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Question DetailsAsked on 11/3/2013

what's the difference between asphalt, blacktop, and sealcoating? How do I know what I need?

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Asphalt is the common name for Asphaltic Concrete - the material you see everywhere on streets and highways, as opposed to Portland Cement Concrete (commonly known by the public as concrete or cement), the other common road material.

Blacktop is just another name for asphalt - the term originated when the conversion from all concrete roads to asphalt started, and concrete highways needing repair were "blacktopped" with an asphalt overlay as an economic fix - still commonly done, as the concrete is much stronger and longer lasting but the asphalt is a cheaper wear layer, so even many modern new roads are still done this 2-layer way, though extremely rare on all but the fanciest estate-sized residential jobs due to cost, and it is an overkill in that application.

Sealcoating is an asphaltic liquid coating (cheaper form is water emulsion spread on at ambient temperature, higher quality and longer lasting but more expensive is asphalt sprayed on at very high temperature) - used to seal and renew the surface of aging asphalt.

One other term of potential use to you - chip sealing is similar to seal coating but involves spreading a thicker, hot asphalt seal coat layer, topped immediately with stone chips (very coarse crushed sand). Used both to resurface and rejuvenate asphalt (rarely on driveways, commonly on low traffic volume streets), and also as a low-strength short term surfacing to control construction site dust or as a much cheaper (though shorter life) alternative to asphalt, sprayed on a crushed stone road base. In residential use more common in rural areas with very long driveways, or sometimes as an initial surfacing during construction sothe permanent drive is not subjected to heavy equipment and construction truck traffic which can damage it.

If you are building a new drive or upgrading a gravel drive to a paved one, you need a concrete or asphalt driveway, commonly about 4" thick plus or minus an inch depending on soils and expected heavy vehicle traffic. If you have a currently paved driveway that is showing age and minor deterioraation but not breaking up or cracked so bad it needs to be torn out, then you need one of the following - for concrete, usually a skim coat patch with new patching cement grout, an overlay with asphalt, or rarely a chip seal surfacing. If asphalt now, then a sealcoat every few years will fill minor cracking and weather-induced porosity as the surface ages, if really showing age but still intact then an asphalt overlay or chip seal will extend its life.

One other rarer alternative is a paver or brick drive - where individual pavers, bricks, etc are laid to make the drive - commonly used for larger, higher end properties and generally successful only in areas without snow and ice.

For more comments on alternatives and typical costs and longevity of different options, click on the Home > Driveway link.

Answered 5 years ago by LCD

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