Why Seal Asphalt
In spite of its excellent adhesive and waterproofing properties, asphalt has some serious
drawbacks that relate to its chemical makeup. Asphalt is a very complex mixture of
thousands of chemicals which are predominantly open chain (aliphatic) in structure with a
considerable degree of un-saturation within their molecular structure. The open chain
provides easy access to weather, salts, and chemicals to attack and disintegrate the
asphaltic molecules. As the asphaltic molecules disintegrate, the asphalt in the pavement
loses much of its original properties, such as binding and waterproofing. The first visual sign
of this phenomenon is a progressive change in the color of asphalt pavement from rich black
to brown to gray. Furthermore, asphalt, being a byproduct of the petroleum distillation
process, is easily dissolved by other products that also are derived from petroleum, such as
oils, fats, grease, mineral spirits etc. The reason is quite logical: As petroleum, these various
products existed together for millions of years. It is only through the petroleum refining
process that they are separated for various uses. Because these individual products come
from the same source, they have a natural affinity for one another and when put in contact
with each other will try to join together again. So when automotive oil or gasoline — both
petroleum distillates — leak onto an asphalt pavement, they will work to easily dissolve the
similar chemicals in asphalt. These problems are associated primarily with off-street
pavements such as parking lots, minor streets, airport aprons or runways, service stations,
and home driveways, which carry low levels of traffic.
Roads, having the advantage of continuously rolling traffic, do not need protection because
the rolling action of the traffic steadily brings the lower layers, rich in asphalt, to the surface
and "kneads" the oxidized surface layers back into the pavement. Eventually all the asphalt
binder is exhausted and the aggregates begin to unravel due to the absence of the binding
cement. This happens to all pavement including roads. The rate of pavement deterioration
depends upon the traffic volume as well as climatic conditions. The next step is the
development of minor cracks which widen and deepen with time. If the cracks are not
repaired at this stage, water seeps into the base courses and damages the pavement’s load
bearing capacity. It is evidenced by rutting, shifting, and serious alligatoring. The pavement
then must be either overlaid or completely removed and reinstalled, depending on the
condition. Off-street pavements do not have the advantage of this "kneading" action. The
surface layers of off-road pavements are under continuous attack from the weather and other
destructive elements, eventually developing minor surface cracks. Again, aggregates start
unraveling producing minor cracks which widen and deepen with time. The damage will
continue if proper protective actions are not taken. So it would be logical to conclude that off-
street pavements can be preserved by a "protective coating" that resists attack by the
elements that destroy the asphalt in the first place.