Concrete vs. Asphalt: Which Is the Right Choice for Your Project?

Understanding the pros and cons of each material option

As a homeowner or property manager, you may be wondering whether it’s best to use concrete or asphalt for your driveways, patios, and walkways. Both materials have pros and cons and are suited for different applications and circumstances. As always, it’s important to consider your project’s specific needs and the long-term vision you have for your property before making any decisions.
Below, we’ll explore the differences between concrete and asphalt, covering everything from cost and durability to aesthetic appeal and environmental impact. With this information in mind, you’ll be able to make an informed decision as to the best material for your needs.

Why it is important to tell the difference between Concrete and Asphalt

  • Homeowners, property managers, and construction professionals planning projects like driveways, patios, porches, and walkways should weigh the pros and cons of concrete vs. asphalt.
  • Making informed decisions for your project means understanding the differences between concrete and asphalt based on durability, maintenance, customization, and environmental impact.
  • In this article, you’ll get expert insight into the pros and cons of concrete and asphalt to help you choose the best material for your project. You’ll also learn about climate suitability, maintenance needs, and aesthetic options.

Understanding concrete and asphalt

Before we compare concrete vs. asphalt, let’s talk about the characteristics of each of these materials.

Properties of concrete

Here are the basics when it comes to concrete:

  • Durability: One of concrete’s key benefits is its long lifespan, making it a durable option for areas that will see heavy use over the years. In areas where hot or cold temperatures are common, concrete may perform better than asphalt in terms of durability. Structurally, concrete can be reinforced to handle a significant amount of weight. This is especially important for driveways and other high-traffic areas.
  • Flexibility: Concrete can be used for a wide range of applications, from backyard patios to driveways and front porches.
  • Appearance: For a clean, contemporary look, concrete is difficult to beat. Its appearance can be further enhanced with designer finishes and decorative elements, such as stamping and coloring options. If you’re looking for a custom or one-of-a-kind look, concrete is likely the better choice for you.

Properties of asphalt

Now, let’s take a closer look at asphalt.

  • Durability: When properly installed and maintained, asphalt can offer excellent durability, with the added benefit of being less prone to damage from salt and spills. Unfortunately, proper maintenance means frequent care and resealing, so there’s more upkeep involved. It also needs to be replaced more often than concrete since it has a shorter lifespan.
  • Flexibility: Like concrete, asphalt can be used for a variety of applications, but it’s not quite as versatile. For example, you cannot use asphalt to create stairs on a porch (although you can top stairs with asphalt).
  • Appearance: While traditional black is often the go-to color option, asphalt can be customized to different shades or with the inclusion of colored rocks or glass. This provides some aesthetic variety, although not the same degree as that offered by concrete.

Cost comparison between concrete and asphalt

Of course, aesthetics and durability aren’t everything—another important factor in any decision-making process is the cost.
While asphalt is typically cheaper to install initially, the gap in pricing between asphalt and concrete has been closing as the cost of asphalt rises. Over time, concrete’s longer lifespan and fewer maintenance requirements can lead to lower life-cycle costs.

Even with asphalt prices on the rise, there is a perception that asphalt is a cheaper material, which can impact property value. Setting aside pricing, the association of asphalt with cheapness can compromise the aesthetic appeal of your property.

In attempt to get the best of both worlds, some property owners may consider using both materials. However, this approach is often ineffective in reducing costs. As an example, new asphalt driveways without existing concrete aprons for street access require additional concrete work to finish the project. Hiring an installer for a small task like an apron can be more expensive than having them handle both the apron and driveway. For the same price, property owners can usually have a higher quality concrete driveway and apron installed together, as opposed to a mismatched asphalt driveway and concrete apron.

The key is to understand the long-term cost implications based on the specific project and the expected usage and conditions. Generally speaking, concrete is considered the most cost-effective long-term option for larger projects and high-traffic areas, while asphalt is a more budget-friendly solution for smaller areas.

6 Factors influencing material choice

Beyond the physical properties and cost, several environmental and logistical factors should influence your choice between concrete and asphalt.

Climate considerations

The climate in your area is one of the biggest factors in predicting the durability of hardscape materials.

