Of all the surface parking lots in the country, only 8 percent are concrete. Within this context, consider that more than 6,000 square miles of surface parking lots will require resurfacing within the next year or so. If you are in the business of designing and installing concrete parking lots, the two figures combine to spell opportunity, says John Hansen, senior director, national resources, Mid/Northwest region for the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA).
The current percentage discrepancy between asphalt and concrete, he adds, doesn’t imply an uphill battle. In states such as Iowa and Nebraska, 65 percent of new parking lot construction is concrete and Texas has a high percentage, as well.
“In fact, because of the high price of oil, there’s more parity in first cost,” says Hansen. “But first cost is not the only reason flipping parking lots from what has been the asphalt standard to concrete is more attractive than ever before.” He notes that concrete is more environmentally friendly than asphalt and reflects light better, a characteristic that has become increasingly important since the mandated move away from incandescent lighting to LED. He cites examples of “big box” stores selecting concrete based exclusively on lighting — because it reflects LED lighting better than asphalt, creating a safer night environment.
The concrete industry used to depend on the high maintenance costs of asphalt compared to the longer design life and low maintenance of concrete to argue their case. “Now, it’s everything put together,” says Hansen, “including first cost parity, environment, safety, longevity and more that makes concrete an attractive alternative to asphalt. Yet there are still objections, most of which are founded on lack of knowledge and understanding.”
Vance Pool, NRMCA’s South Central senior director agrees. “The biggest obstacle is change. You’re trying to drive change when a large percentage of engineers and general contractors still don’t believe concrete is competitive. Many engineers were not taught to design concrete parking lots in college, just roads.”
The obstacles, though, are far from insurmountable, and that’s good news, says Pool, since the concrete industry needs to move aggressively in pavement. As NRMCA reported last fall, ready mix concrete production in 2010 fell to just 258 million cubic yards, down from 458 million cubic yards in 2005, at the height of the housing boom. Indeed, NRMCA emphasized the ready mixed concrete industry has been hit hard by the combination of the housing market collapse, tightening credit and resulting constricted commercial construction, and a lack of serious infrastructure investment by the government.
Both concrete producers and contractors are looking for ways to increase demand for their product and service offering, and parking lots, along with streets and local roads, represent potential growth areas.
Florida contractor Bryan Birdwell, owner of Birdwell & Associates LLC, has been in the industry for 20 years and for many of those he’s been installing concrete parking lots. “The biggest challenge is to get to the owner and tell your story,” he explains. Whereas the engineer and general contractor may not want to leave their asphalt comfort zone and the developer is concerned about cost, the owner is the one with the long-term vested interest.
“Find out what the best fit for the owner is,” Birdwell relates. “What is the owner looking for? Is it image, or does something different and new have a certain appeal? If the parking lot is destined to become a construction zone, then the strength of concrete would prevail over the use of asphalt.”
He continues, “In Florida with all the heat, for example, asphalt requires even more maintenance than it does on other parts of the country. That becomes a strong selling point.”