Asphalt vs Concrete: What's the Best Driveway Material?

Asphalt vs concrete? Two popular driveway materials go head-to-head, and we're going to find which option is perfect for you.

Judson Burdon
Posted by Judson Burdon on November 22

Planning to have a driveway installed in your new home? Or have your old and damaged driveway demolished to give way to a new one? Are you torn between an asphalt driveway or a concrete one?

In this blog, we're going to discuss the pros and cons of asphalt and concrete as driveway materials so you can choose which one's the best for you. Let's get started.

What is Asphalt?

Asphalt driveway

Asphalt driveways are the red carpet for your house

To understand what asphalt is, let's first take a look at its components. Let's start with bitumen.

Bitumen (or what we commonly know as asphalt) is a type of liquid cement used as a binder in road, parking lot, and driveway construction. It is also used as a waterproofing, sealing, and insulating agent.

Bitumen is extracted from asphalt lakes or from oil sands. It can also be refined from crude oil. This viscous black liquid is heated, mixed with aggregates, and then used to pave roads, parking lots, and driveways. 

How is an asphalt driveway installed? First, your contractor will start compacting the ground to ensure that the base is stable. Next, hot asphalt mix will be poured on the driveway and spread evenly using a lute, rake, or wheel loader. Finally, the newly installed asphalt driveway will be compacted using an asphalt roller.

Now, let's talk about aggregates. Aggregates in asphalt pavements are composed of sand, stone dust, and small crushed stones. If bitumen is the binder, then these crushed rocks and sand make up the structure of the pavement.

What is concrete?

Concrete pavement being applied

Just like asphalt pavements, concrete is made up of aggregates (sand and crushed stone) that serve as fillers and add volume to it. What makes concrete different from asphalt is that it uses a mixture of water and cement as its binder.

Concrete is amazingly versatile. It can be used to build roads, bridges, sidewalks, and of course, driveways. It's also used to build pools, homes, and more.

Pros and Cons of Asphalt Driveways

Pros

Cons

More affordable than concrete driveways

It has a shorter lifespan than concrete

Durable

It can get really hot in the summer

Easy to maintain and repair

Customization is limited

Can be used immediately

 

Can be recycled

 

Pros

1. Affordability

The first thing the majority of homeowners and commercial property owners consider when choosing a driveway material is the cost. So, if you're on a tight budget, but you still need a driveway that will last for decades, then asphalt is the way to go.

How much does an asphalt driveway typically cost?

First, let's talk about the cost of the materials. Hot asphalt mix typically costs $3 to $6 per square foot. Next, you need to factor in labor which can cost anywhere between $5 and $7 per square foot.

Other factors that can affect the total cost of asphalt driveway installation include:

  • The size of the driveway
  • The difficulty of installation
  • Whether excavation and grading are required
  • The amount of surface preparation required
  • The type of terrain your property sits on
  • How thick do you want the asphalt driveway to be

All in all, you're looking to spend anywhere between $7 and $13 for each square foot of asphalt.

Related: How Proper Asphalt Maintenance Can Prevent Parking Lot Accidents

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2. Lasts for many years

With proper care and regular sealcoating, asphalt driveways should last up to 30 years. 

3. Easy to maintain and repair

To ensure its longevity, an asphalt driveway needs to be repaired and maintained regularly. 

The good news is fixing and maintaining an asphalt driveway is very easy. Alligator cracking can be patched with products like Gator Patch. Larger cracks, on the other hand, can be filled with liquid or hot pour rubber crack filler. Potholes are patched with cold patch or by using an infrared asphalt heater. And to keep asphalt driveway in great shape for many years, you can apply sealer every two to three years.

Keen on DIY asphalt maintenance? Unlike concrete, asphalt is DIYer-friendly, making it more cost-effective for homeowners and commercial property owners in the long term.

4. An asphalt driveway can be used immediately after it is laid out

Need to use your driveway immediately? Then asphalt is your best bet. You can walk on a freshly laid asphalt driveway immediately, and you will only need to wait 3 days before you can drive on it. If you live in a desert or tropical area, then you need to wait a little longer before driving on it. 

What about parking? We recommend that you wait at least two weeks before parking your vehicle on your new asphalt driveway.

