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How Do Freezing Temperatures Affect Asphalt and Concrete in Houston

How Do Freezing Temperatures Affect Asphalt and Concrete in Houston?

During the average winter in Houston, there are 11 nights where the temperature drops below freezing. During those nights, the asphalt and concrete in Houston is put under extra stress and is more prone to damage.

Given the cold’s destructive potential on asphalt and concrete, Houston property owners should look over their pavement following a freeze. If winter weather has damaged the pavement, business owners should consult with a reputable paving contractor to avoid further damage.

How Freezing Temperatures Affect Asphalt in Houston

Asphalt is typically thought of as the cold weather pavement, but it is still susceptible to damage from extreme temperatures.

Ice and snow may not be part of the typical south Texas climate, but if there Is a freeze following a rain event, it can put roads, parking lots and other asphalt pavement in danger. Here is how freezing temperatures can damage asphalt:

  • Extreme cold causes asphalt to contract – Bitumen is a primary ingredient in asphalt, binding together rocks and other aggregates. In this way, you can think of bitumen as the glue that keeps the asphalt’s structure together.

    Unfortunately, asphalt is prone to shrinkage when exposed to very low temperatures. If the bitumen binder contracts enough, it may pull off the aggregates, causing them to come loose and dislodge from the pavement. This can create cracks and other openings in the asphalt that will lead to further problems.

  • Water may penetrate the asphalt surface – If rain occurs just before or shortly after the freezing temperatures, water will seep into any cracks and reach the pavement’s deeper layers. These layers are vulnerable to moisture damage, as water will attack the binders holding the pavement together. With time, this will cause the pavement to subside, or collapse on itself in the form of potholes.
  • Freeze/thaw cycles can worsen asphalt damage – It gets worse if the pavement is exposed to repeated freeze and thaw cycles. If water has seeped into the pavement and freezes when temperatures drop, it will expand inside the asphalt and pry cracks open further. If this process occurs rapidly – which can be the case with repeated spikes and drops in temperature – it can quickly cause widespread cracking.
  • The soil under the asphalt may heave – The soil under the pavement (known as the base), is not spared from a hard freeze. If moisture inside the base freezes and expands, it will push the soil up, which is a process known as heaving. This upward pressure is translated into the overlaying asphalt, which will buckle and may fail entirely.

Extreme cold is always a threat to asphalt, but it is the combination of extreme cold and water that should be particularly concerning to Houston property owners.

How Freezing Temperatures Affect Houston's Concrete Pavement

Winter weather has a negative effect on concrete pavement as well, which can be a problem for Houston’s infrastructure. Most of the city’s main roads and large paved areas are made with concrete. Here is why concrete needs extra attention following a freeze:

  • The concrete’s surface may scale – When concrete scales, the pavement’s top layer delaminates from the rest of the pavement and peels off. Freezing temperatures can cause concrete to shed aggregate in this way, wearing away the surface and exposing the layers beneath.

  • The concrete may develop cracks – Any small cracks in the concrete will worsen if water freezes inside the cracks. If the concrete is steel-reinforced, spalling may occur if the weather frequently cycles from above freezing to sub-freezing temperatures. When concrete spalls, it breaks off from the steel in chunks, leaving the pavement wide open to water intrusion and further damage.

  • Frost heaving may push the concrete out of alignment – Concrete can also be shifted out of alignment if the soil freezes and heaves beneath it. However, unlike asphalt, which is a flexible form of pavement, concrete will not buckle. It will either develop slab-destroying cracks, or neighboring slabs will be pushed up or down relative to each other. There is no way to repair uneven pavement, so it will have to be replaced entirely.

In general, concrete weathers freezing temperatures well, but add moisture to the mix and the situation can change, and Houston is known for rain and humidity.

How to Identify Issues with Asphalt and Concrete After Freezing Temperatures in Houston

When Houston goes through a hard freeze, here is what property owners can do to keep their pavement in good condition:

  • Perform a thorough visual inspection – The most important step property owners can take is keeping an eye on their pavement. Make a note of any new or worsening issues as the earlier you can catch cracks or aggregate loss, the easier it will be to make repairs and save the pavement from further damage.
  • Verify that all drainage structures are clear – It is not just the cold, but the combination of cold and moisture that causes damage to asphalt and concrete. In Houston, it’s common for freezing events to follow wet weather, so if a cold snap is coming, make sure the property can effectively drain water off so it doesn’t allow ice formation.
  • If damage is present, bring in the professionals – If you notice new or worsening signs of damage following a freeze, schedule an inspection with a reputable paving contractor. An expert in paving can identify the cause behind the pavement problems and identify the most cost-efficient repair solution. Once the pavement is repaired, the contractor can provide ongoing maintenance services to preserve its condition.

Protect Asphalt and Concrete Paving from Freezing Damage with a Professional Pavement Inspection

Every year, Houston only faces a few significant freezes. However, each freezing event has the potential to damage asphalt and concrete pavement. Whether it is a road, a parking lot, a sidewalk, or another piece of concrete or asphalt, it is susceptible to severe winter weather.

If you have concerns about your pavement following a freeze, a trusted paving contractor can help by inspecting the pavement, identifying any concerns, and recommending the right repair or round of maintenance. This inspection and resulting repairs will ensure the pavement is protected the next time freezing temperatures hit Houston.