How Does Pavement React to Changes in Temperature?

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Pavement surfaces regularly withstand massive amounts of force from cars, trucks, and trailers. Given pavement’s durability, it might seem strange that mere temperature changes can cause serious structural damage to roads and parking lots. But weather changes pose a significant threat to both asphalt and concrete.

Temperature swings force pavement to expand and contract, leading to cracks that expand quickly if not repaired. Such cracks are not just a minor irritation—if not addressed, they can lead to warped, uneven surfaces that present a safety hazard to both drivers and pedestrians at your establishment. These threats are especially pronounced when the seasons change because of the potential for rapid temperature fluctuations. However, temperature extremes at either end of the spectrum can lead to cracking on their own, so it’s important to be especially vigilant at the height of summer and winter

Becoming aware of how pavement reacts to temperature changes can help you develop a maintenance plan that minimizes the development of dangerous and unsightly pavement defects. In this post, we cover the conditions that lead to temperature cracking, as well as steps you can take to protect your property.

How Does Pavement React to Changes in Temperature?

One simple physics principle underlies most temperature-related pavement damage: paving materials expand when heated and contract when cooled. While these expansions and contractions are normal and expected, they can lead to cracking under several conditions, like when:

  • Portions of the pavement heat unevenly
  • Temperatures change or cycle rapidly
  • Pavement is exposed to excessive or prolonged heat or cold

In the first two cases, the ambient heat leads to temperature differentials in the pavement. As a result, different segments expand at different rates, pulling the material apart where the sections meet. This type of damage is most common in the winter, when temperatures rapidly cycle above and below the freezing point. Temperature differentials can also occur when foliage or parking structures shade some areas of pavement while leaving others exposed.

In the third case, the expansions or contractions on their own are sufficient to crack the pavement. This can happen in the summer, when exposed pavement bakes in the sun all day and expands past its capacity, or in the winter, when continuous contraction puts stress on the pavement that culminates in cracking.

How Do Weather Conditions Affect Pavement?

Extreme temperatures and temperature swings are major factors that influence pavement longevity. However, these influences rarely work alone to damage pavement. Instead, temperature changes cause cracks, or vulnerabilities in the pavement. From there, precipitation or condensation work their way into the structure, causing more substantial defects.

Summer Weather and Pavement 

Exposed to constant summer heat, pavement expands until it develops patterns of cracks. While these cracks aren’t typically a major problem on their own, they do allow water to seep into the pavement and collect underneath the surface, eroding its foundation. Then, when force is then applied to the weakened asphalt or concrete, a divot, pothole, or sinkhole can form. 

Winter Weather and Pavement

During the winter, precipitation is an even greater threat due to the possibility of freezing. Whereas in the summer, water eventually evaporates, condensation can freeze during the winter months—and unlike pavement, water expands as it freezes. As a result of this expansion, small amounts of collected water begin to push outward as they freeze, forcing cracks to widen. These larger cracks allow more moisture to pool before the next freeze, creating a cycle of damage that can be difficult to repair during inclement weather. 

How Does Pavement React to Changes in Temperature?

As in the summer, water can also pool underneath the surface layers of pavement, entering through cracks or seeping under the paved surface through adjacent soil and vegetation. When water freezes underneath the pavement, it pushes upward on the pavement, resulting in extensive cracking or upheaval damage. This process, also known as frost heave, leads to extensive damage that often requires full repaving. 

Since freezing can be so detrimental, it’s vital to repair even minor cracks as soon as possible. Small cracks during the summer can allow water to collect and freeze during the winter, significantly compounding the damage. 

Protecting Pavement From the Weather

Seasonal changes are inevitable, as is pavement wear. However, with proper pouring and maintenance, it’s possible to protect pavement against the most substantial temperature cracking. 

  • Pave it Right the First Time: Much of the preventative work that ensures pavement longevity has to be done when the pavement is laid. Work with an established, experienced contractor like Limitless Paving & Concrete to ensure that the soil is properly stabilized, the asphalt is appropriately mixed, and the drainage is well established. Such measures go the furthest toward preventing moisture from gaining a foothold under your pavement.
  • Perform Routine Inspections: Even the best-paved roads will show signs of age, including temperature cracks. Keeping eyes on your pavement throughout the year allows you to identify areas of concern that might grow into bigger problems. Take particular note of cracks and divots, especially as the winter approaches. Maryland’s winters may not approach Minnesota’s, but even occasional freezes can destroy weakened asphalt.
  • Employ Preventative Maintenance: While not all pavement damage can be avoided, preventative maintenance is key to prolonging your pavement’s lifespan. Fill or seal minor cracks and apply appropriate surface coatings to keep your pavement in good shape. These steps represent a small investment, but one that can add years onto the lifespan of your paved surface.
  • Patch Defects Promptly and Properly: Once you’ve identified a substantial defect, determine the most appropriate patching technique and work with a contractor to repair the damage. Don’t wait until the damage is severe—leaving damaged pavement in place is a safety hazard, and the cost will only go up as loadbearing worsens the fault.

Conclusion

Whether you’re paving a new installation or repairing an old one, Limitless Paving & Concrete will help you take steps to avoid temperature-related damage.

To prevent and address cracking, we offer pavement repair, asphalt maintenance, and concrete maintenance, as well as professional installation services. To learn more about how we keep your property safe and accessible across the seasons, get in touch with our paving team today.

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