Asphalt vs. Concrete: What You Need to Know

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People unfamiliar with construction often seem to think that asphalt and concrete are essentially the same material. While they’re generally used for identical purposes, there are significant differences between the two that you should be aware of if you plan to use either for a driveway or roadway. Here’s a breakdown of the major differences between asphalt and concrete:

Composition
Both asphalt and concrete are mixtures held together by a binding agent. ‘Asphalt’ is actually the name for both the mixture as a whole and the binding agent, which may also be called ‘bitumen’. Concrete, on the other hand, is a mixture of crushed up stone, sand and gravel held together using liquid cement. While the end product looks similar in both cases, the chemical differences between concrete and asphalt affect the ways they can be used.

Durability
On the whole, concrete is a much more durable mixture than asphalt. Concrete roads and driveways have longer lifespans and need repairs less often, and they don’t need to be re-sealed (although they can be after 50 years or so). However, concrete roads are known to crack when exposed to extreme winter weather or extended periods of cold.

Asphalt roadways, on the other hand, are less durable and need to be resealed after about 20 years. They also need frequent repairs and are vulnerable to severe weather, particularly excessive heat, which can soften and warp asphalt. But despite all this, there are still some advantages that asphalt roads have over concrete roads.

Repairs
While maintenance is needed more frequently with asphalt roadways, the good news is that they’re easier to repair. With asphalt, it’s possible to re-layer or to work on just one layer of the road, tasks that are extremely difficult with concrete roads. Repairing asphalt roads is also cheaper than repairing concrete roads; paving costs are lower and so is the price per foot–about $2.50 to $4.50 per square foot for asphalt and $4 to $6 for concrete.

Safety
When it comes to driver safety, asphalt roads have a slight edge over concrete roads.
Asphalt generally offers better traction for tires, which reduces the likelihood of skidding, and snow also melts faster on asphalt than it does on concrete. This last consideration can be especially important if a road or driveway is being constructed in an area that sees heavy snowfall.

There are significant advantages and disadvantages to both concrete and asphalt as materials. Concrete roadways are more durable, last longer and are more resistant to heat, while asphalt roads require frequent maintenance but are known to be safer, particularly where winter weather is concerned. Overall, the decision of which material to use should come down to your location and your primary concerns.