Preparing Your Parking Lot for Freezing Conditions Before Winter Sets In
Most weather-related damage has more to do with seasonal cycles than with extreme weather itself. As hot transitions to cold (and back again) and wet transitions to dry (and back again), pavement is stressed in the process.
This is also true in Houston, which is recovering from a historically hot and dry summer. For Houstonians, cool weather is a welcome change. However, for Houston parking lots and pavement, cooler weather following higher temps is a reason for concern, especially if the weather freezes.
Why Should Houston Businesses Worry About Freezing Parking Lots?
After setting record highs during the 2023 summer, a freeze is likely the furthest thing from people’s minds. However, the threat of freezing weather to Houston parking lots is real, and here’s why:
- When the weather is hot and dry, soils dry out – Houston’s recent summer was sweltering, but it was the unrelenting drought that is now threatening parking lots and pavement around the city. When the weather dries out, so does the soil, causing it to shrink in the process. During severe drought, vegetation is also forced to pull moisture from deeper strata – which may include moisture from soil under your parking lot.
- When soil dries out around parking lots, it stresses the pavement – When soils dry and subside, the resulting tension subjects the parking lot to intense stresses.
- When parking lots are stressed, cracks and potholes form – This constant pull on the pavement causes surface flaws to appear in its weakest areas. Cracks, potholes, warping, and depressions are the most obvious signs of damage.
- When cracks and potholes form, it exposes the parking lot to water intrusion – Surface defects are eyesores and capable of damaging the occasional wheel, but what makes them a major problem is water intrusion. When cracks begin to form and open up, the pavement’s deeper layers are exposed to weather and water.
- When water freezes inside the parking lot, it can cause pavement damage – Water intrusion causes damage when it gets inside of pavement. Water will eat away at binders, erode material, and infiltrate into the soil, furthering the expand/contract cycle.
When water freezes inside of pavement, the situation quickly worsens.
Freezing water expands and exerts powerful internal forces on the pavement, essentially destroying it from the inside out. It pushes, pulls, and tears at the parking lot, causing widespread cracking and leaving the pavement with uneven spots.
When pavement is damaged to this degree, it often past the point of being repaired. In most cases, it will need to be replaced down to its full depth.
So, it’s not the threat of freezing temperatures themselves that should worry business owners in Houston. It’s the combined threat of pavement damage followed by rain and freezing temperatures. Freezing weather isn’t all that common in Houston, but damaged parking lots are everywhere, and heavy rain is inevitable. Add some freezing temperatures to the mix and many business owners may be facing an expensive pavement replacement bill.
Four Reasons to Protect a Houston Parking Lot from a Freeze
Ask any type of engineer and they’ll tell you the same thing – it’s always less expensive to maintain something rather than repair or replace it. That’s also the case with pavement and parking lots. Investing in preventative maintenance now will save much more in repairs down the road.
Reducing the financial impact of pavement problems is one good reason to winterize your parking lot before freezing weather arrives. Here are three more reasons for Houston businesses to consider:
- Preventative maintenance will prolong the parking lot’s life – Transportation studies are clear on this point. By investing in on-time preventative maintenance, property owners can extend their pavement’s life by many years. Just as it’s more expensive to boost pavement from “poor” to “good” condition, it’s also more difficult and therefore less reliable. When surface flaws are resolved when they first emerge, the damage they do to deeper pavement layers is minimized and the overall pavement structure is preserved as best as possible. Add this up many times over many years, and preventative maintenance will save a parking lot from total failure multiple times before actual replacement is needed.
- Preventative maintenance will improve the parking lot’s performance and safety – As a parking lot passes from good to poor condition, it’s more likely to develop safety and performance issues that may put people at risk. Specifically, customers, pedestrians, motorists, employees – anyone who uses the lot may be exposed to unnecessary danger if the lot is allowed to deteriorate.
Preventative maintenance slows this process down, minimizing liability risk to property owners and protecting the company’s reputation.
- Preventative maintenance will improve the parking lot’s appearance – What also protects a company’s reputation is caring about the state of its facilities. This extends to the parking lot, which is the first thing most people will see when they visit the property. In very real terms, curb appeal matters where parking lots are concerned, as there’s a huge visual difference between freshly laid, jet-black asphalt, and crumbling, faded asphalt. The same could be said about new and aging concrete as well.
Put aside the durability, safety and performance arguments, and preventative maintenance is still worth it for its ability to make a better first impression.
How Houston Paving Professionals Winterize Commercial Parking Lots
In general, the same processes used to maintain a parking lot are also used to winterize it. In other words, if Houston property owners want to winter-proof their parking lots, the best approach is to schedule pavement maintenance services.
Expert pavement contractors are the professionals to consult with here, given their specialized knowledge of concrete and asphalt construction, along with their equipment resources and capabilities.
When winterizing a parking lot, the professionals will look to correct any surface defects and address any potential failure areas. The process may include the following:
- Sealcoating – Asphalt is typically sealcoated when it’s first installed and every 1-2 years thereafter. Concrete may be sealed following installation, and concrete joints typically need resealing every five years or so.
Sealing is an inexpensive process that strengthens the pavement’s surface and provides a protective layer from wear and weather. While it isn’t a substitute for proper crack repairs, sealcoating can improve the pavement’s resistance to water intrusion if the parking lot is in otherwise good condition.
- Crack sealing – During crack sealing, the pavement team will identify and repair any cracks that threaten the pavement’s subsurface layers. These tend to be cracks that are widening or cracks with significant edge deterioration.
Crack sealant is made with a rubberized form of asphalt and a mix of polymers that give the sealant its flexibility. This sealant is heated and deposited on the crack until it is filled completely. Once it cures, the sealant will flex with the pavement as it expands and shrinks due to thermal stresses. This ensures a long-lasting seal against water and debris.
- Pothole patching – Potholes are like a gaping wound in a parking lot. They allow water free access to subsurface pavement layers, which translates to more potholes and a rapidly deteriorating parking lot.
To address potholes and ensure they do not permit water intrusion, the pavement team may deploy a cut-and-patch repair approach. During cut-and-patch repairs, the potholes and surrounding failed pavement are removed from the parking lot. The underlying base problems are then corrected, and new asphalt rolled in.
Pothole patching isn’t a long-term approach to maintaining a parking lot, but it can quickly remove the weakest spots in a parking lot for a fraction of the cost of total parking lot replacement.
- Base stabilization – Base stabilization may also be recommended for depressions and other pavement areas that are collecting water. When low areas emerge on a parking lot, it’s usually due to base failures. Here, again, the approach is often to remove the failed pavement, stabilize the base, and install new pavement in its place.
Again, the processes aren’t just effective for winterizing a parking lot – they’re generally effective for improving the lot’s overall integrity. As such, they’re not a seasonal investment, but a long-term investment that can protect the pavement for many years.
Schedule Parking Lot Repairs and Maintenance Before Winter Arrives
Winters in the Bayou City tend to be mild, but there are a few days where it freezes every year. And it only takes one good freeze to ruin an already damaged parking lot.
To prevent any winter-related damage to your parking lot this upcoming season, make sure your pavement is caught up on preventative maintenance. Not only will this protect the parking lot from freezing temperatures, it will also ensure the parking lot lasts longer and doesn’t pose a hazard for foot and vehicle traffic.
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