Asphalt and concrete are both construction materials used for construction and paving roadways, walkways, and driveways. Each offers various positives and negatives, but which is cheaper? And which should you choose for your application?
Which Is Cheaper: Asphalt Or Concrete?
Asphalt is the cheaper material, per square foot installed, in the vast majority of applications. Concrete tends to be more expensive to lay because of both material costs and the difficulty of achieving a smooth, level finish. However, asphalt’s long-term maintenance costs may render it similarly priced as concrete for some applications.
The St. Louis Fed tracks asphalt and concrete/cement producer prices over time. The producer price is the amount that the manufacturer charges for raw materials from the factory gate. It is a helpful metric because it strips out other factors that could affect the price, such as the scarcity of concrete layers.
According to Fed data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Producer Price Index, the cost of asphalt paving has more than doubled since 1984. The index hit 269.5 in September 2020, and in 1984 the index sat at 100. By contrast, cement products are now just 21 percent more expensive, with the index hitting 121.0 in September 2020, while in 1984 that number matched asphalt at 100.
You can expect to pay between $1 and $5 per square foot of asphalt installed and between $3 and $10 per square foot for concrete. Prices, however, may vary, depending on the scale of the work. The larger the area you wish to pave, the lower the cost per square foot. Smaller projects, such as driveways, will tend to be more expensive per unit area than more extensive projects such as road paving and industrial applications.
Why Is Asphalt Cheaper Than Concrete?
Concrete and asphalt are both mixtures of crushed stone (called aggregate) and sand. The difference between them is the agent that binds the mixture together. In asphalt, the binding ingredient is a thick, dense petroleum byproduct. In concrete, the binding material is cement.
The binding agent is the main reason that asphalt is cheaper than concrete. Asphalt emerges from crude oil during the distillation process. The longer-chain hydrocarbons, including the viscous bitumen that goes into asphalt, fall to the bottom of the distillation chamber. Refineries then collect it and store it in tanks, ready to ship off to asphalt manufacturers to create paving products.
Concrete is made differently. First, companies high up in the supply chain mine the raw materials used in cement manufacturing, usually limestone and clay. They then crush the rock to get the particle size below 50mm and add a series of cement additives, including iron ore, before drying, grinding, and homogenizing the raw material again.
Towards the end of the production, the raw material goes through clinkerization, which involves using a kiln to heat the material. High temperatures of around 1400 C help to decarbonize the limestone – a chemical process that helps to make the cement mixture sticky. The final step is to store the material before shipping it off to installers.
Both asphalt and concrete production rely on vast industrial infrastructures to produce, which adds to their cost. However, asphalt is cheaper because it benefits from the demand for other refined crude oil forms – such as petroleum and kerosene. Motorists, airlines, shipping companies, and electricity generators demand vast quantities of crude oil derivatives. And the revenue they provide pays for the lion’s share of the infrastructure.
The volume of demand for asphalt is much lower, so its price simply reflects its demand at any given time, relative to the other applications. As oil prices change, so too does the price of asphalt.
Contrast that situation to concrete. Here, supplies mine and refine raw materials for the sole purpose of creating concrete for the construction industry. Because of this, concrete prices embody the full cost of the infrastructure required to make it. Suppliers bid up the market prices to the point where it is worth their while supplying it. Unlike asphalt, production is not secondary to another, bigger market.
If Asphalt Is Cheaper, Why Use Concrete?
At Debuck Construction, we believe that both concrete and asphalt are viable paving options. Which you choose depends heavily on the costs and benefits that matter to you. Asphalt producer prices might be lower than concrete, but the lifetime benefits from concrete can be greater in some cases.
For instance, asphalt tends to crack over time – something that happens mainly due to forces applied by braking or turning vehicles. Weaknesses in the base layer or imperfect asphalt mixes lead to rutting, swelling, and patch failures, increasing long-run maintenance costs.
Concrete, by contrast, isn’t subject to the same level of degradation. Mixes tend to have fewer flaws, helping them last longer. Concrete is also highly resistant to ultraviolet rays, humidity, rain, freeze-thaw weathering, and chemicals.
Concrete is also longer-lasting than asphalt across a variety of applications. On driveways, for instance, asphalt usually survives 20 years before requiring replacement. Concrete offers up to 30 years of life.
The Benefits Of Asphalt
Those searching for asphalt paving near me, however, shouldn’t write off asphalt as merely cheap. It also has advantages that might make it more suited to your application!
Curing, for instance, happens almost immediately, meaning that you don’t have to wait to use surfaces. Concrete takes up to seven days to harden correctly.
Furthermore, maintaining asphalt is easier. If you notice a hole, you can fill and seal it quickly and inconspicuously, maintaining the aesthetic. And because it is made of petroleum byproducts, oil spills are less noticeable.
While asphalt is cheaper than concrete wholesale, the lifetime costs of both are similar. Furthermore, the material you choose ultimately depends on balancing the various costs and benefits, such as whether you value ease of maintenance.
Debuck Construction makes heavy use of both materials. Each has indispensable properties that make it compelling in certain situations.
As experienced asphalt sealcoating contractors near you, we can guide you on the best option for your application. New construction, car park repaving, asphalt striping, and crack filling may prefer asphalt. Roadways, walkways, concrete walls, curbs and gutters, foundations, and flooring may benefit more from concrete.