in the summer. We suggest wearing shoes on your driveway.
Do I need a permit to build a driveway
You'll want to check with your local government, but there is a good chance that modifying your land at all will require a permit, and some money. Cities might call the driveway a change of access, since they are generally connected to a city maintained road.
The permit to build a driveway should be quite easy compared to other paperwork you'll need to complete for your city when buying and developing land, and is often taken care of by the contractor who is building the driveway.
Do I need a driveway?
Building a driveway is often the easiest way to get construction equipment and vehicles to a private plot of land. To be fair, not all homes being built on undeveloped land will “need” a driveway so long as the owners are able to transport themselves somehow. You'll probably still need to clear some pathway from main roads to your undeveloped land, but having a man made structure there to drive on isn't entirely necessary.
The answer is likely a bit different for some commercial land. Initially, a dirt or otherwise not paved driveway will help, but most will want a paved or gravel driveway as they should hope to expect an amount of vehicle traffic.
Can I build a driveway myself?
If you are looking up how to build a driveway, the answer is probably no – or at least not well enough to use or for resale value. Building a driveway means owning some heavy equipment and potentially a way to cut down trees. While we fully encourage do it yourself work as much as possible, this is an area you might want to try yourself.
Which kind of driveway should I build?
While the preference is entirely up to your situation, we like the idea of building a gravel driveway first to allow vehicles and transportation access to undeveloped land. Gravel is great because you can add more gravel later to help make it into a concrete driveway. If you plan to make your undeveloped land into a residence, gravel is by far the most efficient, frugal option to start with. The process of building a gravel driveway should also be faster than waiting for asphalt or concrete to set and cure.
About THE AUTHOR
Brittany has been in the land business since 2020 when the world was starting to shut down. Since then, we’ve sold to dozens of people from ATV weekend warriors to camping enthusiasts to retired truck drivers. Our inventory spans mostly in the western United States. We’ve been trained by experience, land acquisition courses, and hundreds of hours meeting with county assessors and clerks, zoning officials, realtors, and land investors. We’ve answered hundreds of questions from people regarding the buying and use of land.Read More About Brittany Melling