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Pros and Cons of using woodchips in place of gravel

Casey Halone

Joined: Feb 09, 2011
Posts: 192
So when I get some land, I was thinking of using wood chips rather than gravel for a long flat driveway. Looking for feedback so Ill start.

Usually you get lots of greens in along with the chips as the local guys trim to keep powerlines safe.

Pro - can be had for free in many areas, just by knowing who to talk to
- could be a way to get it to break down faster to use as a mulch.
- improve soil compared to gravel
- easier to spread and fill pot holes

Con - wouldn't pack and hold together like gravel
- might be bumpy?
- 2wd vehicle get stuck in snow/ice more so than gravel
- snow plows would make a mess of it

Devon Olsen

Joined: Nov 28, 2011
Posts: 974
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
i don't think it would be bumpy but the other two cons sounds like something to think about, i'd never thought about it much

heres a guy who use wood chips for damn near everything, i believe hes got it on his driveways and such as well

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Mike Dayton

Joined: Dec 15, 2010
Posts: 149
Location: sw pa zone 5
I think that drainage is a big issue for your idea, as well as a base for the road. I worked road construction as a young boy and the 2 things I learned was that if you had a good base, and if you had good drainage, you would have a good road. Oh and one more thing, water runs down hill, you would be amazed at how many people can't figure that out. You idea MIGHT work if the driveway had a solid soil type under it that drained well. And if it was not TOO steep so that the chips would wash off the road. And if the driveway did not get too many ruts in it, and if the wood chips didn't just sink down into the mud, and if,,,,well, maybe a stone base would work better than free wood chips. The wood chips might be better used on your garden and around your fruit trees. Smarter use of your free mulch I my opinion.

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Devon Olsen

Joined: Nov 28, 2011
Posts: 974
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
^he brings up a good point, and wood chips quickly improve the soil for growing conditions
such as moisture retention and softer soil
that would make me think its difficult to work with a wood chip driveway but at the same time i'm pretty sure ive seen wood chip roadways before that worked just fine so i guess if you did nessacary work before laying wood chips down it would work pretty well
just look into proper road construction technique's plenty before you start
Tyler Ludens

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
I would avoid woodchips for a roadway unless you can reapply them annually. A decent (not even great) gravel road can last years without maintenance, but a woodchip road might need to be topped with new chips every year or so. This is from my own experience having both gravel and woodchip driveway areas. The woodchips are on a section of driveway we don't use more than once a week.

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tel jetson

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 2972
Location: woodland, washington
I think it depends a lot on how the road is going to be used. infrequent use and no heavy equipment: the wood chips ought to be fine. if it will be used a lot and their will likely be big trucks or other heavy thing: wood chips could still work, but you'll have to replace them often. your mention of the snow plow suggests the latter might be the case.

a friend of mine has a gravel that was built really well. all told, it goes down more than four feet below grade. big rocks at the very bottom getting smaller with each layer until the top is packed crushed rock. in the 25 years he's had the place, he has never had to bring in gravel or do any serious maintenance, despite moving all manner of heavy equipment on it. the driveway predates his arrival by at least 50 years. the driveway next door to his is more modern, and they spread a couple loads of gravel once or twice each year depending on the weather.

you can bet that my friend's driveway cost a whole hell of a lot more money to build initially, but that was pretty much the end of the cost. the newer one was probably pretty cheap, but continues to incur costs regularly and indefinitely.

my friend discovered the makeup of his driveway when he tried to run a waterline under it. thought it would be a simple matter of some time with a trenching shovel. when that didn't work, he moved on to a ditch witch. when that didn't work, he moved on to a track hoe. that didn't work either. he ended up having to dig a pit on either side deeper than the driveway, then he drilled a pipe through.

roads are one of those things that seem like they should be really simple to build, but reality turns out to be different.

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Casey Halone

Joined: Feb 09, 2011
Posts: 192
we love the back to eden film Devon Olsen!

here's another thought, wood chips would create more edge for life right? I mean how much life do you have in hard packed gravel. sure it might get rutted if heavy trucks drove on it, but if its free and deep and often added to it, i can see it being a home for all kinds of good soil life, maybe even growing things along side it....

deviation from the norm here - what if you didn't even really have a driveway, just wood chip mulch all over the place you drove on, and took different paths as ruts wore into it?

Walter Jeffries

Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 890
I would be concerned with the wood chips breaking down and the wood soaking up water making a less than desireable surface. I like gravel. It is stone which is a fairly permanent material. I use graduated layers of stone. Big stuff down below, then 4", then 2.5", then 1.5" then sand. This has created a very strong road surface that also plows very well and holds up to rain storms. It drains well.


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Dale Hodgins

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3510
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
I can't imagine a situation where chips would make more sense than gravel other than when trying to stiffen up soft ground where the chips are being placed so that they will rot. Even then there's a good chance of getting bogged down in the mud or the chips.

Sometimes chips are laid out at muddy jobsites. These work great for foot and wheelbarrow traffic but heavy vehicles can get stuck.

Never ever ever allow a demolition company to bring you chopped up debris which is sometimes referred to as "chips" ,"hog"or "hog fuel". This stuff can contain all manner of contaminants from nails to lead paint to asbestos. Don't do it.

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Denise Lehtinen

Joined: Sep 10, 2011
Posts: 99
Location: Tampa, Florida zone 9A
Another downside is that they might attract termites. (Whether that is a problem in your area is another question.)

If they are, then keep the chips away from your house/buildings.
subject: Pros and Cons of using woodchips in place of gravel
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