Asphalt Vs. Concrete: What's The Difference?

Replacing an old and worn-out driveway or patio can help improve your home's curb appeal and make you feel better about your property. If you're ready to replace your driveway or patio, there are several things you'll want to think about. One of the first decisions to make is whether you want an asphalt or concrete driveway. While these two materials may sometimes be confused with one another, they are actually quite different.

As All County Construction explains, there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of materials. Understanding the pros and cons of each material choice and which types of applications they are best for you can help you choose the best option for your project. Once you've decided on which driveway type is right for you, you'll be able to choose a reputable and reliable contractor to help you complete your project. Some contractors may specialize in either concrete or asphalt projects, so you'll want to decide between the two materials before choosing who you wish to work with.

What is asphalt?

Asphalt Kingdom explains that asphalt is a composite mineral made up of a few key ingredients. Gravel, sand, and crushed stone are the primary ingredients used to make it. Bitumen is a binding ingredient that also makes up a small portion of its composition. This works to hold all of the other ingredients together, resulting in the solid surfaces that make up roads, driveways, and more.

There are three main types of asphalt: hot mix, warm mix, and cold mix. The European Asphalt Pavement Association explains that each of these varieties is produced using different mixing conditions and temperatures based on the level of traffic, climate, and other variables at the application site. The ideal variety for higher traffic areas is hot mix asphalt. This variety is made using very high temperatures, which also makes it the most durable.

Warm mix asphalt is seen as a more environmentally-friendly option. It can be mixed under lower temperatures than the hot mix variety, only 70 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This requires less energy, releases fewer fumes, and provides a safer work environment for workers when spreading the material. However, these benefits come at a cost, as it is not as durable as hot mix asphalt. Cold mix asphalt does not require any heat during the mixing process. To make cold mix asphalt, bitumen that has been emulsified in water is used that hardens as it dries. However, it is not durable enough for heavy traffic areas.

What is concrete?

Concrete is another composite material. However, its components differ from those used to make asphalt. Civil Engineering shares that it is made using aggregates like sand, stone, and gravel mixed with water and a binding material like concrete. As the concrete dries, the ingredients bind together and harden into an extremely durable surface.

There are three overarching concrete categories. The first category is lime concrete, which is made using lime as a binding material. This variation is not as strong or durable as cement concrete. However, it is less expensive, easier to work with, and fire-resistant. Cement concrete is very strong, durable, and easy to maintain. For these reasons, it is the top choice for the majority of engineering projects. It offers a wide variety of uses — from pouring foundations, creating columns, curbing roads, and paving surfaces. However, it can be more difficult to work with. The third category is reinforced cement concrete. This variety uses steel to reinforce and strengthen a structure. The concrete mix is cast around the steel, allowing a structure to support heavier loads.

What are the pros and cons of asphalt?

Now that you have an understanding of the two different materials, let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of asphalt. Land Designs By Colton shares that one of the main pros of choosing asphalt for a driveway is the cost. You'll spend a lot less than you'd spend for a concrete driveway. It is also a better choice for those who live in cold climates as it is more resistant to very cold temperatures. Driveways and patios can be installed quickly and will be ready to use more quickly than a concrete driveway.

While there are several pros to choosing an asphalt driveway, there are also some cons to be aware of. While asphalt is an overall durable material, you will need to keep up with regular maintenance to protect your driveway and ensure it continues to look its best. This will involve cleaning the driveway two or more times each year to remove dirt and debris. This material can also crack more than concrete, which may require more frequent repairs than you'd need to worry about with a concrete driveway or patio. Some people don't think that asphalt driveways are as attractive as their alternatives. The material also can't be stained or stamped, and it's generally only available in black or gray color variations.

What are the pros and cons of concrete?

Concrete also has its own set of pros and cons. The LGW Group explains that it is a very durable and long-lasting material. Compared to an asphalt driveway, one made out of concrete will typically last longer and develop fewer cracks or chips. You can also change the color of concrete — either before or after it is poured. Moreover, as Green Impressions notes, you can also stamp this material, allowing you to create a variety of patterns and designs to enhance the overall visual appeal of a patio or driveway.

There are still some drawbacks of concrete to consider. It is more difficult to work with and will require professional installation. In some cases, it may require reinforcement using steel or wire to ensure it is strong enough to meet the demands of a particular project. If the ingredients aren't mixed properly or spread properly, it can also be more likely to crack, leading to additional work and expenses. You can also expect to pay more for a concrete driveway than you would for an asphalt one.

Does asphalt or concrete last longer?

Several factors can impact how long either type of driveway will last, though concrete driveways typically last longer. Asphalt Pavement Solutions shares that the average lifespan of an asphalt driveway is 25 years, though some may last up to 30 years. If the driveway isn't properly cared for, however, its lifespan could be cut short. Weather also plays a role in determining the lifespan of an asphalt driveway. If the climate is too humid, the base of the driveway may contain too much moisture. This can result in a weakened structure. If the temperature is too hot, it can make it more likely for the driveway to crack. Similarly, too much frozen water on the surface of the driveway or beneath it can also cause cracks to develop.

According to Port Aggregates, Inc, some concrete driveways may last up to 50 years, though most typically last for 25 to 30 years. As with asphalt, there are different factors that will impact the lifespan of a concrete driveway. A driveway's lifespan could be reduced if it is not properly installed or if too much weight is placed on the driveway's surface.

Which requires more maintenance?

