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Strategies for asphalt maintenance on a tight budget

Feb 28, 2011 | Archive, Blog, Text Only Article | 0 comments

Over the course of 10 years in the asphalt business, I have gathered dozens of pictures into a folder on my laptop inelegantly titled “Stupid Asphalt Repairs.”  From poor craftsmanship to the wrong remedy for a given symptom, it is disheartening to see property owners waste their money.  With today’s especially tight maintenance budgets, it is critical that property owners and managers get the best longevity and performance out of their maintenance dollars.

Here are four strategies to keep in mind:

1) Worst first? Preventative vs. Reactionary.

From interstate highways to parking lots and driveways, strategies about how to properly maintain asphalt pavements have evolved markedly in the last 20 years – long before the recent economic turmoil which has put strain on maintenance budgets. The old way was a so-called “Worst First” approach, which put an emphasis on areas where structural damage such as “alligator” cracking had already occurred. One might also think of this as a “reactionary” approach. The new method focuses on “prevention” because, quite simply, it’s cheaper to maintain pavements in good shape than it is to rehabilitate or overhaul bad ones.

So what about properties that have significant damage? Even pavements that need extensive repairs probably still have large areas that would benefit from preventative procedures. With finite maintenance dollars available, the better first priority is to get those areas taken care of as soon as possible, lest the damage become more widespread and costly. Certainly, if budget dollars are available, both the preventative maintenance and reactionary repairs could be addressed.

What specifically can be done to be proactive? The Asphalt Institute in Lexington Kentucky notes that the three biggest enemies of asphalt are “water, water and water.” As such, it is critical to keep water from penetrating the pavement and getting underneath, which disturbs the sub-base. Therefore, crack filling is the most important item to have performed. It’s cheap and effective and should be done often. Focus should also be put on drainage to make sure water is flowing to an appropriate catch basin and that puddling is immediately corrected. Berms are another cost-effective method to manage water flow. Like miniature speed bumps, berms are used to divert water to a desired area. Lastly, having a regular routine of seal coating will keep good pavements in good shape much longer.

2) Perform some work in the offseason. 

It isn’t a good idea to call a tax accountant on April 14th to meet the filing deadline the next day.  Likewise, it’s usually not a good idea to call an asphalt contractor with a big rush during the late summer peak season.  Surprisingly, a lot of asphalt work can be done October through April. In fact, according to the Asphalt Institute, crack filling is best performed in the fall and spring, when cracks are at their median width because of expansion/contraction under temperature fluctuations. Furthermore, seasonal companies are always motivated to perform work in their traditional “offseason.” As such, much better prices can be obtained by shifting your project forward or back by three months. (For further evidence, go to a nearby golf course and ask them what their green fees are in October or March compared with July or August.)

3. Get 3 bids and ask for references.

This might seem obvious, but a lot of headaches can be averted with just a few minutes of due diligence. It’s one thing to seek a bargain, but be careful about “getting what you pay for” if selecting the lowest bid. The Better Business Bureau has a very helpful online tool to check companies and their histories of complaints (or lack thereof).

4. Be engaged. 

It’s always a good idea for the customer to do a site walk-through with the contractor’s estimator. This gives the customer an opportunity to ask questions and understand the various options.  It also helps the contractor to know exactly what the customer’s needs are, both in terms of scope of work and important details about production logistics (e.g. what day the trash get picked up, etc.)  If you’re getting multiple bids (which you should), a site walk-through can ensure that the bids are “apples-to-apples.” Ultimately, customers who are engaged usually get a better finished product.

By Tom Merry

Owner, Rainier Asphalt & Concrete, LLC

Tom Merry is owner of Rainier Asphalt & Concrete LLC (www.rainierasphalt.com), a North Bend-based commercial and residential contractor serving the greater Puget Sound area. He can be reached at 800-592-0311 or merry@rainierasphalt.com
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