Concrete or Asphalt

Concrete or Asphalt

Concrete or Asphalt: Which Makes Sense for Your Pavement Project?

Installing a new parking lot, walkway, or street? One of the first things to determine is the type of pavement that will be used during the project. In most cases, the decision boils down to either asphalt or concrete. Both have been proven in a variety of pavement applications and both are viable in most parts of the country.

But there are significant differences between concrete and asphalt, and project managers will have to weigh a few factors when selecting one over the other.

Climate Makes a Big Difference When Selecting Pavement

In the battle between asphalt and concrete, climate can be a deciding factor, and in this area, the materials’ strengths are complementary. Asphalt tends to perform better in cold climates and concrete is better suited for warmer areas. Here’s a closer look at how each material is affected by the weather:

  • Asphalt – Asphalt is a cold-weather pavement and the preferred option for any area that regularly experiences freezing temperatures during the winter.

There are a few reasons for this. One, asphalt withstands freezing and thawing cycles well, as long as the pavement is properly maintained and sealed. Two, asphalt absorbs more energy from the sun, which helps speed snow and ice melt along. Three, asphalt is unaffected by salt, so it will maintain its integrity even after multiple rounds of freezing and salting.

  • Concrete – Concrete is a warm-weather pavement, and so it’s the pavement material of choice for areas along the Gulf Coast and southwest. There are a few reasons why concrete is preferred for hotter areas.

One, concrete absorbs less energy from the sun, so it does not heat up as much as asphalt on a sunny day. If you’ve ever walked barefoot on asphalt during the Texas summer, you know how hot it can get.

Also, concrete will not “bleed” oil like asphalt as it heats up. Asphalt can seep oil during extreme temperatures, giving it a sticky texture that reduces road performance. Concrete doesn’t have this issue and will retain its texture in hot weather.

Concrete can safely expand when exposed to thermal energy if jointed properly. Expansion joints ensure the pavement can swell without cracking, but those joints must be adequately sealed to prevent dust and moisture from penetrating into the pavement.

Concrete, however, does not tolerate cold climates as well because it is susceptible to frost heaving (water freezing under the pavement’s surface and pushing up on it) and will deteriorate when salted. Deicing salts can strip surface aggregate, leaving it with pits and pockmarks.

As important as climate is in the pavement selection process, it is not the only factor.

Concrete’s Advantages and Applications

Concrete is one of construction’s most durable materials and the most durable pavement material available. If installed properly and given regular maintenance, concrete’s excellent durability means that property owners can get decades out of their pavement before replacement is required. On average, property owners can expect between 20-40 years from new concrete paving, but some projects will last well beyond that if any damage is quickly addressed.

In addition to concrete’s durability, the material’s rigidity makes it a frontline choice for any high weight-bearing application. Concrete distributes load over a larger area and possesses excellent compressive strength. As such, concrete is a frontline choice for high-volume traffic applications like interstate highways, loading docks, and any property that maintains heavy machinery.

Another one of concrete’s benefits is reduced maintenance. Concrete does not require maintenance as frequently as asphalt, so any repair-related disruptions are minimized with concrete pavement. Again, this makes the material a good choice for high-traffic areas like highways and parking garages.

Finally, concrete is available in a wider color and design range. It can be mixed with various additives to create a vibrant array of hues. It can be stamped with intricate designs. It can be adorned with stones, gems, tiles, or other objects. It can also be striped with traffic markings. This visual versatility means concrete is a popular option for walkways and other aesthetic applications.

Asphalt’s Advantages and Applications

Asphalt is a cost-effective material to install, and if the budget’s tight, asphalt pavement is a viable option for parking lots, driveways, and some streets. On average, property owners should expect to pay anywhere from 40 to 60 percent less per square foot for asphalt, compared to concrete.

Asphalt is plenty durable and can last for up to 30 years with regular maintenance. The key word here is “regular,” though, because asphalt does require more frequent maintenance than concrete. Otherwise, potholes, cracks and other forms of damage will emerge.

For example, it’s recommended that property owners sealcoat their asphalt every other year. Sealcoating protects the pavement from weather, UV, chemical and minor impact damage.

However, while asphalt does require more maintenance than concrete, this maintenance is less expensive.

Asphalt’s flexibility means it works well for any application that involves curves. This is ideal for streets or a driveway. However, asphalt’s flexibility works against it for load-bearing purposes, as it does not distribute weight across a wider area like concrete. As a result, asphalt may warp if exposed to regular heavy loading. This is more likely to occur if the pavement was not mixed or installed correctly.

Although asphalt can’t be visually customized to the same extent as concrete, it can be striped for parking lot and roadway applications.

In the End, the Right Pavement for Your Project Depends on Several Factors

There isn’t a clear winner between concrete and asphalt, even in areas where the climate would seem to make the decision. If there’s a lot of shade on your property, the issues with heat may not be an issue for your asphalt project. And likewise, if your concrete is shielded from ice and snow, then freezing may not be a concern.

Durability, cost, application, and appearance are also worth considering, and how these factors line up will determine whether asphalt or concrete makes sense for your pavement project.