Water-Based vs. Oil-Based Asphalt Sealcoat


Last Updated on May 17, 2024

Asphalt surfaces, whether driveways, parking lots, or roads, play a crucial role in our daily lives, yet they are often overlooked until problems arise. One of the key aspects of preserving and prolonging the life of asphalt is through effective sealcoating. Sealcoating not only enhances the appearance of asphalt but also provides a protective layer against the elements and wear and tear. However, the choice of sealcoat material can significantly impact the performance, longevity, and environmental footprint of the asphalt surface.

In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the two primary types of sealcoats used in asphalt maintenance: water-based and oil-based sealcoats. Each type comes with its unique properties, advantages, and considerations. Understanding the differences between these two options is vital for anyone responsible for maintaining asphalt surfaces, from property managers to homeowners and municipal authorities.

The choice between water-based and oil-based sealcoats is not just a matter of preference; it involves a complex interplay of factors including climate, traffic conditions, environmental regulations, and maintenance goals. This blog post aims to demystify these two popular choices, providing you with the knowledge needed to make an informed decision that best suits your specific needs.

Whether you are a seasoned professional in asphalt maintenance or a newcomer looking to protect your investment, our goal is to equip you with the insights and information necessary to choose the right type of sealcoat. We will explore the composition, benefits, and drawbacks of both water-based and oil-based sealcoats, and offer guidance on which might be the most suitable for your asphalt surfaces. By the end of this article, you’ll have a clearer understanding of how to best preserve and enhance your asphalt, ensuring it remains durable, functional, and aesthetically pleasing for years to come.

What is Sealcoating?

Sealcoating is an essential process in the maintenance of asphalt pavements, serving as both a protective and aesthetic treatment. This section will delve into what sealcoating is, why it’s crucial, and the historical evolution of sealcoat materials.

The Purpose of Sealcoating

Sealcoating involves applying a protective coating to asphalt-based pavements to shield them from the damaging effects of environmental elements, such as water, oils, and UV rays. This process not only extends the pavement’s life but also restores its original black, lustrous appearance, enhancing the overall look of the area. The primary purpose of sealcoating is to form a barrier against moisture penetration, oxidation from the sun, and chemical corrosion. It effectively seals the top layer of asphalt, preventing the seepage of water and oils that can weaken the asphalt substrate and lead to cracks, potholes, and other forms of deterioration.

Why Sealcoating is Indispensable

Without regular sealcoating, asphalt pavements can quickly deteriorate. The sun’s UV rays oxidize the asphalt, causing it to become brittle and susceptible to cracking. Water infiltration from rain and snow can erode the base, leading to structural failures. Furthermore, automotive fluids like oil and gasoline can dissolve the asphalt binders, resulting in surface weakening. Sealcoating not only defends against these hazards but also makes maintenance easier, as it creates a smooth, non-porous surface that’s simpler to clean and maintain.

Water-Based Sealcoats

In this section, we’ll explore water-based sealcoats in detail, covering their composition, advantages, limitations, and best use cases. Understanding these aspects is crucial for making an informed decision about the right sealcoat for any asphalt pavement.

Composition and Properties

Water-based sealcoats, often referred to as asphalt emulsions, are a mixture of water, asphalt cement, and additional additives. The water acts as a carrier for the asphalt, allowing for easier application. As the water evaporates after application, it leaves behind a solid layer of asphalt, which forms the protective coating. These sealcoats are known for their environmentally friendly properties, as they typically contain lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) compared to oil-based alternatives.

Advantages of Water-Based Sealcoats

  • Environmental Friendliness: Water-based sealcoats are preferred for their lower VOC content, making them a more environmentally sustainable choice. This aspect is particularly important in regions with strict environmental regulations.
  • Safety and Ease of Use: They are safer for applicators and the environment due to less harmful fumes. Additionally, water-based sealcoats are easier to clean up and require only water for tool and equipment cleaning.
  • Adhesion and Flexibility: These sealcoats adhere well to the asphalt surface, providing a flexible coating that can withstand temperature variations without cracking.
  • Aesthetics: Water-based sealcoats dry to a matte finish, enhancing the appearance of the pavement while providing a non-slip surface.

Limitations and Considerations

  • Curing Time: Water-based sealcoats typically have longer curing times, especially in humid or cooler conditions. This factor can be a consideration for projects where time is a constraint.
  • Durability: While improvements have been made, some water-based formulas may exhibit adhesion issues when applied over dirty or oily pavements.
  • Application Conditions: They are sensitive to weather conditions during application. Ideal conditions include warm, dry weather with no rain forecasted soon after application.

