Concrete vs. Asphalt. Helping you choose the driveway that best fits your needs.
Concrete or Asphalt? One of the most predominant and disputed questions in the industry. With respect to that, let's break down each one into 3 parts so we can more accurately define them; Functionality, Aesthetic, and Price.
This is where the basis for your decision should be made. When it comes down to WHY we need new driveways installed. Typically, it's because your old one is deteriorating and needs to be replaced, or simply does not work for your needs. Well, making sure your driveway is properly installed and FUNCTIONS the way you need it will keep you from replacing your driveway numerous times.
One of the big differences relates to TEMPERATURE and how those two surfaces move. To be clear, both of these materials WILL expand and contract with temperature fluctuations. In Minnesota, season changes happen twice a year and within each transition there can be several cycles of freeze/thaw processes that occur. Not only is the surface moving but what is underneath (the base aggregate that is the foundation of the driveway and the subsoils that naturally exist) is also moving and reacting to that same freeze/thaw process.
With movement occurring, cracks eventually will reappear. There are various types of cracks, but expansion cracks are natural and will occur in most driveways. While wildly fluctuating temperatures do play a role in the frequency and severity of these cracks, there are ways to help minimize them (see our "Basing the Driveway. Why It's Important to Get it Right" post).
If you reside in warm climates (think Arizona), you might want to consider Concrete as it will not hold as much heat as Asphalt. Asphalt is a combination of various sized aggregate, sand and oil. The oil creates a binder to hold it together and gives the surface a black color. It naturally absorbs heat and will be more prone to marks, dents, scrapes, and even puncture marks (yeah, the lawn chair on the driveway isn't a good idea). As the asphalt "cures"(the process of residual oils oxidizing) the surface will harden and make it less prone to those marks.
In cold climates, Asphalt can be easier to manage than Concrete. Asphalt is able to flex (why it is termed "flexible pavement"), where Concrete ("rigid pavement") will expand and contract. A Concrete driveway has several tool or saw cuts, where we as the installers hope the expansion occurs. All in all, Concrete will crack where it wants to crack. Asphalt is more forgiving and will flex.
Asphalt is installed as a monolithic pour with a paver with no control joints after. But it will also crack where the movement is focused. Another advantage with winter and selecting an Asphalt surface, is when the sun comes out. If your driveway is positioned properly (south and west facing is ideal) it will allow snow/ice to melt. The last winter consideration is the salt that is treated on our roads, which will not deteriorate Asphalt as it will with Concrete. Concrete should also be sealed every 3-4 years to be less prone.
The final functionality trait that separates the two, pertains to vehicle weight. If you have heavy vehicles, trailers, RV's, or any heavy equipment that you park directly on your driveway for extended periods of time, you might want to consider Concrete. While both Concrete and Asphalt can be designed for certain weight load specifications (mix design, base aggregate depth and pavement depth/mats should be thought-out) it is more typical to use Concrete in those areas. And sometimes the best option is to do both!
Look can be a big factor for you. Whether your preference is based on personal opinion, matching the neighborhood aesthetic, or how it ties into your property, this consideration is important. Making sure you spend your money on something you love looking at, is a very big deal!
When it comes to aesthetic, many people favor Concrete. For people that like perfection, the process of installing Concrete allows for perfect lines and a smooth surface. Concrete also offers an unlimited number of options with different colored stains, tints, patterned and textured stamps, various-sized saw cuts or tool cuts and combinations of all those features!
With Asphalt the surface is one tone, there's more texture as the material doesn't have a "cream" like concrete to get it perfectly smooth. However, for those of us that design the outside palette of the home or business, we often choose asphalt as it recedes in the view, so the building and landscape can become the focus.
But of course the aesthetic is related to your preference and what looks good to you is what matters most!
Lastly, we get to price. This break-down is where Asphalt wins. On average, Concrete ranges anywhere from 2.0-2.5x more expensive than Asphalt. This can end up being a pretty hefty difference in price, especially as the driveways get bigger. Even though this part is usually what people base their decision on, if the surface doesn't function properly for your needs it may need to be reviewed. The front end of the purchase may look daunting, but if there are repairs or replacements down the road you can end up paying more than the original "daunting" price.
Asphalt or Concrete?
So now we are at that predominant and disputed question. Asphalt vs. Concrete? The answer really is either. The BEST choice is the one that is going to fit you and only you. Take into account all the factors and variables. Make the decision for yourself, and you will NOT regret it.