Weather related questions – asphalt driveway sealer

March 31st, 2009 by Douglas

With the spring season in full bloom, the most common questions that I get ask about temperatures.

What should the temperature be to put down driveway sealer?

The simple answer is above 50 degrees.

The long answer is that the temperature should not dip below 50 degrees in a 24 hour period. As a general piece of advise, when sealing around that temperature, is that you give it at least 48 hours. The reason behind this is that the asphalt is much colder in the spring, and the fall, so you are relying on the air temperature and the sun to dry the sealer. While that usually is enough, the asphalt being up to temperature will greatly speed the drying process.

What time of year is best to seal your driveway?

In general, you will want to avoid early spring, late autumn, and obviously winter. In my area of the Midwest the answer will usually lie between April 15th until about October 15th. Different parts of the country will have this question answered differently. In parts of the south it is quite possible to use driveway sealer year round. In the northern or mountain areas your time-frame to seal your driveway is much shorter.

There is also another important fact to remember if you decide to hire a contractor. The later in the season it is, the more backed up most contractors get. Trying to squeeze your driveway in during the later parts of the season can often raise your price, or leave you waiting until spring. If you are wanting to get your driveway sealed by a contractor, it is best to have it done in the spring or early summer as these are the times when some are still looking to fill their schedules with work, and its much more likely to get it done sooner.

How long should the sealer be down for until it rains?

This is another question with many answers. The short answer is, until it dries. But that answer is deceptive. Most driveway sealers are made to dry from the top down, so while the top coating may be dried, the bottom layers that bond to the asphalt may still be wet. In the proper temperatures this will be less of an issue, but early or late in the year you need to have more time to let the sealer properly dry.

But, there is another fact to consider. If you believe that you will be facing really heavy downpours, I would put off any work for another day. A hard downpour can soften the coat, and remove the chemicals and minerals needed to harden the coat, leaving you with a mess. The way most people would fix this mess is to apply another coat, but it just makes it worse as the softened coat also has problems bonding with the asphalt.

If you are facing light rains, then as long as the driveway sealer is dry, it should be fine.

That answers most of the weather related questions that I receive on a daily basis. Hopefully this information will help you in your decisions in the future.

Prepping your driveway – asphalt driveway sealer

March 26th, 2009 by Douglas

Putting down driveway sealer yourself can be a hard job, but if it is done properly it can give your driveway a beautiful finish that can last a few years. The most important key to the whole process is preparation. The highest quality driveway sealer in the world will simply not hold up on a dirty oil soaked driveway. So, here are a few things you need to do before you sealcoat your driveway.

  • Clean off the dirt and debris

 This is the most important part of the whole process. Driveway sealer doesn’t like to stick to dirt. There are a few ways you can do this. The easiest way for most homeowners is to wash down the driveway with your hose, using a spray nozzle if available. If you do wash it down, you need to let the driveway fully dry before sealing.

If there are any oil spots on the driveway, apply some dish washing liquid to the stain and let it soak for a few minutes. The soap attracts the oils from the pavement, which makes it easier to clean the spot.  Driveway sealer will not hold up properly on top of these oil spots, so make sure to treat them all this way.

Cracks should be broomed clean of dirt and rocks as well, expecially if you plan to apply a crack filler. An old kitchen broom will usually work fine for this duty. If you happen to have a leaf blower, it can be used to make the process easier. Simply aim into the crack and blow the debris out.

  • Fill the cracks

There are many products available for crack filling. The best product, by far, is going to be a hot applied crack filler much like:

 With the Pli- Stix you simply cut them to fit, and use a small propane torch to melt them into the crack. Hot applied crack filler, such as the Pli-Stix, hold up better through the freeze/thaw cycles than most cold applied sealers. This is a similar product to the crack fillers that are used on the highways and roadways, so you know it is made to last. The one downside to the Pli-Stix is that most driveway sealers will not overpower the color. With some people, this is not an issue, but if you want your whole driveway to look fairly seamless and cosmetic you need to look into a non-rubberised crack filler. I would rather bank on performance and invest into using the Pli-Stix. If you do not believe me, click the picture and read the reviews on yourself!

