Picking up Nickels

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

My experience getting my driveway repaved: Part 1

I must admit that our driveway was a minor consideration when our house was built 10+ years ago. It had became one of many small line items to be completed during the flurry of activity as we watched our new house take shape. At the time, the builder would only agree to put in a binder course (the bottom "foundation" layer of an asphalt driveway) but not a top coat apparently because our street and sidewalks had not yet been paved.

Over time, many of our neighbors put in new driveways with a 1.5" binder course and a 1.5" top coat. Being "frugal", I never seriously considered putting the top coat on our driveway until this past winter when the heavy snow left our driveway a squishy mess during the many freeze/thaw cycles we went through. I remember being a bit surprised when parts of the driveway were moving as I walked on it to get the mail out of the mailbox. At that point, I decided it was time to look into getting this mess taken care of when the weather warmed up a bit:

A couple of months ago, I finally sat down and tried to come up with a way to get some quotes from a few reliable paving companies. I figured that I should be well positioned to get a quality job done at great price since the price of oil (a major component of asphalt) is down about 50% over the past year and I have cash to spend in a recession following the collapse the housing bubble. Looking back, it's hard to believe I was ever that naive. :)

With that in mind, I put together my strategy for finding a few vendors to contact for a quote:

  • The stodgy old phone book: I went through local phone books and yellow pages and added every paving contractor that I could find to a spreadsheet.
  • The Better Business Bureau: I looked up the reliability report for every paving contractor in my spreadsheet. Some were an BBB Accredited Business, some had a great rating, one had a F rating and numerous unresolved complaints, and two were apparently no longer in business.
  • Craigslist: I checked out Craigslist to see if any of the companies on my spreadsheet were hungry for work and embraced the web as a way to find new business. As luck would have it, two of the companies on my list had posted on Craigslist. One had paved my in-laws driveway many years ago and the other was a BBB Accredited Business with an A+ rating and a Craigslist ad mentioning "recession prices".
  • The company web site: As an information technology (IT) professional, I wondered how many of these companies actually spent the time and expense building and maintaining a professional looking web site. It turned out that five out of twenty five companies in my spreadsheet had a decent-looking web site (including the company with the F rating from the BBB).
  • Ask friends and neighbors for referrals: Not too much detail from these folks, but I found four people with a positive paving experience to share. Unfortunately, one of these companies was no longer in business.
  • Check them out with the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety: This turned out to be a disappointing once I figured out that paving contractors in Massachusetts are not required to be licensed.

Using the above criteria, I ended up calling five paving companies and asked them to come by and give me a quote for an asphalt top coat on my driveway. My quest for the perfect (and affordable) driveway continues with Part 2 of this saga where I lay out the details of how things played out with those contractors. Stay tuned!


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