Paved surfaces make up a large portion of homeowners associations’ assets, from sidewalks to parking lots to driveways and roadways. These paved surfaces are a large portion of the land real estate of an association and, therefore, they are crucial to maintain. Because of this, key questions arise. What are the signs of maintenance issues with asphalt pavement? What can be done as far as upkeep? What should an association look for in a contractor? What should they expect as part of the project? What are the environmental concerns of asphalt installation? To answer these, we spoke with Marketing Director and Sealcoating Sales Representative Michele DuBois, of DuBois Paving Company in East Dundee, Illinois about the issues associated with asphalt pavement and the importance of maintenance.
Maintaining an association’s paved surfaces can go a long way towards extending the life of asphalt. DuBois underscored the importance of sticking to a preventative maintenance plan. “Being proactive with preventative maintenance earlier in the year is a much better solution than reacting to problems,” said DuBois.
A maintenance plan should be put in place following the installation of new asphalt. From the moment of installation, hot asphalt begins to cool and the aging process begins, she said. From this point asphalt is broken down by oil, gas, sun oxidation, salt, water penetration, and cold weather. The most common causes of asphalt deterioration are water accumulation in areas of lower elevation, excessive loads on the pavement surfaces, and the destructive effects of vehicle fluids, gasoline and oil. Over time, water accumulation can cause asphalt to crack and split severely, or “alligator” as it is commonly called, explained DuBois. Also, she said excessive weight, such as garbage trucks on driveway areas, can cause asphalt to sink or displace, allowing gasoline and oil to seep into the pavement surface causing further deterioration.
DuBois explained that asphalt is a petroleum-based product. It is very flexible when it’s first laid, but as time passes, the petroleum-based products get oxidized and dried out by the sun. Associations should be on the lookout for certain indications of maintenance issues in their paved surfaces. Asphalt is very black when it’s first applied but turns grayish in color as a result of the oxidation process. “When the asphalt surface gets to this point, it is time for it to be sealcoated with a premium sealcoat product to protect the surface,” DuBois said.
When the surface color turns gray, the asphalt becomes brittle. This indicates that it has lost its flexibility and is going to crack. The cracks then lead to spider cracks, which in turn lead to holes and deteriorated areas, ultimately leading to asphalt replacement. “This is why it is important to seal asphalt,” said DuBois.
Whether the surface is brand new or an older surface, associations should look for any signs of cracking. As soon as any cracking is detected, the association contractor should be called in for a repair. According to DuBois, pore or crack sealing is one of the most important things that can be done for an asphalt’s surface.
Beyond the expected wear and tear, associations can also implement preventative measures to help stop any issues before they occur. Sealants are the most obvious tools, said DuBois. Sealants being oil-based, are able to seep into the pores of asphalt, DuBois stated. This adds flexibility and protects the asphalt against the natural elements – sun, rain, snow, ice, roots, etc. “This is called the asphalt rejuvenation process,” she explained.
Sealants aide to prevent water from penetrating small fissures and causing great damage. Sealants create a buffer against traffic and are resistant to oil, gasoline, salt and many other staining agents, explained DuBois. “The cost of sealcoating is insignificant when compared to the higher cost of resurfacing or replacement,” she said.
Another preventative measure is cleaning. Catch basins should be cleaned out at least once per year to avoid clogging. Parking lots should be swept once or twice a year to remove debris and salt settlements. This will also help prevent clogged catch basins. DuBois noted that contractors generally address the need for parking lot clean up before annual work on the surface is done.
As we change seasons from winter to spring, one of the most frequent issues we encounter is heaving of asphalt driveways, said DuBois. This occurs mostly at the top of driveways, at the garage, where the concrete apron meets the asphalt driveway. Water penetrates the stone base and subgrade, freezes and raises (or heaves) the asphalt surface. So how do we stop this from occurring? “The most logical place to start is not the driveway itself but to eliminate the source of problem – water. Moisture and poor pavement drainage are significant factors in pavement deterioration,” DuBois explained.
Preventative maintenance can extend the life of pavement an addition- al five years, from fifteen to twenty years. “Owners can be assured that paved areas will not deteriorate in the same way as unprotected surfaces. Lack of maintenance to the pavement will allow your driveway/parking areas to weaken and ultimately, fail,” she explained.
Can bulging or other deformities on a paved surface be indicative of faulty construction?
Yes, said DuBois. These issues can indeed happen with the initial pavement installation during the development of the community. Often, an inadequate thickness of pavement sections during construction to support the load that travels across the asphalt is one cause, said DuBois. Newly constructed homes have the very minimal base set on a foundation that has been unsettled during the construction. “Along with the settling, and the previously mentioned conditions of weather and vehicle fluids, asphalt deteriorates when the fine aggregates are worn away by weather and traffic. When the ‘fines’ are worn away, there is nothing to bind the larger aggregates together and the surface begins to ravel. This weakens the pavement section and eventually allows water to penetrate the sub- grade, which leads to pavement failure. Weak or unstable base materials cause driveways to fail,” DuBois explained.
