Dealing With Winter Asphalt Damage

Winter is a tough time of the year on asphalt pavement. Not only are the usual problems of water seepage still an issue, but the changing temperatures can cause all sorts of damage. The most wonderful time of the year can be great in plenty of other ways, but your asphalt will pay the price. Here is a list of ways that you can assess, prevent, and repair the specific types of damage your asphalt will be facing in the winter. In particular, the Midwest is known for it’s bad winter roads. When the weather can go from a pleasant 60-70 degrees down to sub-freezing in a week or two, asphalt is in for a world of hurt.

The freeze/thaw cycle

The changing temperatures of winter can have a lasting effect on asphalt. Paving will often have some liquids that seep into them any time of year, these can come from rain, leaking cars, and more, but in winter the changing temperatures make them much more volatile. 

The process is very simple. During a thaw cycle, liquid water can seek into the body of asphalt paving. It gets in small cracks in the binder and and for the most part isn’t too dangerous. However, when the weather cools, the water expands. This expanding water forces the asphalt apart, pushing against it, causing rutting, cracks, and potholes. The cycle continues, and the water becomes liquid again when the weather warms. This process can even happen in the same day. Once the water is liquid, it seeps further into the asphalt, on account of the cracks it made bigger when freezing. When the temperature drops again, the water expands, making deeper cracks bigger and destroying more of the pavement. This cycle can occur daily, weekly, and/or monthly over the winter months, adding up to huge damages inside the asphalt. 

Dealing with the freeze/thaw cycle

Set up a drainage system

One of the best ways to have a simple drainage system is to make sure that your asphalt is set at a slight slope. The slope lets gravity do the work for you. Water can simply follow the slope down and not accumulate on top of the asphalt, where it seeps into it causing damage. Other drainage systems, like drain tile piping, can help ensure that water doesn’t build up on top of your asphalt and damage it. Learn more about proper asphalt drainage from this article

Crack sealing / seal coating

You’ve probably heard of asphalt seal coating. Seal coating is the process of putting a layer of weather-resistant material on top of your asphalt. It can extend the life of the pavement by decades, and prevents costly repairs in the future. Sealing cracks is another great option, as it prevents small problems (the existing cracks) from getting much, much worse. In general, you should be doing crack sealing at least once every year or two, as an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Sealing cracks has the added bonus of preventing water seepage into the pavement subgrade. If water does get into the lower sections, a total replacement of the asphalt might be the only repair solution.

Frost heave

If asphalt already has seepage issues, or the ground beneath it has a high water content, it may be subject to frost heave. Frost heave occurs when the water in the lower layers of asphalt or in the ground below it freezes and expands. Just like in asphalt that has water freezing and expanding, Frost heave results in major damage and causes big changes in the level of the parking lot. Entire sections can rise inches or feet above others, resulting in a more dangerous lot and significant damage. 

Dealing with frost heave

Clear standing water

Do your best to keep your pavement clear of standing water. Make sure your drainage is adequate, and clear off snow and ice that builds up on the asphalt during the winter. 

Re-set the asphalt

In cases with intense damage, it may be necessary to heat the asphalt so it is workable again, and then lay it. This helps you start “fresh” with a  new layer of asphalt that does not have water in it or below it. 


Snow poses various threats to your asphalt. One is that previously seen bits of debris will become invisible when snow is on the ground. Another is that snow often necessitates plowing, which can be harmful to your asphalt as well. 

Dealing with snow

Use a quality snow-removal surface

If you need to have a parking lot or road plowed, make sure that the plow isn’t going to damage your pavement. Do so by checking whether the plow is coated in polyurethane or rubber, rather than only steel. Of course, make sure to use a licensed and reputable snow-removal service.

Use salt sparingly

Salt is a classic for snow removal. However, the salt can mix with melted water and create more solvency that will do damage to your lot. Additionally, the saltwater runoff can be harmful to the local environment. A good option is to use salt mixed with sand if necessary, or to avoid salt altogether if possible. 

Ensure your asphalt stands up to the winter

If your asphalt looks like it needs some work before winter weather hits, let Reliable Paving help you. We can inspect your lot for damage, fix existing damage, and take preventative measures. Whether you just want your lot checked to make sure it can handle the winter, or you need last year’s winter damage fixed, we can certainly help. Perhaps your lot needs to be repaved altogether. Either way, Reliable’s team of over 200 people and 35 years of experience means that we know how to handle paving in the winter. Let a paving contractor do the work for you, contact Reliable Paving today.