Ideal Use Cases for Water-Based Sealcoats

Water-based sealcoats are particularly well-suited for areas with moderate traffic and where environmental regulations are stringent. They are ideal for residential driveways, small business parking lots, and regions with mild to moderate climates. Additionally, they are a good choice for projects where safety and environmental concerns are paramount.

Oil-Based Sealcoats

This section focuses on oil-based sealcoats, discussing their composition, benefits, drawbacks, and ideal application scenarios. Understanding these details is crucial for anyone considering oil-based products for their asphalt maintenance needs.

Composition and Characteristics

Oil-based sealcoats are primarily composed of either asphalt or refined coal tar mixed with oils, solvents, and other additives. These ingredients are blended to create a durable and weather-resistant coating. Unlike water-based sealcoats, oil-based sealcoats do not contain water and rely on solvents for their application consistency. This composition results in a distinct set of properties that affect the performance and application of the sealcoat.

Advantages of Oil-Based Sealcoats

  • Durability and Resistance: Oil-based sealcoats are known for their robust durability. They offer excellent resistance to water, oil, and chemical spills, making them suitable for industrial areas.
  • Longevity: These sealcoats generally last longer than their water-based counterparts, providing a more long-term solution for asphalt protection.
  • Faster Curing Time: Oil-based products tend to dry and cure faster, which can be advantageous in projects where time is a critical factor.
  • Finish and Appearance: Oil-based sealcoats often leave a rich, glossy finish, which can enhance the aesthetic appeal of the pavement.

Limitations and Challenges

  • Environmental and Health Concerns: The higher VOC content in oil-based sealcoats raises environmental and health concerns. This factor makes them less desirable in areas with strict environmental regulations.
  • Odor and Cleanup: These sealcoats emit strong odors during application and require solvents for cleanup, which can be a downside for applicators and nearby residents.
  • Weather Sensitivity: While less sensitive to temperature than water-based sealcoats, existing moisture on the pavement will affect the application and performance of oil-based products.

Ideal Use Cases for Oil-Based Sealcoats

Oil-based sealcoats are particularly effective in industrial settings where pavement are dirty and/or exposed to harsh chemicals. They are also well-suited for regions with fluctuating temperatures. Furthermore, oil-based sealcoats are a good choice for projects where a glossy finish is desired and where faster curing times are beneficial.

Sealcoat Comparison

In this section, we’ll provide a thorough comparison between water-based and oil-based sealcoats. This comparison will cover various factors including performance, durability, environmental impact, and cost-effectiveness, helping readers to understand the nuances of each type and make a well-informed choice.

Performance and Durability

Water-Based Sealcoats:

  • Generally offer good performance in moderate traffic conditions.
  • Can be ideal for high traffic commercial settings.

Oil-Based Sealcoats:

  • Known for its high resistance to fading.
  • Provide excellent resistance to heavy wear, oil spills, and chemical exposure.

Environmental Impact and Safety

Water-Based Sealcoats:

  • Lower in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making them more environmentally friendly.
  • Safer for applicators and the surrounding community due to reduced toxic fumes.
  • Preferred in regions with strict environmental regulations.

Oil-Based Sealcoats:

  • Higher VOC content, leading to greater environmental and health concerns.
  • Emit strong odors during application, requiring careful handling and safety precautions.
  • Less favored in environmentally sensitive areas.

Application and Curing Time

Water-Based Sealcoats:

  • Require warmer conditions for optimal application and curing.
  • Have longer curing times, which could extend project timelines.

Oil-Based Sealcoats:

  • Cure faster, allowing for quicker return to service.
  • Less sensitive to ambient temperatures, offering more flexibility in application scheduling.

Aesthetics and Finish

Water-Based Sealcoats:

  • Typically dry to a matte finish, providing a non-slip surface.
  • Preserve the natural texture of the asphalt.

Oil-Based Sealcoats:

  • Leave a glossy, sleek finish that can enhance the appearance of the pavement.
  • Offer a richer, deeper black color compared to water-based alternatives.

Cost Considerations

Water-Based Sealcoats:

  • Often more cost-effective in terms of initial application.

Oil-Based Sealcoats:

  • Generally more expensive upfront due to the materials used.

Region-Specific Suitability

The choice between water-based and oil-based sealcoats can also depend on regional climate conditions and local regulations. For instance, water-based sealcoats might be preferable in areas with mild climates and strict environmental laws, while oil-based sealcoats could be more suitable in regions with extreme temperature variations and less stringent environmental requirements.

