Asphalt demonstrates viscoelastic behaviour, meaning it can deform under stress like the weight of vehicles and then recover over time. The binder, composed of bitumen and aggregates, provides structural strength and flexibility essential for driveways. Properly installed and maintained asphalt driveways can withstand temperature fluctuations, moisture exposure, and heavy traffic, providing homeowners with a reliable and long-lasting driveway solution. Asphalt’s durability, flexibility, and resistance to weathering makes it suitable for withstanding the challenges posed by both summers and harsh winters. Here’s an explanation of how asphalt behaves in different weather conditions:

Hot Weather

In hot weather, asphalt benefits from enhanced compaction and thermal flexibility, which contribute to its overall performance and longevity during high-temperature conditions. However, as temperatures rise, asphalt may also soften and oxidize, which can lead to potential issues such as rutting or cracking.

Softening and Rutting

Asphalt driveways are composed of a mixture of bitumen (the binder) and aggregates (such as rocks and sand). At higher temperatures, the bitumen in the asphalt softens, reducing its viscosity and making it more prone to deformation. This softening effect can lead to the formation of ruts or depressions in the surface of the driveway, especially under the weight of vehicles.

Load-Bearing Capacity

Despite softening, asphalt driveways retain their load-bearing capacity at elevated temperatures, allowing them to support the weight of vehicles without significant deformation. Properly constructed asphalt driveways can withstand the stresses of vehicle traffic even in hot weather conditions, maintaining their structural integrity.

Enhanced Compaction

Higher temperatures during asphalt paving increase the workability and fluidity of the material, allowing for better compaction of the pavement layers. This results in higher density and improved pavement strength. Proper compaction ensures a more durable pavement structure, capable of withstanding traffic loads and environmental stresses. This is one reason why summer is the best season to pave asphalt.

Thermal Flexibility

Asphalt driveways exhibit thermal flexibility, meaning they can expand and contract in response to temperature changes without sustaining damage. This property helps asphalt driveways accommodate temperature fluctuations during hot weather, reducing the risk of cracking and ensuring long-term performance.

Oxidation and Aging

Heat accelerates the oxidation process of the asphalt binder in the driveway. Oxidation involves the chemical reaction of oxygen molecules with the binder molecules, causing them to harden and become more brittle over time. As the asphalt binder oxidizes and becomes brittle, the driveway may lose its flexibility and become more susceptible to cracking and other forms of deterioration.

Cold Weather

In cold weather, asphalt benefits from increased load-bearing capacity and reduced susceptibility to rutting. However, it becomes stiffer and more susceptible to cracking and frost damage, especially in extremely low temperatures.

Reduced Rutting

Lower temperatures help maintain the stiffness of the asphalt in the driveway, reducing its susceptibility to rutting compared to hot weather conditions. Cold weather conditions mitigate the softening effect of asphalt, resulting in a more stable driveway surface that can withstand repeated loading without excessive deformation.

Increased Brittleness and Cracking

Cold temperatures cause the asphalt binder in the driveway to become stiffer and less flexible. This increased stiffness is due to reduced molecular mobility within the binder at lower temperatures, leading to increased brittleness. This makes the asphalt driveway more susceptible to cracking under mechanical loads, such as vehicle traffic or thermal stresses caused by temperature fluctuations.

Increased Load-Bearing Capacity

Despite increased brittleness, asphalt driveways retain their load-bearing capacity in cold weather, allowing them to support the weight of vehicles without significant deformation. Properly constructed asphalt driveways can withstand the stresses of vehicle traffic even in cold weather conditions, maintaining their structural integrity.

Thermal Cracking

Rapid temperature changes, particularly from daytime warmth to nighttime cold, can create thermal stresses within the asphalt driveway. If these stresses exceed the tensile strength of the material, cracks may form. Thermal cracking can compromise the structural integrity of the driveway, leading to premature deterioration and the need for repairs.

Freeze-Thaw Cycles and Frost Heave

Water that infiltrates the asphalt driveway can freeze and expand when temperatures drop below freezing, especially during winter. This expansion exerts pressure on the asphalt, leading to heaving and cracking. Subsequent thawing can further weaken the driveway structure. Freeze-thaw cycles and frost heave can cause significant damage to the driveway, resulting in potholes, surface irregularities, and reduced ride quality.

Proper maintenance of an asphalt driveway is crucial for preserving its structural integrity and performance in all weather conditions. Regular maintenance tasks such as filling cracks, sealing surface layers, and addressing drainage issues help prevent moisture infiltration, reduce the risk of cracks and potholes, and prolong the lifespan of the driveway. By maintaining the driveway, homeowners can ensure its safety, aesthetics, and functionality, ultimately saving time and money on repairs and replacements in the long run.