Asphalt requires more maintenance than concrete. According to Richfield Blacktop, an asphalt driveway will be particularly susceptible to damage during the first two weeks after it is poured. During this time, the material is not fully cured and can be more easily damaged by vehicles driving or parking on it. The material still will not be fully cured for the next several months, so it is best to try to avoid parking on the driveway on very hot days.

Beyond taking extra precautions while the driveway is still newer, there are several other maintenance tasks to keep up with. At least once a year, you should perform a detailed inspection of your driveway to look for any cracks. These cracks should promptly be repaired to prevent more serious damage to the driveway. Sealants should also be applied over patched cracks, as well as the entire driveway every few years. In some cases, such as instances of very heavy use or more extreme climates, it may be recommended to seal your driveway more often. Other maintenance tasks required for asphalt driveways include cleaning up spills of oil or gasoline promptly and ensuring there is proper drainage by having the driveway graded away from the home.

Concrete driveways are easier to maintain and are less likely to crack than asphalt driveways. However, proper maintenance is still required to protect your driveway and extend its lifespan. Concrete Networks shares that some important maintenance tasks include applying a sealant every few years, removing stains, and being careful when shoveling snow and ice. It's also important to clean your concrete regularly and properly to keep it looking great long term.

Which costs more?

There can be some variations in the price of a new concrete or asphalt driveway. However, asphalt is typically the more budget-friendly option. HomeServe shares that this type of driveway costs between $3 and $5 per square foot. Which end of this range your specific driveway will be on can depend on different factors, such as the company you choose to work with and whether you live in a higher or lower cost-of-living area. You'll also need to keep future long-term maintenance costs like professional sealing in mind.

Concrete driveways tend to cost between $4 and $7 per square foot to install. A stamped driveway will be even more expensive. Plus, you'll also want to account for the cost of preparing the space for the new driveway. If you're replacing an old concrete driveway, you'll need to remove the material, which can cost an additional $1 to $4 per square foot.

Will asphalt or concrete be ready to drive on more quickly?

Both types of driveways will need to dry after being applied. However, asphalt driveways will be ready faster than concrete driveways. According to Empire Parking Lot Services, an asphalt driveway should dry for at least two to three full days before use. It can take longer to dry if it is very hot or humid outside. However, it can also be more difficult to apply if it is very cold. Choosing a dry and temperate day to have an asphalt driveway laid will provide the best results and optimal dry time. 

Empire Parking Lot Surfaces also shares that concrete driveways should not be driven on for at least one week following their application. Nothing should be placed on the driveway for the first two days, but after the first 48 hours, you can walk on it. However, because cars are significantly heavier than people, the driveway will need more time to cure and harden before being able to accept the weight of a vehicle. The concrete dry time can also be longer if too much water is added to the cement mixture or the weather is hot and humid.

Is asphalt or concrete better for cold climates?

The climate in the area where you live can help you decide which type of driveway is best for you. Colorado Pavement Solutions explains that asphalt is generally a better choice for colder climates. As the temperatures change, the material will expand and contract but is less likely to crack than concrete. When asphalt does crack, repairing it is relatively simple and inexpensive. Its darker color means that it absorbs heat from the sun, aiding in the melting of snow and ice.

Conversely, concrete is more likely to crack or heave in colder climates. Fixing these cracks can be expensive and doesn't always create a flawless look. You also can't use typical salt for melting ice on concrete. The harsh compound can wreak havoc on the surface and cause divots and other types of damage. Instead, you'll need to make sure you're using a concrete-safe deicer or manually removing snow and ice.

Is asphalt or concrete better for warm climates?

While asphalt may be best for colder climates, Cross Construction Services shares that concrete is a superior choice for warmer climates. In hot climates, an asphalt driveway is more likely to expand and contract than a concrete one. This can damage the surface and lead to more required repairs. Concrete driveways, on the other hand, are less likely to become damaged in warmer climates. They handle higher levels of sun exposure better, which is important in hot areas. Plus, light-colored concrete can stay cooler on hot and sunny days.

Asphalt is darker, which means that it absorbs heat quickly, creating a scalding surface in direct sunlight. This makes for a painful walking surface for bare feet or sensitive pet paw pads. Extremely high temperatures can also soften, compromise, or even melt the asphalt and any sealants. This creates a tar-like substance that can be transferred to other surfaces.

Is asphalt or concrete more environmentally friendly?

Compared to concrete, asphalt is often viewed as the more environmentally-friendly material. The Asphalt Pavement Alliance shares that its production creates less waste and releases lower levels of greenhouse gasses. Of the different types of asphalt, warm mix is among the most friendly options for the planet, as less fuel is required to make it and fewer fumes are released during its production.

However, while asphalt may be more environmentally-friendly than concrete, Aexcel Corporation explains that neither of these materials is very good for the planet. Producing asphalt and concrete uses up natural resources, like rock, sand, and petroleum. Recycling these components can reduce waste, but still requires the use of a lot of energy. During the production of both surfacing materials, VOCs are emitted into the atmosphere. Both types of surfaces can also pollute water sources when contaminated rainwater flows from them into rivers, streams, and lakes.

Biofriendly Planet shares some more environmentally-friendly driveway materials that you may want to consider. Some alternatives include natural stone pavers, sandstone bricks, crushed beach shells, and hempcrete bricks. Some variations of asphalt and concrete can also be more eco-friendly, including porous asphalt, porous concrete, and crushed concrete.