Asphalt Driveway Installation: A Comprehensive Guide

New Asphalt Driveway 1500 x 1000
New Asphalt Driveway. CC-Licensed; Flickr User Danny Votra

Have you been limping along for years with a cracked, crumbling driveway?  Asphalt may be just the material you need for a flexible, cost-effective, and quickly completed driveway.

What is Asphalt:

Similar to what you see road crews laying on roads, hot mix asphalt is an aggregate of stone and sand, along with a slurry of asphalt. The asphalt is heated to over 300 F to liquefy it.

Asphalt contractors have to work with it fast before the mix solidifies.

 Temperatures can curtail the installation of asphalt driveways (detailed below).  

Hot-Mix vs. Driveway Sealant

Hot mix is not driveway sealant nor is it crack sealant. Both of these are fixes, not solutions.

Installing asphalt paving is not a do-it-yourself job.  Crack repair and spreading driveway sealant are simple DIY projects, though they can be physically strenuous in terms of hauling supplies to your home and spreading out the mix.

Why You May Want It

  • Flexible:  Asphalt is more flexible than concrete and thus is less prone to cracking.
  • Less Expensive:  Asphalt paving is typically cheaper than concrete.
  • Hardier In Winter Conditions:  It is less prone to damage by rock salt and ice melt.
  • Faster Setting:  Asphalt sets faster than concrete because it hardens by cooling rather than drying.
  • DIY Fixes:  When you eventually need to resurface your asphalt, you can do it yourself with driveway sealant.  Concrete cannot be resurfaced by the do-it-yourselfer.

    Why You May Not Want It

    • Lower Resale Value:  If you are trying to decide between concrete vs. asphalt driveway on the basis of future resale value, install concrete.  Concrete--especially stamped concrete--infuses your property with higher perceived value.
    • Scam Contractors:  Unfortunately for the many honest paving contractors out there, this profession has an unusually high reputation for scams and con men.  Beware of contractors who come to you, saying that they have leftover asphalt from another job and will cut you a good deal.  Many of these people are transient, not local contractors, and instead of paving your drive they will only spread out driveway sealant.  Paving contractors do not necessarily have to be licensed as contractors, but if they happen to be--and they have a clean record--that is a plus.
    • Uneven Edges:  Unless you install concrete edging to hold in the hot-mix, you will have edges that are less than perfect.  
    • Plants:  While not a common occurrence, some plants can force up through asphalt.  Bamboo is one such plant.

    3 Options For The Asphalt Paving Base

    Your driveway is only as good as its base.  Install on an unstable base, and your drive will barely even last the season.  Your options include:

    1. Install Paving Over Existing Driveway:  If your existing driveway is in good condition and is not severely cracked or crumbling, hot-mix asphalt can be laid right on top of your driveway. One consideration is height. Are there fences, garages, and other structures that might make it impossible to raise the height of your driveway?
    2. Rip Out Existing Driveway; Install Paving on Soil:  The preferred method. Existing driveway is completely removed (or you may not even have an existing driveway). Between 4 and 6 inches of hot-mix paving are laid directly on the soil.
    3. Rip Out Existing Driveway; Lay Paving on Aggregate Base:  The best option.  An aggregate stone base partially replaces some of the hot-mix asphalt. Typically 6-8 inches of aggregate go under 3 inches of asphalt.

    How The Asphalt Paving Goes Down

    With all the base preparations completed, the actual asphalt paving goes fast.

    Blink, and you may miss it.

    An average driveway may take as little as 40 minutes to begin looking like a finished product. However, more time will be needed to compact the asphalt.

    After this, the asphalt needs to harden. While you will be able to drive on it within hours, the contractor will most likely recommend that you wait 24 hours just to make sure.

    You may have had to remove fences or gates before laying the driveway. These structures must be re-installed and often reconfigured to accommodate the higher pavement.

    Now that you have a nice, new driveway, every few years you may want to apply driveway sealer to prevent water from working into the surface pores. When cracks begin to develop--even the smallest ones--apply the crack sealer to keep cracks from getting larger.​​

    When Is The Best Time To Install It?

    Hot-mix asphalt paving is dependent on warmer temperatures for workable conditions.

     This means that spring and summer are the best seasons for installing an asphalt driveway.

    Cold Reduces Workable Time of Hot-Mix Asphalt

    The colder the air temperature, the less time asphalt paving crews have to work with the asphalt.

    Crews need time to smooth the asphalt across your driveway. If the crews do not have enough time, your driveway will be bumpy, uneven, irregular--or the project may not even get finished. While it depends on where you live, winter is not a good time to install driveway asphalt.

    Depth Of Asphalt Is Influential

    The more asphalt you are dealing with, the more leeway you have.

    For instance, at 40 F, work crews have only 16 minutes to work with 1.5" depth hot-mix asphalt. But as the depth of asphalt grows to 3 inches, so too does the workability time: 46 minutes.

    Generally, for thin applications of asphalt (1.5"), you will want to wait until the temperatures are at 70 F or better. Between 50-60 F, you will need to consult with your contractor. The hot-mix is still workable during this timeframe, but time is limited.