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IREM Spotlight: How to Identify Asphalt Paving Failures

By Eric Hancock

As an affiliate of the National Association of REALTORS®, The Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM®) is a community of real estate managers dedicated to maximizing the value of investment real estate. The award-winning IREM Houston Chapter, established in 1955, is one of the largest in the world and has nearly 600 members. Since 1933, IREM has set the standard for best practices in real estate management. IREM offers a variety of membership types for professionals of every experience level, from on-site managers to high-level executives. Credentials are earned by meeting high standards of education, experience, and ethical business practices and include: Certified Property Manager® (CPM®), Accredited Residential Manager® (ARM®), Accredited Commercial Manager (ACoM), or Accredited Management Organization® (AMO®). Learn more at www.iremhouston.org.

Property managers resolve issues every day.  Houston’s summer heat and residents’ reliance on private transportation can combine to create various parking lot issues. Identifying existing and potential asphalt repairs can be tricky, but if you remember a few fundamental principles, you should be able to understand what, when and why.

First, let’s look at the basics. If you take a cross-section of a typical asphalt parking lot, you will see that there is a lot underneath the asphalt layer on top – which should be considered a “wearing course” of the overall pavement.

Below the asphalt, by about 8 to 10 inches, you will find the earth, soil or “sub-grade”. This may or may not have been “stabilized.” Stabilization is a method commonly used to break down the molecules in the soil to make them smaller so you can then compact them as much as possible so they don’t move or sink later. On top of that, you should find 6 to 8 inches of “base material” which is commonly crushed rock, crushed concrete, or a mixture of both.

On top of the base you now have your asphalt, which is usually 1½- or 2-inch thick. This is the wearing course, which is designed to wear out eventually. If you stay on top of things you can simply remove and replace it and keep things going.

Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, busy schedules or other considerations, all too often these necessary maintenance items get put off, overlooked or just avoided. At that point, you are in for bigger problems and more costly repairs. Here is the reason why: water intrusion.

Water is the enemy of any parking lot, whether concrete or asphalt. What happens is this: The deteriorated and cracked pavement is now a source for water to get into and under the wearing course, and into the base and sub-grade – which leads to the soil shrinking or swelling. When this goes on long enough, you wind up having to repair much more than just the asphalt on top. Now, you need to repair and/or replace the base material as well as the asphalt.

There are two easy ways to identify if your asphalt pavement has reached the “Defcon-4” status described above:

  1. It looks like an alligator’s hide (think Alligator Boots) or
  2. You see signs of sand or other “fines” coming out of the cracks. We call this “pumping” – it means quite literally that water has reached the sub-grade and your base material is getting pumped out of the pavement from vehicles. Your pavement is moving, and before too long there will be a chuck-hole deep enough to go all the way to China.

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