When the weather gets colder, it’s important to protect both the interior and exterior of your home, including your driveway. Concrete and asphalt, the most popular driveway materials in the US, can crack during winter months. These cracks can hurt your home’s curb appeal and lead to larger structural damages that can be costly to repair. However, there are steps you can take to protect your driveway before the cold weather arrives.

Why Does Your Driveway Crack?

Numerous factors can cause both concrete and asphalt driveways to crack, including soil movement, tree roots, excessive traffic, and extreme weather. Because concrete can be porous, water from rain or snow can seep below the surface, freeze, expand, and then contract when water thaws. This expansion and contraction over the fall and winter causes the concrete to flake or even crack. And although asphalt can be more resistant than concrete, it can crack due to frost heave. Frost heave occurs when water moistens the soil beneath the asphalt, freezes due to the cold temperatures, and swells, which leads to cracks.

Before Cracks Attack

The first step to keeping your driveway crack free is investing in the right protection, such as:

  • Driveway sealers. Using a sealant on your driveway can protect the pavement from cracks, extend the life of your driveway, and boost its overall appearance. For concrete driveways, there are acrylic and siloxane sealers. And for asphalt driveways, there are asphalt sealers and acrylic sealers. These sealers can protect against stains from oil or gasoline and prevent cracks by repelling water. Driveway sealers can be rolled or sprayed on with ease, as long as the driveway is clean and has been given adequate time to set. Furthermore, experts suggest resealing your driveway every few years, depending on the regional weather.

  • Proper driveway drainage. When your driveway doesn’t have a proper slope or drainage system, this could leave freestanding water puddles. The water from these puddles can then be absorbed by the asphalt or concrete and lead to cracks. That’s why adequate drainage is important for a crack-free driveway. To verify that the driveway is draining properly, investigate during and after a rainstorm or spray the driveway with a hose. If there are issues, a professional paver can help find a solution.

  • Regular driveway maintenance. Just like any other feature of the home, driveways need regular maintenance. To maintain the appearance of your driveway, it’s important to address any stains (paint, oil, or gasoline) immediately. You can use kitty litter to absorb a mess, or you can pressure wash the pavement. Also, be cautious of using de-icing agents excessively on icy driveways—over time, the chemicals can cause damage to the driveway, like scaling and cracks.

When Cracks Have Attacked

If driveway cracks have already developed, the driveway will need to be repaired. Even hairline cracks (cracks with a width of less than half an inch) should not be taken lightly. Water can seep into the cracks and cause the damage to expand and become worse.

Before repairing concrete or asphalt driveway cracks, it’s important to remove any debris. Power washing is also useful as long as the pavement has been given enough time to dry before the cracks are treated. Hairline cracks can be repaired with crack filler products in a caulking gun. The product can be simply applied and smoothed, and it’s a quick fix that can last a long time. Larger cracks can be repaired after loose pieces of the pavement have been removed from the edges of the cracks. For concrete driveways, you can apply a concrete mix to the damaged area, or for asphalt driveways, you can use asphalt-patching products. After smoothing the area, you can apply a resurfacing product for a more uniform look.

Before you get started on your driveway projects, keep the weather in mind. For sealing or repairing cracks, experts offer different temperature recommendations. Some sealing and filling products will only set when the pavement is a certain warm temperature. However, when the pavement is slightly cooler, the cracks will expand, which can help with long-lasting repairs. To better understand when and how to repair or seal your driveway, consider contacting a local Best Pick professional.

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Sources: American Concrete Institute; Asphalt Institute; Asphalt: The Magazine of the Asphalt Institute; Better Homes and Gardens; The Concrete Network; Portland Cement Association; SFGate; This Old House.

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