Other products for crack sealing are caulks or pourable crack fillers. A product like this is one of the easiest to use:

 Gardner Blacktop Driveway Crack Filler is a cold applied crack filler. It is a very popular product as it is very simple to use. Simply untwist the top, flip the spout around, twist the cap back on, cut off the tip, aim and squeeze.

Downsides to a cold applied crack filler is that they tend to not hold up well in the freeze/thaw cycle. In general you can expect no better than a couple of years out of them, and in many cases the cracks begin to reform after the first thaw. To some people this is an acceptable trade-off.

One last cold applied crackfiller is a trowel grade crack filler. Most home improvement stores will carry this, some even as little as 1 gallon.

It has the same benefits and drawbacks as the rubberised crack filler, with a couple of differences. It tends to blend better with the driveway sealer, to make the coat look more uniform. And it can also be mixed with portland cement to fill any low spots, or dips, in your driveway.  I will go over this second technique in a later article, it deserves its own space.

If you use a cold applied crack filler, I would invest in a U or V shaped squeegee.

These are the same tools the professionals use every day. They are a real back and knee saver. Simply put some crack filler on the crack, and use the squeegee to push the crack filler into the crack. You will notice that it will leave a thin layer on each side of the crack as you push, this is called a band-aid effect, and will give you a better overall bond to the pavement. And if you clean it off after use, it will be good to use next time.

  • Patch any holes

This step should also be taken before you seal your driveway. The driveway sealer will help hold the patch in place. Optimally you should cut out the bad spot and lay in the cold patch and tamp into place. But how many of us really own the tools to be able to do that?

As long as the spot is cleaned out, the best method is to use an asphalt primer first, which acts as a glue to hold the new patch in place. This primer (called SS, or SS 1-h) is usually not available to the public, and the smallest normal amount sold is 5 gallons (more than we need usually). The simple solution to this problem was listed above. A cold pour rubberised crack filler typically uses the asphalt primer as the bonding agent. Pour down enough to cover the spot completely, it doesn’t need to be too thick, but enough to hold down the patch. This will help the patch last much longer than simply putting the patch in without a primer.

 This is an example of a common cold asphalt patch. There are a few different types, but generally they all will do the job.

You will place the patch so that it sticks a little above the surrounding surface, then you need to pack the patch flush with the driveway. This can be done in a few ways. By hand with a tamp, or simply grab a board that is bigger than the hole, cover the patch and use your car to compact it. You can get away without the board, but it can end up leaving tire tracks, so I recommend you use the board.

It isn’t necessary to let it cure out like you would hot asphalt. Most contractors will apply the driveway sealer immediately after the patch is flush. If you do have a hot mix applied, you will need to wait 6 months to a year for it to properly cure.

And then you are done! Preparation is the most important step to properly apply your driveway sealer.

Finding a Contractor, part 2

March 21st, 2009 by Douglas

Earlier this week we discussed choosing a contractor based on price and the types of asphalt sealer they use. Today I will talk about a one more.


This should be one of the major factors that plays into you choice of contractor. To put it simply, if other people are happy with the work they had done, the odds are that you will be happy as well.

Finding references can be done in a couple of ways.

Simply ask people who have had their driveway sealed recently who did it and the price they paid. If this small talk doesn’t give you the information on whether or not they were happy with the work, ask them. Usually, if they were unhappy (or pleased) this will come out in the conversation on its own.

Now, in mentioning references, do NOT be so quick as to approach a contractor doing work close by. When the sealer is still wet, or freshly dried, it is easy to notice how good it looks and get caught up in wanting yours to look the same. In the early stages it is hard to tell how good of a job the contractor really did, even to the trained eye. Things like:

How well did they clean any dirt and debris off the driveway – these spots will not hold sealer as well (if at all)

Did they use watered down sealer – It may look good initially, but after some wear (usually within weeks or months) the driveway will start to look as if nothing had been done. Good asphalt sealer should last about 3 years, or longer.

What type of sealer they are using – I mentioned this above. I would definitely note the color of the material wet, as it usually is an indicator to the type. Black is going to be coal tar based, brown is asphalt based.

