Q. I had my driveway paved over this summer. The guy that did it said I never should seal it. Is he on the level? He said the latex sealer is just paint. I thought the sealer keeps water from freezing in the pores and breaking down the surface. Help!
A. If you have an asphalt paved driveway that was installed properly then I would think you shouldnít have to even ask the question as to when and should you sealcoat it for a few more years but I donít think the operative word is never. Most consumer grade sealcoating materials are water based emulsions that are made with clay fillers, latex, polymers and either asphalt or coal tar. I wouldnít call that latex paint.What causes asphalt driveways to wear beyond tires is a combination of elements including UV rays from sunlight to freezing water between the little paving stones or small cracks and fissures that cause surface splitting and breaking plus drips of oil, gasoline or break fluid that attack the paving as a solvent. Most professionals in the industry recommend sealcoating every three years but situations vary and what I tell folks is to look at the surface and if itís a uniform black color then youíre OK, regardless of age. But as the surface ages the very top asphalt coating goes away from the conditions I mentioned and you start to see a gray surface emerging which is the color of the raw aggregate-- the fine stone that creates the surface. Once you can see that itís a signal that the surface coating is marginal to gone and water can then get in between the stones and freeze/thaw damage can begin. A freshly sealcoated driveway looks great and most homeowners who have experience with asphalt driveways know that now, fall, is the best time to sealcoat because winter is next. Driveways that have been recoated several times can get slippery when wet. To prevent that or to correct an already slippery driveway I recommend broadcasting some sandbox sand into the surface while itís still wet as a non-skid. Cheap sealers are usually a thin coal tar or asphalt product that comes in 5 gallon buckets and can cost less that $10. a pail and they do look like black paint when applied and donít expect to get more that a yearís life out of them. They say theyíll cover 400 square feet per gallon-- thatís a lot. Using a product like that reminds me of the old adage that only a rich man can afford cheap materials because only he can afford to do the job over and over until itís right. High end sealers, sometimes called heavy-duty or racetrack-grade, sell up in the $20. range per 5 gallon bucket and their coverage rate is little more than half of the cheap stuff-- so you can see why folks are tempted to try to cover more area for fewer dollars. Penny wise and pound foolish. Do-it-yourselfers apply the product with a wide broom handle combination broom/squeegee that suppliers will sell you along with the sealcoating material. Like any ďpaintĒ job preparation is key. Youíve got to be sure the surface is clean and dry and should you have developed any cracking they will have to be filled with crack fillers that also come in varying grades-- so again, donít go cheap. Sealcoating is one of those potentially nasty jobs that can quickly turn into a nightmare. Last time I did it it seemed I got about as much on me as on the driveway. You, kids and dogs are prone to stepping in not quite dry material and tracking it off the drive and into the house where clean-up can be near impossible especially if itís tracked onto vinyl flooring. My last excursion into the world of driveway sealcoating convinced me that both the job and my life would be so much better if I left it to professionals who buy their product by the 55 gallon drum and spray apply it. It goes down faster with a more uniform coverage than youíll do with the squeegee and since youíll be watching from a window you wonít get it all over you. Sealcoat contractors are in the phone book under Paving.