Asphalt
Concrete

Concrete versus Asphalt Driveways


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What’s the Difference Between Asphalt and Concrete?

Concrete and asphalt are both mixtures of sand and crushed stone called aggregate. The difference is what binds the aggregate together. In concrete, cement binds the mixture and gives it a light gray appearance. Asphalt is bound with a black, viscous petroleum-based substance. Both come in assorted colors, stained or stamped for a decorative effect.

Asphalt, Blacktop or Pavement

Asphalt is a mixture of aggregate and binding agent. The binder is usually very hot when it’s combined with the aggregate. Pros pour the hot mixture over a level, gravel base before pressing and smoothing it with a steamroller. You can park or drive a car on it within 24 hours.

Most asphalt is poured as a single, continuous slab. Historically, roads were constructed with asphalt paving bricks. Today, manufacturers make this type of paver for residential use, but concrete pavers are much more popular.

“Asphalt” is interchangeable with the words “blacktop” or “pavement.” Colloquially, people refer to asphalt driveways as “blacktop” and call roads, airplane runways or parking lots “pavement.”

Asphalt Terminology
  • Tarmac: A smooth, solid slab often used for driveways, parking lots and roads.
  • Tar: A binder that’s derived from coal and was historically a binder. However, it is carcinogenic and hasn’t been used since the middle of the 20th century.
  • Macadam or Tar & Chip: A different approach to driveways where loose stones, sometimes colored, are rolled on top of the hot mixture, creating a more textured surface than tarmac. To learn more, read our Tar and Chip Driveway Cost Guide.
  • Bitumen: A naturally occurring petroleum product used to bind aggregate materials in most asphalt-paving projects.

Concrete or Cement Driveways

Often used interchangeably, concrete is a composite material held together with cement. Concrete is a mixture of crushed stone, sand and cement. Cement is a mixture of water, powdered rock and clay. Pros pour the cold mixture onto a prepared gravel surface and level it. After several days of curing, the surface is ready to support the weight of vehicles.

It’s much easier to customize this material with colors and decorative embellishments. Stamping creates aesthetic appeal in a driveway, mimicking the look of flagstone pavers or real bricks, however, they can drive up the cost of a driveway installation.

Asphalt vs. Concrete Driveway

While both asphalt and concrete are good options for driveways, there are inherent differences in the two materials. Both require professional contractors because average homeowners don’t have the equipment or experience to tackle installation.
For our purposes, we’re comparing solid slab driveways as opposed to those made of pavers or a less common application.

Factor Asphalt Concrete
Cost
  • $2-5 per square foot
  • $3-10 per square foot
Climate
  • Shrinks and expands with temperature fluctuations
  • Heat can cause crumbling
  • Cracks in extreme cold
  • Salt/de-icer can damage
Maintenance and Repairs
  • Requires resealing six months after installation and then every three-to-five years
  • Can patch repair
  • Sealing not required, but done every five years can prolong life
  • Repairs are costly
Longevity
  • 20-25 years
  • 30-40 years
Aesthetic Appeal
  • Not as easy to personalize
  • Rough edges
  • Easier to stamp, score, color or stain
Drying Time
  • Can drive on immediately
  • Needs to cure for a week
Wear and Tear
  • Hides oil stains
  • Gasoline can damage
  • Deteriorates quicker
  • Shows oil stains
  • Subject to cracks, even in warm climates
Consult with a pro when choosing a driveway

Appearance: Colors, Finishes and Stamped Ornamentation

Homeowners can customize both options to achieve a desired look or style.

Asphalt
Pros

  • Tinting available using naturally colored rocks, iron, slag or even recycled glass
  • Specialty paint-like sealer will achieve brighter colors
  • Decorative stamping possible when hot

Cons

  • Fewer options for staining, brushing or adding decorative elements
  • Round edges don’t work with decorative pavers

Concrete
Pros

  • Assorted colors available using dyes, powders or stains
  • Stamping, etching or brushing looks like natural stone or brick
  • Works with decorative borders

Cons

  • Colors can look blotchy due to natural variations in aggregate
  • Stamping and coloring increases the price
  • Custom concrete can be slippery in rain or snow

The most versatile: Concrete

Cost Analysis

A 600 square-foot asphalt driveway will cost less than $300 in materials. A similarly sized concrete driveway will cost $850 in materials.

The cheapest in material costs: Asphalt

Cheaper to Install with a Pro

The installation of either type of driveway requires specialized equipment the average homeowner doesn’t have on hand.

Asphalt

A 600 square-foot driveway will cost about $1,000 in labor, for a total asphalt driveway installation cost of about $2 per square foot.

Concrete

The same size driveway will cost around $2,000 in labor. The cost for a new concrete driveway is around $5 per square foot.

