Caring for Paved Surfaces It’s a Paved New World

Caring for Paved Surfaces

The pavement you walk and drive upon daily is easy to take for granted—but it's a major part of your condo or HOA's infrastructure. Understanding the materials and methods involved in installing and maintaining a multifamily community's paved surfaces can save everyone a lot of hassle, time and money. Having some clue as to whether the asphalt parking lot just needs a patch job, a major renovation or total replacement can spare you unnecessary capital expenditures, and extend the useful life of your paving.

Whether taking the form of sidewalks, parking lots and slabs, driveways, balconies, pool decks, or outdoor design elements, paved surfaces are everywhere in New Jersey’s condo and HOA communities. Caring for and repairing these acres of asphalt (as well as the community’s concrete, pavers, etc.), is a tedious task. The management has the responsibility of keeping the pavement outside the front doors in good shape; but it’s also in the interest of everyone in a community to keep an eye on these parts of the infrastructure.

Understanding the various materials, methods, and technologies involved in paving located in a multifamily condo or HOA might seem purely the bailiwick of property management, and not a concern of the resident or board member.

Firm Foundations

Knowing about paving means understanding the materials and methods used for such projects—but sometimes the correct material for the project may not be immediately obvious to everyone.

Generally speaking in New Jersey’s residential communities, parking lots are asphalt, and sidewalks, patios and surfaces around pools are concrete. The differences are distinct: asphalt is made of big and small rocks, sand, and petroleum; it’s flexible, and cures over six to 12 months. But strictly speaking, asphalt never really “sets up”—it stays flexible, unlike typical concrete, which becomes a solid, rigid surface after it cures.

Concrete is made of crushed stone, sand and cement, and often it is used for sidewalks and patios. The material also can be used for parking lots, although some communities choose to pave their parking lots and driveways with asphalt because it is often less costly to install than concrete, and its aforementioned flexibility can more easily accommodate the weight of vehicles without cracking.

There are advantages to using each of the materials, including life span and maintenance. If installed correctly, concrete has a 20-year life span or even longer, while asphalt’s life often is shorter, and very much dictated by environmental conditions.

Part of what wears asphalt down is the elements—cold, rain, snow and heat. In New Jersey’s temperamental climate asphalt can become deformed over time. Asphalt also becomes deformed through expansion and contraction, but in colder or hotter climes the stresses on the material can be tougher. In summertime, stress caused from heavy trucks can create ruts in the heat-softened asphalt, and cold weather can help create cracks, or worsen existing ones. Other factors such as oil dripping from vehicle engines can wear away at an asphalt surface over time and cause pitting.

Furthermore, according to experts, improper installation can be a fatal flaw in the longevity of an asphalt surface. If the asphalt is not installed at the correct temperature, it won’t ever cure properly. Correct asphalt installation also includes applying a sealer to the surface. Seal coats are usually either coal tar, or a petroleum-based product called asphalt emulsion sealer.

“If asphalt is not installed properly it would fail prematurely. By failing it would fracture and come apart. That’s the bottom line,” says Jack Onorati, president of Onorati Construction, a contractor that provides paving, concrete and masonry work among other services, in Boonton Township. “It could fail because it doesn’t have the right density or it could fail because the improper rollers were used, that’s the most common. If you have a smaller contractor that doesn’t have heavy enough rollers, which a lot of people don’t pay attention to, you don’t get the density that you should get.”

When asphalt paving costs less when building a new parking lot, or when the community is on a tight budget and the lot already was paved in asphalt, it makes sense to repair or repave in asphalt. Just because the community has an asphalt parking lot that needs to be replaced, however, doesn’t mean the best solution is asphalt paving for the new job. Sometimes, an overlay of two inches of concrete atop the existing asphalt pavement can be an effective remedy, experts say.

Regardless however, these are technical questions, and not something that a board member or manager who isn't a paving expert should address without professional input. Whether a paving contractor or hired engineer, when it comes to spending thousands of dollars on a new parking lot or on another large surface, board members should call on competent, trusted professionals to help them determine the right materials and approach for their particular project.

Noticing Cracks

It’s also important to recognize the signs that the paved surface is breaking down. Early signs that concrete needs attention are tripping hazards like cracking and spalling (flaking of the material’s surface), and separation of slabs from each other along joint lines. If caught early, the problem could require a not-too-costly repair. If detected later, it might mean a total parking lot replacement, or a more costly drainage system and parking lot replacement.

