The vast majority of parking lots in the U.S. are made with either asphalt or concrete. There are alternatives, but concrete and asphalt cover most projects, literally.
For your project, you’ll likely pick between these two materials. There isn’t a clear winner, though, so the best fit for your business will come down to several factors.
Four Advantages of Asphalt Parking Lots
Asphalt pavement is the top choice for MANY parking areas in the U.S., and there are a few reasons for this, including:
- Economy – Asphalt parking lots are significantly less expensive than concrete to install. Per square foot, asphalt pavement costs around $3 and $5 to place. Concrete is a bit more and may cost up to $10 per square foot to place. If your lot’s layout is large, asphalt can cover those dimensions economically.
- Installation time – Asphalt dries within hours of placement and is ready for traffic in a short amount of time. For businesses on a time limit, asphalt’s rapid drying makes for a convenient parking lot surface.
- Hides stains and spills – Asphalt’s dark color masks pretty much anything that is spilled on it. At a glance, this makes it difficult for people to guess at the asphalt’s condition or age.
- Performs well in cold temperatures – Asphalt wards off snow and ice better than concrete, partly because of its color. Asphalt heats up faster in the sun’s presence and can accelerate melt as a result.
Asphalt also flexes well when temperatures rise or fall, so in areas where temperature swings are common, asphalt can handle the stress.
Four Advantages of Concrete Parking Spaces
Concrete parking areas are gaining in popularity and may be the best choice for your space. Here’s a few reasons why:
- Durability – Concrete is an extremely durable material for roads, sidewalks, and parking lots. It possesses excellent compressive strength and can therefore handle a lot of weight. In the right location, concrete construction will last up to 40 years or more before it needs to be replaced. That’s twice as long as asphalt, with less maintenance. The only concern with concrete is its propensity to crack due to weather or poor installation.
- Low maintenance – Concrete requires less care to prolong its life, with only the occasional cleaning and joint sealing needed. Concrete joints look like gaps between the slabs, which allows the material to flex or contract as the temperature changes. Concrete joint sealer protects these gaps from water, dust, or chemical intrusion without compromising the slab’s ability to respond to weather.
- Performs well in heat – Concrete handles heat better than asphalt, as it absorbs less light energy and emits less thermal energy as a result. Concrete doesn’t soften in extreme heat, either, so its performance characteristics do not change as the mercury climbs.
- Additional marking options – Concrete can be colored and marked in a number of ways, and these markings provide valuable information. Parking lot markings can point the way through the lot, mark areas for pedestrians, and help make the entrance and exit easier to see for drivers. This ensures your property meets all safety requirements.
Concrete vs. Asphalt – Which is Better for Your Parking Area?
Given their differences, concrete and asphalt are each a good fit for certain projects. If you’re still not sure which will fit best in your design, here’s a few potential tiebreakers:
- Concrete is better for high traffic – If your facility receives a lot of vehicles every day, then you may need the additional strength that comes with concrete. This is especially true if there are more than passenger cars to account for. Trucks, buses, and other types of heavy vehicles put a lot of compressive strain on the surface, and compressive strength is something concrete offers.
- Concrete takes longer to install and cure – Concrete takes about a week to cure before it can be driven on, and longer still if large vehicles are expected on your lot. The time difference could be important for some businesses.
- Asphalt is easier to repair, but it has to be repaired more often – When concrete needs repair, entire slabs may need to be removed and replaced. It’s a lot of work, but this level of maintenance is rare for concrete.
When asphalt needs a repair, that repair is easier to manage. Asphalt is typically patched over instead of ripped out and replaced, but it needs to be patched with greater frequency. You’ll likely need to patch your asphalt parking lot every other year, and it may be difficult to do this patching during hot months.
- Climate is frequently the deciding factor – In the end, concrete and asphalt are strong complements to each other because they perform better in different climates. Asphalt holds up well in the cold and concrete works better in the heat. Depending on where your building and lot is located, the weather might make your decision for you.
A Couple of Considerations When Hiring a Parking Lot Contractor
Asphalt and concrete paving is a complex job that must be done right the first time. Otherwise, you’ll be in for additional maintenance-related expenses down the line. To ensure you’re working with a reputable contractor, consider the following:
- Experience – With asphalt and concrete construction, there are some things you can only learn on the job. That’s why experience is so important. The most accomplished concrete and asphalt contractors tend to be the most experienced.
- Area-specific knowledge – Every region has its own predominant soil characteristics. It is critical that the contractor you work with has deep knowledge of these characteristics, because they must be accounted for during site preparation and lot construction. For example, the soil’s condition has major implications on what type of material to use.
- References – Strong references are one of the best signs of a qualified contractor. Your contractor should be willing to offer those references and help connect you to a former client for further inquiry. If a particular contractor has a lot of experience in the industry, they should have references on hand that date back many years. This is a good sign that the contractor offers quality work that lasts.
Choose a parking lot contractor that has been in the industry for decades. A company with positive reviews and a respected name in the industry will have worked in some extremely challenging conditions to create structurally sound, long-lived parking lots.