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Asphalt vs. Chip Seal Driveway: Which Is Right for Your Home?

chipseal vs paved driveways

Millions of people were stuck at home during the pandemic and decided to focus on home renovation. The U.S. remodeling market grew from $406 billion between 2019-2020 to $567 billion in 2022.

Motives for this onslaught of renovation ranged from wanting to capitalize on home equity to homes being in dire need of repair. Perhaps you were one of those millions who renovated their homes.

But did you do your driveway? A new driveway can cost thousands of dollars. Then there's having to consider materials, many would say there's a strong competition between asphalt vs. chip seal.

But how much do you know about these materials? For example, which is easier to install, and how durable are both substances? We have a lot to cover, so let's dive into which is best -- asphalt vs. chip seal.

What Is Asphalt?

First, we'll talk about asphalt. Many of you are probably somewhat familiar with the substance, you likely drive across it for work, school, or other everyday tasks. Asphalt is a mixture of aggregates, binder, and filler.

Asphalt is commonly used for roads, bicycle lanes, parking lots, railway tracks, and airport runways. It's also a typical material for driveways, both residential and commercial.

"Aggregate," if you didn't know, is another word for a material formed from a mass of fragments. The fragments that make asphalt can range from crushed rock, gravel, sand, or slags.

Modern asphalt mixtures include waste or by-products, like demolition or construction debris. Recycling these materials makes the paving material more sustainable.

The aggregates are useless without binding. Bitumen is often used to glue the fragments into a cohesive surface. Asphalt is a popular driveway material because it can achieve a smooth, level finish.

It can sustain heavy traffic without damage. Of course, if it is damaged, it can be easily repaired.

Asphalt Installation

There are four criteria we'll judge each material on; difficulty of installation, durability, and maintenance, and finally, cost. First, let's discuss how hard, or rather, how easy asphalt is to install. 

Yes, asphalt is relatively easy to install as a driveway. It's not an advisable job for the average DIYer, but you can have an asphalt driveway installed within a day. At most, it'll take a couple of days. 

Here are a few things you should know about asphalt installation: 

  • You can only lay asphalt when it's warm

  • Installation is best done in spring or summer

  • Newly poured asphalt may look "unfinished" 

  • Installation marks will appear on the surface, but fade with time

  • You must stay off the driveway for at least 24-48 hours for it to set

  • Thicker-poured asphalt will take longer to set

Asphalt Durability and Maintenance

An asphalt can last for decades, so it's a great choice if you're looking for a driveway you can keep for a long time without replacing it. However, this durability is bolstered by how well you take care of your driveway

Asphalt driveways require regular maintenance. You'll need to seal it every few years. Sealing the driveway helps protect it from the elements and car fluids.

You can seal a driveway yourself, but a professional can likely do the work faster. You'll need to seal the driveway every couple of years.

Cracks will happen, but you can always fill the small ones with rubberized asphalt-emulsion filler. Smaller cracks require filling with an aggregate, like small, crushed angular gravel.

You can then fill it with a cold-patch repair compound like blacktop. Asphalt driveways perform well in the elements.

They can withstand salt, and melting ice but generally don't do too well in extreme cold -- the material contracts and cracks. The tarry component inside asphalt may also become soft and sticky in the summer heat. 

General cleaning is as simple as rinsing oil, dirt, and grime with your water hose. It's especially vital to rinse away oil as it can eat through asphalt. 

What Is Chip Seal?

Chip seal may sound strange, but you're probably familiar with this type of road too. Chip seal roads are common throughout the country. You might know these better as "backroads."

Chip seal is also called macadam, named after the Scottish engineer John Macadam. He first invented these roads in the early 1800s. Chip seal also uses aggregates and binders, but the application differs from asphalt. 

Chip seals are used in road construction but are also another popular type of driveway material. Chip seal contains small rocks and gravel held together with a binder. The binder is either asphalt or tar. 

