The short answer is ‘a lot’, they are actually very different indeed. That wouldn’t give you much to read through, or much information, so let’s expand on that so that you can really understand what the difference between asphalt and concrete is. A simple difference, of course, is color – Asphalt is black when laid, concrete is grey or beige.
Primarily the difference between asphalt and concrete is that they are made differently, and they react differently when loaded.
What is Asphalt?
Asphalt is made by using bitumen to bind together an aggregate – sand or crushed rock. Bitumen and is a dark, sticky substance which becomes more liquid with heat and is derived from crude oil. The bitumen is combined with aggregate or crushed rock in a heated state and applied and rolled onto the desired surface. It is then left to cool and is immediately able to withstand traffic movements.
An asphalt pavement is constructed by putting a fairly thin wearing surface over the top of base and subbase courses. It is considered within the construction industry as a ‘flexible’ pavement. The process starts by compacting a sub-base, which is usually the soil. The courses of stone or gravel are then layered on the top, before the final topping layer of Asphalt.
The flexibility is because the Asphalt can accommodate changes in the surface in the layers underneath, and still provides a smooth surface on the top.
The lifespan of an asphalt driveway is generally considered to be around 30 years with maintenance and crack repairs.
What is Concrete?
Concrete, on the other hand, is made using cement to bind together the aggregate. This is, again, hot when agitated but sets to a completely inflexible, rigid block. This explains why concrete pavements are known within the construction industry as ‘rigid’ pavement.
The material used for the top of the pavement is Portland Cement Concrete, and this, unlike the Asphalt pavement can be poured straight onto the sub-base. Although, in some cases, a base course is put between the two.
Concrete has a life expectancy of around 50 years although like asphalt it is not maintenance free and needs maintaining and any cracks repaired. Unfortunately, crack repairs remain apparent on concrete because it is not possible to effect an invisible repair in the same way as asphalt.
Asphalt vs Concrete: Which Should you use?
An issue with using concrete over Asphalt is that Concrete is prone to crack or become damaged if there are underlying inconsistencies or movement. Asphalt, on the other hand, will allow for some slight movement underneath and take up that difference.
Another advantage for Asphalt is that to remove, lift and relay asphalt is a much easier process than trying to remove and dispose of a concrete surface.
Asphalt is 100% recyclable, so any asphalt taken up can be heated up and re-used. Concrete, on the other hand, is a one-time product, once that is set into a solid then that state cannot be altered, only broken up.
Asphalt can only be available in black – whereas if you were to opt for concrete then you can choose from a range of finishes and stains to alter the look of any driveway or paved area.
Finally, in your choice you may like to consider your location – asphalt does not react as well to the heat as concrete, and concrete does not wear as well in areas that freeze during the winter.
Asphalt vs Concrete: Which is cheapest to Use?
Asphalt comes out tops here as well. It is cheaper to install, not just because the initial product is cheaper, but also because it is much quicker for the contractor. Asphalt prices do fluctuate though along with the prices of oil.
If you are revisiting or repairing the same applies. Replacing or repairing issues with concrete works out far more expensive than repairing or patching an Asphalt area.
It is worth bearing in mind though that an asphalt driveway will need resealing after one year, and then every three to five years after that. It isn’t a maintenance free option by any means. There is no need for a professional to undertake this work though, many homeowners are quite happy to do the resealing themselves, it isn’t difficult and there are many products on the market to choose from.
Concrete driveways can be sealed, it saves staining and increases the life of the look of the driveway, but it isn’t as necessary. You can use a degreaser on your driveway to remove any stains or issues.
So, what is the difference between Asphalt and Concrete? Everything. They are both materials that can be used to construct a driveway or path, but in all other things, they are completely different from each other. Deciding which to use for your construction project means you must consider the differences between asphalt and concrete and decide which is best suited for your plans.