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Hot Mix Asphalt: Best for Your Driveway
A Consumer's Guide

Inviting, Attractive
The appearance of your driveway creates an impression about your home and way of life. An inviting driveway provides a focal point for passers-by and visitors approaching your home. And an attractive driveway, one with "curb appeal," adds value to your home investment. In fact, home buyers may even prejudge the upkeep and condition of the house based upon the condition of the driveway: "The condition of the driveway sets the tone for the condition of the home,” real estate agent Amanda Miller told The New York Times. So it is worthwhile to plan your driveway carefully. With asphalt as your material — and attention to design and construction — your driveway will provide years of lasting service and an excellent return on the investment.


Just What is Asphalt Pavement?
Asphalt pavements are an engineered mixture of aggregate (stones and sand) with liquid asphalt cement (a petroleum product). Varying sizes of aggregates are heated, then mixed, in exact proportions, with asphalt cement that has been liquefied at about 300°F. While the mixture is still hot, it is delivered to your property and placed atop a prepared base or subgrade. Very soon after paving, the mixture cools and hardens so that you can drive and park on it right away.


What You Receive with Hot Mix Asphalt?
You'll recognize several benefits with asphalt pavements, compared to other, more costly options.

  • It is strong and durable.
  • It is a smooth, continuous surface.
  • It is engineered to withstand freezing and thawing.
  • No need to worry about salting your driveway in winter. Asphalt is unaffected by salt.
  • Unlike other, more rigid materials, such as concrete, asphalt pavements are designed to flex and "give" with slight settlements or frost heave.

Asphalt lends itself readily to the types of service that are usual in residential areas. If a utility line or pipe must pass under your driveway, repairs are performed more easily and quickly than with alternative materials, such as concrete. The same is true if undue ground settlement should occur naturally.


Asphalt driveways can also be designed using porous asphalt, a special asphalt mix that allows water to drain through the pavement into a subgrade reservoir. Porous asphalt can often be used to meet local impermeable surfaces codes and they offer a good-looking surface that is easy to maintain.


And asphalt is the most cost-effective option you can choose. Just as it has for millions of homeowners the world over, asphalt pavement can last many years for you — with only minimal maintenance.


About Quality Control
Asphalt mixtures come in a wide variety of designs. Some mixtures are smoother on top than others; some have a higher content of asphalt cement than others. A special type of asphalt mixture can even be colored and imprinted to resemble paver blocks, combining a certain aesthetic appeal with the benefits of asphalt. Consult with your homebuilder or contractor to assure that your mixture will provide the surface and performance characteristics you want. Unfortunately, not all consumers closely monitor their driveway design and construction. Getting multiple bids, if possible, and having the willingness to work with your builder or contractor to control quality will serve you well.


A word of warning: If someone knocks on your front door and says, "We have a load of asphalt that was left over from paving nearby, and we can pave your driveway at a bargain rate if you'll pay cash," don't take them up on it. Asphalt that is "left over" from another job will be too cool to make a good pavement for your home. As with any business transaction, you want to know who you're dealing with before proceeding, so making a deal on the spot does not make sense. Checking references can save you money in the long run. The Better Business Bureau has additional words of caution about paving "deals."


Full-Depth Asphalt: The Best Option
Full-depth asphalt driveways are built entirely of asphalt paving mixture — from the soil subgrade up. Full-depth driveways keep water out of the pavement, so water never enters the pavement to swell when it freezes. Full-depth asphalt provides a better balance of strength and flexibility — plus durability — than any other material. For improved soil stability, it is recommended that topsoil containing clay be removed or modified. Soil stabilization or as much as 6 inches of crushed aggregate base may be required for some subgrade conditions. Both the subgrade and aggregate base require thorough compaction to provide a solid foundation for your new driveway. Once the site is ready, paving with asphalt follows. In many cases a 4-inch thickness may be adequate, but 5 or even 6 inches of full-depth asphalt will assure you of a stronger, stable driveway under a wider range of climate and loads. As an option, some contractors use 6 to 8 inches of compacted aggregate, or gravel, as a base for 3 inches of asphalt pavement.


"We recommend full-depth asphalt for driveways," says Kent Hansen, NAPA Director of Engineering. "We calculate that asphalt can replace aggregate on a ratio of 1:3 in thickness. That is, 1 inch of asphalt pavement is equivalent to 3 inches of aggregate base." However, an aggregate base still may be required to ensure a solid foundation for construction equipment on weaker subgrades. Asphalt pavements are typically placed in "lifts," or layers for a total compacted thickness of 3 or more inches. For example, a total of 3 inches may be placed in two layers each 1.5 inches thick when compacted. A good way to pave a 4-inch pavement is to first place about 3 to 4 inches of loose asphalt, and compact it to a thickness of 2.25 to 3 inches, and then tack the surface and pave the remainder and compact again. In this case, different mixes could be used in each layer, such as a mix with larger stones (12.5 mm nominal maximum aggregate size (NMAS)) for the lower layer and smaller stones (9.5 or 4.75 mm NMAS) for the surface layer. The finer surface mix provides a uniform, attractive, impermeable, and strong surface.