“Water is an enemy to asphalt pavement,” said DuBois. As aforementioned, water can cause heaving. The problem of heaving occurs when water accumulates in the stone base and subgrade, under the asphalt pavement. Once water enters the subgrade, it is usually slow to evaporate or drain. In the winter it freezes and even in dry weather, the subgrade may remain wet or damp indefinitely.
“Repositioning and burying downspouts under concrete sidewalks, to direct water flow away from the stone base is vital to pavement structures,” said DuBois. “When downspouts cannot be buried, water should be directed to run on top of the driveway surface versus under the drive- way or into the stone base and subgrade. The pavements should be able to quickly shed water off the surface to areas that drain away from the stone base.”
According to DuBois, when inspecting driveways, it is vital to look at drainage at the same time as you evaluate the asphalt surface condition. The question to ask is, “What is the cause of the pavement failure?” Adequate drainage of the pavement structure is considered one of the most important factors in driveway performance. “Simply put, improper or no drainage can lead to failed pavement,” DuBois said.
“Contractors do a disservice to the industry when they use products of lower quality,” she added.
To avoid these situations, associations should look for a contractor who speaks openly, directly and with knowledge about the products to be used, noted DuBois. This indicates a contractor who is dedicated to installing products at the highest standard possible.
Selecting a quality contractor can go a long way towards extending the life of an association’s paved surfaces. The traits that associations should consider in a paving company include reputation, years in business, and financial stability. Word of mouth is another good indication of a reputable company. The most reliable companies are those that have worked with other associations in the area. Companies that have only been in business for a year or less may not have the proper equipment, personnel or experience to provide the necessary service, DuBois said.
Selecting a good contractor is a multi-stage process. The contractor should attend a board meeting to explain how the project will be executed, including scheduling, phasing, posting of notices, execution of the work, the post walk, and invoicing. “It is imperative to help the customer under- stand and so we as contractors must listen to concerns, formulate priori- ties and goals to work with budgets,” DuBois noted.
DuBois emphasized that associations should not only look at the cost as their deciding factor; the reputation of the company should carry more weight, as this is an investment. She recommended that associations re- quest certificates of insurance and obtain referrals from other similar communities, to see first-hand the quality of the work and speak about the details of projects. It is, of course, the responsibility of the association to budget on a yearly basis for this type of contracting work and to work with a contractor when they are given a plan, whether it is a one-year plan, three-year plan, or a five-year plan.
Prior to the beginning of work on a project, the contractor should review the project schedule to set dates with the property manager. That way, they can notify the association as to when the work will take place. A phasing map with details should be posted for the community. For large scale projects, the contractor should meet firsthand with the property manager as well as attend the community homeowner meeting to review the project and answer questions for all owners involved. It will not only help the direct relationship with the manager, but the added communications with owners will help the manager as well. “It should be a goal of the contractor to help the manager to alleviate questions and concerns and make their job easier,” said DuBois.
Because asphalt is an investment, an annual evaluation of all pavement should be done with the property manager. Typically, this is done in the early spring upon thawing after the winter frost line leaves the ground. Most often, it takes place prior to when asphalt plants open for the season, to conduct inspections to review any damages created by winter weather.
The contractor will consider the age of the investment and the condition to determine the type of repairs needed, explained DuBois. Pavement patching and removal and replacement are used for severe deterioration, especially when the underlying base has been affected. The damaged areas are squared off, saw cut, and excavated to a depth from two inches to two feet, depending on the subsurface conditions. New aggregate is added, as needed, and compacted in preparation for the new hot mix asphalt surface. When the extent of damage/age of the pavement surfaces is very severe, complete removal and replacement of the larger and/or entire surface, versus a limited area, is recommended.
Pavement resurfacing is when the asphalt pavement surface deteriorates to the point of needing repair; an asphalt overlay, also called grind- ing or milling, can be the solution, DuBois noted. It is primarily used in larger areas, such as in parking lots and roads versus driveways, where it is more economical to repair just the surface as the base is not failing. Driveways are a smaller surface area and it is more cost effective to patch or remove and replace, she said.
As for a project’s timeframe, sealcoating typically lasts one to five days, depending on the accessibility and traffic patterns for the community and total volume of work to be complete.
According to DuBois, there are various types of sealcoat materials; the industry standard being coal tar emulsion, a mainstay since the 1950’s. More recently, in 1980, asphalt-based emulsions were introduced as an alternative. Coal tar is known for its hard, durable file, deep dark color and increased fuel resistance, while asphalt-based sealant requires additives to match the durability and fuel resistance of coal tar, and are not as forgiving in cooler temperatures, such as the Midwest climates (versus in Southern or Western regions of the country.) In the end, both materials will perform only as well as how they are manufactured, mixed and applied. There are also other products designed for use on specific areas such as runways, large scale parking lots, etc. such as polymer modified sealers which are not commonly used in residential applications for parking lots and driveways. “It is important for the contractor to provide information to the customer so that they can make the best decision for their community,” DuBois s