How Do Cold Temperatures Damage Pavement?

For those of us who reside in New Jersey and other areas with frigid winter temperatures, there are a lot of different things we have to prepare for every year. Tuning up the furnace, resealing the windows, shoring up the insulation, winterizing your vehicles, updating your winter wardrobe — the list goes on. We may have grown accustomed to all that winter can bring, but it still has an effect on many areas of life, and we have to constantly be prepared for that.

The winter can take a toll on many aspects of our homes, and pavement is no exception. Part of the reason why we have so much road construction in the Summer time is that winter has real effects on the integrity of asphalt (and to a lesser extent, concrete). If not for the cold season, we would probably see a lot less roadwork in the summer.

A lot of people ask us: How do the cold temperatures actually cause damage to pavement? After all, pavement is designed to be hard and durable. Shouldn’t it be possible for asphalt and concrete to withstand all types of inclement weather, without any adverse effects?

First, it’s important to understand that pavement — although it’s engineered to last as long as possible — does have an expiration date. Asphalt driveways, for example, routinely last twenty years or more. Concrete driveways last up to thirty years, even in areas with cold winters. But wear and tear is also a big factor. Public streets and highways take a lot more abuse in a much shorter span of time, and more frequent repairs are necessary as a result.

As to the question of how the cold weather causes damage to asphalt, the first point is that asphalt can crack (both on the surface and in the base/sub-base layers) as a result of that freezing. Once cracks form, water can seep into the cracks and freeze, forcing the cracks to open wider. Eventually, this can turn into a pothole.

Also, when the temperature drops, the actual molecules in the pavement will contract in keeping with the laws of thermodynamics. Then, when the temperature rises above freezing (which happens even during the coldest months, if we’re lucky), the pavement expands again. This expansion and contraction will eventually wear down the structural integrity of the pavement, leading to cracks and warped areas that can get worse over time.

In terms of protecting your driveways and walkways, there are a few important things you can do. First, sealcoat your driveway at least once every two years. This makes the surface of the pavement less permeable and minimizes the amount of water that can seep in. Second, you can hire a reputable professional to address any cracks or problem areas that already exist, since cold weather can play a part in making them worse over time.

Third, if you’re installing a new driveway or walkway in cold-weather areas, you can hire that reputable professional who knows how to install the pavement in a way that allows space for expansion and contraction. The best contractors out there know how to minimize the damage of cold weather on your pavement, and will be happy to answer your questions and give you peace of mind. Enjoy the winter!