"If possible, we apply only the first course of asphalt during new-home construction," says Jeff Terp of Merit Asphalt Inc., a Wisconsin-based NAPA Member. "We wait until construction is finished to pave the surface course. That way construction traffic, dirt, and little dents all happen on the base course. At the end we clean the base and pave the surface course — and it looks great."


You're the Boss
If you're having a new home built, you can specify to your builder that you want an asphalt pavement driveway — as do millions of homeowners across all new-home price ranges. If your builder hasn't done so when you buy, he likely will soon hire an asphalt contractor to pave driveways. As the owner, though, you are still the boss. You can plan for, request, and obtain top-quality performance. If your driveway is in bad shape and needs either a complete reconstruction or a resurfacing with asphalt, you'll want to talk directly with several contractors. Many states have State Asphalt Pavement Associations, which can help identify paving contractors in your area, or consult the local Association of General Contractors chapter. Consult the Yellow Pages, consumer recommendation sites like Yelp or Angie's List, or ask your neighbors for names of paving companies. You may also ask a nearby asphalt mix producer for recommendations. They often know the best paving contractors. Once you identify some paving contractors get their recommendations about what's to be done, but once you decide upon and define your project, it is good business to obtain at least two bids.


Here's a cost-saving tip: If you can arrange with some neighbors to have all your driveways paved at the same time by the same contractor, savings will result for everyone because it gives the paving contractor economies of scale.


Placing an Overlay
Existing driveways of asphalt or concrete can be overlaid with asphalt with excellent results. Usually for driveways, a surface course 1.5 to 2 inches thick will suffice. Before paving, be sure the contractor patches any serious holes or cracks with asphalt and compacts it. Otherwise the trouble spots may reflect upwards through your new pavement. The contractor must also clean the surface thoroughly and treat any oil stained areas. Once this is done, a tack coat (asphalt emulsion) is applied to the surface to bond the new overlay to the existing pavement.


How to Hire a Contractor
All reputable contractors who seek your business in good faith will provide references and phone numbers of satisfied customers. Some firms even maintain a list of recent customers and phone numbers. A few quick calls will help protect your investment. Ask references about qualifications such as contractors' quality of work, attention to details, on-time performance, and ability to finish work completely. These suggestions are the same as recommended by the Better Business Bureau. Here are some other points to consider:

  • Check gates for clearance; know who's responsible for re-hanging them, if necessary.
  • Decide whether you, a plumber, or someone else will raise any water valves or sewer inlets to meet the new asphalt around them.
  • Assign specific responsibilities and make notes.
  • Surface drainage is very important. Make sure your contractor plans and builds adequate surface slopes to produce good drainage. So-called "ponding," or standing water, on or near the driveway, is undesirable.

Once you have taken bids and selected the contractor you want, you’re ready for the contract. A construction contract should detail such items as the responsibility for grading work and accuracy, for compacting the subgrade and base, for measuring compacted pavement thicknesses, for pavement slopes and smoothness, payment schedule, and guarantee of the finished product. It’s important to make sure your contractor has adequate liability insurance. Ask for written proof of it.


Your Best Buy
Just as with buying a new roof or deck, good business practices prevail with installing a new driveway. Be informed. Seek multiple bids. Get references. Surveys show that quality-conscious companies belong to trade associations, such as the National Asphalt Pavement Association. Ask your contractor if he is a NAPA Member. With asphalt and a NAPA contractor, you'll know you have the best buy, every time.


For questions about driveways, please e-mail the NAPA Engineering Department.


Is There a Particular Season When I Should Have My Driveway Paved?
The main concern as to when to pave a driveway is temperature. Asphalt must be placed and compacted while it is hot. Lift thickness and air and surface temperatures play significant roles in how fast the mix cools and therefore the time a contractor has to complete the work. Because seasonal temperatures vary throughout the U.S., average air temperatures serve as a better guide for paving than a particular range of months. The following table, developed using MultiCool software, illustrates the effect of temperature and lift thickness on time available for compaction.


Air and Surface Temperature, °F

Time Available for Compaction, minutes

Lift Thickness, inches
























Note:  Red areas indicate temperatures where these lifts of asphalt are not recommended and yellow indicates caution. Table developed based on 300°F delivery temperature and 175°F final temperature.

The amount of time a contractor requires to place and compact your driveway will depend on the size of the job, amount of handwork required, and available equipment. As a general guide, you should probably allow at the very least 20 minutes for the contractor to place and compact a lift. Therefore, if you are having a 1-1/2 inch lift placed, the air and surface temperatures should be above 70°F. For a 2-inch lift, there is a little more leeway, but the air and surface temperature should be above 40°F. The above times are based on a mild wind condition (less than 10 mph) and should be decreased by about 5 to 10 minutes for every additional 10 mph of wind speed. The use of warm-mix asphalt may allow lifts to be placed at lower temperatures while still achieving the desired level of compaction.


It is also important to ensure that the soil or rock on which the pavement is being placed is firm and dry. If this is not the case, then it is recommended that paving be delayed until the subgrade is appropriately firm and dry.