Why Is Asphalt Quieter To Drive On Than Concrete?

When it comes to paving for roads and driveways, there are quite a few choices. Everything from marble to synthetics to recycled materials make for good composites that can handle pedestrian traffic and vehicle traffic. However, when it comes to high-vehicle traffic areas, namely parking lots, roads, and driveways, concrete and asphalt are the main choices. 

Deciding between asphalt and concrete can be tough. Applying the right materials will result in a longer life for the paved surface, less necessary maintenance, and lower costs in the end. Ultimately, asphalt usually wins, especially for outdoor scenarios, and for lessening noise pollution. 

Road noise is one of the biggest complaints about urban and suburban living in the US. Not only do people get irritated by the sound of cars driving around constantly, but it can even lower property values. Have you ever compared the cost of housing next to a highway versus housing a few miles (or even blocks) away? You will notice that the proximity to loud traffic is a major reason people live where they do, and a major factor in home prices.

Why asphalt is superior?

Asphalt paving is almost always better. Why? Various reasons combine to make it more versatile, durable, and easier to maintain.

Asphalt can withstand climate variances more

If you live in an extremely hot, or extremely cold seasonal place, you know what kind of damage can happen to paving. Both asphalt and concrete show these signs. Rutting, cracking, potholes, and the like appear and take ages to repair…the other option is replacing the paving altogether, which is neither cheap nor fast. 

Asphalt is still better at withstanding the weather though. Different asphalt can be made to be porous, so water flows through it and doesn’t cause damage. Asphalt also absorbs heat and has less contraction in cold than concrete. When snow accumulates on a paved surface, asphalt contributes to melting faster than concrete does. In general, moisture evaporates faster from asphalt than concrete. Additionally, asphalt can be seal coated, so it can withstand the weather even more. 

Asphalt is usually cheaper

Asphalt is one of the US’s most recycled materials. Even when a road is replaced, it can simply be pulled up, re-pulverized, and laid again as new asphalt. This makes replacing and laying it in the first place much cheaper. 

Asphalt takes less time to pave

Asphalt paving simply takes less time to set and become usable than concrete. On a busy road this saves people time, money, and inconvenience. 

Asphalt is safer

Higher traction leads to better skid resistance and vehicle handling for asphalt than concrete. This makes everything safer for everyone: cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, wild animals, and anyone else on the road.

What exactly makes asphalt quieter than concrete?

In order to understand the why, we need to know a few terms.

Rigid pavement

This uses concrete to form a stiffer foundation. It has high flexural strength (think force divided by area). It is great for parking lots that are indoors. Cracks or damage often can not be repaired, and become permanent. Additionally, the hardness of it means that it can not absorb sound. You may have even heard your own car engine or breaks echoing in a concrete indoor parking lot.

Flexible pavement

This is made with bituminous – AKA asphalt – materials. The material is laid in multiple layers. As a result, it has some flexibility which can absorb the impacts of fast-moving vehicles extremely well. Its porous nature has many benefits, among them sound reduction.

Bituminous pavement is quieter because of the air bubbles inside of it. These air bubbles absorb sound by up to 3-5 decibels. Decibels are measured on an exponential scale, so this may not seem like much, but it is. For example, 40 decibels is 1/8 as loud as 70 decibels. 

Not only is flexible pavement good at lowering noise, it’s so good that it’s more effective than sound barriers. Those are the big walls you see separating residential neighborhoods from highways. 

So, what’s the takeaway?

  • Flexible pavement is made from bituminous material, AKA asphalt.
  • Asphalt is full of little holes that absorb air and sound waves, making it quieter as cars pass on it.

Developments in quiet asphalt

Quiet pavement is a relatively new development that is being studied all over the US. California and Washington have both been doing extensive research on it. These studies have pointed to asphalt’s ability to absorb sound much better than other paved surfaces, namely concrete. 

In the future, we can expect asphalt to become more flexible by being more porous. It will also use more layers, which will help with decreasing impact stress. 

Are there any advantages to concrete?

So why use concrete at all?

  • Concrete roads can last 20-40 years, 2-4 times longer than asphalt.
  • Vehicles can get 1-7% better fuel efficiency on concrete roads.
  • Lower chances of potholes forming.
  • Better suited to high volume of large vehicles, such as semi trucks.
  • Concrete can be recyclable. 
  • Production of NEW concrete roads is somewhat more environmentally friendly than new asphalt roads.

Concrete isn’t all bad, but it certainly has its limitations

  • Entire slabs need to be replaced because repairing it is so difficult.
  • Costs more and takes longer than asphalt to repair and install.
  • Bumpy rides come from differently-leveled slabs.
  • Can be more dangerous for some vehicles, because there may be space between slabs.
  • Surface does not absorb liquids, chemicals, and other things like concrete does. 

Needless to say, we can safely say it makes more sense to use asphalt as your road paving surface.

Unsure what to pave with?

If you don’t know what paving material is the best for your road, parking lot, or driveway, send us a message. We are a professional, experienced, and multifaceted group of paving contractors, who are ready to provide the best paving surfaces at the best prices. Reliable Paving can help you lay new pavement, repair the old, repaint, and even help with ADA compliance. Save yourself time and money by choosing the right paving.