Driveway Health: Keep Your Blacktop Driveway Looking New Longer

A driveway is often an overlooked or neglected part of your home. When new, or properly cared for over time, your blacktop driveway can be both functional and attractive. When not looked after, that same driveway could become an eyesore, or even a dangerous hazard.

Everyone loves a nice new blacktop driveway. Jet black and smooth, it serves as a contrast, bringing your property together. The kids play basketball or hopscotch while you barbeque or wash your car. But as seasons change and years pass, mother nature wreaks havoc on your beautiful new driveway, turning it into something cracked, gnarled, and crumbling.

The first step to proper maintenance and care of your driveway is understanding why it is necessary. Having this backround knowledge will add to your general common sense, and will make caring for your driveway seem like second nature.

The primary destructive force on your driveway is weather. More specifically, winter weather. Every winter, every year, your blacktop driveway is under attack. Cracks will begin to appear before your eyes, seemingly without direct cause. They start as small 'hairline' cracks, gradually becoming longer, wider, and deeper, eventually resulting in a split in your driveway. The invisible culprit is water. As water settles in minute crevices and recesses (what I like to call 'Nooks and Crannies,' to borrow a bit from Thomas' English Muffins), and subsequently freezes, it expands (as water tends to do). When it expands, it applies pressure to the granules of asphalt, eventually forcing opposing sides apart, forming cracks. The process happens to every inch of your driveway, and is repeated as often as the temperature fluctuates enough to allow the water to melt and refreeze.

As frightening as this may seem, there is hope. It comes in the form of driveway sealer, such as that available from Velvetop. This wonderful product not only 'seals' your driveway, keeping out most of the water, but it also refreshes it, making it look nice and black again. You typically want to do this every other year, as sealing too often can make your driveway too smooth. If your blacktop driveway becomes perfectly smooth from over-sealing, water can freeze on top, turning your previously safe driveway into a sheet of ice. This can make pulling into your driveway dangerous for your garage, and pulling out of your driveway perilous for you.

If you've already sealed your driveway smooth, or had the misfortune of purchasing a new home already equipped with one, there is a simple way to replace the missing traction. Slurry sealer is basically regular sealer, with sand added. The sand, while leaving a slightly duller finish, will provide the necessary roughness to combat a loss of traction, and help prevent a costly accident.

Larger cracks should be repaired with a filler, specially made for this purpose, prior to sealing. The fill usually contains fiberglass or some other binding agent to give it body and keep it from eroding right back out. Sealing over the filled, dried patch will reduce any color differences between the fill and the rest of the driveway and form a more lasting repair.

While the winter may be the worst time for your driveway, the spring and summer are not without dangers of their own. This is the time of year when you may notice lumps forming in your driveway. The signs and causes vary, and each needs to be addressed differently. A single bump, usually round and isolated, is most often caused by a mushroom patch growing under the top layer of asphalt. This can occur if spores are present in the fill or gravel used to level the driveway prior to asphalt being poured and tamped. Fortunately, a mushroom bump is easily repaired and usually can be done without leaving unsightly marks. Simply place a flat, sturdy piece of metal or wood over the bump and hammer the area firmly until it is flat again.

However, if your lump is elongated at all, it will be caused by roots growing under your driveway. Some trees and bushes grow their roots outward, over time covering many feet in length, so even a tree across the yard from your driveway could potentially cause problems over time. Only a keen eye and attention to detail will alert you to a growing problem until it has become easily noticeable. Cutting the root at the base of the driveway where it first penetrates is the only way to correct this situation; however you will be unable to tamp down the lump unless you can remove the root (which is unlikely). After a few seasons, you may be able to tamp it down slightly as the root decays beneath.

There are other causes of driveway degradation, such as sink holes. These can form when a driveway is laid over ground that has not properly settled. Usually these come as a surprise, and one morning you will wake to see a nice hole in your driveway, ranging anywhere from a few inches to many feet across. Unfortunately, there is no simple repair for this, and the only fix lays in taking proper precautions prior to laying your asphault. A sink hole is a death sentence to any permanent structure above it.

In short, an asphault driveway is a great addition to most any home, and if cared for properly, can last many years. If neglected, it can quickly become a chore, a hazard, or a costly bill.

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