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Pour some creativity into your driveway - by Mary G. Pepitone

Drive home your house's curb appeal by pouring creativity into your driveway. More homeowners are employing decorative techniques to transform understated gray concrete into driveways that make a statement.

Whether you're embellishing a newly poured driveway or perking up an existing one, decorative treatments made to look like stone or bricks can give you a fresh look and complement a home's architecture.

"The first impression of a house can start at the driveway, even before you get to the front door," said Gopal Ahluwalia, vice president for research with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in Washington, D.C. "Our latest research shows that more new homeowners are putting an emphasis on their driveways, and that the width and length are increasing."

Poured concrete remains the most popular material for driveways. According to a NAHB new construction survey, 68 percent of Americans who built new homes in 2006 installed concrete driveways, up from 60 percent in 2001. Ahluwalia said the use of decorative concrete on driveways is up 5 percent.

Concrete is comprised of cement, a fine powder made from limestone, water and shale. When mixed with water, cement binds aggregates such as sand and/or gravel into a solid gray concrete through a chemical reaction called hydration.

A decorative concrete driveway surface can be colorized and textured to resemble bricks, tiles or quarry stones. A driveway with decorative concrete can be a distinctive part of a home's outdoor landscape, said Mike Collignon, residential promotion manager of the Portland Cement Association (PCA) in Skokie, Ill.

"A decorative concrete driveway can attractively differentiate your home" from others in the neighborhood, he said. "With all the design options available, your driveway can also reflect stone or brick details on your house or its natural surroundings."

If you are in the market for a new driveway, it's always good to consider your design options before setting anything in concrete.

  • Colored concrete admixtures are either added to the concrete mix or spread over wet concrete. There are hundreds of color combinations available to contractors, and these colors become a permanent part of the concrete as it hardens.
  • Stamped concrete is the process of pressing three-dimensional patterns into a wet driveway surface. Usually done in conjunction with colored concrete, the result is a textured surface that combines the beauty of masonry and the durability of concrete. Stamped designs can mimic brick herringbone, cobblestone, clay tiles or fan-shaped patterned limestone.

To make your existing driveway look more welcoming and less like the roadway in front of your house, you can stain it or even engrave it.

Acid staining is a decorative treatment done on cured, not newly poured, concrete. Acid is used to dissolve metallic shavings, leaving color deposits as a permanent part of the concrete.

The first step to this process requires a thorough cleaning, as any dirt, grease, paint or sealer will prevent the acid stain from penetrating and reacting with the cement. The color is a result of chemicals in the stain reacting with the concrete and is not a topical application or paint.

An acid stain gives concrete a mottled, variegated, stone-like look and creates mostly earth-tone browns, reddish browns and greens, with natural color variances.

Engraving, or scoring, requires the use of special saws and equipment to cut patterns and designs into cured concrete. This process can be done after an acid stain, leaving the carved-out sections uncolored, giving the appearance of grout lines.

Scoring is a permanent treatment that won't wear away because the patterns are engraved into the concrete rather than applied on top of it. Brick or tile patterns can be scored, as well as random stone patterns that can camouflage existing cracks in concrete.

Before entering the design phase of a new driveway, a carefully prepared site with a sound sub-base sloped for drainage is mandatory to ensure a successful concrete pour, according to Bev Garnant, executive director of the American Society of Concrete Contractors (ASCC) in St. Louis.

"Decorative concrete will patina beautifully, but it has to be mixed, poured and prepared properly," she said. "It's advisable to work with experienced crews that are dedicated to decorative concrete, and that doesn't always mean hiring the contractor with the lowest bid."

An experienced contractor uses the correct concrete mix for the job, knows where to place joints to limit cracking and makes sure the concrete is finished properly. Concrete requires regular maintenance, which includes periodically sealing it with a recommended sealant and sweeping sand and other abrasive materials off its surface.

When it comes to design, Mike Collignon said using a decorative concrete treatment doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition.

"You can have a river rock or brick pattern stamped and colored just along the joints of a concrete driveway," he said. "The beauty of decorative concrete is that there's flexibility and versatility in its design, which is only limited by a homeowner's imagination."


  • American Society of Concrete Contractors, Click on "membership," then on the U.S. map to a find a certified concrete contractor near you.
  • Portland Cement Association, Click on "Architectural and Decorative Concrete."
  • National Association of Home Builders, (800) 368-5242 or Under "Resources," see "For Consumers."

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