How to Get More Mileage From Your Parking Lot

As the owner of a commercial or industrial building in the Mid-Atlantic region, you’re responsible for addressing a host of maintenance issues to ensure the safety and visual appeal of your physical property. Your own business and those others that may call your property home rely on both your regular upkeep and responsiveness to issues. However, a primary feature of many commercial properties that does not often rise to the top of the maintenance priority list is parking lots. Be honest – beyond snow removal in the wintertime, have you thought much about your building’s parking areas lately?

Over the years, continuous usage by customers, vendors, and staff members inflicts wear and tear on your lots’ asphalt, eventually creating safety hazards and general unattractive conditions in areas that should be welcoming to visitors and employees alike. Luckily, there are some steps you can take to help preserve your asphalt parking lots that allow you to delay or avoid costly and disruptive repaving projects. The key is to understand what asphalt is as a material, how long it should last, and what factors are damaging to asphalt. Today we’ll discuss these and also give you some tips on how you can extend the life of the parking lots on your commercial property. 

What is asphalt?

While there are several types of asphalt and quality can vary greatly depending on specifics of the ingredients and mixing processes, asphalt is essentially made of just two components: aggregates and bitumen. Aggregates are crushed stone, gravel, and sand – the “hard” elements that make asphalt a durable surface suitable to drive and park cars on. Bitumen is the black or dark-colored viscous material that holds the aggregates together. Bitumen is made of a petroleum byproduct known as polycyclic hydrocarbons and typically comprises about 5% of the traditional “hot mix” asphalt used in high-traffic applications like highways and commercial parking lots.

How long can you expect asphalt to last?

While the answer to this question is often complicated since there can be many variables that affect the lifespan of a particular asphalt parking lot, 15-20 years is considered standard. If your asphalt parking lot was properly installed by a professional asphalt and commercial paving contractor like Lyons & Hohl Paving, you can assure that your parking lot will meet that lifespan expectation with few problems. Of course, regular maintenance is also critical for longevity, as are certain factors about your parking lot’s location. 

What shortens asphalt’s lifespan?

Are there drainage problems on your property’s parking areas following heavy rains, for example? Your parking lot’s asphalt may fail early in areas where water is often pooling on or running across it. Surface erosion caused by water is something that can lead to crumbling, cracking, and potholes. The chemical fluids and oils that may be leaking from parked vehicles are also detrimental to asphalt’s lifespan. And, heavy traffic can wear down particular sections of a parking lot that get more use than others. 

Here in our home service area in southeastern Pennsylvania, our winters are not always particularly harsh, but we still regularly contend with snow and ice, major enemies of asphalt. Exposure to ice melt treatments and road salt in the winter can also be damaging over time. When the sun begins to shine in the springtime, and the ground beneath your parking lot thaws, the swing in temperature is yet another thing that negatively affects asphalt. And while it’s a better parking lot paving material than concrete here in our area because it is less prone to cracking as it expands and contracts with each temperature change, the repeated stress of many changes throughout the years eventually undermines asphalt’s stability.

Ways you can extend asphalt’s lifespan

As with many other aspects of your commercial or industrial property, your parking lot’s life can be significantly extended with a regular care routine. No, this does not mean that you need to have someone out there scrubbing every oil stain on a regular basis, but it does mean being proactive about addressing small cracks and potholes and performing regular sealcoating of the entire surface. It’s true that asphalt can be considered a little needy in terms of maintenance, but a small amount of work on a regular basis tends to go a long way. And, as we discussed in a previous blog post qualified paving contractor can take care of the preventative maintenance work for you. Let’s consider some of the main things you should be doing for your parking lot to ensure its long life. 

Crack sealing, patching, and pothole repair

As asphalt ages, it naturally develops cracks, and can also develop low spots or potholes that require patching. Crack sealing is a process that involves pouring a rubberized sealer into the cracks to keep them from turning into potholes, which are more costly to repair. Often, low spots and holes must be excavated before they can be filled in and patched, so if you do not have potholes today, the name of the game is prevention.

