Choosing the right driveway paver
Reading time: 12 minutes
A well maintained driveway can set the tone for your whole home, but sadly, driveway paving is one of the trades with the biggest reputations for poor workmanship and cowboy builders.
To avoid a ripoff and to ensure a job well done, you need to hire the right driveway paver for your project. We spoke to some of the experienced tradesmen recommended on MyBuilder to find out the key things you should know in order to make the right choice:
- Look out for experience as much as accreditations
- Ask questions about how they’ll approach your job
- Make sure you are comfortable with them
- Get quotes that cover everything and establish a payment plan
- Check they are up to speed with planning permissions if needed
- Ensure there are follow-ups after the build
Keeping these points in mind can help you focus on what to look for when you’re meeting with tradesmen and getting quotes for the work. Carry on reading for more details on how to go about finding the right tradesman for your job.
Look out for experience as much as accreditations
Driveway pavers may have overlapping experience in a variety of trades, such as bricklaying, groundworking, landscape gardening and other general building roles. While a generalist may be able to take on your particular job, whether that be laying a gravel driveway or a brick patio, as with all projects, a specialist in driveways and paving will be best placed to deal with your particular needs.
When looking for a tradesman for your project, it’s sensible to speak to ones who have performed plenty of similar jobs to the one you have planned. As well as seeing previous examples of their work that they can show you as part of their portfolio, you may also be able to arrange through them to visit their previous jobs - they should be happy to put you in touch with previous clients they have done work for before. This is particularly important with driveway jobs, where issues can often take some time to appear as driveways settle and bed in. Try and arrange to meet with people who’ve had their driveways for a year or more, to see how the drive has held up to wear and tear.
Stephen Clarke of STAC Landscaping in Chingford has more than 130 pieces of positive feedback on MyBuilder. He said:
I always take pictures of the jobs I’m doing. It’s the quickest way to show new clients what we do and how we do it. Any good tradesman will be happy to show off a portfolio like this - I always keep my iPad around to show off what I do.
Obviously, you want someone who has an extensive portfolio of driveways they’ve done. It’s shame but the trade does have a bad reputation compared to some others - people do drive around with a lorry load of tarmac trying to offload it, the issue of cowboys comes up quite a lot. Homeowners should always look into a tradesman, check out their portfolio, and go and see previous jobs they’ve done - I always make that available if someone is interested.
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As well as checking their references, there are other things you can do to check their experience. On MyBuilder, you can read honest feedback on the jobs they have undertaken for homeowners, as well as seeing pictures of the jobs they have taken on. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions as well, about any qualifications they may have, and their length of time in the business. Many will have specific qualifications, such as NVQs or City & Guild diplomas. Others will have learnt on the job, apprenticing with other tradesmen and building their experience.
Some tradesman may be members of trade bodies such as the Federation of Master Builders, and some of these organisations may offer various customer protections such as guarantees or dispute resolution. While membership of a body such as this is a good indication that a tradesman is competent and working up to certain standards, however, there are many experienced tradesmen who do not belong to these bodies - there is no obligation to be signed up, unlike membership of the Gas Safe Register, a legal requirement for tradesmen who work with gas in the home. While trade body membership can be seen as a good seal of approval, it is experience that is the most important thing to look out for. Jeff told us:
For me, I’ve never felt the need to join a trade body. I just go by my reputation - I work hard, I don’t do anything by halves, and I’ve never had any comebacks. My feedback tells people what they want to know.
Ask questions about how they’ll approach your job
You should also feel comfortable that they are carrying out the job to standard. Arming yourself with a little bit of knowledge, either through MyBuilder’s glossary or another site, can help you know what to look out for when it comes to the materials and techniques your tradesman will be using. Ask them questions about their processes, including things like:
- What depth will they be going down to?
- What materials will they be using in the sub-base (MOT Type 1 is the industry accepted quality)?
- How will they deal with drainage?
- Do they expect to encounter gas or water pipes or any other issues?
- Are they aware of planning constraints (see below for more detail)?
Jeff encouraged people to do some of their own research and ask as many questions as possible:
When you do talk to them, a little bit of homework can go a long way - I recommend pavingexpert.com as a good place to start. If you have a few questions you can ask, it can really help. Ask about how deep they’ll go, what layers they’ll do, if they’re concerned about drainage, how they’ll deal with pipework they might find, and what materials they recommend and why.
When it comes to gas and water pipes, we know how to locate them and warn clients in advance if we expect them to be an issue. If we do need a plumber or anyone, we can get one at the drop of a hat.
Matthew Lyttle of MRL Construction & Maintenance specialises in driveways and ground work and has more than 30 positive pieces of feedback on MyBuilder. He also recommends doing a bit of reading around the subject:
There’s a book called the Building Construction Handbook, by Roy Chudley and Robert Greeno. It's a great guide to all aspects of building, big or small. And because it doesn’t use too much jargon it’s pretty easy for non-experts to understand. I recommend it to quite a few customers.
