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Asphalt and concrete, roads and sidewalks, same stuff, right? Not so much. Even though both of them are hard surfaces that you walk and drive on, they have very different compositions and properties. If you’re planning a construction project, it’s important to understand which is best to use for your application.
Once you understand the makeup of either material, you can better evaluate where it’s best to use one or the other. Concrete tends to be the more aesthetic choice, whereas asphalt or “blacktop” as most people know it can save some money and offers a more forgiving surface.
Concrete: Eye-Pleasing but Expensive
You may have worked with quick-mix concrete in the past, or seen the grey sludge delivered from the back of a mixing truck. Concrete is a mixture of two things:
- Cement: A chunky material you’ve probably seen in construction applications.
- Sand: Gives the concrete its finer grain and more uniform appearance.
Water and air are mixed into the aggregate material and cement, and the entire slurry is then poured into a shape.
Because concrete has small pores created by the fine mix of materials, it can be finished to achieve a variety of aesthetics. You can apply a colored stain, or create a high-class polished look that is popular with some builders, called terrazzo. Concrete is very hard and requires little maintenance aside from cleaning and sealing it if you’ve applied a finish. However, you should go into a concrete project eyes-open about the cost. It can be three or four times the initial cost of using asphalt.
Asphalt: Effective and Affordable
Asphalt typically sees use in projects where a much larger quantity of material is used. For example, as a roadbase, an application you’ve almost certainly seen asphalt in. Asphalt can be used in home projects, too, as long as you understand its specific needs and how climate conditions can affect it.
Unlike concrete, which can crack in cold weather, asphalt can handle freezes fairly well. There may be some need for patching, but it’s a less expensive process than fixing holes in concrete. Asphalt doesn’t do well in extreme heat, though, where it can become sticky and cling to your shoes.
Despite lacking some of the aesthetic qualities of concrete, there are some new developments in the world of asphalt sealants that can give the tried-and-true material a specific tint. Depending on the color palette of your home or business, using asphalt could complement the current look.
If you plan to use asphalt, consider that it will require sealing every few years. This is a small maintenance cost, and really one of the only for-certain long-term costs associated with asphalt, but it is there. Other than that, it’s a pretty set-and-forget solution.
We hope this gives you some better understanding of how these two materials differ and when it’s more or less appropriate to use one vs. the other. Let us know in the comments below if you have some wisdom to share about your experience with concrete or asphalt.