Tips for Prolonging the Life of Sealcoated Surfaces

  • Regular Inspection and Cleaning: Regularly inspect the sealcoated surface for cracks, wear, and damage. Keeping the surface clean from debris and spills can significantly extend its life.
  • Timely Repairs: Address any cracks or damage promptly to prevent water infiltration and further deterioration.
  • Traffic Management: For commercial areas, managing traffic flow and reducing the load on the surface can help in prolonging the sealcoat’s life.
  • Proper Application: Ensure that sealcoating is applied in optimal weather conditions and in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines. Proper application greatly affects the longevity of the sealcoat.
  • Use of Additives: Consider using performance additives in the sealcoat mixture to enhance its durability and resistance to specific conditions like UV rays or chemical spills.
  • Seasonal Maintenance: Prepare the surface for different seasons, especially in regions with extreme weather conditions. Pre-winter maintenance, for example, can protect the surface from freeze-thaw damage.

Making the Right Choice for Your Asphalt

Choosing between water-based and oil-based sealcoats is a decision that should be tailored to the specific needs of your asphalt surface. This final section provides guidance on how to select the right type of sealcoat, considering various factors and offering advice for those seeking professional consultation.

Assessing Your Specific Needs

  • Traffic Volume and Load: Consider the amount of traffic and the type of vehicles your asphalt surface will endure.
  • Climate and Weather Conditions: The local climate plays a significant role in sealcoat performance. Water-based sealcoats may be preferable in milder climates, whereas oil-based options are more suitable to apply during extreme temperature fluctuations.
  • Environmental Regulations: Be aware of local environmental laws and regulations. In areas with strict VOC regulations, water-based sealcoats might be the only compliant option.

Balancing Cost with Performance

Weigh the initial cost of application against the expected lifespan and maintenance requirements.

Considering Aesthetics

The choice between a matte or glossy finish can influence your decision. Water-based sealcoats typically leave a matte finish, while oil-based sealcoats provide a glossy look.

Consulting with Professionals

Seeking advice from asphalt maintenance professionals can provide valuable insights. Professionals can assess your specific situation, recommend the best type of sealcoat, and ensure proper application.

Personal Preferences and Long-Term Goals

Consider your personal preferences and long-term maintenance goals. For instance, if environmental sustainability is a priority, water-based sealcoats might align better with your values.

Making an Informed Decision

Gather as much information as possible about your asphalt’s condition, usage, and environment. Use this information to make a decision that balances practicality, aesthetics, cost, and environmental considerations.

Final Thoughts

Remember, the right choice is one that meets your specific needs and provides the best protection and longevity for your asphalt surface. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and seek expert opinions to ensure that your investment in sealcoating is well-placed and effective.

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Mike Phillips
Mike Phillips
January 17, 2023.
Great company to work with. We contacted Top Job to repair a county road that we dug across for an irrigation line. They were very professional yet friendly. Our job was completed quickly. We recommend this company.
Sam Rowley
Sam Rowley
December 8, 2022.
I’m not sure how the service actually is, but some old guy in a Top Job Toyota was riding my butt today and flipped me off, or it was maybe an aggressive wave at the red light near the Logan library. Hope his day gets better. 12/8 at 230
Kim Rappleye
Kim Rappleye
December 7, 2022.
Very professional and personalized service. Highly recommended!
Mark Malmstrom
Mark Malmstrom
November 22, 2022.
They were easy to get a hold of and showed up when they were scheduled. Good communication and good work.
David Bunnell
David Bunnell
November 4, 2022.
I appreciated the pleasant attitude when talking w/the estimator as well as the scheduler. The work crew did a great job! I highly recommend Top Job Asphalt!
Steven Jacobsen
Steven Jacobsen
October 30, 2022.
Top job Asphalt did an amazing job on my project very professional, I would definitely use them again when I have the need.
Chris Salvesen
Chris Salvesen
October 28, 2022.
Did a great job on the 3" overlay for my very old and deteriorated half circle driveway. Looks brand new. All the transitions to concrete are near perfectly matched when I wasn't sure they could do it. It's almost weird now not feeling the bump driving out of the garage or over our bridge.
Matt Welch
Matt Welch
October 27, 2022.
Top Job paved our asphalt driveways and we couldn't be happier. The service, quality and price were the best I could find and I looked everywhere! Great job guys! I'll be calling back when I start my next project.
Todd Wardrop
Todd Wardrop
October 26, 2022.
I'm so impressed!!😀 Top Job has done such excellent work on my neighbor's driveway ... I'm so jealous. It's absolutely beautiful, and I can't believe how smooth it turned out. It's just perfect. What a great company!

What Our Customers Are Saying

Very impressed with the quality of their work and the organization of the company. The project estimator was spot on as to when the bid would be received and the work was professional  from start to finish. I appreciated the opportunity for a walkthrough inspection after the crack filling was completed as I had some very large cracks in the asphalt. I give this company a ten out of ten (which I really do) and highly recommend them.

Paul Pratt