Asphalt Paving Services and Repair
Asphalt is one of the most commonly used paving materials in existence. When you think about it, asphalt can be found practically everywhere you look from interstate highways and parking lots, to residential driveways and biking trails.
To give you an idea of the type of robust demand that exists for this versatile material, consider this fact: Roughly 350 million tons of asphalt paving material is produced every single year by more than 3,500 manufacturing plants across the United States. This is in addition to the 18 billion tons of asphalt that have already been put into service to pave our nation's public roads!
Without a doubt, asphalt remains one of the top materials of choice for a wide variety of commercial and residential paving applications, and it's easy to see why when you learn more about the unique qualities and characteristics of this uber-popular material.
What is Asphalt?
Also known as "blacktop", asphalt is a sticky, dark-colored mixture of natural materials that, when heated, can be poured onto various surfaces to form a hardened layer of pavement. The main ingredient in asphalt is bitumen, which is a natural substance that is primarily derived from petroleum distillation.
Bitumen has a black, gummy, semi-solid consistency, and when mixed with gravel, sand, and crushed rock (also known as "mineral aggregate") it forms the surface material that we call asphalt. This type of pavement is flexible, durable, and highly water-resistant, which makes it a perfect candidate for a wide range of surfaces.
Asphalt is also a sustainable material because it is made from all-natural substances and can be easily broken up, melted down, and reused for new paving projects as needed. In fact, more than 60 million tons of blacktop are recycled each year in the U.S. alone, making it the most recycled material in the country by a wide margin.
In addition, asphalt is one of the most environmentally friendly petroleum-derived products in existence, even though it has a high level of carbon content. The reason is because asphalt is not burned for energy or fuel purposes, which means it does not release a ton of harmful CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
Asphalt also requires around 20 percent less energy to manufacture compared to other pavement materials. In fact, the emissions from asphalt plants are low enough that the Environmental Protection Agency considers them to be only minor sources of industrial pollution.
When you add up all of these attributes, the result is a highly versatile, multi-functional, eco-friendly paving material that is an ideal choice for an expansive array of commercial and residential applications.
Benefits of Using Asphalt in Paving Projects
Among the different paving materials that are commonly in use today, asphalt stands out as being one of the easiest on the wallet. Not only in terms of the cost of the material itself, but also in terms of the relatively short amount of time it takes to install the pavement.
Whereas concrete can take up to a week to cure after installation, blacktop is pretty much ready to go within 24-36 hours of being installed. Of course, this will vary based on the size of the project, but overall asphalt offers a much quicker installation time than concrete, which means less money spent on labor costs.
2. Highly Durable
Asphalt is surprisingly flexible due to its high bitumen content, which makes it highly resistant to the various natural expansion and contraction cycles of the underlying soil. This means that it can withstand extreme temperature fluctuations, and will resist cracking more readily than other paving materials.
Another advantage of its flexibility is that of better weight distribution. Since blacktop pavement will have a certain amount of "give", it can readily handle load stresses without cracking or otherwise experiencing structural failure.
A quality asphalt installation combined with regular maintenance tasks such as crack filling and sealcoating, will ensure that your blacktop surface enjoys a long lifespan that this durable paving material is capable of. An extremely strong type of layered asphalt has even been nicknamed "Perpetual Pavement" as it can last for decades with minimal maintenance.
If routine resealing efforts are completed every 2 to 4 years (depending on overall usage and climate conditions), a blacktop paving installation can easily remain in excellent condition for 15 to 20 years or more. One important thing that should be mentioned is that the quality of the installation will have a huge impact on the long-term durability of the finished product.
This is why you should only work with a reputable, experienced paving contractor who knows how to do the job right.
3. Retains Heat During Winter
The dark color of asphalt is a magnet for sunlight, and this can definitely come in handy when it comes to heat retention during the winter.
If you live in an area that experiences harsh winter storms, you would do well to have your driveway paved with blacktop as it will naturally attract and retain heat from the sun, to help melt the snow after a major blizzard.
This basically means spending a lot less time shoveling your driveway, because your heat-retaining pavement is doing the bulk of the work for you. That being said, there is one caveat: Once the summertime comes and the weather really begins to heat up, it is definitely not recommended that you walk barefoot on hot asphalt... ouch!
There are some paving materials that are superstars only for a season, but asphalt is a weather-resistant champion all year. Blacktop can normally withstand the harshest of weather conditions while still maintaining a high level of resilience, and its water-resistant composition makes it an ideal candidate for rainy climates in particular.
Asphalt also offers better traction in wet or snowy conditions than concrete, which is a big plus in the safety department.
An Overview of Asphalt Installation
So how exactly is asphalt installed?
One thing that you'll quickly discover about blacktop pavement installation is that it's not a job that should be approached carelessly or haphazardly. After all, we're talking about a sticky, gummy, semi-solid material that can only be manipulated and shaped when it is extremely hot.
