How long will my asphalt last? What can I do to make it last longer? How can I get the most out of my investment in an asphalt pavement?
Those questions and others like them are asked regularly of pavement maintenance contractors throughout the country, and how you answer them can have an impact on your relationship with your client and your reputation in the market.
One of the first things property managers need to understand is that asphalt pavement — like just about everything else — has a finite life. It begins deteriorating almost as soon as it's constructed and while there are steps that can and should be taken to maintain the pavement and extend its life, eventually the asphalt will deteriorate to the point where it will need to be replaced.
But that can be a long-term proposition. Properly constructed and maintained asphalt pavements can easily be expected to last upwards of 15 or 20 years. Poorly constructed or improperly maintained pavements can last as little as half that time.
"There's a lot of controversy over how long asphalt will last," says Charles Bushell, executive director of STAR Inc. "The answer is it depends on a variety of factors, including the traffic, the location, the climate, and a host of other variables. So how long asphalt will last depends on the conditions it's exposed to. While I can't tell you your asphalt pavement will last X amount of years, I can tell you it will last longer if you maintain it properly and use a sealcoat."
But it's not simply the fact of maintenance that affects the life of the pavement, it is the timing of the maintenance as well. Maintenance done at the appropriate time brings the pavement back to its near-new condition, extending its usable life. Maintenance performed after a pavement has deteriorated beyond certain levels cannot bring the pavement back to the optimum performance level.
So timing is everything when performing maintenance, and sealcoating is the first maintenance option that should be done and the maintenance option that should be done most regularly to help extend pavement life.
Take a look at Charts A and B, which show two similar views of what happens to pavement and the costs to maintain it. As Chart A shows, pavement condition deteriorates 40% over 75% of the pavement life. But by 80% of pavement life the pavement experiences another 40% drop in pavement quality. At the same time, maintenance and reconstruction costs are low early in pavement life but rise substantially as the pavement deteriorates. Chart A puts a dollar value on the cost, indicating that $1 spent before the pavement deteriorates significantly will cost $5 after the pavement deteriorates.
Chart B builds on Chart A, showing that maintenance (green lines) done at early and regular intervals actually can bring the pavement back to better condition, thereby extending its useful life, which reduces life cycle costs. But while sealcoating is an integral element of any pavement maintenance effort, it is not enough by itself.
"Ideally, a pavement maintenance program should consist of periodic patching, cracksealing, and sealcoating," says Rich Kish, SealMaster regional manager.
Lee Lowis, vice president, Surface Coatings Co., agrees.
"When done in conjunction with crack repair and pothole repair, sealcoating can be an effective way to protect the pavement and repairs from sun and other damage and can extend the life of the pavement," Lowis says.
STAR Inc.'s "Economics of Sealcoating" chart (page 14) takes the analysis several steps further, comparing suggested maintenance and costs over the life a pavement with costs of a neglected pavement. It becomes clear that property owners who spend maintenance dollars early and regularly in the life of a pavement spend less money overall while extending the life of the pavement — and the life of their investment.