As already noted, asphalt cracks when it is breaking down. Those initial surface cracks could quickly lead to a much more pervasive problem because they allow water into the pavement's subsurface. In both concrete and asphalt, the subsurface is the foundation of the surface; if it is compromised, the entire paved area may need to be replaced. That’s why the exact nature of the paving problem and the precise fix for it must be devised by the engineer or another competent professional. Tempting as it might be to take a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to repairing the issue, there's really no substitute for sound professional advice, and fixing the problem decisively, rather than in half-steps that can wind up costing more in the long run.

Another disadvantage of using asphalt pavement in a residential community is that asphalt paving traps more heat than concrete. It creates urban heat islands, says Bill Davenport, vice president of communications for the American Concrete Pavement Association, based in Rosemont, Illinois.

“Urban heat islands can be 10 degrees to 20 degrees hotter than surrounding areas. The sun bakes down on those paved areas, which retain the heat, and sometimes never entirely cool off at night,” Davenport says.

Concrete paving—especially the traditional, impermeable kind that’s made of Portland cement—also is susceptible to water infiltration and the damage it causes. That’s why even small cracks or some “spalling”—when chunks of the surface of the concrete begins to flake off—must be repaired immediately before a small fix turns into a major replacement.

Do It Right

Problems with concrete paving could begin on the day of installation. A concrete mix must have the correct amount of water, or the batch could be weakened. On an especially hot day, though, cement trucks sometimes get caught in traffic while delivering a batch, and the truck driver continues to add water to make sure the batch is still usable. On a state or federal highway job where a worker is tasked with testing and approving (or nixing) each batch of cement, such a batch would be rejected. And contractors with scruples also will reject such a batch and wait sometimes hours more for a new batch to arrive.

But cement testers are pretty much unheard of on residential projects. That’s why it’s important for a board to have the community’s engineering consultant oversee paving jobs, and to ensure that the contractor chosen for the project is reliable and trustworthy, and stands behind his work.

All paved surfaces in the community must be overseen by the property manager and engineer, from installation and throughout their life spans. If the community is a professionally managed one, the property manager or the engineer should inspect all of the paving at least yearly. When these professionals aren’t doing this routine task, another professional could become involved—the community’s lawyer.

While legal penalties are not common, lawyers who specialize in representing people who are injured from trip-and-fall hazards are common. Liabilities for such injuries could financially devastate a community. For a community to be found liable, a lawyer need only prove the community’s management should have known of the hazard and should have corrected it. If the hazard was obvious and should have been noticed and corrected, the community will pay for it.

According to the experts, there are certain seasonal maintenance steps that must be taken to keep pavement in good shape. First, you must ensure that the drainage system is taking water away from the pavement and the buildings. Secondly, make sure drains are clean and clear of debris so the water doesn’t back up and cause problems. All parking lots should have debris removed and swept clean. Landscaping around paved areas should be trimmed and disposed of, too. Finally, a seal coating should be applied to pavement if treatment necessary (some communities do this yearly; others do it every other year).

“The most important thing in maintenance is crack sealing,” says Onorati. “After four or five years from the original paving it should be done. It all depends on what type of sub-base you have, which is the most critical part of the whole equation,” he says.

Amy Miller, the vice president of national resources for the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, points out that the concrete in residential developments is one of three types. The most common is traditional (or Portland cement); pervious concrete (which has voids in it and enables water to trickle through, aiding in ecological storm-water management); and concrete overlays, which is when a layer of cement is installed atop an existing asphalt surface.

“Asphalt parking lots have shorter life spans. But there’s always been a long-term maintenance savings when using concrete, which should be considered,” Miller says.

That is, providing the concrete is installed correctly in the first place. In addition to having the correct proportion of water to mix, the batch must be poured correctly and the sub-grade needs to be compacted properly. Another major installation flaw happens when the contractor doesn’t allow the concrete enough time to cure before allowing foot traffic or vehicles on it. Concrete should set up to 2500 PSI, a process that could take three to seven days, depending upon the mix.

That’s why it’s important for a community to pick a qualified contractor for any paving job. Check into the contractor’s track record first, touching base with former clients and reviewing jobs the company has done, as well as checking to see if the firm has accreditation from the American Society of Concrete Contractors or other industry groups. And always have the building’s engineer oversee the project—he or she should be able to see if things aren’t being done according to plan.

In the end, your board/management team doesn’t have to be experts on paving to keep your community's surfaces safe, attractive, and functional—they just need to know the basics, seasonal maintenance tips, and who to call when a problem arises.    

Jonathan Barnes is a freelance writer, who regularly contributes to The New Jersey Cooperator. Staff writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.>/em>

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  • I had no clue that something as seemingly inconsequential as the amount of water in concrete could have an effect on how well the concrete lasts. I'm getting ready to pour concrete for a home project, and that's something that's going to be very important to monitor. Thanks for taking the time to share your expertise!