Expert tips on asphalt driveways

By Joshua Fightmaster

What is the best asphalt driveway you can put down at your house? Are there different kinds of asphalt? Are some types of asphalt better than others? How much work is it to have one installed at my house?

These are a few questions I am sure any homeowner contemplates if they need a new or rehabbed driveway. I talked to an expert in Chicago, Illinois to see if they had any tips and tricks when working with residential driveways.

From the outside looking in, installing an asphalt driveway seems like nothing more than pouring a liquid out of a truck, letting it dry and the job is done. However, the process is not as simple as a layman may think.

In speaking with Anne Wilson, owner of Bigane Paving Company in Chicago, she said that any pavement project starts with the base.

“A well-compacted stone base course prior to the hot mix asphalt installation (HMA) is key,” Wilson said. She went on to say that there are options for how that stone base is created whether it is from recycled concrete or well-compacted virgin materials. In a climate like Chicago, a dense-graded asphalt such as an N30 aggregate surface is most often used and always contains recycled asphalt pavement (RAP).

The workload of installing an asphalt driveway depends on many different factors including the time of year, the dimensions, the weight load requirements and drainage considerations. A homeowner’s first question is often, “How much will this cost?” but that question is not easily answered.

According to many experts, the size of the driveway is the main element that determines the price. Contractors usually charge per square foot so deciding on the dimensions is one of the first steps to take.

Wilson recommends different thicknesses of the driveway depending on the type of vehicles that will be parked on it.

“Driveways with cars only can be two inches thick; however, if you would have any truck traffic, three inches is recommended,” said Wilson.

Another factor that many homeowners may not consider is that figuring out how to direct water away from your property when it rains is important when installing a driveway at your home. The slope of the driveway is a key factor in helping rain runoff and not pool around the base of your home.

While the new installation of a driveway is a solution for some, not everyone needs to jackhammer their driveway and begin again.

“An asphalt driveway that is in good condition with minimal cracking, should have the crack filled and can be seal coated to return the black color to the driveway. A driveway that is well oxidated and severely cracked, can be stripped, which removes the asphalt surface only,” said Wilson.

“The base course should be inspected with additional material added as needed. Any base failures should be removed and replaced prior to placement of the new asphalt surface,” she added.

While the experts in the field may make the process seem easy, numerous complicated factors play a part in installing a new asphalt driveway. Reaching out to a local, recommended contractor is the first step to take in securing a safe and stable process for your home.

Fightmaster is an Asphalt Supply Manager at Seneca Petroleum Co., Inc.