Road Building is one of the oldest professions in the world. Of course, it wasn’t all asphalt and concrete back in the old days, but the vocation itself can be traced back to the ancient Romans. They did what human beings are famous for. They took an idea that dates back to the Bronze Age and made it even better. The famous Via Appia is still pretty much intact, even after approximately 2000 years!
Improving on that, road building technology has undergone evolutionary changes. Modern era pavements, roads, and driveways are constructed using two popular materials: asphalt or concrete. In fact, they’re laid out on the same substrate gravel and are a mix of roughly the same raw materials – sand and stone.
So, what’s all the confusion about? Well, choosing one type of material over the other is a modern-day dilemma because of a number of factors. If you’re thinking of installing a new driveway, you might also be on the fence about asphalt and concrete. The thing is, it’s not just about which option is cheaper or which option looks better.
In this article, we’re going to explore both asphalt and concrete, their pros and cons, and the ideal environment types for them. Keep on reading for a detailed comparison and find out the answer to a very common question: is asphalt better than concrete?
Asphalt and Concrete: The Difference
Asphalt and concrete are composed of the same raw materials – sand and stone. The difference lies in what binds the mixture so that it can be properly laid out.
Concrete uses cement as an adhesive to bond the aggregate material, while asphalt uses tar (bitumen), which is a sticky black substance extracted from crude oil. It is the main difference between these two road building materials, but it manifests in very noticeable qualities specific to asphalt and concrete. Let’s take a look.
As a general thumb rule, concrete driveways are 50% more expensive than asphalt driveways. Prices are, of course, flexible depending on where you live, the size of the job, and the effort required. However, asphalt prices are prone to drastic fluctuations depending on the price of crude oil in the local and international markets. We know the reason now since bitumen is chiefly extracted from crude oil and is used as a binder for asphalt.
Concrete driveways can generally cost around $8.00 to $15.00 per square foot, with a national average price of around $6500. The price can also go up depending on the type of concrete mix, staining, detailing, or finishing. When comparing prices, installation labor, job supplies, and equipment allowance are also important considerations.
On the other hand, asphalt driveway prices range from $3.00 – $5.00 per square foot. The national average price sits at $4500, considerably cheaper than its concrete counterpart.
Durability is an important consideration with both asphalt and concrete because maintenance can be time-consuming and costly. Concrete is extremely durable, and when installed correctly, it can last on average for 30 to 40 years, while some sources even claim it can reach the 50-year mark!
In contrast, asphalt is less durable than concrete. Properly maintained asphalt roads and driveways can last you 20 to 30 years but can quickly reduce in lifespan if you are neglectful in maintenance and repairs. A shorter lifespan means asphalt will have to be replaced or renewed more frequently than concrete, which is more durable.
A point to note – both asphalt and concrete can fail if you don’t maintain them. Furthermore, their durability is also dependent on a number of contributors such as climate, environment, and utility.
Climate and Environment
The type of climate plays a significant role in the type of material that should be chosen for driveways, roads, and pavements. Since asphalt is bound by bitumen, it is prone to suffer in high heat conditions.
If you’ve ever driven on an asphalt road on a warm and sunny day, you might have noticed that it becomes sticky or gooey. This happens because bitumen is a hydrocarbon that is sensitive to heat, and it makes asphalt a softer and more flexible material compared to concrete. When temperatures soar, it loses its integrity, making the asphalt soften up even more. The constant softening and hardening cycles can make asphalt crack easily.
Conversely, durable concrete pavements and roads are also prone to the rigors of extreme weather. The frequent freezing and thawing cycles of winters can severely damage concrete. Since concrete is not flexible enough, it can crack, buckle, or heave under cold weather. Similarly, road salts used to melt ice can also eat away at the concrete. In addition, salts can also stain or blotch concrete, which can make it take on an ugly and untidy appearance. Ice also takes longer to melt on concrete as compared to asphalt.
An important financial hack is to always minimize your recurring expenses. Keeping that in mind, asphalt is a softer material as compared to concrete and tends to crack more frequently, therefore requiring extensive repairs and maintenance, but repairs can be easily carried out in the case of asphalt. In contrast, concrete is difficult to repair even though it requires less frequent maintenance. Let’s understand the reasons.
Asphalt requires more frequent maintenance and damage repair, but the task is not demanding. Although it deteriorates faster, the repaired asphalt can easily blend back in with the rest of the driveway, unlike concrete. You can also resurface specific parts of asphalt driveways by applying a new topcoat. An important damage repair requirement is crack sealing.
After an asphalt road, pavement, or driveway is installed, it is left for six to eleven months to allow it to cure. Curing is the process in which asphalt components are allowed the time to fuse together so the material can properly harden.
Asphalt needs to be sealed after the curing period, so the surface remains protected and impervious to damage. Resealing is implemented every three to five years. This is also a factor that contributes to the frequent maintenance of asphalt, but it successively extends the lifespan of driveways, roads, and pavements.
Additionally, it is also very easy to do, and homeowners can seal coat their own driveways. However, seeking the help and expertise of seal coating professionals can also be considered beneficial since maintenance is kind of in their job description.
Seal coating also has aesthetic value and can freshen up the look of your driveway!
Concrete requires less frequent maintenance, but the repairs are difficult to manage. Not only is concrete tough to repair, but it is also virtually impossible to resurface. While asphalt repairs can allow the damaged area to blend back in with the rest of the surface, concrete repairs can stick out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, concrete does not require much seal coating for maintenance other than to preserve the look.
Asphalt and concrete both have their pros and cons. While asphalt can be prone to cracks, concrete surfaces are more likely to stain. Gas and engine oil drips can mar the look of concrete. It is also lighter in color as compared to asphalt, so concrete tends to show all surface imperfections.
