Concrete’s Rock Solid Prices are Winning the Battle for Millions of Square Feet in Parking Lots.

By: Gary Rabine

Asphalt prices increased by 400% between 2006 and 2009 and have continued to rise since. Asphalt prices will continue to rise because the material is dependent on oil. Asphalt requires annual maintenance and has a relatively short life span—usually about 12-16 years assuming the lot is maintained each year.

Commercial property managers and building owners have known that asphalt prices rise and that asphalt parking lots require maintenance for years. So why have asphalt parking lots dominated the capital paving projects for so long?

The first reason is data. As more data about the true cost of maintaining an asphalt parking lot has become available over the last ten years, property managers and building owners are becoming more sophisticated in the way they evaluate capital spend and it’s impact on the ensuing maintenance of the lot. Second, the construction industry has made critical improvements to the equipment used in the placement of concrete. Finally, The Rabine Group invented UltraLot® Whitetopping giving property managers and building owners the option to convert an asphalt lot to a concrete lot at a lower cost than a full concrete replacement.

Pavement companies with national scale are relatively new and organizations like the Rabine Group have dramatically improved the industry’s ability to use data to forecast price increases and measure the cost of maintenance for asphalt lots. The standard methods of crack sealing, seal coating, striping, patching (removal and replacement), and asphalt overlays (resurfacing) will extend the life of an asphalt lot for an additional 5-10 years. However, these maintenance methods are subject to the same price increases as the initial asphalt parking lot! To make matters worse, the equipment required to maintain the asphalt consumes large amounts of oil and gas making the process even more sensitive to persistent oil price inflation. If any money is saved during the initial installation of an asphalt lot, those savings are undoubtedly lost during the maintenance phase of the asphalt parking lot’s life.

Unlike the oil dependent asphalt, the price of concrete placement has fallen due to advances in technology and the construction process. Concrete material by volume is less expensive than asphalt, but until recently, the process of pouring concrete has been much more costly. Equipment used to place asphalt has made dramatic improvements in accuracy, efficiency and accessibility—not to mention the implicit cost savings that a parking lot that lasts more than 40 years delivers to the bottom line. Concrete, on it’s own, has become more price competitive, sustainable and easier to work with while maintaining it’s integrity as a material that will last more than four decades.

It wasn’t until recently that concrete started replacing asphalt overlays in parking lots around the country. The catalyst for this shift is Rabine’s UltraLot® Whitetopping.

The UltraLot® Whitetopping process is similar to an asphalt overlay. The existing asphalt or concrete pavement must be ground down (milled) to the minimum thickness of the overlay application at all the areas of transition between existing asphalt and concrete pavements as well as drainage critical locations. The remaining existing pavement is ground to a minimum thickness, typically 1⁄4-inches to create a rough grooved surface for the concrete to bond when placed. If existing curb and gutter is not present, the perimeter edges must be framed and supported to define the limits of the whitetopping application. At this point, the parking lot is properly prepared and ready for concrete placement.

In years past, concrete parking lots would be poured using non-productive hand tools and truss screeds. While commercial concrete paving equipment has been on the market for over ten years, it is not until recently that technological advances in the form of 3D Laser Screeds have allowed it to be productively used on parking lots. 3D Laser Screeds allow for concrete to be placed quickly, accurately and at precise elevations to ensure proper drainage and construction. Upon completion of the UltraLot® Whitetopping, early-entry saws are utilized to cut control joints in a tight, controlled spacing pattern. By cutting joints in this configuration we provide the necessary flexibility in the completed surface for proper expansion and optimal pavement life over time. These advances in technology, combined with rising asphalt prices have made concrete paving and whitetopping a great option for parking lots.

For the first time, newly constructed concrete parking lots and whitetopping of existing lots are competing with new or overlayed asphalt parking lots. The real savings and value for concrete paving and whitetopping begins after the work is completed. The average lifecycle for a properly constructed asphalt parking lot is 12 to 16 years with normal annual parking lot maintenance. The average lifecycle for a newly constructed concrete parking lot is 30 to 50 years and a whitetopped concrete parking lot is 25 to 35 years. That is an average lifecycle increase of over 100%, not considering the reduced cost of maintenance overtime (no seal coating required) compared to a typical asphalt parking lot. Now that concrete and asphalt parking lot construction are comparably priced, serious consideration is being given to concrete options for any new parking lot construction or resurfacing project.

Engineers and architects very seldom design parking lots with concrete options for new construction and even less often for reconstruction and overlays. Make a practice of asking for concrete options when building or repaving a parking lot. If you struggle to get clear specifications feel free to call me, Gary Rabine, on my cell phone at (815) 693-9706. In the battle between concrete and asphalt, we only care that the customer wins.