Blacktop vs. Asphalt: 3 Essential Differences

Published Categorized as Building Materials
Raking Asphalt

We often hear the words blacktop and asphalt used interchangeably. There are, however, some significant differences between the two. This article will cover the ways they differ in order to clear up some of the confusion surrounding these paving surfaces.

The most significant difference between blacktop and asphalt is the way they’re mixed. While they share the same ingredients, they are mixed differently. Another major difference is how and for what purpose they are used. Additionally, both blacktop and asphalt have different grades available for use.

While the two different forms of paving have many similarities, their differences are crucial. Understanding the differences will allow you to decide which surface is best for your project, and have a working knowledge of these two popular surfaces.

Similarities Between Blacktop and Asphalt

Before getting into the differences, let’s take a quick look at the similarities between blacktop and asphalt.

The main similarity is that both are made from the same two ingredients: crushed stone and bitumen. Bitumen is a dark material that holds all the crushed stones together and gives blacktops and asphalt their dark tone. It is made out of petroleum distillation.

Bitumen is even used for some roofing procedures and projects as well. Outside of blacktop and asphalt or other paving projects, it is most commonly found in flexible roofing asphalt tiles.

But when bitumen is added to crushed stone and heated above 250 degrees, you have blacktop or asphalt, depending on your ratios and temperature. After heating, both asphalt and blacktop surfaces are pre-mixed before being poured.

The timeframe in which asphalt and blacktop can be used is a major advantage they each share. While surfaces such as concrete can take twice as long to dry, asphalt and blacktop are typically ready for use about two days after being poured.

This time period can vary based on weather conditions during the paving process and the following days. But both blacktop and asphalt are an easy way to get the job done quickly and effectively.

The other similarities are in their appearance and purposes. Both are reliable, universally-used, and durable for a variation of paving jobs.

Their dark appearance allows for easier maintenance during winter months as well. The sun easily heats the black surface, helping ice to melt quicker. This makes blacktop and asphalt surface much safer than something like concrete.

1. Differences in How Blacktop and Asphalt are Made

When discussing the differences between blacktop and asphalt, we will start with how they are made, which is the most significant difference between them.

Because blacktop and asphalt both used the same ingredients, it’s easy to confuse the two. But while they are being made, there are different elements at play, such as temperature fluctuations and mixture ratios.

Blacktop requires considerably more stone than asphalt to produce. Because it uses more stone, it also needs to be heated around 300 degrees, which is much higher than what asphalt requires. Asphalt will typically be heated around 250 degrees.

How is Blacktop Made?

Natural stone becomes a key element to most blacktop mixtures. The natural stone is what gives blacktops a somewhat sparkly aesthetic. When you drive over a road or driveway that uses blacktop, you will notice there is almost a shine or sparkle effect.

That sparkle comes from the use of natural stones that are added into the crushed mixture.

The higher temperature that is used for blacktop and the different ratios of stones helps in its longevity. Blacktop is typically going to be more durable than asphalt over time. This durability is because of the creation process that includes higher temperatures, making it a more bendable surface that can be resealed rather than suffer harsh cracks and potholes as easily.

How is Asphalt Made?

Asphalt is created directly from petroleum’s heaviest elements after it becomes refined from fossil fuel. This thick and heavy substance then needs a cutting agent, which is where the crushed stones come into play.

The proper consistency is achieved because the crushed stones are used as a cutting agent. The mixture of crushed stones and the petroleum by-products is then mixed in a large drum. The drum is used to help maintain climate control for the mixing process, which needs to stay around 250 degrees.

The 250-degree mark is a minimum that needs to be met for asphalt. But the temperature needs to stay in that range, rather than climbing higher. Anywhere from 250 – 260 degrees is ideal, with higher temperatures having a negative impact on the final product.

The surface of asphalt is durable, but it does not have the same malleability as blacktop.

2. Differences in What Blacktop and Asphalt Are Used For

Another critical area where blacktop and asphalt are different from one another is in their uses. You may initially think, “What’s the difference between a road vs. a driveway vs. a playground?”

Certain jobs will favor one over the other often, and they each have unique uses and strengths.

Uses for Blacktop

Blacktop is used most for everyday paving jobs. The types of jobs that most people would typically assume when they think of “paving.” This is also the reason why so many people just consider a large paved surface a blacktop. Regardless of the type of paving an area actually underwent, many will still always refer to it as a blacktop.

Blacktop is most used for:

  • Driveways
  • Roads
  • Playgrounds
  • Paved basketball courts
  • Parking lots
  • Paved pathways in parks or around neighborhoods

Blacktop is favored in many of these situations because it is easy to repair and can end up lasting longer for that exact reason. They all have a reasonably lightweight load when comparing them to some of the things that asphalt are used for, which we will get to in the next section.

Because these types of surfaces have a lesser need for intense weight capacity, they will naturally last longer. In addition, the malleable substance of blacktop makes repairs much more manageable.

