In a world of scammers, how do I choose a good contractor?

March 18th, 2009 by Douglas

The age old question. This very question is asked of nearly every industry in the world. Based in simplicity, given all things being equal, this question would be answered in one simple word…..



Now, here is the reality of the situation. Price is one of many factors one should use to determine if they should hire a specific contractor. I hope to help you get an idea on what factors you should really look for in your driveway sealing professional.

Ive worked in the industry for over 7 years, mainly in material sales, and can tell you that I have seen all types. From the go-getter working (daily) out of 5 gallon buckets, to the high end companies who work from 2000 gallon tanker trucks. From the scammers who water down the material to nothingness to the scammed who vow to learn how to do it themselves to avoid being scammed. Every year I see a dozen new would be companies start up, and another dozen fall into the folds. With, easily, 100 – 200 people doing this type of work, its easy to get bogged down in choices. So lets start out with the factor that most people use.


In a perfect world this would be the only factor. Who can do it for the least amount of money. Unfortunately, this thinking will quickly lead you to the lines of the scammed. The cheapest bids on the spectrum usually work from one of two principals… volume or watered down junk (maybe both). In general, prices on the low end of the spectrum should probably be avoided unless you know that you are dealing with a volume seller with a solid reputation.

Higher prices are easily flagged as well, for obvious reasons. Really high-ball bids are usually placed for jobs the contractor really doesn’t want, but if you accept he will gladly take for your inflated price. In the driveway sealing industry, this isn’t as common as it is with parking lots, though it does still exist. If all your bids seem really high you need to take a look at why they wouldn’t want to seal your driveway (excessive dirt and debris, a lot of cracks, or it really needs to be overlaid or repaved).

Sometimes bids in the high range is placed by companies that specialise in parking lots, and by doing them they lose the volume pricing they would get otherwise. They price high since they are pulling valuable personnel from a higher volume project. Not to take anything away from the work as it will have the same quality as their parking lots do.

I would suggest you keep note of your mid range bidders. These are likely the guys making the honest living. Obviously, this isn’t always the case as the people who turn perfectly good asphalt sealer into black water in EVERY price break. Given the odds, these guys and the higher end bids are going to be the higher quality work.

The next separation point will be the type of sealers they use. There are two major types of asphalt sealer: Asphalt Based and Coal Tar Based. Each has their benefits, and downsides.

Asphalt Based – This type of sealer is generally made from the same base materials of the asphalt (the stuff that isn’t the rocks). This material will dry jet black, and really look sharp once it is down. The major downside is that this material doesn’t tend to hold up nearly as well as the other types unless some additives are added to it. In general, this type of sealer is better used for walking traffic areas (and a variation is used as the first coat of materials used to resurface tennis courts). Until recently, this type of sealer was cheaper, but with the current prices of asphalt it has seen a spike. With fuel prices going down in price recently, I would expect the prices of this sealer to do so as well.

Coal Tar Based – This type of sealer is made from coal tar, as the name suggests. The material will dry a dark black, not quite as sharp as an Asphalt based sealer. This product has definitely set the standard in the industry in that you should expect the sealer to last three years or more. The major benefit to this type is that the material is not made from the same base product as the asphalt it protects, so there is better protection from the sun, rain, and oils that can tear up your driveway otherwise. The price on coal tar sealers is currently lower than asphalt based, but continues to rise as competition for the tar increases in the aluminum and roofing industries.

Beyond asking the contractor what type they use, you can tell by looking at the material as it goes on the pavement. Coal tar sealers tend to start black, at times with a blue tint. Asphalt based sealers generally go down brown.

There are also sealers that are a blend of these two products. How they react usually depends on the specific blend.

That’s all for today, in my next installment I will discuss other traits to look and ask about. Things like equipment appearance and references.

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