You've seen it on the street. You've seen it applied to the highways. You've even seen it on the playground. But why has asphalt paving become such a popular alternative to concrete? The main reason is due to its durability and flexibility. It can withstand abuse from the weather and punishment from heavy objects. Yet it still has the ability to move, shift, and adjust as it constantly adapts to the outdoor elements.
Asphalt paving is made from stone aggregate: tiny rocks, fine sand, and asphalt cement (which transforms into a liquid when hot, gluing it all together). When the mixture is laid, it pours out as a thick tar, which is why the final result is usually black in color (hence it's sometimes referred to as blacktop). However, this chemical construction also makes it extremely flexible, in all sorts of ways, making it perfect for asphalt driveways:
Elastic: Since it's basically cooked liquid, it can expand and contract with the weather, making it less prone to frost heaves. Also, it is less likely to crack or lift, except maybe in extreme winter areas where the ground freezes well below the surface.
Durable: Due to its resilience, it'll withstand heavy weights, such as vehicle traffic.
Absorption: Its dark surface may absorb additional heat in the summer, but this heat-absorption also melts snow quicker in the winter.
Decorative: It doesn't have to be black: it can be stamped like concrete to imitate brick, pavers, or cobblestone in any color. And it can form different designs or mosaics.
Cheap: The price is very flexible compared to concrete: the material is less expensive and it's quicker to install, reducing labor costs.
Preparing for Asphalt Paving
The hardest part about installing an asphalt driveway is site preparation. You'll definitely need a specialist since it takes special machinery, heavy equipment, and training. When hiring, make sure to specify any special requirements the contractors need to know about, like the size of the project, the steepness of the grading, or any unique forms they'll need to work around (wheelchair ramps, curbs, stairs, etc.). If properly installed, it could last up to 30 years, so don't skimp on the costs just because it's not the sexier purchase.
First, it can be added over existing asphalt, but if you want to replace concrete, the first step will be removing any preexisting paving (but the concrete should be saved since it can be sold off and recycled into other construction projects).
Next, they strip vegetation, excavate the area to a required depth, and compact the soil.
Then, they'll add a gravel base (about 8 inches) because it's less expensive, but if you want a really strong foundation, you could even have an asphalt base (using larger, sturdier stones in this mixture) to create an impenetrable groundwork.
Finally, they'll apply two inches of hot liquid paving and let it dry for a couple of days.
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Asphalt paving is not impenetrable, so it will need occasional resealing or re-layering. Like all concrete, asphalt driveways crack, get damaged by UV rays, and sustain oil spills. So, you'll need to seal it like any other surface in order to avoid fading and to protect it from the elements (it'll help preserve it as well, possibly doubling its lifespan). But after the initial installation, wait about 6 months before sealing it in order to allow for proper curing. Afterwards, it should be done about every 5 years. Down the road, it may need to be re-layered due to wear and tear, so keep an eye on it. But it's a chore to reseal and re-layer, so definitely get a contractor for these specialized jobs.
You can't let it go but maintenance is pretty easy. When cleaning, simply use dish soap, warm water, and some scrubbing: chemical detergent could damage the material. As you scrub, if you see the surface crumble, damage has already taken place. So immediately call a contractor to get rid of any tough stains.