The firmness and durability of asphalt is a major factor in making it the #1 choice for driveways, roads, parking lots, pool decks - just about any place where cars are going to roll. In comparison with concrete, asphalt lasts longer and requires less maintenance.
From residential streets to major highways, from private drives to commercial parking lots, it's all about the blacktop when it comes to paving these days.
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And with good reason: It's durable; it doesn't buckle or "craze" as older pavements do; its dark color absorbs sunlight (reducing heat buildup); and infills can be designed into an infinite variety of shapes and sizes to suit today's landscapes.
Asphalt creates a beautiful finished look, with only minimal maintenance - but it's the durability that seals the deal for today's property owners.
Commercial blacktop is available in a variety of thicknesses and grades, and some manufacturers even can provide solutions for special challenges, such as ADA-compliant access.
"Our most common blacktop is 1-inch thick at 60 or 70 pounds per square inch (PSI) of compaction," says Jim McClelland, president of McClelland Construction in Parsonsburg, Md., which sells asphalt to both commercial and residential customers. "It'll typically last 10 years before any repairs are needed."
Concrete driveways require more upkeep because they're much less flexible than asphalt—which means more cracks and potholes. "Concrete is #2 in sales, but it's so much more expensive and takes a lot of time to install," notes McClelland.
"Asphalt is cheaper than concrete because you don't have to pour footings—just sealcoat," says Kirk Valentine, Jr., president of KV Construction in Bel Air, Md., which specializes in multi-family developments with commercial components. "It's also lighter weight and easier for laborers to move around."
In addition, blacktop operates at a lower temperature than concrete does, so its surface doesn't chip or break away when ice forms on it - another plus for property owners who live where the climate turns cold during the winter months.
Highway departments are switching their road-building strategies to reflect the huge popularity of asphalt.
"Now you'll see a more even mix between concrete highways and paved roads, because asphalt is so economical," says McClelland.
Asphalt also helps solve traffic flow problems, especially in high-growth areas where the demand for new commercial developments far exceeds available real estate.
Businesses are using less land today than they did 10 to 15 years ago, which means they have to make better use of every square foot of space available. "People built parking lots with 150 or 200 empty spaces that were seldom used - now they cram them full," says Rustin Knighten, chief engineer at Polygon Northwest Company in Kent, Wash., a company that designs commercial parking lots. "And they're putting landscaping in the parking lot islands so they can be used during breaks from work."
Commercial blacktop also is being installed on a new scale: One developer in Florida has put down 1,000 acres of asphalt over about six years; another in Colorado uses 500 tons of asphalt every month to build roads for his lots, according to Valentine.
Asphalt has more environmental benefits than concrete does, which helps developers and homeowners with LEED certification standards—and anyone who wants to reduce their carbon footprint. A 3-inch overlay of asphalt reduces storm-water runoff by as much as 90 percent because less water reaches the gutter or drainage system, according to McClell.