Spring's rolling around again, the grass is getting green, the leaves are budding from the trees and the seal coating and pavement maintenance people are out in full force, looking for your business.
Being in the pavement maintenance and marking business for over 29 years, I've had a lot of people that asked me "Is it really worth it? Seal coating you know." Well, that is really a wide-open question and one that I can answer a variety of ways. Now if you're calling up your local seal coating contractor, or have someone knocking on your door, asking you to seal coat your driveway, you need to be educated about this process.
Oh I know, nothing to this, go down to your local hardware store and buy the product, and they will tell you everything you need to know about it. Or you can call the local contractor and get some estimates, look at who is the cheapest and sign that contract. Well, maybe, maybe not! Remember that old saying let the buyer beware? Or you get what you pay for? Well, it is no different in the world of seal coating and pavement maintenance.
I guess you really need to know a little bit about asphalt before you make a decision about whether to do any pavement maintenance or seal coating. First, do you even know what holds the asphalt together or what's in the product?
Asphalt is made of an aggregate, stone, and bituminous, or in common terminology a type of tar. Well, really these terms have been simplified so that anyone can understand them. See the asphalt is just the finished product. There is a lot more that goes into paving then simply putting the asphalt down. You need to have a good stone base, something that allows water to drain away from it, something that is solid. The depth and type of the base depend a lot on what kind of traffic you're going to be driving across the asphalt surface.
Once you have your stone base, then they apply the asphalt. Asphalt may be put down in various layers if you're trying to build a base for heavier traffic, again all dependent on what your intended use may be. After all that is completed, you should have a nice paved area. Then you wait! Yes you heard me - wait, wait, wait! You see, most seal coating manufacturers recommend that you do not seal coat new asphalt for at least a year. And remember you don't need to seal coat every year, even if that guy comes around and wants to do it every year. Parking lots should be done on a rotation of about every 2 to 5 years depending on the traffic volume and winter conditions. Driveways should probably be sealed about every 3 to 5 years.
Now we get into the down and dirty. If the only thing the contractor you're talking to wants to do is make that asphalt look new again, with a nice coat of sealer, send them packing! If you have cracks, they need to be addressed. Yes, I know somebody is going to tell you, that the seal coating material will fill in the cracks. If the cracks are more than a quarter inch wide and this is what you're told, you better get your boots out because it's going to get deep.
You see cracks are the place where water enters the base of your asphalt. This is where water gets in during the winter, freezes, and thaws and then causes potholes or bigger cracks. A good reputable pavement maintenance contractor will want to seal those cracks properly and preferably with some kind of hot rubberized crack sealer. And no, it's not the same as seal coating material. Even if you don't have enough money to seal coat the driveway you should at least fix the cracks. Yes I know, it will look like there are all these black snakes all over your parking lot or driveway. But the question you need to ask yourself is if I would rather have this look, or be paying thousands of dollars to repave my asphalt surface.
If you have the money you can still seal coat. There are protective factors to seal coating material that extend the life of your asphalt surface. But your first priority should be the cracks. Now with all this being said, there are times when an asphalt surface is so cracked up, that it is beyond the repair of crack sealing and seal coating. For instance, if your asphalt surface cracks look like one big spider web, you may be past the point of crack sealing and seal coating. Or at the very least you may need to do some asphalt paving repairs before you seal the remainder of the asphalt surface. But you need to have a reputable person tell you the truth. There are plenty of reputable people out there. Just ask questions, and you will find one.
Remember, they should be a licensed contractor. You should not have to pay them before the work is completed, if they can't buy the material up front, ding, ding, ding a bell should be going off in your head! Check the Better Business Bureau to see if there any complaints about them. Ask for a certificate of insurance, including workers compensation. Always pay with a check or credit card. Don't give them cash! Get a receipt and get a written contract, that both of you have signed before any work begins.
The Internet provides a lot of opportunities to become educated about what you are purchasing. Seal coating is no different. Like everything else if it is performed correctly and by reputable people, I'm sure you will get a good product. But be wary of that person that wants to promise you the world, because you can't buy that for free.