Why Do Driveways Crack? The Top 5 Most Common Reasons

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You want your driveway to look good. After all, it’s essentially a giant arrow pointing at your home.

But over time, driveways develop cracks and not only affect the curb appeal but also might make you wonder about its longevity and safety.

There are several things that can cause your driveway to crack. And if not addressed early, those minor cracks can turn into expensive repair bills. In this blog, we’ll explore the most prevalent causes of driveway cracks and how to prevent them. Let’s dive in.

1. Weather changes

Extreme weather conditions can take a toll on your driveway. Freezing temperatures, excessive heat, and frequent fluctuations can cause the concrete to expand and contract, leading to stress on the surface.

In regions with cold winters (AKA the entire Midwest), the freeze-thaw cycle poses a threat to driveways. Water can seep into the small cracks and pores of the concrete. Then, as it gets extremely cold, that water freezes. When water freezes, it expands. This, unfortunately, exerts pressure on the surrounding concrete and can lead to larger cracks developing, or in extreme conditions, cause the concrete to break apart. 

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In addition, drastic temperature fluctuations also impact driveways. Concrete expands during high temperatures and contracts when temperatures drop. This constant expansion and contraction puts stress on the concrete, making it more prone to cracking. 

Another way weather changes affect driveways is through excessive heat. Intense heat and prolonged UV ray exposure can cause your driveway to expand, which weakens the concrete and leads to cracks. 

How to prevent:

To reduce the risk of cracking due to weather changes, regular maintenance is crucial. 

  • Seal the driveway: Applying a high-quality concrete sealer helps protect the surface from moisture penetration, UV damage, and temperature fluctuations.

  • Clear snow and ice: Promptly remove snow and ice from your driveway to prevent the freeze-thaw cycle and minimize the risk of cracking.

  • Avoid using harsh chemicals: When removing snow or ice, opt for non-corrosive products to prevent damage to the concrete.

2. Bad installation

A driveway with a lot of cracks can be the result of poor installation practices. When driveways are not installed correctly, several factors come into play that can affect the longevity and structural integrity of the concrete. 

When your driveway was installed, the contractors put down a base layer. This layer serves as the foundation for the driveway. If the base isn't properly prepared, it can lead to uneven support and settlement issues. Using improper materials or poor compaction can cause your driveway to shift and settle, resulting in cracks over time. 

Reinforcement is another part of the driveway installation process. Reinforcement, such as rebar or wire mesh, is often used to enhance the strength and stability of the concrete. If it's not properly installed or not used at all, the concrete may lack the necessary support it needs to withstand heavy loads. 

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On top of that, the composition of the concrete mix can also be at play here. If the wrong proportions of cement, aggregate, or water are used, it can compromise the strength and durability of the concrete. A bad mix of concrete can make it more prone to shrinkage and cracking.

Lastly, if your driveway doesn't have enough expansion joints, the concrete may crack as it tries to expand or contract. Expansion joints are designed to allow for the natural expansion and contraction of concrete due to temperature changes. Without them, you will notice your driveway cracking extensively, especially in regions with a lot of temperature changes.

If you suspect improper installation, we recommend consulting with a professional contractor for a thorough inspection and appropriate repairs. Addressing any installation issues promptly will help prevent further damage and ensure a long-lasting, functional driveway.

3. Heavy loads

Concrete is one of the strongest manmade materials. But if your driveway is enduring constant pressure from heavy vehicles parked on its surface, that concrete can get stressed and start to crack. Heavy loads, like oversized trucks or machinery, might exceed your driveway’s weight limit.

Even if your driveway is strong enough to withstand heavy weights, the soil beneath might not be. If that’s the case, you’ll notice your driveway settling into the ground.

How to prevent:

To minimize the effects of heavy loads on driveways and prevent cracking, follow these preventative measures:

  • Adhere to the weight limit specified for your driveway. Avoid parking or driving heavy vehicles on the driveway if it exceeds the recommended weight capacity.

  • Whenever possible, distribute heavy loads across a larger surface area. Use parking pads or additional support, such as pavers or gravel, to disperse the weight and minimize stress on specific spots.

  • Perform regular inspections of the driveway to identify any signs of stress, cracking, or surface damage. 

4. Tree roots

If you live near a lot of trees, then your driveway might be at war with Mother Nature. As trees grow, their roots naturally seek water and spread beneath your driveway, creating significant pressure on the concrete.

Tree roots naturally want to absorb moisture from the surrounding soil. As they search for water, the roots can pull moisture from the soil beneath your driveway. Soil that is depleting in moisture ends up shrinking and creating voids. These voids beneath your driveway can lead to an unstable base and cracks. 

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In addition, as the tree roots grow, they are able to exert signficant force in the soil. This force can cause the soil to shift and put upward pressure on your driveway. The force is so strong it can even lift sections of your driveway. 

How to prevent:

To minimize the effects of tree roots on driveways and prevent cracking, consider the following measures:

  • If you're planting trees, make sure they're placed at a safe distance from your home. If you can, consult with a landscaping professional to help determine the correct placement. 

  • Installing a root barrier between the driveway and trees can help prevent root intrusion. These barriers are typically made of thick, impermeable materials that redirect root growth away from the driveway, protecting its integrity.

  • Regularly inspect the area around your driveway for signs of root intrusion. If you notice roots near the driveway, we suggest talking to an arborist to determine the best course of action. Trimming or removing tree roots should be done cautiously and carefully to avoid damaging the tree. 

5. Poor drainage

Water is not your driveway’s friend. Poor drainage can have a significant impact on driveways and contribute to cracking.

When water doesn't properly drain away from your driveway, it starts to accumulate on the surface and pool. Over time, this standing water can seep into the pores in the concrete, weakening it, and making it susceptible to cracking. 

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Insufficient drainage can also cause soil erosion around and beneath your driveway. As water flows or collects near your driveway, it can erode the soil, leading to uneven settling. This uneven settling puts stress on the driveway and increases the likelihood of cracks. 

Lastly, improper drainage can result in water saturating the soil beneath your driveway. When soil is saturated, it expands, especially if it has high clay content. The swelling soil exerts pressure on the concrete from below, which leads to heaving, uneven surfaces, and cracking.

How to prevent:

To mitigate the impact of poor drainage on driveways and prevent cracking, consider the following measures:

  1.  Ensure that your driveway has a suitable drainage system in place. This may include installing extended downspouts, a drainage system, or surface channels to redirect water away from the driveway and prevent pooling or accumulation.

  2. Properly grading the driveway can help manage water runoff and prevent water from collecting on the surface. The driveway should slope away from the house and direct water towards a designated area.

  3. Make sure that gutters and downspouts are clear of debris and functioning properly.

How to fix cracks in your driveway

Cracked driveways can be frustrating, but understanding the common causes and being proactive can minimize the risk and extend the lifespan of your driveway.

Regular maintenance, addressing drainage issues, reinforcing weak areas, and seeking professional help when needed are key to preserving your driveway's integrity. Remember, a well-maintained and crack-free driveway not only enhances the curb appeal of your home but also provides a smooth and safe path for you and your family.

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If you're experiencing driveway cracks or need professional assistance, our team at Thrasher Foundation Repair is here to help. With our expertise in driveway repair, we'll ensure your driveway regains its strength and beauty. If you are in our service area and need a professional opinion, contact us today by starting a chat in the bottom right corner, filling out this form, or calling us at 1-844-948-3306.

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