Make sure you are comfortable with them
As well as knowing that they are experienced with your kind of job, you should simply assess how comfortable you feel with the potential tradesmen. You can do that from your first contact with them; are they polite on the phone, do they arrive for meetings at the scheduled time, do they ask lots of questions about the project?
Also, make sure that the person who comes to quote for the job is the person who will carry out the work, or if they are not, that you will meet the person who will be on site and in charge of the project before it begins.
Paving jobs may not take a long time to complete, but being able to maintain good communication throughout the project is essential. You shouldn’t aim to become best friends with the tradesman you choose, but you must be able to have a professional relationship - you must feel comfortable speaking openly about any concerns that may arise, and dealing with any issues. Jeff said:
Just like homeowners get a feel for the tradesman, I want to get a feel for them, it has to be a back and forth. That trust goes both ways - I want to spend time with them, talk with them, ask them a lot of questions about the job and what they want from it. I’d advise anyone to always make sure the person you talk to is doing it themselves, they’re not just a frontman and someone else will be turning up, or if there is a team with several people, make sure you meet the person who’ll be coming and get a feel for them too.
Get quotes that cover everything and establish a payment plan
With project-based jobs such as installing a new driveway or patio, it’s advisable to meet with, and get quotations, from at least three tradesman. The detail and scope of their quotation can tell you a lot about their process. It’s important to make sure that all the quotations are like-for-like - do they include all materials and labour? If the tradesman will be removing and disposing of any previous materials, such as existing paving stones, is that included? The only way to accurately compare quotations is if you are comparing like-for-like, and to get them from people who have seen the job in person.
Taking a sample of at least three quotations can help you spot any that seem unreasonably low - if this is the case, it could be the sign of a tradesman who wants to win the job, but will make up the true value by adding on extra costs during the course of the build. Jeff said:
For me, when I give an estimate, I give a full written estimate which has materials, every depth, the sub-bases that are going in, so they can see exactly what work I‘m going to do and how much each element of it will cost. Information is crucial for the homeowner, you’d be amazed how few people have a clue about the work that goes into and what goes under their driveway. They come home and they’ve been told there’s a 10mm depth been dug out, but they can’t see if that’s been done or not. So I make it clear in the estimates.
It’s important the quotes explain what’s happening because that way you compare the jobs equally, you know who’s planning to do what and why it costs what it does. A lot of people have the psychology that if something sounds cheap, then it might not be any good, but it the quotes match and they cover the same processes, there’s no harm in going with the cheaper one, perhaps that tradesman just has lower overheads and can make a better offer.
After agreeing to a price through an accurate, written quotation, make sure you have a payment plan in place that you are comfortable with. A written contract is the best way to ensure you are on the same page, with no misunderstandings.
A reputable tradesman will generally not expect, or ask for, the total value of an expensive job up front. However, a small deposit is not uncommon. While many builders buy materials on account from trade suppliers, and will not request money up front to cover these costs, if it’s a small firm working on a large build with high costs involved, this may be worked into the plan. In most cases, payment will be deferred until after the build is completed. While many will be happy to accept cash, most tradesmen will accept cheques or bank transfers. Jeff said:
In general, I’d be wary of of anyone paying money up front. Most reputable builders have a trade account for materials, we don’t take the money up front. We supply all the materials at the beginning of the job without any payment from the customer, and they don’t pay until the job is all finished and they’re happy with it. I don’t take any deposit. We don’t need to. We trust our customers to pay us, just like they trust us. It goes both ways. We just take a final payment at the end. You’d be amazed how much trust that gets from the homeowner. It tells them, I’m going to do this job properly otherwise you won’t pay us, and that gives them a lot of confidence in us.
Check they are up to speed with planning permissions if needed
Installing a driveway or patio can be subject to planning permission in some circumstances, for example if you are paving over a front garden larger than 5m squared, in which case you will need permission if you are planning to use a water-impermeable driveway that does not provide for water to run off into a permeable area.
Similarly, if you are creating a driveway and need to add a dropped kerb to a public road, you will also need to seek permission from the local authority. Some walls, fences and gates may also be subject to planning permission.
It's always worth consulting with your tradesman to check they are fully aware of planning rules and will adhere to them. Jeff said:
We don’t touch anything on the pavement, if they need a dropped kerb that comes from the council and they need to get permissions, separate from us. We don’t have issues with planning. We keep up to date with all of that, we have to, otherwise we’d be pulling up a lot of work!
Ensure there are follow-ups after the build
With any building project, there is the possibility that complications and problems may arise. Often, these issues may not manifest themselves until after the work is notionally complete, and the tradesman has moved on to other jobs. That being so, it is sensible to hire a tradesman who is happy to return to the build to follow-up on their work and make right anything that may have happened since the work finished.
Some tradesmen will put something to this effect in their initial contracts with the homeowners, while others will offer a more informal arrangement. If the tradesman is willing to put you in touch with previous clients to see their work, then it is a good sign that they have maintained good relationships, taken pride in their work, and ensured that they have followed-up on any issues that have arisen.