If there are any untimely delays in the installation process, asphalt can become increasingly difficult to work with and if too much time passes, the installation is pretty much a bust.
Fortunately, a qualified paving contractor knows this, which is why they apply strict calculations and methodologies to control quantities, application speed, time between applications, and many other factors to ensure that the installation is successful.
If the proper steps are taken throughout every phase of the process, the finished product will be smooth, neat, level, and attractive. If not, you will see uneven areas, dips, crumbling edges, and other signs of shoddy workmanship that will make your blacktop pavement stick out like a sore thumb.
Here are the main steps of the installation process that your paving contractor will carry out to produce a top-notch installation:
1. Preliminary Preparations
Before the first drop of asphalt is poured, your paving contractor will go through a series of steps to ensure that the area to be paved is properly prepared for the blacktop application.
This includes making sure that the soil beneath the surface covering has been tightly compacted; otherwise, it will inevitably cause problems with settling, cracking, dips, high spots, and other surface irregularities that can reduce the durability and performance of the pavement. If there are any large rocks, tree roots, stumps or weeds in the paving area, they will also have to be removed.
If you have requested for your blacktop installation to replace a previous one, the contractor will obviously have to dig up and dispose of the old asphalt before preparing the area for the new installation. In addition, the area will need to be properly graded to take care of the all-important issue of drainage.
Bear in mind that poor drainage is one of the leading causes of reduced pavement performance, and while it might not reveal its true character in the first few months after the installation, just give it enough time and you will begin to see where water is collecting on your pavement.
If little ponds or puddles begin to develop in certain areas on the blacktop, you can almost guarantee that structural problems such as alligator cracking, potholes, and other paving issues will begin to rear their ugly heads.
Not only that, but without taking appropriate measures to ensure good drainage, you could have a real problem with storm water runoff, including regular flooding of your garage and/or home on days when heavy rainfall occurs.
For these reasons, your paving contractor will go to great lengths to ensure that the ground has been properly graded, and that water runoff issues have been taken into account before the first layer of asphalt is even applied.
2. Laying the Subbase
Believe it or not, there are areas of the country where it is possible to pour asphalt right on top of the raw native soil. But in many other areas with soft or saturated soils such as sand or clay, this simply isn't possible.
In those cases, your paving contractor will need to lay down what is known as a subbase, which is basically a thick layer of gravel and/or other similar materials to provide a tight, durable foundation upon which to lay the blacktop.
This subbase will be tightly compacted as well, which will allow for sufficient drainage of water from the asphalt. Your contractor will use what is known as a vibrating roller to compact the subbase until it is about 4 to 6 inches thick or more, and very evenly spread out over the surface area.
This subbase will also ensure more reliable performance in terms of protecting the pavement against freezing and thawing cycles. The subbase must be extremely tight and very level, so that the subsequent blacktop installation will conform accordingly.
3. Laying Down the Asphalt
At this point, the asphalt is ready to be laid. This malleable, viscous, semi-solid mixture of bitumen and mineral aggregates is typically manufactured at scorching temperatures between 270-350 degrees Fahrenheit, and by the time it arrives at the job site, it will have lost only about 5 to 25 degrees of that temperature.
This extremely hot, very sticky material must be managed in such a way that will not only make the most out of each truckload that arrives onsite, but also in a very safe manner so that nobody gets injured during the installation process.
The asphalt is then laid down on top of the subbase using an asphalt paving machine, and then compacted using machines known as "rollers".
Depending upon the type of job that's being done, rollers vary in size and can have huge, super-heavy steel wheels or pneumatic rubber tires, but it is not uncommon for both types of rollers to be used. Both machines are vital to the compaction process, which is where the blacktop gets "smashed down" into a tight layer of strong material.
The purpose of compaction is to drive the larger chunks and bits of aggregate further down into the mix, while bringing the finer aggregate materials to the top. This will essentially "seal" the asphalt by filling in gaps and preventing the intrusion of water.
Your paving contractor will apply several layers (known as "courses" or "lifts") of asphalt in succession, compacting each layer before moving on to the next one. This is one of the many phases of the process where precision and meticulous attention to detail is required.
If the contractor waits too long between layers, the asphalt will begin to cool to the point of becoming difficult to compact. If too little compaction occurs, it can eventually lead to water penetrating the asphalt surface which can drastically decrease the life expectancy of the pavement.
As you can see, without the proper timing and compaction of asphalt, the blacktop installation could quite literally turn into a "hot mess". Some areas that are too small for paving equipment to access, may also require the asphalt to be installed and raked by hand, emphasizing the need for experienced and skilled asphalt workers.
As far as thickness is concerned, this will be determined by the size of the project as well as what type of load stresses the pavement is designed to bear. Obviously a blacktop driveway that is designed to hold a large RV or semi-truck will need more reinforcement than one that only holds a small four-door sedan.
There are several different ways in which the thickness element can be determined, but the average installation is typically comprised of 3 to 6 inches of compacted asphalt on top of the subbase layer. After being installed, the edges of the pavement are usually given a 45-degree angle to provide optimal support for one of the most common failure points of asphalt surfaces: the outer edge.
Once the asphalt has been successfully laid, compacted, and shaped, all that is left to do is wait for the pavement to cool which typically takes anywhere between 24 to 48 hours. Once that's done, your new blacktop surface is ready to use!
Routine Maintenance for Asphalt Installations
Once the asphalt has been installed, the hard part is out of the way. The rest is just remembering to schedule routine maintenance for your new pavement installation.
Fortunately, keeping blacktop in good working condition is a fairly easy process. By remembering to consult with your paving contractor for routine maintenance tasks, you can confidently expect the lifespan of your asphalt pavement installation to last up to 15–20 years or more.
The time to begin thinking about maintenance is usually about 6 to 12 months after the initial asphalt installation has taken place. This will allow enough time for the blacktop surface to properly cure. At that point, it's a good idea to have your paving professional go over the installation with a high quality pavement sealer, which is a process known as "sealcoating".
This provides a much-needed layer of protection from water penetration and harmful UV rays that can oxidize the surface of the asphalt, making it less flexible and more susceptible to cracking. Pavement sealer will also protect your blacktop from oil and other chemical liquids that can leak from parked vehicles.
When your paving contractor comes out to perform sealcoating maintenance, the typical process will look something like this:
1. First of all, they will remove dirt, vegetation, and other caked-on debris from the asphalt so that any barriers or obstructions won't stop the sealant from really taking hold and binding to the blacktop surface.
2. Any oils or other chemical leaks will be cleaned from all locations where cars are normally parked. If left unattended, these areas will often be the first to deteriorate which can begin to spread to other sections of the pavement, as the structural integrity of the blacktop has now been compromised.
3. If there are any places where the asphalt has experienced structural failure, your paving contractor will apply small asphalt "patches" to those areas to rejuvenate the blacktop and stop further deterioration. The longer your blacktop is allowed to sit in disrepair, the more it will crumble and eventually spread to the surrounding pavement.
4. Your paving contractor will then seal up any cracks in the pavement. This will provide a barrier against moisture penetration, which if left unaddressed can begin to erode the pavement at its base.
5. After the previous steps have been taken, your contractor will be ready to apply the sealcoat to the surface of the asphalt. The sealant is usually applied in one or two coats either with a spray or squeegee, depending on what your paving contractor determines is best for the job.
The Dangers of Poor-Quality Asphalt Installation
When it comes to maintaining the durability and longevity of your blacktop, the importance of high-quality installation practices cannot be overstated. Without a doubt, poor installation practices are one of the main culprits behind asphalt pavement problems, but these troublesome issues hardly ever reveal themselves in the two or three months immediately following the installation.
If you enlisted a less-than-scrupulous paving contractor to do the job, this initial 90-day time frame will really stand as a testament to the quality of their work (or lack thereof).
One of the biggest installation pitfalls that can occur at the hands of an inexperienced or shady paving contractor, is not taking the time to properly compact the subbase before applying the asphalt layers on top of it. This deprives the asphalt of the strong base of support it needs to maintain its structural integrity, and it will typically produce problems such as unevenness and cracking down the road.
If a paving contractor doesn't know what they're doing – or worse, they just don't care about doing the job right – they will often cut corners in an attempt to get the job done faster. This "churn and burn" type of mentality is what separates the paving amateurs from the true professionals who actually care about their customers.
One of the telltale signs of a poor-quality installation is when the pavement starts cracking within the first 24 months of being installed. Asphalt is naturally very resilient, so there's no reason why properly installed blacktop pavement would begin cracking within such a short amount of time.
Not only will poor installation practices produce structural problems for your pavement, but they are also a sign that you have essentially wasted your hard-earned money on a less-than-reputable paving contractor. As harsh as that sounds, it's the unfortunate reality that can sometimes result from unwitting home or business owners who don't take the time to choose a trusted paving pro.
As with most things in life, the old adage that "you get what you pay for" definitely applies in the realm of choosing a local paving contractor.
Asphalt Paving: Bottom Line
When you consider the many important details that go into the average asphalt installation process, you can quickly see why it is so important to only work with a qualified, highly-experienced paving contractor who knows the asphalt business inside and out, and more importantly, has your best interests at heart.
While the process of installing blacktop might appear fairly easy, keep in mind that there are a lot of important steps that must be followed in order to pull off a successful, high quality installation.
This is why Save On Paving is such a valuable resource – it allows you to connect with contractors who have been thoroughly vetted and evaluated for their performance, so that you won't have to waste your time with subpar contractors who will do more harm than good to your pavement over the long haul.
Contact us today and we'll do our best to help you find a reputable paving contractor who will get the job done right, the very first time.
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