The ideal time to have sealing, patching, and repair work done is in the fall season, though you may find that summer is more convenient for your contractor. Often, repair work is combined with the next item on our preventative maintenance list, which allows for a more coordinated approach to problems.  

Sealcoating

If your parking lot is older than six months, it is ready to be sealcoated at any time. Repeat applications of sealcoating should then be made every other year to once every three years depending upon weather conditions and the amount of traffic your parking lot accommodates. Sealcoating restores the surface of your asphalt parking lot to keep cracks at bay and to slow natural deterioration caused by weather conditions and changing seasonal temperatures. It is critical to have sealcoating work performed by qualified contractors, as not all sealers are created equal. While it may be tempting to hire a handyman or have your regular maintenance crew apply sealcoating for you, it is best applied with specialized equipment by experienced technicians. 

Installing and maintaining proper drainage systems

While not entirely an example of routine maintenance, adequate drainage systems should be installed around your parking lot, ideally at the time of its construction. This will involve site engineering to assure that the vast amount of water that your parking lot sheds during heavy rains or snow melts can be accommodated without creating erosion problems in the surrounding landscape. Features like swales and retention basins may be needed to keep runoff from becoming a problem. Further, drainage systems that are already in place need to be kept in working order to assure that water continues to flow away from your parking lot. Keep drains clear of debris and be sure that other features of your drainage system are performing as they should be each season.

Maintaining surrounding landscaping

Similarly as important as maintaining your property’s drainage systems surrounding your asphalt parking lot, keeping landscaping in shape can also help extend your parking lot’s lifespan. Many commercial parking lots today have “islands” of plantings or grass interspersed with sections of parking spaces. Seasonal mulching and trimming of shrubbery, as well as regular mowing of grass during the spring, summer, and fall, is required to keep plantings from becoming overgrown and encroaching on parking surfaces. If curbing is not installed around your planting beds, mulch and dirt will likely wash out onto the asphalt and can contribute to cracking and erosion where the materials contact each other.

Additionally, think about the types of trees that may be on your islands or around the edges of your lots. Large trees can provide excellent shade for employees’ cars that are parked in your lot for long hours each day, but some tend to grow their roots outward instead of downward, and that means roots pushing through your asphalt over time. Do your homework before installing new trees around your parking areas. Consulting an arborist in your area to check what trees are best for streetscape planting will help you choose trees that are friendlier to buildings, parking areas, and other systems on your property.

A few other items for your list

Obviously, there is much to keep in mind when it comes to maintaining your parking lot, and we’re not quite done yet! Maintaining the painted striping that defines parking spaces and handicapped areas of your lots is something that needs attention every few years, especially following sealcoating applications, which totally obscures lining. Your paving contractor can help you with this restriping task.

Power washing specific areas on a seasonal basis may also be something you might consider, though this is more for aesthetics than general lifespan extension of the asphalt. If you’ve had unusually poor weather and dirt has washed across the surface of a specific area, it’s best to clean it off instead of allowing it to remain on the asphalt. Power washing can easily accomplish tough cleanup jobs like this.

Lastly, on the subject of aesthetics, if you have waste collection bins like dumpsters or even trash receptacles for the convenience of customers located in your parking lots, it’s important to regularly inspect those areas and assure that loose trash is not accumulating on the asphalt. Accumulated debris and garbage can damage surfaces over time by staining or even contributing to deterioration. Keep your parking lots clean! 

Ultimately, as technological applications in asphalt surfaces continue to evolve and improve, there may well come a day when minimal regular maintenance will be required to preserve the longevity of your asphalt parking lot. In the meantime, investing the necessary resources and time in the steps described above will enable you to increase the practical lifespan of your parking lot while also boosting its attractiveness and appeal to customers, clients, and staff members.

Are you located in the Lancaster, Reading, Downingtown, Coatesville, or West Chester areas of southeastern PA and need help getting your commercial or industrial parking lots in shape? Get in touch with us at Lyons & Hohl Paving today to discuss your options for asphalt repair and preventative maintenance.