Guide to Installing Asphalt Driveways

Asphalt driveway

 

DougBennett / Getty Images

If you've had a cracked, crumbling driveway for a long time—or no driveway at all—asphalt may be just the material you need for a flexible, cost-effective, and quickly installed driveway. Asphalt is one of the most popular driveway materials, along with concrete, and it offers reasonable durability at a middle-of-the-road price.

What Is an Asphalt Driveway?

Asphalt driveway material is similar to what you see road crews laying on roads. Also called hot mix or hot mix asphalt, this type of driveway is an aggregate of stone and sand, along with a slurry of asphalt, a tar-like material made from petroleum. The asphalt is heated to over 300 F to liquefy it. Asphalt contractors have to work with it fast before the mix solidifies. 

Hot mix asphalt is not a driveway sealant or crack sealant. Sealants and sealers are merely surface treatments for repairing or renewing worn asphalt driveways. It's also not the tar-and-chip method of installing asphalt drives.

Some asphalt patching materials are similar to hot mix but are not heated prior to the application and cure differently from hot mix. While homeowners can repair or reseal an asphalt driveway, installing new asphalt paving is not a do-it-yourself job. 

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Flexible: Asphalt is more flexible than concrete and thus is less prone to cracking. Concrete with either remain firm or it will crack. By contrast, asphalt has a certain degree of flexibility prior to cracking.
  • Less expensive: Asphalt paving is typically cheaper to install than concrete.
  • Hardier in winter conditionsAsphalt 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 by curing.
  • DIY fixes: When you eventually need to resurface your asphalt, you can do it yourself with a driveway sealant. Concrete cannot be thinly resurfaced by the do-it-yourselfer.

Cons

  • Lower resale value: Compared to asphalt, concrete typically has a higher perceived value by home buyers.
  • Uneven edges: Unless you install concrete edging to hold in the hot mix, the edges of an asphalt driveway tend to be less than perfect. 
  • Plants: While not a common occurrence, some plants can force up through asphalt. Bamboo is one such plant that can force up through asphalt driveways.
Asphalt Driveways
  • Fast installation

  • Easier to DIY-repair than concrete

  • Less expensive

  • Lower resale value

Concrete Driveways
  • Strong, durable

  • Expensive to install

  • Can be stamped to create textures

  • Straight edges

Asphalt Paving Base Options

An asphalt driveway is only as good as its base. Asphalt installed on an unstable base will develop problems quickly. There are three main options for base installation:

Install the Asphalt Paving on an Existing Driveway

If your existing driveway is in good condition and is not severely cracked or crumbling, hot mix asphalt can be laid directly on top of your driveway.

One consideration is height. Make sure that fences, garage floors, and other structures will not be affected by the higher level of the new surface.

Remove the Old Driveway and Pave on the Soil

With this installation option, the existing driveway is completely removed (or you may not even have an existing driveway). Then, 4 to 6 inches of hot mix paving is laid directly on top of the soil. This is a quick and less expensive option but it is less stable.

Remove the Old Driveway and Lay an Aggregate Base

Installing a new aggregate base is the preferred method. An aggregate stone base partially replaces some of the hot mix asphalt. Typically 6 to 8 inches of aggregate will be installed under 3 inches of asphalt.

Asphalt Paving Installation Time

Installing the asphalt driveway base is the hardest part of the process. Once the base preparation is complete, an average driveway may begin looking like a finished product is as little as 40 minutes.

Additional time will be needed to compact the asphalt. After this, the asphalt needs to harden. Under most conditions, you will be able to drive on the driveway within two to three days. But it can take 30 days or more for asphalt to fully cure. During that time, you can use the driveway as normal. But you should be careful to avoid scuffing the surface with car tires by turning too sharply and other common causes of damage.

Best Time to Install Asphalt

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.

The colder the air temperature, the less working time the asphalt paving crews have to work with the asphalt. Crews need time to smooth the asphalt across your driveway. If they do not have enough time, your driveway may be bumpy, uneven, or 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.

The thickness of the paving is another factor. The more asphalt you are dealing with, the more leeway you have. For instance, at 40 F, crews have only 16 minutes to work with 1 1/2-inch thick asphalt.

But as the depth of asphalt grows to 3 inches, so too does the workability time: up to 46 minutes. Generally, for thin applications of asphalt (around 1 1/2 inches), you will want to wait until the temperatures are at 70 F or higher. Between 50 F and 60 F, you will need to consult with your contractor. The hot-mix is still workable during this timeframe, but time is limited.