Don’t be afraid to have them quote you a price, but do not accept it initially. It is worth waiting a few weeks to see how they did instead of spending hundreds of dollars and finding out you have been scammed.

Other ways of finding references is from the sealer manufacturers themselves. They know who they sell to and have an idea on the work they do. Many of them will have a changing list of people they will recommend. They are a great place to start.

Getting references is the most powerful, and reliable, way you have in finding a good contractor to seal your driveway.


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.

The Dilemma: Do It Yourself or Hire a Contractor?

March 15th, 2009 by Douglas

This is a question that many homeowners face when it comes to their asphalt driveway. It only compounds itself when you consider the state of the economy. Most people set out to do it themselves to save some money, but they do not know the true costs of the job in comparison to what it would cost for a professional to do it for you.

Lets break these hidden costs down:

Cost of the sealer – When you head to your local hardware store to purchase your sealer you see the prices. Generally $10 – $20 for a 5 gallon bucket of sealer. Figure an average 1,200 square foot driveway will use about 25 gallons. I wont mention that the sealers available at these outlets are usually NOT the best. Cost: $50 – $100

Cost of the equipment – While there at the hardware store you will also notice the brooms and squeegees used to apply the sealer to the driveway. Typically the tools at these stores is NOT up to the task, but can be managed in a pinch. Cost: $14 or more

Cost of the clothing – Most anything to wear to do the job WILL be ruined. Shoes, socks, and pants are guaranteed. You might be able to keep the shirt clean. Most people will want to wear gloves when handling the sealer as well. Cost : varies

Cost of your time – Figure what you would make an hour on overtime (you will be spending your extra hours on this project), or at least your normal hourly wage. Now figure that it will likely take you 2-4 times as long to do the job as compared to a professional. Add in any time you spend asking how to do it, weather issues, cracks, etc. Cost: varies

Quality – Unless you had experience in asphalt sealing, the odds are that you did not do as good of a job on your driveway that a contractor could do otherwise. If you didn’t do it properly, you increase the odds that you will have to do it again sooner, as opposed to the usual 3 year cycle most can expect. Cost : none immediately

Adding up the costs : Figure on a mid-high grade “commercial” sealer you will pay about $85 for the sealer. A low end squeegee will run you at least $14. Clothing costs.. $15 shoes, $2 socks, $20 pants, $10 shirt, $1 gloves. Add in your time of 2-4 hours (ill figure at $10 an hour base rate) $30 dollars for a 3 hour job. Now figure that since I do not use the best quality sealers, Ill have to do it again every 2 years, instead of three (I wont add this cost, but you will seal 3 times in a 6 year cycle, where normally you would seal twice.) Total cost to do it yourself: $177 on a 1,200 square foot driveway.

Did you know that a contractor would do this same job for $100 – $200?

It does sound crazy, but lets look at a few things in the contractors favor.

Cost of the sealer – He is getting a high grade sealer direct from the manufacturer. His cost per gallon are under the $2 – $4 mark that you are paying for in a bucket as he is buying bulk quantities instead of small amounts. This is also a much higher grade of sealer, so the coat lasts much longer. Cost : $50 (or less)

Cost of the equipment – His equipment costs are much higher than yours, but being a business owner he gets to expense them all on his taxes. His equipment is much more suited to the task as well. His squeegee is much larger, he has a blower and brooms to clean off the debris, etc. Not to mention he more than willingly pays these costs because it isnt a one time job, he will use them for a while.

Cost of time – They are figured in the bid. His time costs are based around the buisness. He is doing this job to make money, he isnt doing it to try to save money.

Quality – Given you chose a good contractor, the quality is going to be much better than anything you could have done yourself. He does this for a living, so it is to be expected that his work will outmatch your work. He probably wouldn’t be as good as your job as you are, so why expect yourself to be as good as him?

Now, I will add that there are contractors out there that WILL rip you off, and I will be discussing how to pick a reputable contractor in a future article. But, in general, you have your driveway sealed for about the same price if you hire someone or do it yourself. Save yourself the headaches and sunburn and hire a professional.