Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
If you are in the market for a new driveway, the first choice you will need to make is asphalt or concrete. There are many factors you may wish to consider when making your decision. If the price is the main consideration for your selection, then asphalt is your choice.
Why is asphalt cheaper than concrete? There are a few reasons asphalt is cheaper than concrete. One is due to the costs of the materials required to make asphalt. Also, asphalt is easier and quicker to install. Concrete also has many finishing options that can make it much more expensive.
Asphalt is commonly referred to as blacktop or pavement. Asphalt will cost between $2 to $5 per square foot to install. Concrete, on the other hand, starts at $4 to $6 per square foot and can cost as much as $15 if you add some of the available finishing options. Asphalt is also cheaper and easier to repair and maintain than concrete.
Why is Asphalt Cheaper?
When you hear asphalt, people are usually referring to asphalt concrete. Asphalt itself is a sticky, black, and highly viscous liquid or semi-solid form of petroleum that is used to bind the hard materials together. The materials used in making asphalt is cheaper than those in concrete. Also, much more goes into the process of laying and finishing concrete.
Although it may be cheaper, it doesn’t always mean that it isn’t of good quality. Below, we’ll take a look at the pros and cons that are associated with asphalt, and why it may or may not be worth it.
Pros and Cons of Asphalt
Asphalt, as discussed previously, is cheaper than concrete. What other advantages does asphalt have over concrete? They include:
- Weather durability. Asphalt expands and contracts with changes in the weather where concrete will crack in colder temperatures.
- Stains. Since asphalt is dark in color, oil spills and other stains won’t show as easily as concrete.
- Repair and maintenance. Asphalt can be repaired or re-layered when cracks or holes form. Concrete will usually need to be replaced as repairs are unsightly, and re-layering is not an option.
- The quickness of use. Asphalt can be driven on almost immediately. Concrete requires one week to sit before it can be driven on.
Now that you have heard all the advantages of choosing asphalt, here are some reasons you may not want to choose asphalt:
- Asphalt has a shorter life span than concrete. Asphalt, if maintained properly, can last 20 to 25 years. Concrete can last 30 to 40 years.
- Maintenance required. Asphalt should be sealed six months to a year after being laid and every 3 to 5 years after that. Concrete does not require sealing, but it is recommended to keep any finish it may have. Also, you may want to clean concrete regularly since stains show easily because of it.
- Sticky. When asphalt gets hot, it will expand and become a sticky substance that can stick to the bottom of your shoes. Be mindful of this, so you don’t track any substances throughout your house.
- Rough edges. Asphalt has rough and uneven edges due to how it is laid and pressed. Whereas concrete is poured and can be made with exact edges.
Lifespan of Asphalt
Asphalt has a life span of 20 to 25 years if properly maintained. Three factors that determine the life span are construction quality, environmental considerations, and traffic loads. With asphalt, it is important that utility trenches and appurtenances are placed in the pavement after construction. The presence of water under asphalt can lead to deterioration when the water freezes and expands then later melts. Also, gasoline on the asphalt may damage and shorten the life of the asphalt. So clean any gas spills immediately.
As the asphalt gets hot or cold, it expands or contracts. This can lead to cracking. Also, the amount of traffic plays a part in the lifespan of asphalt. When asphalt is hot and has a lot of traffic, the asphalt will expand with the weight of vehicles. This can lead to ruts forming in the pavement.
How to Seal Asphalt
Asphalt does require sealing. Sealing will keep water from penetrating the pavement and protect against cracks and oil damage. The first time should be done six months to one year after the asphalt is first laid down. After that, you need to reseal every three to five years. Sealing is not difficult and can be done by anyone without any specialized tools required.
To seal an asphalt driveway first, make sure there are no large cracks or potholes in the asphalt. This shouldn’t be a problem the first time you seal your driveway but could be during resealing. Any cracks that are an ⅛ inch or smaller will be filled in by the sealant used. Cracks that are larger than that but not more than ½ inch wide need to be filled with a liquid crack sealer. First, clear the cracked area of any debris with gardening tools or whatever you use around the house for such jobs. Then remove any remaining materials using a wire brush. Once completely cleaned out, just pour the crack sealer according to the product’s directions.
Bigger Cracks and Potholes
For bigger cracks or potholes, you can use a cold patch to fill. A cold patch is a form of asphalt that is sold in a bag, can, or bucket and can be purchased at a home improvement store. First, clear the area of all debris. Ideally, you want the area to be filled to be wider at the top surface of the asphalt than the bottom. You can do this with a shovel or similar tool and a little hard labor. The rim created with the old asphalt will help hold the patch in place.
Now, fill the area with the cold patch until the filled area is a little higher than the old asphalt. Then tamp it down with a tamping tool. If you do not have access to one, you can lay a piece of plywood or metal over the area and drive over it multiple times. Any remaining cracks need to be filled with liquid crack sealer.
Now it is time for sealer. Sealer is sold in 5-gallon buckets and covers about 100 square feet per gallon. It can be applied by pouring on to the asphalt and spread using a 2 to 3-foot wide soft-bristled shop broom. Warning, you will not be able to reuse this broom as the sealant will ruin the broom. It is recommended to apply in two thin layers instead of one thick layer. Use gloves, a breathing mask, and eye protection for safety purposes. Wear old clothes as this is a messy job.
Finishing Options for Asphalt
Most people aren’t aware that asphalt offers a few options when it comes to appearance. Plain black is no longer the only choice. Color additives are available in hot mix asphalt to give a different color than black. Also, sealant can be purchased that will color your pavement. Although there isn’t a wide range of hues available, there are many attractive earth tones to choose from.
Asphalt can also be stamped to give a different look. Stamping is when special steel or woven wire templates are pre-formed into the desired design to make an even 3/8” imprint in the asphalt surface. As an FYI, stamping does not affect the lifespan of asphalt and can be done to old asphalt, if you are interested in that possibility.
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