The winner for cheapest to install with a pro: Asphalt

Repaving and Sealing

Asphalt
Pros

Cons

  • Must be resealed six months after installation and every three-to-five years thereafter.

Concrete
Pros

  • Driveway sealing not required, but it can prevent stains and damage from salt and deicing chemicals.

Cons

  • Can stain due to mold, mildew, leaves and drainage from vehicles.
  • Regular pressure washing improves the appearance.

The easiest for maintenance and sealing: concrete

Lifespan

With the right care and maintenance, both types of driveways will last decades.

  • Asphalt normally lasts around 20 years.
  • Concrete‘s normal life span is 30 to 40 years.
The winner for lifespan: concrete

Repairs and Resurfacing

Asphalt
Pros

Cons

  • Professional help required for large cracks and holes.

Concrete
Pros

Cons

  • Homeowners can fix small cracks and holes, but appearance may be less than ideal.
  • Major repairs can be quite expensive since the process is labor intensive.

The easiest to repair and resurface: Asphalt

Durability and Thickness

Asphalt

The type of underlying soil and type of vehicles that will use it dictate the thickness. Most driveways of this type range from four to six inches.

Concrete

A minimum thickness of four inches is necessary. An additional inch will increase load carrying capacity by 50 percent, but it will increase cost by 20 percent. It’s easier to determine load capacity for concrete.

The best for thickness and durability: Concrete

Resistance to Climate

Because the two materials are so different, the climate plays a significant role in their durability.

Asphalt
Pros

  • More flexible and can withstand temperature changes without cracking or breaking.

Cons

  • Can get tacky during high temperatures, causing the bottom of shoes to become stained.
  • May break down along the edges due to heat.
  • Vehicle tires can cause indentations in the surface.

Concrete
Pros

  • Can withstand hot climates without experiencing undue stress.

Cons

  • Brittle and will crack during cold temperatures.
  • Salt, snow plows and deicing chemicals can damage it.

The best for cold climates and extreme temperature fluctuations: Asphalt
The best for higher temperatures: Concrete

Environmentally Friendly

Asphalt
Pros

  • Recyclable

Cons

  • Uses petroleum products in both installation and sealing.
  • Doesn’t last as long.
  • Can release evaporative oils when hot or first installed.

Concrete
Pros

  • Recyclable
  • Longer lifespan

Cons

  • Uses non-sustainable natural resources

The most environmentally friendly: Concrete

Resale Value

A custom decorative concrete driveway has a higher potential to increase your home’s value vs. standard asphalt.

The best for resale value: Concrete

Heated Driveways

You can install a driveway heating system under either type of material. The average cost to install under asphalt is just under $9,000. The average cost to install under concrete is just under $8,000.

It's cheaper to install a heated driveway in: Concrete
Get a quote from a driveway contractor

Which is Better – Concrete or Blacktop Driveways?

While each have their merits, asphalt driveways are better for budget-conscious homeowners or those who live in areas with temperature fluctuations. Concrete driveways offer more options for colors, textures and embellishments, but are prone to cracking in cold weather and expensive to repair. While concrete lasts longer, it’s easier and cheaper to resurface asphalt.

Concrete Parking Lots vs. Asphalt

single car in empty sidewalk
Budget, time to rehab and climate are significant factors when selecting a material for parking lots. Many are asphalt since it’s easier to repair, cheaper and not subject to temperature variations.

Best for Walkways, Patios & Other Outdoor Residential Surfaces

concrete walkway next to road
Walkways and patios can be either material, but concrete is popular since it lasts longer. Homeowners can also mix quick-drying concrete in small batches for DIY projects, but it would be difficult to do so with asphalt.

Concrete vs. Asphalt Roads

Both are popular, but 93 percent of roads are asphalt. In general, the lowered cost and ease of repair make it the preferred option.

Looking for a Professional Driveway Installer?

FAQs

Which is Cheaper: Asphalt vs. Concrete vs. Gravel?

The cost of a gravel driveway is the cheapest at $1,500. Concrete driveways cost $3,900 on average and asphalt costs $4,500.

How Long Does Asphalt and Concrete Last?

Asphalt lasts 20-25 years while concrete lasts 30-40 years.

How do Brick and Stone Pavers Compare to Concrete?

Brick and stone pavers come in wide variety of patterns, colors and textures, but since they’re labor intensive, installing a brick paver or cobblestone driveway costs between $10 and $70 per square foot.

Need a Pro for your driveway?


2 Comments

  1. civil engineer, November 19:

    Asphalt and concrete are the most common materials you can use if you’re looking to build a new driveway. While both are good options, each has its own set of pros and cons that are worth considering before deciding on which is better for different situations.

  2. Clifford Jones, April 2:

    Happy Tuesday..Can an asphalt driveway be financed?

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