Concrete and asphalt have been the go-to paving material choice for decades. While each comes with some advantages, there are also many valid reasons to consider alternatives. Fortunately, more options seem to hit the market each year.
The Pros and Cons of Asphalt
Asphalt is a premier option for many applications. It’s a mix of stones, sand, and liquid asphalt cement (petroleum) that is poured over a prepared base.
One of the primary reasons asphalt is so popular for road surfaces is because of its quick set time. Asphalt can be used within 24 hours. Asphalt is also a budget-friendly option, costing the range of $2-$5 per square foot.
In addition, asphalt repairs are fairly straightforward. You can add a seal coat, repair cracks, or resurface asphalt surfaces to keep them in operation.
However, asphalt has a limited lifespan of around 25 years, and to achieve that it requires frequent maintenance to keep it from developing structural and functional issues.
Pros and Cons of Concrete
Also a popular choice, concrete is a long-lasting material that can function for 30 years or more. Plus, the maintenance requirements are low.
However, when maintenance is required, it’s time, cost, and energy consumptive. Because concrete lacks flexibility, damage can occur from shifts, temperature changes, or pressure.
It’s also more expensive to install at anywhere between $3 and $10 per square foot. Following installation, concrete needs to cure for about a week before it can be used so it’s less convenient for many applications.
The Environmental Aspects of Asphalt and Concrete
When choosing a paving solution for your situation, the environmental impact can be a substantial part of your decision. In addition to function and durability, consider the materials used in the paving products and the effects of the manufacturing process.
For example, asphalt is a petroleum-based product, which means it begins life by contributing to air and water pollution.
As a surface, asphalt absorbs solar radiation, contributing to global warming. It also releases emissions, leaving behind a large carbon footprint.
However, asphalt is also a highly-recyclable product, if companies decide to do so instead of sourcing virgin materials.
Concrete is repeatedly called out for its footprint too. Many reports have shown it ranks right below coal, oil, and gas for greenhouse gas emissions. As ubiquitous as it is, concrete is a major contributor to the world’s total carbon dioxide production (estimated at 4-8%).
Concrete production is also highly water consumptive, drinking up resources needed for agriculture and drinking.
Paving Material Considerations
When considering alternatives to traditional asphalt and concrete, you’ll want to evaluate location and function. For example, a parking area will have different requirements than a patio space.
Probably the primary consideration is how much weight the material needs to support. A driveway with limited vehicle use has more material options than one where large trucks regularly park.
Nearly all paving materials need good drainage. Not only does water have an amazing ability to deteriorate surfaces and cause shifting of materials, but runoff can also carry toxic chemicals to the surrounding landscape, affecting soil, plants, and wildlife.
Obviously, you’ll want your paving solution to last as long as possible, except on the rare occasion when you only need a temporary road, landing pad, or parking area.
In order to maximize lifespan, you’ll want to be aware of the issues mentioned above, but also evaluate the durability of the material itself.
While you’re making your list of priorities, consider the maintenance involved with each material option. If budget is a priority, you may need to do more maintenance. On the other hand, if durability is at the top of your list you may have very few maintenance requirements to contend with.
As mentioned above, each decision we make impacts the environment. Evaluate your selection by researching how ingredients are sourced, transported, manufactured, and installed.
Also study the environmental effects while in use, such as issues caused by off-gassing or toxic runoff. Finally, consider how the material will be disposed of at the end of its useful life.
The location of your paved area may restrict or expand your options too. Think about how you’ll use walkways, driveways, outdoor living spaces, and parking areas.
Nearly everyone will take cost into consideration. When formulating a budget, use the same cost measurement for each material.
For example, add up total expenses for the materials, preparation, and installation. Then calculate the cost per square foot for the different options. You can also create a worksheet that outlines costs as a whole and compare them that way.
While you’re likely thinking of the finished product, you may need to start with the initial material, which is typically soil. You may need to enhance, remove, or compact soil as part of the process.
Consider how the soil will be affected by your paving material selection. We’ve already mentioned chemical exposure, but there are other considerations too. For example, covering up soil leaves less room for natural landscaping, gardening, and grass.
Shifting the soil can also create instability and increased erosion.
If your situation warrants it, examine whether the material provides accessibility for walkers, wheelchairs, or even just level footing. Deciding whether the surface is stable, level, and smooth enough can significantly impact your decision.
Also look at the climate in your region. Severe cold and heat can do a number on paved surfaces, as can piles of snow or excessive rainwater. Plus, some materials don’t pair well with snow shovels or snow machines.
Other materials may not offer effective permeability for drainage, causing runoff issues in areas with high rain accumulation. Stormwater management can be a substantial benefit of alternative paving solutions.
Do your research.
Note: While you may be thinking of using one material for the entire project, you might also want to consider mixing materials. For example, if the material you want isn’t best for primary parking, you can still install it for less-used overflow parking or areas where you store equipment.
