Concrete vs. Asphalt: Which Is Better?

Concrete vs. Asphalt: Which Is Better?

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When it comes to building materials, both concrete and asphalt are two of the most common ones that you’re going to run into. Whether you are building a foundation, making a driveway, paving a road, or doing anything in between, these are two materials that are used quite often.

With that being said, concrete and asphalt are of course not the same thing at all, and they have very different uses. Today we’re here to figure out exactly what both of them are and how they differ.

Concrete and Asphalt: The Basics

Before we get into talking about the main differences between concrete and asphalt, it’s probably a good idea for us to give you a rough definition of what both of these things actually are.

What is Concrete?

Concrete Alright, so the technical definition of concrete is a mass formed by the concretion or coalescence of separate particles of matter in one body. To elaborate on this, concrete is a very hard and strong building material made by mixing a cementing material, which can be cement or asphalt, with a mineral aggregate such as sand or gravel, along with enough water to cause the cement to set and bind the entire mass.

In layman’s terms, concrete is nothing more than cement mixed with sand and gravel. Water then causes a chemical reaction that causes the cement to harden. What is interesting to note is at this time, concrete is the most commonly used man-made material on this planet, a very important construction material that’s used for roads, dams, bridges, buildings, and much more.

What is Asphalt?

Asphalt Asphalt (not to be confused with tarmac) is also known as bitumen. This can be a little bit confusing because technically speaking, bitumen is actually the liquid binder that holds the asphalt together after it is spread out. This is a sticky, black, and very viscous liquid that is a semi-solid form of petroleum. Asphalt can be black or brown, and this is a petroleum-like material that has various consistencies that can be anywhere from liquid to glassy solid.

It can be found either in natural deposits or it can be obtained as a residue through the distillation of petroleum. Asphalt consists of various compounds of hydrogen and carbon with small amounts of nitrogen, sulfur, and oxygen. Technically speaking, asphalt is a mixture of aggregates, fillers, and binders that is used for the construction and maintenance of various things such as parking areas, roads, railway tracks, airport runways, bicycle lanes, sidewalks, and more.

Concrete vs. Asphalt: What Are the Differences?

Alright, so now that we know exactly what both concrete and asphalt are, let’s figure out what the main differences between them are, so you can then figure out which of the two is best for you to use for specific situations.

What a lot of people ask us is which one is better to use for driveways. This is one of the rare building situations where you’re going to have to choose between the two. Therefore, when we’re looking at the differences between concrete and asphalt, building a driveway is one of the main considerations that we’re going to keep in mind.

1. Weather, Climate, and Temperature

One of the biggest differences between concrete and asphalt is how they handle weather and climate. Seeing as both of these building materials are going to be used outdoors, how the weather affects them is quite important to consider.

First off, concrete tends to perform quite well in hot weather. However, with that being said, concrete is susceptible to cracking in the winter, particularly with cold temperatures and as freeze and thaw cycles occur. The freezing and thawing of water can cause concrete to suffer serious cracking. The road salt that you use to keep your driveway free of ice can quite literally eat through concrete.

On the other hand, while asphalt does quite well in cold weather, it doesn’t do so well in hot climates. In very high temperatures, asphalt can quite literally become soft and melt. It can stick to shoes and car tires if it gets hot enough. The fact that it gets solved when it’s hot also means that it’s not overly durable in warm climates.

2. Structural Integrity

One of the most important things that you need to keep in mind here is that one of these materials, concrete, is an actual building material that can be used to create solid structures. Concrete can be used for the foundations, walls, and ceilings of homes and even for very large buildings.

This is something that asphalt simply cannot do. Asphalt is something that is generally spread out in a fairly thin layer and is used to coat various things like roadways, basketball courts, walkways, and other such things.

Simply put, one of these is a building material that can be used to make real structures, whereas the other is not.

3. Overall Durability and Lifespan

The next important thing to consider here is the fact that concrete is just much more durable overall. Besides cold weather, concrete is much more resilient to a variety of factors, whether it is weight, pressure, or general usage. Asphalt is a much softer building material and is, therefore, less durable.

To put this in simple terms, if concrete is poured well and properly cured, as well as properly maintained, it can last for 50 years or more. On the other hand, when it comes to asphalt, no matter how good the job, don’t expect it to last longer than 30 years. Even with constant maintenance, you’re going at almost twice as much time out of concrete than out of asphalt.

4. Maintenance Needs

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between concrete and asphalt is how often the two need to be maintained.

On one hand, when it comes to concrete, sure you can put some sealant on it in the beginning, but other than that there’s really not much you need to do. One of the things that you may need to do with the concrete is to use a degreaser to remove oil, fuel, and chemical stains that can build up over time. However, other than that, concrete really does not require much maintenance, and it’s all because of its great durability and resistance.

Asphalt on the other hand, due to its limited durability, does require a fair bit of maintenance on a regular basis. For instance, when you lay an asphalt driveway, you are going to have to seal it about six months later, and then you will need to keep re-sealing it every three to five years afterward. Keep in mind that even with re-sealing your asphalt driveway every three years, it’s still only going to last for about 30 years until it needs to be totally redone.

5. Ease of Repairs

What is very nice about asphalt is the fact that making repairs is extremely easy. More or less all you have to do is pour more asphalt onto the existing asphalt and that’s about it. Concrete, on the other hand, is much more difficult to repair, and more or less impossible to resurface. In other words, one of these might require a professional, and the other might be a DIY task.

6. Overall Appearance

What can be said about asphalt driveways is that they end up being quite sleek, black, and shiny. Many people think that asphalt actually looks quite good, although that being said, asphalt is not something that you can print, stamp, or dye like concrete.

In terms of appearance, concrete is a really versatile building material because you can use special stamps that will apply patterns and colors to the surface, which can end up recreating the look of natural stone, brick, or other such building materials. If you want something that is truly pleasing to the eye and you want custom patterns and colors, then concrete is the only option that is at your disposal.

7. Cost

The other thing worth noting here is that asphalt is a lot cheaper. For an asphalt driveway, you can expect to spend around $2 to $4 per square foot, whereas with a concrete driveway you can expect to spend up to $6 per square foot, with special finishes and patterns driving the price up to $15 per square foot.

Which of the Two Should You Use?

If you want something that is very easy to repair, is cost-effective, and works well in the winter, not to mention something that looks very flat and sleek, then asphalt is what you need to go with, particularly if you are working on a budget.

However, if you need a real building material for building structures, you need something that performs well in the summer, and you need something that is extremely durable, then it’s concrete that you want to go with.

Which Is Better for Cold Temperatures?

Asphalt is a far better material than concrete when it comes to cold temperatures.

Which Is Better for Driveways and Parking Lots?

If what you’re looking for is durability, then concrete is the better option for driveways and parking lots. However, with that being said, asphalt is generally the go-to choice for both of these things, as it’s much easier to deal with, you can drive on it within about a day after laying it, making repairs is much easier, and of course, it’s much more cost-effective too.

Which Is Better for Basketball Courts?

Basketball courts are usually always made out of asphalt, and once again it’s due to the cost-effectiveness, its sleek appearance, and its ease of maintenance.

Summary

There you have it folks, everything that you need to know about the differences between concrete asphalt. Now that you know what the differences are, you should have more than enough information at your disposal to make the right choice.

How Does Concrete Compare with Other Materials?

Below, you can find articles that compare concrete with: