One reason we chose to put in a gravel parking pad, rather than paving, is that using a permeable surface for parking is more eco-friendly, since it reduces run-off. In case you're considering this relatively cheap but high-impact project, I will share some of my new-found insights here, along with some photos of our project. This is a before picture from when we were building the fence. (There were a lot less weeds then.)
When I was trying to figure out what type of stores I should be calling to compare prices on gravel, it seemed to me that in the old days, one would have just looked up "gravel" in the yellow pages. So, I tried it (on yellowpages.com, that is). This didn't turn up many places that looked promising to me, but it did set me on the path of the "building supply" store. That, my friends, is where you buy gravel.
Google maps led me to a number of building supply stores close to home (which, I reasoned, would make delivery cheaper). Now I know there are some hard core DIY'ers out there thinking to yourselves "Delivery, bah! I'll just pick up the gravel myself, shovel it into the back of my hatchback, and drive it home in a few small loads." (Okay, I'll admit it, I considered this.) Don't do it. Gravel is heavy. Really heavy. And the amount you will need is more than you think (I'll get to that in a minute). So if you can't avoid the delivery fee, how else can you save money on gravel?
James and the dump truck.
The best way to save money on gravel is to call around and ask about the cost of gravel (usually given per cubic yard), and also about the cost of delivery. I called five building supply stores. The cost of the gravel ranged from $37 to $50 per cubic yard, and the cost of delivery was between $25 and $70. So you can see that it is well worth taking the time to shop around. Fortunately for us, the place with the cheapest gravel also had the cheapest delivery, so calling around really did save us a bundle.
So, how many cubic yards do you need? I asked a number of people, both family friends with experience in this area, and the people at the building supply stores. The conclusion that I have come to is that, as a general rule, 1 cubic yard per 100 square feet that you want to cover is about right. If the ground that you are putting the gravel on is not very compacted, or if there is room for the gravel to spread at the edges (which there wasn't in our case), you might need a bit more. We got 4 cubic yards, and it was a big pile! Here it is:
Our other big tip for you, given our experience raking and shoveling the gravel to convert it from a giant pile of rocks into a nice, even parking area, is to have the dump truck dump it in the middle (rather than at the edge) of the area that you plan to cover with gravel. That way you can spread it out from the middle in all 4 directions, instead of having to spread it a farther distance in only 3 directions, like we did. Also, wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water.
And voila, a dazzling new parking area that's eco-friendly too!