Springtime is the season commonly associated with cleaning, upkeep and repair of your house and yard. As you stand outside appraising the lawn or seeing where the house exterior needs to be painted or pressure washed, note that there’s a vital feature of your landscape which deserves its own attention and maintenance: the driveway.
In the New River Valley, most driveways are asphalt. While concrete is a strong material and good for driveways in some circumstances, given our colder climate, asphalt tends to be a preferred choice. Not only is asphalt less costly to install, in many cases the surface of asphalt will be warmer than concrete in the same location due to its dark coloration, helping to melt ice and snow. But asphalt also requires maintenance.
“If you don’t maintain an asphalt driveway,” says Donnie Tignor of Donnie’s Driveway Sealing & Paving in Christiansburg, “it’ll last 10 to 15 years. If you do maintain it, it could last 25 or more years.”
Tignor, who has been in the asphalt and paving business for 30 years, recommends sealcoating an asphalt driveway the year after it has been installed and every three years thereafter. Think about sealcoating asphalt as you would staining wood siding or a wood deck. It is a protective coating which minimizes the harsh effects of being outside.
Sealcoating can protect against the erosive effects of water. By filling small cracks before they become big cracks, sealcoating helps shed water, preventing it from seeping through the asphalt to the base beneath it. It also acts as a protective shield to the corrosive effects of sunlight. Sunlight can dry out asphalt, and UV rays can also erode the top layer of a driveway. Just like some people regularly moisturize their skin, you might want to consider sealcoating to keep your asphalt driveway from drying out.
If you’ve neglected the care of your asphalt driveway for a while – and cracks are starting to appear – all is not lost. Cracks in asphalt driveways can be repaired prior to adding a sealcoat. “Crack repair followed by sealcoating can really rejuvenate a driveway,” explains C.W. Pillow of Paving Plus in Christiansburg. “Every driveway is different. The size and condition and scope of work is dependent on the history of care and the environment, so you really need to get a professional out to the site to inspect the work.”
Pillow recommends that as you research asphalt contractors, ask for references and check previous work. “Keep in mind the cheapest price may not be the most attractive price,” he explains. “You want to get the work done right the first time. We all buy asphalt from the same places.”
Companies like Paving Plus and Donnie’s provide a full array of asphalt and surfacing services, from cutting in brand new asphalt driveways to patching and striping (painting).
If you have a concrete driveway, it needs sealing as well for the same reasons. A “wet look” sealer creates a film which looks wet on the surface for protection. Oil and grease, for example, can be hosed off. It is less expensive than the “dry look” sealers, but requires more frequent application. The “dry look” type of sealer actually penetrates concrete, but does not protect against oil and grease stains. It can, however, last up to 10 years. While concrete requires less maintenance, it is considerably more expensive than asphalt and, for many homeowners, not as attractive.
Tar-and-chip driveways combine a gravel base with hot liquid asphalt or bitumen and small loose stones which are tamped down to embed into the new driveway surface. These provide better traction and are less expensive to install than asphalt or concrete. But it may be challenging to find a contractor skilled in it, which might run the cost up in the long run. Tar-and-chip can be easily damaged by snowplowing.
Dirt or gravel driveways require much more maintenance in terms of dust reduction, mud issues, erosion, pot holes and washboard surfaces. They need grading perhaps even once or twice a year depending on use and vehicle types, and snowplows and snowblowers need to be operated very carefully. On the other hand, they look rustic and with good maintenance can serve well for many decades.
Brick pavers are as attractive as they are expensive and not as appealing in the New River Valley because of temperature variations. Winter causes frost heaving, which can be difficult to repair. They also require routine washing and sealing if pavers are mortared. If they are loose-fit, then weeds should be removed and new sand applied as often as needed. Clay bricks are prone to chip, flake and peel over time.
Whatever the driveway material, proper maintenance will extend the life and look, as well as value, for a long time. “I’m especially satisfied,” Pillow relates, “when the job is over, and we know we’ve left the whole property looking better.”


Text by Karl H. Kazaks