Transforming a Suburban Property: Removing a Driveway

Reader Contribution by Jan Spencer
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This is the third blog describing the 15-year transformation of our quarter-acre suburban property.

The previous blogs describe the site in more detail, along with reasons for making these changes, both practical and political. Another blog describes turning the garage into a living space, grass to garden and creating a food hedge along a fence line.

Please check out my website, Suburban Permaculture, where each project has a page with more explanation along with many photos documenting the changes. The website also has galleries of sites in the neighborhood, front yard gardens and notable permaculture and land use sites in the Northwest and beyond.

My place is in Eugene, Oregon. The property is flat. Good soil. The house has excellent solar access.

There was also a driveway that needed to go.

Loading concrete. I kept some, my friend took some.

There are tens of millions of driveways in suburbia. My house had one that could accommodate six cars. I wanted to put the space to better use. No question, taking out the driveway has been one of the most satisfying projects in my life. Cars take up too much space and this was a small push back.

First time for both of us, a friend and I rented a gas powered cement saw. Good move. Bashing a driveway with a ten pound sledge is not recommended. The cement saw is like a lawn edger but a lot bigger. It has a diamond blade, takes two people to unload it and you hook up a hose for constant water to cool the blade and to keep the dust down. Wear ear protection because its loud. A dust mask is a good idea, too.

Intuitively, we scored the driveway a half inch deep in a grid so each rectangle was about a foot and a half long and a foot wide. Important, you don’t need to cut deep. Cutting all the way through would take forever and wear out multiple expensive blades. For us, the blade rents separately from the machine and it cost just as much.

Other tools needed – a two or three inch wide cement chisel to place into the score. The chisel is whacked with a ten pound sledge. You may need to whack it a few times – caution, don’t strain yourself. You do not have to hit it hard. Several modest whacks is better than one big one. It may take a few whacks but the concrete will break.

Same view as photo above, ten years later. Note shed and walnut tree.

The cracks will mostly follow the score but some corners will break off. After, say eight or ten blocks have cracked, and making sure the block you are working on is cracked on all sides, use a five foot iron pry bar with a fulcrum to lift the exposed edge of the cut. Go slowly, again, don’t strain, work the block upward with the pry bar. Some blocks will lift and widen more easily than others. You just have to see what happens. And its really great to daylight that soil!

Then you put the pry bar wedge end into the crack, force down a bit and then as the bar is moved back, and forth, the crack will widen and the point will move more deeply into the crack. The goal is to loosen the block, force it up and work it away from the surrounding concrete. Eventually, the block will move free from the surrounding pieces and you will be able to simply pull it out, pick it up and move away for its new mission. A wheel barrow is recommended. Repeat previous actions. You will develop your own technique. Its actually a lot of fun. You could make this into a work party.

Could be the concrete was poured on gravel and the underside looks attractive, like something bought at the garden store.

I reused the concrete as borders for two water features. Planted with ferns and other natives. Its all grown up now, check the website photos, a driveway never looked so good. Some of the blocks are used as the floor of my covered outdoor work space. My friend took half of the chunks and made a permeable patio.

With the driveway gone, I built a storage shed and planted an English walnut. Over the top of the shed, I constructed a trellis 2 to 3 feet over the roof. A grape vine planted at one corner of the shed now covers the trellis over the roof. This past fall, I picked enough grapes to make four gallons of grape juice, which I freeze. The walnut tree is now large enough to climb in and has just stated to produce a useful amount of nuts. Food and aesthetics where there used to be a concrete slab.

From the street. Sidewalk is remains of the six car driveway. Note grapes above the shed.

Reclaiming automobile space for better use is an important task on the suburban frontier. When you learn how, you can help remove other driveways and parking lots. I never had any complaints from neighbors or the city. Taking out a driveway is highly recommended.

You can see photos of the concrete removal before and now on my website.  Also many other images of suburban permaculture.

Upcoming blogs will touch on water features, rain water catchment, sun room, neighborhood collaborations and much more.

If you, friends, or groups you know are interested in webinars about transforming a suburban property and greening the neighborhood, please contact me via my website, Suburban Permaculture.

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