ribbon driveway DIY

catdoc2July 12, 2012

Hi all,

Hope this is the correct forum, did a "driveway" search and the forums that came up were all over the map so I went with old houses: because that's what we have!

We're finally building a garage and therefore, would like to re-do our driveway. Currently it is a gravel drive and performs quite well (done well: graded, recycled asphalt, and then gravel tamped in) but it is MISERABLE to walk on :-). Also, it's a lot of hardscape (it's about 80' long and could be as wide as 40', though we'll scale it down.

So... I'd like to do a "ribbon driveway." You know, the two strips of concrete to drive down, the intervening spaces are filled with gravel, grass, or mulch. However, we'd like to do them a bit differently with parallel concrete pads, 36" concrete pads with 4" mow strips of grass. However, can't find any recommendation for prepping the site, how thick these should be, etc., though I can find many pictures of them. Do you think this could be DIY? (we're doing this in part to save money as well. Realize it will be a lot of forms, but figure we can reuse them over and over again)

Anyone had this done or done something similar yourselves?

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Sophie Wheeler

The preparation is the same as if you were doing all concrete. The site is graded so that water is directed away from the drive, then a gravel base is laid down and tamped, and then the concrete forms are built, the wire and rebar laid, and the concrete is poured. The only difference in one with grass strips in between is that there are a lot more forms and then the spaces in between are filled in with topsoil and grass seed. This isn't a very DIYable process unless you have experience with and access to Bobcats or heavy earth moving equipment as well as a concrete mixer and a lot of brawny teenagers who run on pizza.

It's also a lot cheaper to order in a concrete truck than to mix it a couple of bags at a time by hand. 80 feet long by the standard 4" pad depth is going to be a whole 10 yard truck, even with you doing smaller pads with soil in between. That's around 400 bags of premixed in bags, or you can have the individual dump trucks of the components delivered and mix your own. It's a LOT of hard physical labor.

The expensive part of the whole bit isn't the dirtwork or the concrete itself. It's the form building materials and labor. That IS something that's DIYable, although also a PIA. If you have access to something like pallets that can be recycled as forms and have the tools to build those forms correctly, then all you would have to do is to have an expert manage the pour, or if you have enough experience doing something so detailed quickly then you could also potentially DIY it. However, if you can't manage that pour fast enough, the concrete (and the truck) won't wait. You only have so much open time to deal with it, and it's better to spend the $600 to have an expert deal with it.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 4:08PM
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I agree with everything that Hollysprings says, with one question? I get the idea of concrete strips separated by grass--they are pictured in several of my 1910s gardening books, but why on earth would you want the added headache of each strip being individual pads?

I can envision lots of crumbling edges after a short time, not to mention being a pain in the ass to shovel after a snow storm! I hope you live in a climate with no snow or ice!

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 4:52PM
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I think the important things have been said here, but you might consider the landscape design forum.

I will add here, though, that those grass strips are ankle-twisters when you walk on the area. Plus way easier to mow in theory than in reality.

Karin L

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 2:12PM
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Also, you may want to consider that the strips need to be wide enough, and placed appropriately to handle cars/trucks with different wheel bases. Down the road you may buy a vehicle that's quite different from what you're driving--then there are workmen and delivery trucks to consider.... As others have said, the strips are a bit tricky to navigate, clear of snow, and drive on if they weren't designed for the width of your wheels. My aunt had the ribbons and I really hated having to pull into her driveway and try to aim for them.

Personally? If I were trying to work within a budget, I'd do a full driveway, but maybe just start with a slab by the street and as finances allowed, extend it to the back.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 4:03PM
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You might want to check with your local municipality to make sure that their codes allow it. I seem to recall seeing something in our (Grand Rapids, MI) zoning regulations that prohibits them for new/rebuilt driveways. If you're in a more rural setting, it probably doesn't matter.

Personally, I'd find it to be a pain to maintain, especially in the winter; if you're not in snow country, that wouldn't be as much of a problem, though.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 1:14PM
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Would something like this be easier or cheaper? I've seen them in magazines, but know nothing about them really.

Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 8:14PM
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Want to talk even worse for snow and ice...and weeds!? Besides which, it would look terrible next to an old house.

The original ribbon driveways also had to accomodate different sized tires and cars--that is nothing new. I'll see if my books give any dimensions and get back to you.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 6:00PM
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Wow! lots of strong opinions, but that's what I was looking for by posting...
FYI: re: maintenance: it's currently gravel, so anything will be easier to shovel/sweep. We live in "Snow country" but actually don't. Front range Colorado: where we are lucky enough to get frequent snow but it is so sunny that it will usually melt on its own in 24-36 hours if it hasn't been compacted by something (like a car or footprints!)
re: sizing/spacing: we ride our bikes ~80% of the time, so our car/truck doesn't turn over much and we don't really go for unusual stuff. We've measured out 3 foot wide strips with 3 feet in between and that will cover our full size pickup truck as well as our station wagon.
re: maintenance: I'm thinking mulch or gravel. I like the post re: the diamond shape pavers with grass in between and what I originally thought we'd use, but as the next poster mentions: weeds and snow and ice: not sure we could shovel that at all (vs. the 2 strips for the ribbon drive). Add to that the fact we are a high desert: don't want to add thirsty grass if I don't have to. In the future I'd like to do some kind of hearty ground cover, but that will be in the future, when we have more time to weed in between the starts while they get established.
So... Think we're going with a ribbon driveway. We'll likely do two continuous strips (as another poster pointed out: otherwise that is ALOT of forms to build) and have it poured. It will cut materials cost by 40% and not add much in labor. I will post pictures and experiences: I couldn't find many examples! (FYI: our current drive is not to code (we are in the city and are not supposed to have gravel drive, but it's been grandfathered in) but the ribbon drives are: we are in a historic part of town and to boot, they are more friendly for runoff (again: front range doesn't get lots of soaking rains: more often just 20 minutes of a downpour, so I like to reduce runoff if possible!) and will evenutally caue less thermal abosption (if we can get away with gravel) so the city is fine with it...
Thanks for all the opinions and if anyone else has some input, please have at it!

    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 6:16PM
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When neighbor redid his driveway, he put a strip down the middle. He had done some research and found out it is called a "hollywood" driveway. Look really nice next to his bungalow.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 9:21PM
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Thanks so much momcat. That term brings up more pics than "ribbon driveway".

    Bookmark   February 7, 2013 at 8:59AM
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We are in a historic CO area too and are considering a ribbon driveway. There are two in our neighborhood that are particularly nice. One has thyme and low growing flowers down the center and the other has some type of yellow-green, moss-type plant material in the center. Both look very nice and are much more pleasing to the eye than the solid, long driveways and of course, they don't need to be mowed!

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 12:40PM
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