Country Lane

It’s 2am and I can’t sleep because I’m stressed out. I’m stressed out because I can’t seem to get ahead. I can’t get ahead because life keeps throwing bullshit obstacles at us. Nothing the average person would care about or hand out any sympathy for. After all, we’re very well off considering all the poverty, war and injustice there is in the world. But it’s my blog so I get to do the ranting. You get to decide if you want to do the reading.

I work four jobs (the wife works two) trying to make ends meet. Anytime we get close to seeing any light at the end of the tunnel, it always turns out to be another train barreling down the line. Do we stay or do we go? Getting tired of asking myself that question every day. At some point we get to relax right? This keeps up and I’ll be dead before I’m fifty.

I can remember the conversation we had when we first walked our land, where our house sits now. My wife referred to it as “happy friendly land“. What we saw was a quaint meadow and brush with a slight rise in the middle perfect for a home. All the plants, bugs, sunshine, water and wildlife…you just got a happy friendly vibe.

One of the primary things I told our architects when we were planning our impact on the land was that I wanted them to think about the entire experience of driving up to our home, all the way back to the street, across property we don’t own. Our driveway is over a quarter mile long. It’s all gravel, with rises, twists and turns. Driving along at 12-15 miles per hour, there’s a lot of time to decompress and transition from the hectic world “out there” to the meditative calm of where our home sits.

Ours is the last house; we share it with two other homes. As you come over a rise, and past the second house you get that sense of a country lane. You’re almost surprised it keeps going, it sort of beckons you to explore. Fifty feet further you start to see our home, in summer, earlier in winter because of leaves or rather the lack thereof, …our home emerges around a bend in the lane.

That’s the effect I wanted.

A country lane, subtly revealing a gem in the middle of nowhere. No one ever knows what’s “back here” unless they’re specifically coming to our home. I would argue it’s one of the most beautiful homes in the area; masterfully designed to fit its site, a sculpture nuanced to bring a sense of internal familiarity from all who see it. There is a scale about the structure…it looks both small and large at the same time. It’s a building that makes you think about your place in this world. Coming around that corner you get what you’ve been waiting for throughout that long drive up a country lane.

It’s an experience.

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First glimpse you get of the house in early spring. Look at the diagonals…the length and angle of the lines. The horizon, the drive, the main house…the colors…tan on the house, tan in the dried brush. The charcoal of the trees, and the main house body.

 

 

Maintenance on a gravel drive isn’t that bad. Over four years the worst we get are some pot holes. Last year we had an excavator come out and straighten things up in terms of improving water runoff and roughing up the pot holes. We were going to get a cinder driveway but he said the surface we had was fantastic, and just needed some grading. And regular “roughing up” would help too. This is something we’d never done before (or since).

For whatever reason our mild winter still resulted in some rough patches on the driveway. I was thinking for a grand per household we could get the drive fixed up again this spring. At the very least I was going to fix my portion of the drive, but the cost at $750 was more expensive than I had budgeted for what would have been a simple gravel drop.

Eventually the neighbors got in touch and their plan is to asphalt from the street to the second house. Cost would be $12,000 per each of the three households. I had to laugh a little inside as I heard the news on the phone today. I just can’t catch a break. With tax season requiring me to write a check the equivalent of a decent new car, here I have the potential for a driveway bill, conjured on a whim, that will cost me twelve large. With only one house, I have little to no power in this situation, the other two houses are related so they dictate everything basically – something we knew going into it, but you know…how can you deny happy friendly land when it speaks to you. We felt it was worth the risk. Fast forward five years and I lie awake at night stressed out about life…getting out of bed to write because it’s the only thing I can think of to detox my mental system.

It’s not only the money, but I have a real problem with the material, asphalt, as well. Ethically and aesthetically I just don’t think it’s an appropriate solution for our situation. I checked with my real estate agent, and yes, a hard surface would improve home values but she recommended cement not asphalt. Asphalt is cheap looking and higher maintenance than cement.

Personally I think it ruins that charm of living in the country, and destroys that country lane experience we get now. No more walks to the mailbox kicking stones, or listening to the gravel under foot or tire on a hot summer evening.

Environmentally, the type of asphalt likely to be installed would be impervious to water, creating a greater water runoff issue than is already present. Asphalt can also be salted in the winter which means that there will be salt runoff from our driveway into the ponds and creeks that surround our property. In the summertime asphalt retains heat and creates a hot spot that leads to higher air temperatures. Not to mention the chemicals in the actual material. I just think it’s nasty stuff that does nothing to enhance our quality of life. From my perspective, asphalt is just a typical knee jerk reaction to a problem. Everybody does it. It’s cheap. Why are you fighting it?

