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Gadgets for Ensuring Your Drive is Level

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 9 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Drive Flat Level Driveways Spirit Level

Although a DIY driveway can prove to be a low-cost option, it’s vital that you get the basics right or you could end up forking out a lot of money to fix problems that could have been avoided. One of the key factors to producing a long-lasting driveway is making sure that the levelling is correct.

Just because a driveway looks flat and even, doesn’t mean it’s level. Water is a drive's worst enemy, after all, and if you don’t make sure that your driveway has a clear gradient to allow for drainage, you’re looking at a lot of problems further down the line.

Flat and level – are they the same?

The flatness of the drive refers to the evenness of the surface (your car won’t appreciate a lot of bumps), while the level refers to its slope. If your land is naturally very level, it is essential that you build a slightly curved gradient into your driveway to enable water to run off and not ruin the surface.

This gradient will be different for every driveway as no two sites are ever the same, so it’s vital that you work out your own measurements before doing anything. The fall needed for good drainage is between 1:60 and 1:80. Confused? All this means is the drainage gullies should be one unit lower for every 60 or 80 units of length.

Levelling can be done by hand…

For smaller driveways, you can use levelling techniques that utilise little more than a spirit level, a three to four metre long piece of timber and a lot of effort manually staking, measuring and marking out the level of your drive.

But this technique is painstaking and often inaccurate, and involves driving stakes into the ground and manually measuring how straight the surfaces are using the good old-fashioned spirit level. It also requires two people in order to mark the reference points so unless you have a willing friend or family member then you’ll be out of luck.

… but gadgets make it so much easier!

So it’s not surprising, then, that tradesmen and DIY enthusiasts have cottoned on to the time-saving laser level as a way of taking the effort out of levelling a drive.

Whereas a traditional spirit level uses an air bubble in a glass vial that floats left or right to show you how straight a surface is, the laser level utilises a beam of light and, sometimes, sound. More expensive laser levels are even capable of projecting lines at a range of different angles for more complex levelling projects.

In addition to the laser level, you’ll need to set up a tripod, which usually comes with its own in-built levelling bubble and individually adjustable legs so you can set it specifically for your own needs. If you have a bit of money to spend then more expensive models come with a fully automated system that totally takes the hassle out of levelling your drive.

The dumpy level

You may have also heard of an automatic level or ‘Dumpy level’. This utilises telescopic lenses so that the accuracy of your drive levels can be ensured optically. However, as you may have guessed, this requires a lot of skill on the part of the user and, although many construction companies now use them as they are quick to set up and use, you may find that they’re more trouble than they’re worth.

The alternative is a digital electronic level, which uses optical and mechanical systems to automatically determine both the height and distance of surfaces for error-free readings. It promises one-button digital levelling that’s quick to learn and easy to operate.

What about the cost?

This is all very well but what of the cost? After all, chances are that if you’re looking to do a DIY driveway then you’re looking to cut costs wherever possible. Unfortunately, many of these automatic and laser levellers are expensive to buy outright, ranging in price from £40, quickly spiralling into the hundreds of pounds.

But there are lots of companies out there – both online and DIY stores – that will allow you to rent levellers for a fraction of the cost. You can even rent the specialised, expensive equipment for £20+ for however long you need it – anything from one day to a week or more, depending on how much time you’ve set aside to do this phase of your driveway preparation.

Persevere with levelling gadgets

The most important thing is not to be put off by the technicalities of this equipment. It’s all been designed to make levelling as easy as possible, and with a bit of practice you’ll have a level, well-maintained and relatively inexpensive driveway.

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