Is There a Difference Between Asphalt and Blacktop?

Oct 17, 2020 2:23 AM ET
iCrowd Newswire – Oct 17, 2020

This is one of the most common questions when it comes to paving materials. Although the terms “asphalt” and “blacktop” are used interchangeably, they are actually different. Asphalt is more commonly used in major highways, roads, and streets. Meanwhile, blacktop is used for residential purposes such as driveways or roads.

Asphalt and blacktop use the same material, called bitumen, that makes them easy to maintain and durable. In general, a gray asphalt highway and a blacktop driveway share the same characteristics and perform a similar function. When you drive over either paving, the quality of the ride is still the same. However, the rationing of materials and preparation is slightly different. This results in a slight difference in their durability.

To appreciate the differences between these paving methods, let’s take a look at how asphalt and blacktop are made.


Preparation process

The two main ingredients of asphalt are bitumen and crushed stone. Bitumen is a petroleum-based, viscous black component that holds the crushed gravel together. It is derived from crude oil distillation and is also used for roof shingles as flexible asphalt tiles.

Asphalt is a by-product of the densest part of petroleum after it passes through refineries. Crushed stone is mixed with bitumen to get the desired consistency.

During the installation process, bitumen and crushed gravel are mixed in a drum and heated at about 250 degrees. This makes the mixture malleable enough to pour onto highways, driveways, roads, and any other installations. Likewise, the high temperature makes the compound durable to bear the weight and pressure that it will be subjected to.

Common uses of asphalt

Asphalt is most commonly used for major highways and roads. According to the National Asphalt Pavement Association, more than 94% of America’s paved roads are surfaced with asphalt. Some residential projects, such as driveways, parking areas, and garages, may also use asphalt.

But aside from its major purpose, this water-resistant and malleable material is also used for damp proofing, soundproofing, cable coatings, waterproofing, and airport runways.


Preparation process

As mentioned above, blacktop also uses bitumen and crushed gravel but the proportioning is different. With blacktop, there is a higher ratio of natural crushed gravel over bitumen. This results in a shinier surface.

Another major difference comes with its preparation. Blacktop is heated with temperatures greater than 300 degrees. This makes the blacktop surface more malleable and durable. Furthermore, blacktop can bend thereby bearing heavier loads. According to Florida asphalt paving experts from ABC Paving, blacktop must be resealed now and then to retain its quality and durability.

Common uses of blacktop

Blacktop pavements are more common in residential projects, such as pathways, playgrounds, driveways, parking lots, and residential roads. It is also the preferred paving for smaller, neighborhood roads and outdoor game areas such as basketball or baseball courts. These installations generally have a lighter load and less traffic as compared to major road networks where asphalt is used.

Other major differences and similarities

Ideally, asphalt and blacktop pavements are installed during the warmer seasons of the year. This is to ensure that the mixture maintains the desired temperature and malleability. Both paving materials can be customized depending on the project requirements.

The installation time is generally the same. In general, asphalt and blacktop surfaces can be used within two days after being laid out. Concrete can take twice as long to prepare, pour, and dry. Usually, it can take several days (or even weeks) before a concrete road can be used. While the appearance of asphalt and blacktop are almost the same, asphalt tends to be darker. The color options are limited.

Since asphalt has more bitumen in the mixture, it results in a smoother surface as compared to the blacktop. This gives motorists a better ride, safer travel, and less noise from tires. Likewise, the smoothened surface minimizes traction as well as wear and tear on cars.

In terms of cost, asphalt tends to be costlier than blacktop. However, both pavement materials cost less compared to concrete. Asphalt costs around $2-5 per square foot while concrete costs around $3-10 per square foot. Take note that prices fluctuate drastically depending on your location, area of coverage, and complexity of the project.