Common Causes Of Asphalt Deterioration: What’s Breaking Down Your Asphalt?

Common Causes Of Asphalt Deterioration

Asphalt is resistant to many types of wear and tear but if you notice your asphalt deteriorating it likely has something to do with sunlight, water, chemical exposure and/or unresolved cracking. We’ve seen it all, but some causes of asphalt deterioration are far more common than others.

Is Asphalt Deterioration Normal?

No asphalt is immune from deterioration; it’s a natural process that happens over time. In fact, asphalt starts breaking down right after it sets. That doesn’t mean this deterioration cannot be greatly reduced with the right installation techniques and timely maintenance.

As the materials within asphalt begin to break down it becomes more susceptible to damages caused by the sun, rain and chemicals. The liquid asphalt binder, or rather the glue that holds the pavement together, will start to loosen up and no longer provide the same protection it used to. That’s why if you do not keep up with regular asphalt maintenance you will notice rapid deterioration taking place.

What If Asphalt Is Deteriorating Unnaturally Fast For No Apparent Reason?

If normal wear and tear and a lack of maintenance are not to blame, a few other factors may be contributing to the untimely break down of asphalt surfaces. This often relates to poor construction practices, or human error. Including:   

-Improper compaction of asphalt.

-Improper compaction of the base beneath asphalt prior to pouring it.

-Poor or no drainage systems in place.

-Pouring asphalt under non-ideal conditions and improper temperatures.

When asphalt is properly mixed, poured and maintained it can last 25+ years. On the other hand, poorly applied asphalt and/or asphalt that is not maintained will start to break down much sooner than this. 

What Are Common Causes Of Asphalt Deterioration?

Even the best asphalt will eventually break down due to these common and unavoidable culprits.

Sunlight

Asphalt is a combination of sand, rock and aggregates all held together by a binder known as asphalt cement. This glue-like substance that holds everything together slowly breaks down from sun exposure. If it breaks down completely, there will be nothing left to hold together all of the ingredients in your asphalt, resulting in loose chunks of asphalt. As a result of sun damage, raveling and shrinking cracks form and allow water to seep beneath the surface and create additional issues. 

Oxidation

Oxidation breaks down asphalt and dries out the flexible liquid glue that binds it together. New asphalt is flexible beneath heavy traffic, but it loses its flexibility as consistent exposure to oxidation fades asphalt from black to gray. As a result, it will begin to crack under the pressure of vehicle loads.

Heavy Traffic Loads

Consistently heavy traffic loads cause asphalt to break down quicker. This is especially true after the oxidation process has already begun to break down asphalt.

Water

Without proper maintenance, water will find cracks and crevices to sneak beneath the surface of your asphalt. This causes the important base asphalt sits on to wash away, creating cracks and eventually complete collapse.

Chemical Exposure/Oil Stains

Gas, oil and other chemicals soften asphalt and cause it to break down at an unnaturally fast pace. The thing is, roads and parking lots are always susceptible to oil leaks. Asphalt should be cleaned on a regular basis in order to remove harmful chemicals like oil before it has a chance to eat through surfaces and cause serious damage.

3 Main Types Of Asphalt Deterioration

If your asphalt is under pressure from water, sunlight, oxidation, chemicals and/or heavy traffic, you’re likely to see one or more of these common types of asphalt deterioration.

Cracking

Sunlight, water and other elements contribute to asphalt cracks, which lead to a whirlwind of other problems if they are not patched up as soon as possible. There are many different types of asphalt cracks including: alligator cracks, edge cracks, reflection, edge joint, slippage, shrinkage and widening. The type and severity of cracks will determine the best method of repair.

Disintegration

Birdbaths, potholes and raveling are all forms of disintegration.

Distortion

Incorrectly constructed pavement is at risk for distortion, especially if it is under the pressure of heavy loads. Distortion relates to deterioration of the underlying base and is visible through things like channels, ruts, utility cut depressions, grade depressions, upheaval and corrugations.