Asphalt may be a durable product for roads and pavements, but it doesn’t last forever, especially without proper maintenance. Asphalt Institute Magazine stresses the importance of preventative maintenance saying: “As asphalt pavements age, the asphalt binder that glues the aggregates together oxidizes, making the pavements more brittle and susceptible to cracking and other deterioration.” When this begins, asphalt companies come out and repair and seal it. It’s important to tackle the problems quickly to prevent more water getting through the pavement. Sealing cracks and ensuring proper drainage are two of the best ways to keep up on the maintenance needs of asphalt.
The Asphalt Institute began studying the benefits of applying chip sealant even before these cracks arise to see if it would help preserve the quality of the asphalt pavement. They found this proactive and preventative seal application reduced environmental aging and improved crack resistance. In many cases, they saw a quality improvement if sealants were applied within the first two years of the pavement’s life. Cores are being taken annually from a specific site in New York and sent to the Asphalt Institute’s lab in Kentucky to assess the impact of early sealant application. For now, it shows promising results. “Test results from each section … [show] that early sealing of the pavement appears to greatly slow the rate of hardening of the binder in the mix.” The results are preliminary, but they plan to continue this study on more sections, with sealed portions taken annually until cracking appears.
If you haven’t been proactively sealing your asphalt before cracks show up, don’t worry. Small cracks and minor distresses are no problem if the pavement is in relatively good condition. You can still be ahead of the game if you tackle smaller issues quickly and appropriately. Crack sealing prevents water from getting into those small cracks and making bigger issues. Sealcoating adds a layer of protection from the elements and typical wear and tear. Patching can fill in some of those bigger cracks or even potholes to make sure the pavement doesn’t deteriorate or that you don’t have dangerous holes around your parking lot.
When thinking of your maintenance check list, consider a seasonal approach. In spring, the thawing process is at its peak. Watch for pooling water or areas where the asphalt has begun sinking from the weight of vehicles. In summer, address any sealing problems when it’s warm and dry to prevent the harmful UV rays from oxidizing the pavement quickly. The early fall is a great time to get an overall assessment before winter hits and address anything major before snowfall. Wintertime requires special care with snow removal, as snow piles can do damage to asphalt as they melt and freeze. Maintenance teams should push the snow piles into drainage locations to minimize this damage.
With most things in life that age, being proactive is always a better approach than being reactive. Addressing smaller items will save money and headaches in the future.