Asphalt may be a stronger and more durable surface in the short term. But you can consider blacktopping a “customer-friendly” surface. It is reliable and durable, but it will also allow for more repairs over its lifespan than asphalt.

Blacktop can be bent, manipulated, and easily repaired. This is what makes it so popular as a driveway solution, or a simple pathway in a park. No one wants to be replacing those types of things too often. With blacktop, the repair work will end up being easier.

The aesthetic of blacktop is also often preferred for these areas.   A new basketball court in your backyard is going to look a lot nicer using blacktop than it would, asphalt.

Uses for Asphalt

Asphalt is better known for its durable quality and ability to withstand extreme conditions. It also has water-resistant qualities that blacktops do not possess.

Asphalt is most used for:

  • Major roadways, freeways, highways
  • Airport runways
  • Cable coatings
  • Soundproofing
  • Pool linings
  • Reservoir linings
  • Damp-proofing

It is easy to forget that asphalt is used for more than just a paving job in the typical sense. We tend to immediately think of roads, driveways, and other surfaces such as those. But asphalt provides further uses outside of the normal realm.

The fact that asphalt is used for non-paving related projects is one of the most important differences between the two. Blacktop is not used for anything other than paving projects. But because asphalt presents more versatility and additional features such as being water-resistant, it can be used for a multitude of other projects as well.

The water-resistant quality allows it to be used for projects like inground pools or damp-proofing. And the thickness of the substance makes for a great addition to any soundproofing projects you may be working on.

As for the roadways, asphalt is typically saved for the heavy-duty roadways that experience the most travel and weight. While blacktop is excellent for a driveway where you park your two sedans, it won’t quite cut it when you are parking multiple Boeing 737’s.

Roadways that experience high traffic volume and airport runways are commonly made from asphalt for its incredibly durable nature. The larger amounts of weight the surface will need to withstand is a job for asphalt.

3. Different Grades or Types of Asphalt

When you are talking about differences between blacktop and asphalt, it is also worth noting that asphalt has more variations. While blacktop may vary based on the amount of natural stone used or the ratio it was mixed with – there is just one type of blacktop.

But with asphalt, there are different grades you have to consider.

Perpetual Pavement – The perpetual pavement form of asphalt is a multilayered process for asphalt. It can be considered somewhat closer to blacktop because it is the most flexible way of laying asphalt. The base of the pavement is a flexible but extremely strong layer that aids in the prevention of cracks.

It is replaced periodically but has a long lifespan because of the layered process and added flexibility. They can replace only the top later for surface level issues, which allows the surface to remain intact longer, without needing a full replacement.

Quiet Asphalt – Quiet asphalt is precisely that–quiet. This type of asphalt is commonly used in residential neighborhoods, or highways that are close to homes. They can reduce noise from the road by around 50% simply by using a higher stone content mix of asphalt. It is cost-effective, practical, and appreciated by homeowners that may be near a major highway.

Porous Asphalt – Porous asphalt is commonly used for parking lots or other projects where you would like water to be able to drain through to the ground beneath the surface. It is also used for storm management in areas where there may not be sound water management systems for roadways or areas to drain correctly.

It is long-lasting and can be used for a variety of different projects, but it is mainly focused on areas that need water management and a porous surface that allows water to leak beneath.

Warm Mix Asphalt – Warm mix asphalt is a way to cut fuel costs during the creation process, by using a lower temperature for the heating. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions and also allows the paving season to be extended.

Hot Mix Asphalt – Blacktop and hot mix asphalt are typically the same. The “hot mix” is what makes its blacktop. So, if you hear of someone using asphalt for a driveway or similar surface, it is most likely the hot mix asphalt, which is also the same thing as blacktop.

These different grades of asphalt are very different from the standard hot mix/blacktop surface. They each serve different purposes and have a variety of uses.

When looking at the grades of asphalt, there are two different options for homeowners. You have 41A and 41B. They are similar but still maintain different qualities and purposes.

  • 41A can include a mixture of rock and sand with a higher oil content of 6%. The rock and sand used are fine in diameter.  This grade is typically used for driveways or similar paving jobs.
  • 41B offers a larger rock and sand diameter, which allows this type of paving to withstand larger weights. The oil content drops down to about 5% for 41B.

41A and 41B’s major aesthetic differences are in the smoothness. 41B is going to provide a much smoother, quieter surface because of the fine sand and rock.  41B tends to be a bit bumpier, although more durable, due to the mixture’s larger elements.

While deciding which is best for you, the biggest question will be how heavy of a weight load it may need. For heavier needs, go with 41B. But if you do not have a major need for large weight capacity, the smoother option of 41A will work just fine.

The Differences Between Blacktop and Asphalt

Both blacktop and asphalt are safe, durable, and widely used paving methods that are used for a variety of jobs. While they are both durable, blacktop is more malleable, and asphalt is typically the tougher of the two. Their similarities make them both some of the most used substances for paving, but their differences help you navigate, which is going to be the best pavement option for your project.

By Giovanni Valle

Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.

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