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The Asphalt Driveway: What You Need to Know

One of the more popular options available for paving a driveway is asphalt. These types of residential driveways are ubiquitous throughout the world due to their cheap price, durability, and relative easy of install. This article will describe what you need to know about the asphalt driveway – what it is, its benefits, its drawbacks, its prices, and what to look for when getting a driveway installed.

More information on other driveway materials, such as driveway pavers, can be found at these links.

The Benefits and Drawbacks (Pros and Cons) Of Asphalt

The major benefit of asphalt is its durability and resistance to vehicular traffic. You can park and drive on it with no problems. It is also very easy to install, as long as the company or contractor knows what they are doing, and the material is also cheap. Thus, prices for the installation of asphalt driveways are usually low, especially if you get contractors to bid against one another. The installation can be finished quickly, so you won’t have to wait for days for the project to be completed. (In theory, at least – see the ‘Scams’ section). Another benefit is that you won’t have to worry much about stains, even of oil, because they will usually blend in with the black of the asphalt. Maintenance is usually quite easy, too.

Asphalt also does well in many climates, as it can resist cracking due to cold and be flexible in hot environments due to the composition of the driveway. It is easy to remove snow from, with shovels, plows, and deicing salts, and absorbs the sunlight in the winter, helping to melt snow and ice.

There are some drawbacks to asphalt, however. Though maintenance is easy, you will still have to seal the driveway once a year, or at least get someone else to do it. While it’s not necessarily required, the proper application of asphalt sealer will help keep the driveway looking great and being strong for years to come. A little investment now could spare you the costs of replacing the driveway well before its time.

Another drawback of asphalt is that it doesn’t look as good as other driveway options. It is certainly outclassed by paving stones, and even concrete, especially if it is stamped or colored, can be more interesting to look at than asphalt. Indeed, asphalt is kind of generic, but this may not be a problem for you if you just want the job done and don’t want to invest into the looks of your home. Just know that your design options will be limited – in the patterns, shapes, and colors you’ll have (or rather lack) at your disposal. If you are looking for more flexiblity and creativity in designs, go with concrete, paving stones, natural stone, or brick pavers.

Like concrete, asphalt may crack due to freeze-thaw cycles. This is a common problem in areas with cold and wet climates, but it can happen anywhere. Whether or not this happens depends on a number of factors, including random chance, but the most important factor is the quality of the base on which the asphalt is installed. When looking for a contractor, make sure he or she knows the importance of the base, and is willing and able to put in the time necessary to prepare it properly. You may want to subcontract out that part of the work to someone who is great at preparing bases if you don’t trust your contractor’s ability to deliver on this.

Asphalt may also have issues in hot climates. If it gets too soft and too much weight is put on it, it may form ruts or dips that can be unsightly.

One other disadvantage is that you can track in oil and grime from the driveway into your home and other clean areas if you are not careful about taking off your shoes. For instance, it’s totally possible to track in seal coating into your home, especially if it’s a hot day and the asphalt is soft or just recently sealed.

If you are concerned with the environment, asphalt may not the be best choice, as chemicals and oils will leach into the ground. However, if you use recycled asphalt, you will help save the environment by using fewer fossil fuels. You’ll also save a few bucks, too!

Finally, you will not be able to install asphalt yourself unless you have the tools and experience to do so. Thus, if you are looking for a DIY driveway project, asphalt may not be the choice for you. If you do want to get asphalt done, you’ll have to hire a pavers contractor – and that comes with the obvious drawbacks of that process.

Asphalt Driveway Cost Estimate

Asphalt is usually one of the cheapest options out there, though the price will vary depending on many factors. One of these factors is the price of crude oil. Components of oil are actually important components of blacktop, so as oil increases in price, blacktop increases in price. Other factors include the size of the job, the season, your location, the contractor you hire, and the specifics of the job itself. In general, however, the cost per square foot for most driveways will range from $1 to $6. The exact cost will depend on the estimate you receive from a contractor; you may also be able to find a cost calculator as well to give you a more specific, but still rough, estimate.

If you get an old asphalt driveway resurfacing, you’ll pay much less in the short term than if you got a new driveway. However, realize that many of the flaws, like cracks, may come through the new layer, despite the contractor’s best efforts, so it may pay in many cases to get a totally new installation.

A more in depth look at the asphalt driveway cost can be found at this link.

Asphalt Driveway Maintenance and Repairs

Asphalt benefits from periodic sealing, though it is by no means required. If you want to extend the life of your driveway, or if you want to protect it from water damage, have it sealed every year or two. However, wait at least a year before sealing a new asphalt driveway. You will want to to do this when the surface turns a bit more grey and when you can see the small stones coming to the surface. If you don’t want to hire someone who specializes in sealing asphalt driveways, it is possible for you to do the work yourself as long as you follow the “how to” directions listed on the sealant product you purchase.

If your driveway does get cracked, chipped, or otherwise damage, it is possible to hire someone who does asphalt driveway repair; you can also do the work yourself, if you know how. Simple crack filler or patches might not look great, but they will look better than the unfixed alternative; they are usually relatively easy for you to DIY.

How Do These Driveways Compare to Other Materials?

What about concrete vs. an asphalt driveway? These are two of the most popular options for driveways, not counting concrete pavers and stone.

Asphalt is very similar to concrete, in that they are both a mixture of sand and stones, but asphalt is bound together with asphalt cement instead of Portland cement. Asphalt is, in a sense, “concrete asphalt,” in that it contains similar components to concrete and is bound together in a similar manner. Despite the minor differences, both are strong, and asphalt has the added bonus of being quite flexible.

Whether you pick asphalt or concrete is up to your budget, design ideas, and home style and theme. Concrete is usually slightly more expensive than asphalt, but this may not be true all the time. You’ll have more design options with concrete, even if you do pick special colored or stamped asphalt, but the installation and maintenance of your asphalt will probably be easier.

Note that asphalt and concrete are both different from a crushed asphalt driveway, also known as tar and chip or macadam. Instead of mixing the stone, sand, and binding agent before laying the driveway, the stone and sand are laid on the driveway first and then ‘sprayed’ with the cement.

A more in depth comparison of hardscape materials can be found here.

What About Asphalt Driveway Scams?

Asphalt driveway paving is big business in the home construction niche, so you’ll have no shortage of people willing to do the work for your home. However, many people report having many problems when dealing with contractors, everything from delivering substandard work to excavating an old driveway and then waiting for months to finish the job, leaving the homeowner with a dirty and dusty driveway throughout that time.

One of the main reasons this happens is that certain unscrupulous contractors will wait until they score multiple jobs in one area before laying down the asphalt. This is because asphalt must be hot in order to be laid, and it is more convenient and efficient to lay more than one driveway at a time. Thus, they will often excavate a driveway, wait for more homes, and then finish the job days, weeks, or even months later. This is why it’s so important to get reviews of contractors’ work before you commit to them. You need to make sure you are getting good value, and not getting scammed, so do your homework and ask for referrals from friends and family who’ve had good work done in the past.

When picking a contractor, the most important factor is how much attention they pay to a base. The base of the driveway should be around 8 inches of well compacted gravel or aggregate base. In addition, this base should extend farther than the actual driveway in order to give a little edging around the structure. Don’t let the contractor install the new driveway without assessing the thickness and the strength of the base – if you are getting a new driveway because the old one cracked, you’ll want to make sure you get a full checkup, even if this will cost you more in the short term.

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