5. It can be recycled

Did you know that asphalt is one of the most commonly recycled materials on earth?

According to the National Asphalt Pavement Association, as much as 87 million tons of reclaimed asphalt were recycled in 2020 alone. Plus, more than 90% of the asphalt reclaimed from the old mixture is turned into new pavements. This makes asphalt more environment-friendly than other types of construction material.

Cons

1. It has a shorter lifespan than concrete

But the good news is it's possible to extend the lifespan of asphalt simply by regularly applying sealcoating. Fixing cracks and not letting them deteriorate into potholes is another reliable way to prevent early asphalt deterioration.

2. The surface can get really hot in the summer

Asphalt's dark color absorbs sunlight and releases it slowly, while concrete's lighter color reflects it. This makes asphalt up to 10 degrees hotter than concrete. While you'll be fine if you're inside your vehicle, it can get scorching hot if you're walking on hot asphalt with flip-flops or any footwear with thin soles. Also, refrain from walking your pets in the middle of the day during summer as the asphalt can blister their paws. 

3. Design and customization for asphalt are quite limited

But when it comes to adding some design to asphalt, your options are quite limited. You can have asphalt stamped, painted, and stenciled. You can also have asphalt pavements inlaid with thermoplastic.

Pros and Cons of Concrete Driveways

Pros

Cons

Lasts up to 50 years with proper care

Needs to be replaced when large cracks appear

Easy to clean

Can't use the driveway right after installation

A bit cooler than asphalt

Installation process takes longer

Can be customized in many ways

More expensive

Easy winter maintenance

 

Pros

1. Concrete driveways last for many decades

Concrete's mix of cement, aggregates, and water makes it one of the most durable materials used in the construction industry. With proper care, a driveway made of concrete should last up to 50 years.

2. Cleaning a concrete driveway is very easy

One of the biggest pros of owning a concrete driveway is the fact that it is easy to maintain. Just use a broom to sweep off dirt, dust, leaves, and other debris. You can also use soap and water to get rid of deep-seated dirt. Pressure wash the entire surface to remove moss and other hard-to-remove dirt.

pressure-washing-concreteConcrete can get pressure-washed for cleaning

Related: How to Prevent Parking Lot Accidents in Winter

 

3. It's cooler in the summer

Unlike asphalt, concrete's light gray color allows it to reflect sunlight instead of absorbing it. This makes concrete driveways considerably cooler by several degrees than asphalt. 

That doesn't mean asphalt doesn't get hot especially during midday. If you're planning to go for a walk at noon, then make sure to wear appropriate footwear to protect your feet. Refrain from walking your pets during the middle of the day during summer as the surface will still be too hot.

4. It can be customized in many ways

The beauty of concrete is that you can easily have it customized to stand out. You can have it stenciled, etched, or stamped, or you can opt to have the aggregates exposed. You can also choose different finishes for concrete including salt, sponge, and machine trowel finishes. You can also have the concrete polished and stained, dyed, or tinted with your chosen color.

5. Easy winter maintenance

Concrete is an extremely durable material, but the repeated freeze-thaw cycle during winter can damage it. The good news is that it's easy to maintain concrete driveways and parking lots during winter. Just have them sealed every couple of years or so, and remove snow whenever you can and you're good to go. Also, refrain from using de-icing salts to keep them in great shape for longer. 

Cons

1. Repairing concrete driveways can be tricky

The process of fixing cracks in asphalt is pretty straightforward. Just apply liquid or hot pour rubber cracks filler and you're all set. Patching alligator cracks? Simply use Gator Patch or your choice of asphalt patching products.

But repairing concrete can be tricky. Minor concrete damaged can be remedied by having it resurfaced. But for major damage, such as heaving or expansion cracks, then you'll need to have the slab replaced entirely.

2. You will not be able to use your concrete driveway right away

While you can walk on freshly laid asphalt right away, concrete is different and requires a little more patience.

How long should you wait before using a concrete driveway?

It is recommended to wait at least 48 hours before walking on it and at least 7 days before driving on it.

