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How to Choose an Asphalt Contractor

There are several points by which asphalt contractors can be compared. Rule #1 is if it’s too cheap to be believed, it won’t be a good deal in the end.

Putting in a new driveway or replacing an old one is not a small decision. A homeowner or commercial property manager knows that it’s an important functional and aesthetic upgrade.  Choosing the right asphalt contractor to perform needed asphalt paving and sealcoating is vital to your project.

But asphalt can be done wrong. In fact there are pavement “contractors” who are in fact scam artists. Their modus operandi is to knock on the door of an unsuspecting homeowner and say something to the effect of “Hi, we were paving a driveway nearby and had leftover asphalt in our truck. So that enables us to pave your driveway at a greatly reduced rate.” What then transpires is they cover the homeowner’s existing driveway with a sealer or very thin coat of asphalt that will crumble in a short period of time – but weeks after the scammers have moved on to the next town.

That is not the practice of established pavement contractors, the kind you can find on a home improvement website. Even legitimate pavement contractors have shortcomings. So it makes sense for prospective customers to quiz potential contractors on certain key components of jobs:

Experience – While this might seem obvious, it’s also very important. Every job site is different due to terrain, subsurface soil composition, drainage, the presence of tree roots, and other factors. Air and ground temperatures affect how asphalt sets (it necessarily has to be within a certain temperature range, hot from the plant where it was made). Experienced pavement contractors understand these variables and how they affect the longevity of a driveway, parking area, tennis or basketball court.

Insurance, licenses and bonding – With large trucks and hot asphalt on premises, it’s not unheard of that property damage can happen in a pavement installation project. The more frequent concern is if a worker is injured on the job. Associated costs for that could default to your homeowner’s insurance coverage if the lower-priced contractor fails to carry insurance (general liability, workers compensation, umbrella) – which could drive up your premiums in subsequent years. Legitimate pavement contractors will have requisite business and contractor licenses and surety bonds.

The right process – The topcoat of a paved surface is of course what you see. But what makes asphalt surfaces last are at least two layers laid below the surface, the base course and subbase course. The lowest of these is aggregate (gravel) that is compacted by a heavy roller, topped by a course-aggregate asphalt layer then topped with the surface asphalt (a finer aggregate in the asphaltic emulsifier). Lower-cost contractors will sometimes skip a step in this process.

Percent of recycled asphalt – An un-heralded green story is how much of asphalt paving is recycled asphalt from old pavement. It doesn’t go into landfills, there is less aggregate that has to be quarried, and less petroleum byproduct has to be used. But using recycled asphalt introduces impurities that can compromise a new installation, which negatively affects quality. The balance of new to recycled, and how refined it is, is something to discuss with a contractor and their past clients.

Conversations with past customers are perhaps the most important with regard to how well their products aged, the contractor’s business practices, and if there were problems. Try to avoid a rush project – it’s too important that this be done rationally and with a respectful conversation.

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