Chip Seal Installation and Aesthetic

Paving a chip seal driveway isn't too complex, although it's not a job for DIYers. The first step is applying a gravel base where the driveway will go. Next, the installers pour hot asphalt on top of the gravel.

The final step is when the installation team rolls a layer of small rocks and gravel into the asphalt. Chip seal installation isn't difficult but can be more time-consuming than asphalt installation. 

No two installations are the same, but a chip seal driveway can take up to a week to fully install. Below are a few extra facts you should know about chip seal driveways: 

  • You can only lay chip seals when it's warm

  • Like asphalt, the best time is during spring and summer

  • Chip seals need at least two days to set

Something else to note is that chip seals offer more decorative versatility than asphalt. Asphalt is only black, whereas you can add different color stones into the top layer to make your driveway appear unique. 

Chip seal driveways have a more rustic aesthetic than asphalt. This comes from the less uniform bond within the uppermost rock and gravel layer. Unlike asphalt, chip seal isn't compacted into place. 

Compaction is the final step in creating an asphalt driveway. As the name suggests, the substance is compressed, which removes air bubbles between the aggregate and binder. This helps create a smooth, even surface.

Chip sealing involves smoothing the upper aggregate layer, but not compacting it. As a result, the surface is bumpier and less smooth. 

Chip Seal Durability and Maintenace

Chip seal is a long-lasting substance -- you can get well over a decade out of it with proper maintenance. However, while the material is durable, it's not as tough as asphalt. 

Despite this, chip seals don't need as much maintenance as asphalt either. Sounds strange, right? The main disadvantage to choosing a chip seal driveway is that it can't withstand traffic like asphalt. 

Again, it all comes down to compaction. Compacting asphalt helps make it dense and strong enough to support your vehicle's load. Chip seals have more traction than asphalt, which works well in wet areas. 

Chip seals don't possess this same density. Instead of being fused into a solid chunk, via compressive force, chip seal consists of different materials layered on each other. 

That said, chip seals are less hands-off. You don't have to seal a chip seal driveway and cracks regenerate over time. You can refresh the surface by adding a new asphalt and stone layer every decade or so. 

Chip seals don't do well in areas with plenty of rain and snow. However, chip seal doesn't absorb heat as well as asphalt. The substance is less likely to soften and become sticky in hot weather. 

Chip seal driveways are also more resistant to cold weather if not snow. The upper layer is more porous than asphalt, so there's less cracking and compressing in the extreme cold. 

Chip Seal vs. Asphalt Cost: Which Is Cheaper? 

The average driveway costs about $7,000. A smaller one would cost around two grand and a larger one as much as 11 grand. But as you might expect, the material factors largely in what you pay. 

You might find that the biggest obstacle in installing an asphalt driveway is upfront costs. Asphalt does become less work to maintain over time, but it costs much more to install than chip seal. 

If you live somewhere relatively dry and without snow, chip sealing is a great choice. It's cheaper to install than asphalt and needs less general upkeep, although it's less liable to last as long. 

If all this is too abstract, we've got actual numbers; asphalt can average $7.70 per square foot. On the lower end, prices can be as low as $5.00. Higher prices may reach $10. 

Chip seal averages $6.20, the low prices can reach $4.00 and higher prices per square foot are as much as $8.00. For comparison's sake, both materials cost less than concrete driveways. 

Concrete averages $11.70 per square foot. The lowest price is $7.00 and the most you can pay for concrete is $16.00 per square foot. 

Asphalt vs. Chip Seal: Which Material Is Best?

Some might consider the former best based on its greater durability as far as the battle between asphalt vs. chip seal is concerned. However, chip sealing is cheaper, upfront, and better customizable. 

If you decide to install an asphalt driveway or have one that needs refreshing, you'll need someone to seal it. Hill's Blacktop and Concrete has 42 years of driveway paving experience. 

You can trust that we'll use quality materials and deliver expert and professional work. Contact us for a free quote today. We do both residential and commercial work.

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