Asphalt vs Concrete Driveway: Which is Better?
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Asphalt vs Concrete Driveway: Which is Better?

Your driveway is one of the first things people see when they pull up to your house. Since first impressions last, it stands to reason that driveways have a major effect on your house’s curb appeal.

Whether you’re updating your driveway to impress your neighbors, your in-laws, or your estate agent, there are a few things you should know about the two most common materials for driveways in 2021. Both will add curb appeal, but the various materials are better suited for different scenarios. We’ve pitted the two against each other for this Versus post – it’s asphalt vs concrete driveways. Read on for the details and to find out which one comes out on top.

What’s the difference?

Mansion with asphalt driveway
Image credits: Paul Brennan via Pixabay

To get this showdown rolling, let’s start by learning a bit more about each contender. The most obvious difference between the two is the makeup of the material.

Concrete is a cement-based material. Cement, whose primary ingredients are limestone, clay, and marl, is the binding material in concrete. Cement is mixed with sand and stone to create concrete. It’s estimated that the production of cement generates more waste than the final product, so cement is NOT environmentally friendly.

Asphalt, on the other hand, is a petroleum-based product. Also known as bitumen, asphalt is refined from crude oil. This sticky, viscous form of petroleum is revered for its waterproofing abilities and hard-wearing capabilities. Asphalt is not environmentally friendly.

Now that we know where these two products come from, let’s take a look at some details.

All About Asphalt

Asphalt road in fog
Image credits: Markus Spiske via Pixabay

The large majority of asphalt used in the United States is for road surfaces, and driveways make up a significant portion. Since asphalt is semi-liquid, it can be poured into place over large areas. It means that your asphalt driveway will be able to fit into any shape you like.

Asphalt is also cheaper per square foot than concrete. The price of asphalt is directly tied to the price of crude oil, so it’s known to fluctuate. The ease of installation, wide availability, and affordable nature make it a popular driveway material. But it’s not all good news.

That low price comes at a cost. Firstly, asphalt is limited when it comes to customization. It needs to be rolled and pressed when installed, which leaves little space for stamping, etching, or various finishes. There are asphalt tints available, but your choices are mostly limited to black.

Asphalt is softer than concrete. It means it deteriorates quickly and isn’t as hard-wearing as concrete. With proper maintenance and care, an asphalt driveway should last around 30 years, which is shorter than the expected lifespan of the concrete. Asphalt needs regular sealing every 3-5 years. It is an easy task suited to the homeowner but must be done regularly to extend the life of the surface.

Both concrete and asphalt are likely to crack over their lifetime. It is a common occurrence for both materials. The difference comes in the repairs. Asphalt repairs are easy, and it’s possible to blend the repair in with the surrounding surface for an aesthetically pleasing finish. The same cannot be said about concrete.

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Concrete Characteristics

Nice suburban house with concrete driveway
Image credits: Paul Brennan via Pixabay

Concrete has been around for centuries. Many buildings from Ancient Rome that are still standing today are made out of a form of concrete. The material has been refined since the Romans built the Pantheon, but it’s still a widely popular building material used all over the world.

This popularity stems from the rugged durability of the material. Estimated life spans are generally stated as 50+ years, but as the Ancient Romans have shown us, this lifespan can be extended significantly. This durability comes at a higher cost per square foot. Although concrete driveway costs are offset by the low maintenance of the material.

Because concrete is a liquid when it’s first mixed, it can be poured into any shape or area. Similar to asphalt, concrete will be able to fit any strange shape that you throw at it. The difference here, though, is that concrete can then be stamped, etched, stained, or tinted for endless customization opportunities. A concrete surface has a higher aesthetic appeal and can even be stained a light color to reflect heat, unlike asphalt.

As far as maintenance is concerned, concrete is on the low end of the spectrum. A good sealant will enhance the aesthetics and preserve the finish of the surface for a longer time. The downside comes with repairing concrete. Cracks are harder to fill without a professional, and blending a repaired crack into the surrounding surface is impossible.

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How to choose

Long driveway to mansion
Image credits: Dorian Mongel via Pixabay

Now that you know all the nitty-gritty about asphalt and concrete, it’s time to use this information to help you make a decision.

Cost

The cost of something is usually the biggest deciding factor in a buying decision. If you’re looking for the cheapest option to get the job done, asphalt is your best option. You’ll get a sleek-looking driveway that should last decades.

In the long run, however, the difference in cost might end up balancing itself out. It is due to the ongoing maintenance costs of asphalt. These maintenance costs mean an asphalt driveway will end up being more expensive over its expected lifespan of 30 years.

Concrete has a higher initial cost, but it’s more likely to be a once-off investment, especially if you seal it properly with a high-quality sealant.

Maintenance

Asphalt is more intensive when it comes to maintenance. It needs to be sealed 6 months after installation and then resealed every 3-5 years. Whereas sealing concrete once should protect the finish for a lot longer. Remember, though, that anything that drops onto your surface will determine how often you have to seal it. Think about things like motor oil stains, grease, or the degreasers used to clean both.

As far as repairs go, asphalt is easier for the homeowner to repair, but repairs may have to be made more often due to the softer nature of the material. Concrete repairs are more difficult and won’t blend into the original surface, but these repairs will be fewer and further between.

Aesthetics

If customization is important to you, then concrete is the way to go. The possibilities are endless when it comes to customizing concrete. You can stamp or etch any designs you can think of or stain or tint your surface in a huge range of colors. Your concrete driveway can look however you wish and is sure to spruce up your curb appeal.

Asphalt has more of a universal finish. Your asphalt driveway will most likely look sleek, smooth, and black. Some tints can be added to the finish, but you’re mostly limited to shades of black.

Climate

Your local climate is a very important factor and one that’s often not considered until it’s too late.

Have you ever walked down the road in Florida in July, and your feet seem to stick to the ground? That’s the soft asphalt beneath your feet slowly melting. Since asphalt begins its life as semi-liquid, hot weather can cause it to return to this state. So if you live in a hot climate, an asphalt driveway isn’t the best option. It is more suited to colder climates.

Alternatively, in cold weather, concrete driveways can crack due to the constant freeze-thaw cycles. This freezing of groundwater is enough to move the concrete to cause cracks. Make sure you’ve considered this if you live in a place with a colder climate. Concrete is better suited to warm climates.

Which one is right for you?

I’ve given you all the details about concrete and asphalt, so it’s up to you to decide which material will best suit your needs.

The most important thing about this decision is making sure you choose the surface material that’s best suited to your situation. If you live in a mild climate and need a cost-effective solution that doesn’t require aesthetic customizations, then asphalt is an excellent choice.

If you’re prepared for an upfront investment that results in a durable, customizable surface that you won’t have to worry about for 50 years, then concrete is the option for you.

Now that you know all the details regarding this showdown, which surface are you going to choose? Let us know in the comments below, or share this post with a friend that needs a new driveway.

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