The whole thing really ruined what was supposed to be a good day, week and month.

So here I am stressed out, contemplating my options…moving, going bankrupt, offing myself…the dread of having to pay money I don’t have for a solution I don’t condone…losing sleep I desperately need.

Who knows what we’ll ultimately end up doing. But in the meantime I suppose I need to become an expert in pervious and porous driveway solutions which are basically the most environmentally and aesthetically pleasing options. These are in addition to the current gravel driveway option, which I think is perfectly fine if maintained properly.

I’ve started finding some really awesome options online, I just need to start figuring out the costs. If it were up to me, I’d research all of the options, assign a cost to each and then make the decision. My challenge is buying enough time to make this happen. As far as I can tell we’re dealing with one quote from a contractor who’s ready to start laying down black tar and stone, and neighbors who are fine with the cost and asphalt solution.

At the very least I don’t think it’s unreasonable to put it a decision off for a year. Try the gravel maintenance program idea.

Do I have time to do this? No. Why am I doing this? Because I have no other choice. I need to do everything I can to salvage the current experience that is “happy friendly land” (and maybe not go bankrupt in the process).

And I need to be able to sleep at night.

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Asphalt would end at the driveway on the left on continue towards the horizon. Foreground would stay gravel.

A few random links and images I found on the internet when I searched for “earth friendly driveways”. I’m not saying any of these will be cheaper, but I feel like I’d rather save up for one of these solutions than throw down my hard earned money this year on unaesthetic and environmentally damaging asphalt. I also feel like some of these solutions could even be installed by ourselves potentially saving money…the biggest challenge will be changing people’s mindsets. We’ve grown up in a cookie cutter suburban world where these types of common sense, nurturing solutions are foreign and scary to the average consumer.

NOTE: From the http://www.BuildLLC.com website, this interesting note on gravel…it’s impervious, so not as eco friendly as I was thinking.

It’s worth noting that gravel is considered an impervious surface by many jurisdictions and its inclusion on a project will count against the impervious surface calculations. From the King County website:

“Packed gravel prevents or impedes the entry of water into the soil as compared to natural conditions. Scientific studies show that once gravel is compacted (from cars or heavy equipment, for example), the gravel acts like paved surfaces and surface water runs off it in greater quantities than compared to natural conditions. In addition, if cars or heavy equipment are traveling on these gravel surfaces, pollution such as dissolved minerals or residual petroleum are washed off into our waterways.”

 

Permeable Paving – The Environmentally Friendly Driveway

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Image of a permeable paved drive from:  www.scgh.com

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Image from TerraForce.com

Permeable Surfaces 

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Image of open cell pavers from http://www.buildllc.com

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Image of porous asphalt from http://www.buildllc.com

A project to install 4×4 tracks that reduce erosion 

Core Driveway – permeable plastic honeycomb system that can be used with gravel

Article on porous driveways from The Chic Ecologist

Green Driveway articles from Franke James blog

Invisible Structures grass driveway sub-straight 

Some info on porous asphalt and porous pavers from BuildLLC.com:

Porous Asphalt:

“Think of it like Rice-Krispies treats with a higher compressive strength and not quite as tasty.

Effective permeability range: 16-25%
Compressive strength: up to 4,000 psi
Required thickness: 4″ – 8”
Technology: The deletion of fine aggregate allows for connected voids while the coarse aggregate is coated with enough cementitious paste to hold it all together
Application: Areas with light traffic, driveways, pedestrian walkways, bike paths
Cost: $3 – $10 per square foot (extremely dependent on size of job)
Other considerations: Typically requires additional layers of sub-base material or filter fabric”

Porous pavers:

Because the technology here is ceramic-based, these systems are typically proprietary. We like the Aroura Klorostone product for its clean aesthetic, simple color options and versatility.

Permeability: The Klorostone is capable of infiltrating up to 2 inches of stormwater per minute without relying on mortar gaps. The exact permeability is difficult to determine with these products because each company has its own protected recipe.
Compressive strength: 6,000 psi
Thickness: 2-3/8″
Technology: Each individual paving unit is porous (as opposed to interlocking concrete that relies on aggregate gaps for infiltration)
Application: Driveways, sidewalks, courtyards, patios
Cost: $7 – $10/sf delivered
Available colors: 4
Other considerations: The joints around paving units will provide an additional 5-15% of permeable area”

 

 

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