Scour the internet or saunter around your local home improvement store and you’ll encounter myriad options for paver stones. They come in a vast array of colors, textures, sizes, and material makeups.
Installing paver stones is a rewarding and manageable DIY project. While it may involve some heavy lifting both in the weight of the stones and in preparing the jobsite, actually laying the stones is straightforward. The end result is suitable for driveways, patios, walkways, and more.
Paver stones can be laid close together with minimal spaces, or separated with a gap of sand, mortar, grass, groundcover, or other materials.
Many alternative paving solutions are a product of recycling. For example, there is recycled asphalt and concrete. There are other products made from rubber or plastic.
Using recycled materials is an eco-friendly option and it’s a category of paving solutions that has seen dramatic growth in recent years, leaving many options to consider.
Some areas are best suited by easy-to-find gravel. While rock is far from perfect for many applications, it’s an affordable option that comes with certain benefits.
Larger gravel can be compacted for use in parking areas.
It’s a good fit for an RV, tractor, or boat storage too. In addition to a low price point, gravel offers exceptional drainage to keep water from pooling or creating runoff.
However, gravel requires a lot of upkeep. It tends to move around, creating unwanted grooves and muddy sections. Gravel driveways need frequent attention with grading and reapplication of rock.
The type of gravel you use makes a big difference. For example, small round pebbles are easier to walk on when barefoot but creates a mess by shifting outside the defined area and flying through the air when the dogs run through. It’s also difficult to put a wheelbarrow or other cart across.
While it might work for a playground area or walkways, it is a poor choice for driveways and parking areas.
Available as an asphalt or concrete surface, new technologies are developing porous pavement, which offers the benefits of an asphalt or concrete surface with drainage that mitigates runoff.
When you think of paving solutions, wood probably doesn’t come to mind, but maybe it should. Wood as a ground cover is nothing new. Think about wood chips beneath the play structure or pathways topped with bark mulch on local trails.
Wood does a great job of filtering water through, allowing it to be absorbed into the soil without runoff damage. Since wood is a natural product, it’s also void of toxic chemicals and processing is minimal so it’s a friend of the environment.
Wood also minimizes water pooling and muddy areas so it’s a welcome addition to walkways. As the wood breaks down, it returns vital nutrients to the soil as well. Plus, wood chips are lightweight and easy to install.
Paving with wood does equate to high levels of maintenance since the material needs to be reapplied often.
Decking is another wood option to consider. While the planks aren’t an option for a driveway, they are a great solution to cover an existing pad that is poorly poured or cracked and in need of repair. Wood decking can also be used to create walkways or bridges over wet areas on the property.
One of the biggest modern inventions in the realm of alternative paving solutions is permeable pavers. These look like traditional pavers, but allow water through, thus eliminating the issues of runoff and pooling.
These pavers are actually a foundation of recycled plastic grids that are interlocked to keep them in place. They are installed over a prepared bed of compacted rock. The frames are then filled with gravel or crushed limestone.
There are a variety of companies that offer the frames and they come in a multitude of designs. However, the overall goal of them all is to hold the gravel in place for a strong, durable, long-term solution.
Having many of the same benefits as paver stones, brick makes for a strong paving solution. It’s a durable material and inexpensive to install. Plus, it’s readily available and fairly environmentally friendly.
Some of the best features of brick installation as a paving option is that you can easily use recycled bricks and they do a great job of allowing water to absorb between the bricks, reducing pooling and mud.
Chip Seal is a paving alternative with a rustic appeal. It combines asphalt with a fine aggregate to provide a pebbly, natural look. You may see it advertised under similar names such as tar-seal, tarseal, tar and chip, chipseal, or chip and seal.
The material is common in Australia and is making ‘inroads’ in rural America whilst growing in popularity for residential uses. Although better than loose gravel because it stays in place, Chip Seal is still a fairly temporary solution, typically lasting three to five years.
Terra Pave is one of the most environmentally-friendly products you’ll find for your paving needs. In fact, the product has earned LEED certification and is produced in alignment with the Green Building Rating System.
The product is made from pine tree resin, mixed with a binding agent made from byproducts of forest and paper product production.
The wood used comes from sustainably harvested forests. The end result is a non-toxic, pH-neutral, non-corrosive, and non-hazardous surface that is ideal for use around sensitive landscapes such as riparian zones or even your background playground and garden.
Leave it Natural
Of course, if all else fails, you can leave the area unpaved by compacting the soil or planting grass or a ground cover to absorb water.
In conclusion, there is a lot to consider when choosing a paving option for your walkways, patio, hot tub support, parking area, or driveway.
Carefully evaluate the pros and cons of each type of material before making your decision. While you may end up choosing asphalt or concrete, you can feel good about making an informed decision.