It’s important to consider factors like temperature fluctuations, humidity levels, and precipitation patterns to ensure your chosen materials can withstand the environmental challenges they will face over time. For example, the temperatures and precipitation levels in New Jersey make concrete a superior material option for most applications.

Maintenance requirements

Additionally, it’s important to evaluate the ongoing maintenance needs associated with each material choice. This includes frequency of maintenance, care instructions, and long-term durability considerations.
Asphalt tends to be more demanding in terms of maintenance, with frequent resurfacing and resealing requirements. That said, some decorative concrete options may also need frequent sealing. Ask contractors about the necessary maintenance for any materials you’re considering to ensure that your choice fits your long-term budget and your bandwidth for upkeep and repairs.

Longevity and lifespan

Both concrete and asphalt surfaces are long-lasting materials, but there are significant differences in their expected lifespans.
Concrete surfaces typically boast a lifespan of about 30 to 40 years, and can last even 50 years or more with proper installation and maintenance, making it a solid choice for projects where longevity is a priority. Asphalt, while generally lower in upfront cost, usually requires more frequent patching and resurfacing and can be expected to last only 20 years in comparison.

Application

Different applications pose different demands—and also highlight different benefits for each material.

Driveways

Concrete is a superior choice for driveways that need to support heavier loads, such as RVs or boats. Additionally, stamped concrete can recreate the upscale look of pavers or natural stones without the hefty price tag.
In contrast, asphalt provides a smoother surface, ideal for driving and snow removal. It’s also a faster installation, meaning less disruption to your daily routine.

Patios and porches

Patios and porches made of concrete withstand weather and require little maintenance. Stained or stamped concrete provides a unique, upscale look for outdoor living spaces. Most homeowners want these spaces to have aesthetic appeal for entertaining and relaxation; the design options offered by concrete can help achieve just that, harmonizing the architecture of a home with its landscaping.

Asphalt is less common for these applications, but it has the potential to be a cost-effective option for very large areas. Still, over time, concrete may win out as the less expensive option, as it has a longer lifespan.

Walkways and paths

Concrete is a stylish option for walkways that works well with both modern and traditional home designs. Stamped and stained concrete adds visual interest and complements the surrounding landscape, making it an increasingly popular choice for paths in gardens or yards.

Asphalt can be used for walkways too, but is most common in high-traffic areas due to its smooth surface and durability against heavy use and weathering. It’s also a more cost-effective option for longer paths or driveways leading up to homes, as you might see in more rural areas.

Customization and aesthetic appeal

Both concrete and asphalt offer opportunities for customization.

Stamped concrete replicates the look of more expensive materials like stone, tile, or even wood at a fraction of the cost—and with less maintenance. The process involves pouring and smoothing a layer of concrete, then stamping it with textural mats before it fully dries. Color can be added to the concrete mix itself or applied to the surface to achieve the desired tone.

One of the key benefits of stamped concrete is its ability to provide an elegant and customized look while maintaining the durability and strength of traditional concrete.

While asphalt is less versatile, particularly in terms of patterns, there are pigments and inclusions available to create different color options.

Environmental impact

Both concrete and asphalt have green features. Asphalt is a recyclable material, and the production of reclaimed asphalt helps reduce landfill waste. That said, asphalt is derived from petroleum byproducts; the smell of asphalt on a hot day is the odor of those byproducts off-gassing. In addition, asphalt is not as effective at handling water runoff; with its lower durability, drainage issues can worsen quickly compared with concrete.

Concrete is a local or regional material, and while it requires more energy to produce than asphalt, its longevity and lower maintenance make it a sustainable choice in the long term. The use of permeable concrete can also help reduce stormwater runoff and replenish groundwater.

Both concrete and asphalt can be recycled, which reduces the carbon footprint of your project and the amount of waste it generates.

The bottom line

The choice between concrete and asphalt is not a one-size-fits-all decision. Your unique project requirements, preferences, and budget will guide you toward selecting the right material. Ultimately, you’ll need to strike the right balance between upfront costs, long-term maintenance, aesthetic appeal, and environmental impact.

Carry out research on your own, then consult with professionals to ensure you’re making the best decision for your project. When you’re ready to pave the way towards a beautiful hardscape, contact our team at Concrete Works NJ.

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