3. Installing a concrete driveway takes longer

Pouring a concrete driveway is more complicated compared to installing an asphalt one. Your contractor needs to prep the area, install the formwork, reinforce the driveway with steel rebars, and then pour the concrete mix. Then they need to make sure that everything is evenly spread out and start smoothing out the concrete surface. Next, you need to let it dry and wait a couple of days to walk on it. If you need the   

4. Installation is more expensive

It costs $4 to $15 per square foot to lay a concrete driveway. The price can sometimes go up if you choose to have the concrete stained, stenciled, or stamped.

How can you tell if you have an asphalt or concrete driveway?

It’s easy to tell if you have an asphalt or a concrete driveway. Asphalt has this distinct and easily recognizable black or dark gray color, while a concrete driveway has a medium or light gray appearance.

Asphalt also has a rougher surface, while concrete has a smoother texture and appearance (except when you have an exposed aggregate driveway).

Concrete driveways have smooth edges, while asphalt has rough ones.

Related: 7 Best Asphalt Sealer Removal Products

Can you sealcoat asphalt?

Yes, you can apply sealer to asphalt. In fact, we recommend asphalt sealer application every two to three years to protect your asphalt from the sun’s UV rays, rainwater, snowmelt, and oxidation. 

Can you sealcoat concrete?

Yes, you can apply a concrete sealer to concrete driveways. Concrete is a highly porous material. So a good coat of sealer prevents water from penetrating and damaging not only the concrete itself but also the steel reinforcement underneath.

In addition, sealer also acts as a shield against deicing salts and other chemicals that can cause corrosion.

However, we don't recommend using a blacktop sealer for concrete. Likewise, concrete sealers will not work for asphalt because it won't provide the rejuvenators that will prolong the asphalt's life.

Is asphalt or concrete better for your pavement project? 

The answer depends on your location and the climate in your area. Concrete is ideal for properties located in states with tropical or dry climates. If you live in a state with a temperate or continental climate, then an asphalt driveway is the way to go.

Another consideration in choosing the right driveway for your property is the cost. As mentioned above, concrete is more expensive than asphalt. So if the budget is a little tight but you want something that will last for decades, then asphalt is the best choice.

Can color be added to asphalt?

Yes, you can add color to an asphalt driveway by using colored crushed rocks or recycled glass. Property owners can also use colored sealers and asphalt coatings to add color to the driveway.

What business opportunities are associated with each material? 

Asphalt Services

  • Sealcoating
  • Crack Repair
  • Pothole Patching
  • Line Striping
  • Athletic Field Painting

Concrete Services

  • Decorative Concrete
  • Concrete Overlay
  • Resurfacing
  • Concrete Cleaning and Repair
  • Concrete Sealing
  • Line Striping
  • Pressure Washing

If you are interested in starting a pavement asset maintenance business, the Asphalt Kingdom Build Your Own Business Blueprint is an ideal place to start for free.

John Bublich Case Study Start an Asphalt Repair Business

Can I do my own asphalt or concrete driveway installation?

We advise against conducting DIY asphalt or concrete driveway installation. The whole installation process might look like a piece of cake when you watch it on video, but it really is not. A concrete driveway, in particular, requires precision when it comes to mixing cement, water, and aggregates.

Plus, chances are you don't have most of the tools and equipment used to install a concrete or asphalt driveway. You need to rent it from an equipment rental company, but why go through the hassle if you can hire a pro instead?

Related: Asphalt Crack Cleaning Tools and Equipment For Surface Prep

How often should you apply sealer to an asphalt driveway?

Asphalt sealer protects your driveway from the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays. It also seals out rainwater/snowmelt and prevents cracks from forming. We recommend that you hire a contractor to seal the driveway every two to three years.

Tip: You can conduct DIY asphalt sealing. Read this blog for complete information on how to sealcoat asphalt. 

 

How often should you apply sealer to a concrete driveway?

Concrete sealer protects the driveway from wear and tear, oil stains, and chemicals that can damage it. It also makes the concrete easier to clean and maintain.

That said, you can have the driveway resealed every two to five years. You can hire a pro to do this for you or you can do it yourself.

Conclusion:

We hope that this blog has helped you choose the best driveway for your home or place of business.

Read our other blog posts to learn more about asphalt and how you can extend its lifespan. For additional information on asphalt sealcoating, crack filling, and line striping, simply give us a call at 1-866-399-5562.

Topics: Asphalt Maintenance

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