Consequently, aggressive degreasing is required to remove the build-up of oil, chemical, and fuel stains from concrete surfaces. This can significantly increase the cost of concrete maintenance.
While asphalt cracks more easily, it is also easily repairable. On the other hand, concrete repairs are more difficult to manage and time-consuming. It is difficult to divert traffic in densely populated areas or busy roads to carry out concrete repairs. The reason for this is that roadbuilders cannot patch holes or cracks in concrete; rather, entire slabs are replaced. Also, any fixes are easily visible to people. It is also more costly to repair concrete surfaces.
Unlike seal coating, which your average do-it-yourselfer can attempt, concrete repairs should always be carried out by professional repairing experts who know how to replace and renew damaged concrete. Experts can also help ensure increased longevity of the replaced material so it can better endure harsh environments and usual wear and tear.
Waiting Period After Installation
Asphalt and concrete surfaces have to cure before they can be used. As previously stated asphalt needs about six to eleven months to properly cure, but the roads can be used within a few days of installation.
On the flipside, concrete needs more than a week to properly set. So, it could be a while before concrete surfaces might be used. It’s an important factor to consider if one is looking for speedier installation and a reduced waiting period.
We’ve read that concrete surfaces are prone to staining, but there’s also one other crucial aspect to consider. Since concrete isn’t a flexible material, it offers less resistance against tires, which means there is lesser traction or grip. It requires extra texturing on concrete pavements and roads to create enough grip on the surface. Similarly, vehicles are prone to slippage during harsh weather conditions, such as snow, hail, or rain.
On the other hand, asphalt surfaces offer a smooth and quiet ride. They provide better skid resistance and traction for tires without the need to texture their surface. This significantly reduces the chance of accidents.
Additionally, asphalt is black in color from the adhesive bitumen. Since black colors are better absorbers of light, asphalt roads can readily absorb heat from the sun to aid in the evaporation of moisture. As a result, roads are kept clear of water from the snow and rain!
Asphalt and Concrete: Which Looks Better?
If you like the look of a smooth dark road reflecting back the light of the sun in early mornings, asphalt will be your best bet. This is why asphalt roads are often referred to as “blacktop.” The dark color of asphalt also makes it a good choice if you want to opt for a streamlined appearance for a driveway to blend with an asphalt street.
Concrete, on the other hand, has a pale gray shade. Since concrete can easily stain, roadbuilders often utilize this weakness to offer customizing options to clients. Concrete pavements, roads, and driveways can be stained or tinted with different colors to create a unique look. They can also be brushed to texture the surface or stamped with different designs. If you’re a homeowner who is looking for an aesthetically pleasing driveway, you will fare better with a concrete-based option.
Cons of Asphalt
Although some consider asphalt a green option since it can be recycled without extensive processing, melting asphalt can create greenhouse gasses since the adhesive bitumen is a hydrocarbon. Hydrocarbons are the constituent components of plastic and are hazardous to the environment. In current times, environmental pollution is a big problem, and the production of greenhouse gasses can add fuel to the fire. The process occurs indiscriminately in both new production and recycling.
Additionally, even though asphalt is cheaper to repair, extensive repairs can easily rival concrete maintenance expenses. Similarly, asphalt also has a considerably shorter lifespan as compared to concrete, so it must be renewed on a regular basis.
Cons of Concrete
To recap, concrete repairs are a big drawback due to time constraints, especially in heavy traffic areas. It is also difficult to repair having to replace entire slabs. Slabs can also settle over time and cause bumps to appear on the road. This makes for noisy and uncomfortable car rides. Concrete surfaces also offer less skid resistance as compared to asphalt and can be dangerous to drive on during storms and rainy weather.
Is Asphalt Better Than Concrete?
We finally have the knowledge to tackle the age-old question: is asphalt better than concrete?
As you might have realized, there isn’t a black and white answer to that question. Yes, asphalt can contribute to greenhouse gas production, but mostly in extremely hot and arid environments. Similarly, concrete is very difficult to recycle, repair, and degrease. Both materials have their benefits as well as drawbacks.
The answer to your question lies in the nature of their use. When deciding between asphalt and concrete, you should consider why you need a specific driveway, pavement, or road. Is it going to be subjected to heavy traffic? Do you need quicker installation and utility? Are you interested in cheaper installation costs? Is extensive maintenance going to be an issue, or do you want a more durable surface?
Consequently, answering these questions can help you decide on which material you want to choose. Asphalt and concrete can be fitting materials for a number of different projects, but it all depends on carefully weighing out their pros and cons since every situation is very circumstantial.
For help and guidance, it is better to seek help from asphalt and concrete contractors who can suggest better options based on the information they collect from you.
Living In Utah? Contact Top Job
Professional contractors are very important to ensure the longevity and proper functioning of driveways and roads since they are experts with background knowledge in roadbuilding. As a result, they can help offer the right advice to customers looking for solutions, just like choosing a specific material.
Top Job is an asphalt and concrete installation and repair company based in Logan, Utah. With over 15 years of experience, they are one of the leading asphalt and concrete contractors in the business.
In addition to affordable rates, they offer top-notch services in the commercial, residential, and municipal sectors. They offer a plethora of products and services, including asphalt installation and maintenance, paving and repair, concrete installation and repair, commercial snow and ice management.
We hope reading this comprehensive article about asphalt and concrete for roads, pavements, and driveways helped you become more aware of their pros and cons. If you need further guidance or help, we urge you to contact a professional contractor or an expert with extensive knowledge of the industry!