Two peas, but different pods

By Jeff Winke

Asphalt pavement is wonderful.

It looks great with its midnight black sheen after being freshly placed. It is durable and can last a long time. Like everything in life, asphalt requires maintenance and care. And if it is less traveled on, it can maintain a youthful look. But the role of asphalt pavement is to support vehicular and foot traffic. That is its job…to be driven and tread on.

Asphalt pavements, like everything, has a life cycle. A well-constructed asphalt pavement that experiences low levels of traffic can last 25 years or more. That life can be substantially extended—and provide a greater return on a pavement investment—if proper maintenance is performed on a regular, timely basis.

Regular maintenance includes seal coating and crack sealing which are two different asphalt pavement treatments. They are not the same and should not be interchanged. Asphalt pavement treatments are designed to protect and restore the beautiful pavement to its lustrous blacktop appearance.

Sealcoating is primarily a preventative measure, meaning it is applied when the asphalt surface is new. Its goal is to make the surface look nice and to prevent damage from occurring, and is therefore not the best solution for surfaces that are already damaged. For newer surfaces, or surfaces that have recently been renovated, seal coating may be the key to a high-quality, longer-lasting surface.

Crack sealing is the go-to solution for quick, no-frills asphalt repairs. For aging surfaces that have a low to moderate amount of cracks, crack sealing may be the best solution. For newer surfaces, or surfaces that are highly damaged, there are other, better repair solutions

“Sealcoating and crack filler may share some physical components and, in some cases, may look similar to the human eye, but they are entirely different products,” stated Woodrow Adams, operations manager, STAR Inc., Columbus, Ohio. “Sealcoating was designed to cover asphalt surfaces to add a layer of protection from water, de-icing salts, traffic damage, gasoline, and other petrochemicals. Generally speaking, sealer is meant to be diluted with water and can be sprayed or brush applied to asphalt surfaces. Crack sealer is designed to withstand any expansion or contraction of a crack due to temperature fluctuation. Crack Sealants will remain flexible at both hot and cold temperatures. There are numerous crack sealer formulations for both hot and cold applications, but results will be similar. To apply crack sealant, you will introduce the material directly into the crack and use a V/U squeegee, or a screed from a Melter/applicator to create a nice finished edge and force sealant into the crack.”

Of course, cracks are a part of asphalt pavement’s life cycle.

“Bituminous concrete (asphalt) is made up of rock, sand, and asphalt, mixed heated and layed down with a paver in standard thicknesses of 11/2’- 2’ mat,” said Mark Mcleod, president & CEO of Maintenance Inc., Wooster, Ohio. “Asphalt is a flexible pavement surface that has to crack since it has no expansion joints like concrete surfaces. So, after a year or so the asphalt surface will shrink and the oils on the surface will start the oxidation process. The surface will gray out and initial settling cracks, joint cracks will start to open up. It is imperative to seal the open cracks as they appear to prevent moisture intrusion, water, into the open cracks softening the sub-base and creating soft spots around the crack, which if left untreated will rim crack and eventually become a pothole. When the surface is bleached and oxidation has occurred, and the cracks are sealed, a pavement sealer should be applied to seal in the remaining oils in the mat protecting it from the salts, sun, rain and vehicular drippings.”

As an integral part of an asphalt pavement maintenance routine, crack sealing does definitely help.

“Crack sealing helps to maintain the structural integrity of the asphalt by giving it a smoother and more uniformed surface,” stated Mark Estrada, senior VP/co-founder of the Marathon Solutions Group, LLC, Houston, Texas. “For best results, crack sealing should be done every one to two years or based on the condition of the pavement.”

Both sealcoating and crack sealing have their own purposes and are necessary at different stages of the asphalt’s lifespan.
“Sealcoating is typically applied every few years as a preventative measure to protect the asphalt surface from the elements and preserve its integrity,” Estrada said. “It is best for relatively newer or well-maintained asphalt surfaces.”

Estrada continued: “Crack sealing, on the other hand, is necessary when cracks start to form in the asphalt. It is typically done as a reactive maintenance measure to prevent further deterioration and costly repairs. Crack sealing can be performed at any time when cracks are noticed, regardless of the age of the asphalt.”

When the cracks in the asphalt are minor and have not significantly deteriorated the pavement, sealcoating can effectively seal them and eliminate the need for separate crack sealing.

“Sealcoating should never be used in place of crack filling,” Adams said. “Sealer is a surface treatment and not a repair product for defects in the pavement. Cracks larger than hairline should be filled with crack fillers, having different composition to flex with the expansion and contraction in the pavement.”

n a nutshell, sealcoating is for those, mainly businesses and properties, who want to give their new asphalt a high-class look and prevent damage for years into the future. It is a preventive measure, while crack sealing is a repair measure. Crack sealing is for those who have cracks in their existing asphalt, who want to repair their surfaces as opposed to replacing them.