Is Asphalt Cheaper than Concrete?

Are you planning a new driveway, walkway, or road and wondering what the best material would be to get the job done? The most common materials for these projects are certainly asphalt and concrete, but it begs the question of which is the cheaper of the two. Unfortunately, there isn’t as straightforward an answer as you might hope—for what do we mean by cheap? Lower quality or lower price? And is this answer contingent on its application? 

At Asphalt Doctors, we are experienced professionals in asphalt and concrete services. Read on for our balanced analysis of whether asphalt is cheaper than concrete. 

What is asphalt? 

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Asphalt is a mixture of binder, aggregates, and filler mainly used for constructing and maintaining roads. It is a black, viscous petroleum product - in essence, a sticky black residue that remains after processing crude oil and mixed with a combination of stone, sand, and gravel. While it may seem like a ‘newer’ road surface, it has actually been around for more than a hundred years and is, proportionally, more often used for the construction of major roadways than concrete. It is poured onto roadways in a molten form before it is cured and shaped into place.

According to the National Asphalt Paving Association, the United States has approximately 3,500 asphalt plants that produce a total of about 400 million tons of asphalt pavement—a material worth over $30 billion.

What is concrete? 

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Concrete is much more similar to asphalt than many people initially believe - it is a composite material composed of aggregate (sand, stone, and gravel - much like asphalt) bonded together with a fluid cement. Surprisingly, concrete is the second-most-used substance in the world after water, mostly in the application of the built environment. When the rock, gravel, and sand aggregate is mixed with water and concrete, the fluid form of concrete is poured onto a roadway and shaped and compacted accordingly. 

This material has been used for thousands of years, with some evidence of concrete floors dating back to 1400 B.C. 

Which is the ‘cheaper’ material? 

There are two ways in which we can define ‘cheap’, so in order to answer the question of whether asphalt is cheaper than concrete, let us first analyze if it is a lower quality, cheaper material. 

Asphalt can be characterized as an overall softer surface material than concrete. This in itself is a double-edged sword. Because it’s softer, asphalt surfaces can accommodate minor settlement and deformation. It will become even softer in hot temperatures, and it can be susceptible to cracks and potholes, especially with frequent freezing and thawing cycles. Asphalt is a less durable material with a lifespan of around 20 years, but it is also relatively easy and inexpensive to maintain.

Concrete’s strong, sturdy, and solid nature makes it a durable option for all types of applications, including construction and roadways. Concrete can better withstand heavy loads and can last up to 50 years. Also, it is susceptible to damage from freezing and thawing cycles just like asphalt, and the resulting damage can sometimes be more extensive because the material itself is less flexible. Therefore, it must be built correctly and precisely to allow it to expand and contract appropriately. While this material is more durable and stronger against heavy weight and frequent use, it can be more difficult and more costly to maintain. 

In terms of quality of material, asphalt is higher quality (less cheap) in the short term, but it is lower quality (cheaper) in the long term. For particular applications, however, some individuals see concrete as a more aesthetically pleasing option, such as for sidewalks and park pathways, and in other applications, such as residential roadways, asphalt is seen as the more aesthetically pleasing option. 

Which material costs less? 

The cost of each material is much more straightforward to answer. 

Asphalt is a generally more affordable option compared to concrete. This is true for initial installations, regardless of the size of the project, but also for maintenance costs. Asphalt is very easy and cost-effective to repair using methods such as surface patching, infrared patching, full-depth patching, and seal coating. 

Concrete, on the other hand, is a more expensive material. It costs more for the initial installation, but it is also expensive to repair as well. The problem with concrete is that when it is damaged, it is not easily repaired like asphalt is. Cracks can be sealed, but if the damage is more extensive, entire sections of the concrete that are damaged must be replaced completely with new concrete. 

In conclusion, asphalt is a cheaper or less expensive material. 

Asphalt and Concrete Experts 

As you can see, the answer to whether asphalt is cheaper than concrete is not exactly straightforward. If by cheap we are discussing quality, it depends largely on the application of the material, though asphalt is indeed less durable and has lower longevity than concrete. This is counterbalanced by asphalt’s flexibility and ease of maintenance. For price, asphalt is by far the cheaper material. Being both affordable to install and maintain, asphalt is a fantastic choice combining quality and price. 

Asphalt Doctors are experts in both asphalt and concrete installations. If you’re ready to start your own roadway project or if you have more questions before getting started, don’t hesitate to contact our team of friendly professionals today!