Reader Question: I read your post about sealing an asphalt driveway and was wondering, how often should I seal a driveway and how long should I wait before I seal it the first time? Thanks, Ed.
Ed, excellent question. Sealing an asphalt driveway will keep it in top shape for a long time, and will delay the need for repaving, which costs at least 6 times as much as most sealing treatments, even when professionally applied by a contractor. (It’s more like 12 times cheaper than doing the sealing job yourself).
How Long Should you Wait to Seal a Driveway?
Most aphalt professionals will recommend waiting 90-180 days before first sealing a driveway. This gives the asphalt a chance to breath and settle, and sealing before this time is more likely to crack since the driveway isn’t settled. Also, driveways tend to not need sealer immediately upon construction, and so it is a waste of money to seal before necessary. In our experience, waiting 1-2 years isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since sealing the driveway is expensive and the benefits of sealing aren’t realized nearly as much until the driveway is a few years old.
Other sites disagree, however, and recommend sealing 90 days out. The last contractor we spoke with recommended one year. There’s not a whole lot of consensus in this arena… but if the driveway is cracking or showing wear, it’s probably time.
How Often Should You Seal a Driveway?
You should seal a driveway every 2-4 years, as needed. You’ll be able to see when the tar emulsion coating wears off, and cracks begin to develop. If you seal too early, you’re wasting money and gaining little benefit. If you wait longer than 3-4 years, you may have cracks start to develop which, over time, will widen and cause the asphalt to crumble.
The key is that preventing cracks and crumbing is easier than repairing them. If you patch and fill all the cracks in the driveway first, a new coating of sealer will make the driveway look new (in fact, it might look better than new! Some of the driveway sealers on the market are quite effective cosmetically).
Which Driveway Sealer Should You Use?
Look for a coal tar emulsion or asphalt emulsion-based sealer. The gel sealers work well and are easier to control, but don’t necessary get as much coverage as the kind that can be applied with a brush or roller (you’ll want a squeegee for the gel). A gel-based emulsion sealer will smooth over the asphalt nicely (although you still have to patch), and will generally last for 2 years. Both asphalt and coal tar sealers are available at the local home improvement store. The picture in the upper right from the original post on this subject shows what a newly applied gel-based asphalt emulsion sealer looks like. Pretty nice, right?
The opinions vary online about whether coal tar or asphalt emulsions are better. If we were to choose for our own driveway, we’d go with coal tar for its longevity and wear qualities. Others argue that asphalt emulsions are the only way to fully bond the top coat with the driveway and are the best for protecting the original.
Avoid Sealers Without Coal Tar or Asphalt Emulsion…
Either way, you definitely want to avoid sealers that have no coal tar or asphalt emulsion in them. These sealers are basically paint for your driveway and will fade very quickly and add little protective value. A good sealer will bond with the underlying asphalt and will actually help the asphalt resist the elements, stay flexible, and hold together. Anything else is just cheap black paint. You’ll end up really sealing the driveway in a few months when you realize you got ripped off.
Thoughts on Cost
Sealing an asphalt driveway is a lot cheaper than the cost of repaving. You can visit that link to see Todd’s analysis on cost over at Home Construction Improvement.
What do you think? How often do you seal your driveway?