When the days finally lengthen and the mornings lose that bitter chill, it’s time to assess the damage wrought by another New Jersey winter. For the board members and the property manager of a community association, that wintertime damage can be found throughout the property, from the landscaping and roofing to the tennis courts and, yes, even the parking lots.
The rain, ice, snow and salt that bombard a parking lot during the winter months can take a heavy toll. Cracks can form or spread. Potholes can appear and grow. Stone and chunks of pavement can break loose. Painted lines can wear and fade. Or a combination of all these things can happen at once. For a property manager already dealing with other spring clean-ups and repairs, a down-and-out parking lot can be a major headache and a costly repair.
Assessing The Damage
The first step is to inventory the damage done over the cold, icy months—and the simplest way to do that is by conducting a walk-through visual inspection of the property, looking for cracks, spalling, and other signs of pavement peril. “The only way to really determine is you've got to do a visual assessment,” says John Lisznaski of Louis N. Rothberg & Son in Middlesex. “Physically, pick particular areas of concern, measure [any defects] and get a quantity on them.”
This also may be the time to call in an expert to not only tally up this year’s needed repairs but to create a long-term plan of attack. Most pavement companies will work with client properties to create a maintenance program, prioritizing what needs to be addressed right now versus a few months or even years down the line. “For us, it's a visual inspection,” says Jack Onorati of Onorati Construction in Boonton Township. “Then we provide information and suggestions as to fix this area, fix that area—it's a detailed map. ‘This is where you have an issue—perhaps you need crack-filling,' and so forth."
With a long-term plan in place, current repairs can begin. Among the most common work done, cut-and-patch jobs will target specifically-affected areas. The “cut-and-patch” technique, for example, may be used to fix a pothole. Work crews will saw cut or jackhammer out the damaged areas, going at least a foot beyond the edges of the “injured” pavement, before putting in new processed stone and covering it with a thick coating of asphalt. They’ll then seal it tight.
According to Lisznaski, signs that a cut-and-patch repair is in order include: "When you see a pavement that is what we call 'alligatored,' with a lot of surface cracking in a specific area that resembles the skin of an alligator. Or if you see a pavement that's starting to rut or fail, that's typically caused by a poor sub-base or subgrade. That's where you would excavate that area. Just to resurface it at that point would not correct the problem. We'd have to go down and take out the base and possibly the sub-base."
“Overlaying” is another repair and preventative measure. Bob Burns, principal owner and president of Burns Associates - Engineers, based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, encourages managers to be careful with overlaying and ensure that it’s not simply being done as a quick fix. “Going over the lot with new asphalt can be a waste of money,” he says. “It can create reflexive cracking. And by just paving over problem areas, you’ll often see those cracks come right up again through the new coat.”
Most pavement pros agree that if there are cracks present, just covering up the problems rather than addressing their underlying causes, and will likely result in more cost down the line. Overlaying may buy an extra year or two, but it's not an ideal fix.
Crack filling or sealing is another common and vitally important type of repair. Next to filling pot holes, most professionals agree that crack filling is the most important preventive maintenance that can be done.
"When you have an asphalt surface that generally is in fairly good condition but does have some visible cracks on the surface, that's a good time to crack-fill," says Lisznaski. "You clean the existing cracks of all vegetation and debris, and you install a hot asphalt cement-based rubberized crack-fill. What that does is seal the crack, and also prevents water from entering into the crack and penetrating into the subgrade of your pavement, which will cause further damage. So, if you have a pavement that's in fairly good condition but you do have visible cracks, filling those cracks to prevent water infiltration is the key to extending the service life of that pavement."
Seal-coating is another service commonly requested by HOAs though, as Onorati says, "You will get a many, many opinions on seal-coating. It's probably the most controversial part of maintenance because it's often misused. If there's just too much [surface] failure in a parking lot for example, it may be too far gone, and in that case, seal-coating it is clearly a waste of money. When pavements begin to gray, maybe a crack here or there that needs to be filled, it's time to seal coat it. What seal-coating mostly does is reduce the ultraviolet effects on the pavement. That's what's making it gray, taking up the oils, the elasticity, if you will, and it dries out most of the cracks. It's a good product in that event, but it doesn't fix any truly serious damage."
To best protect a parking lot, most paving experts recommend seal coating when it is about a year old in order to protect it from the sun as soon as possible.Each seal coating should be designed specifically for each particular lot. One area might need only one coat while another, more heavily trafficked area might need three. It should not simply be a one-size-fits-all fix.
Stopping Damage Before It Starts
Looking ahead, what’s the most important preventative measure a building can take when it comes to its community parking lots? “Do your maintenance before winter starts,” says Burns. “As the saying goes, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ ”
In particular, Burns says that means investing in proactive crack sealing “once a year, every year. That’s not excessive. If you wait instead for small cracks to become larger, it could be too late.”
Another key ingredient to a long-lasting, healthy parking lot is adequate drainage, says Burns. “You want to make sure that the drainage underneath the pavement or going through the subspace is good,” he says. “You want to make sure it’s draining down and away from your lot. Keep your culverts clean. Go out each fall and make sure all the drains and catch basins have been cleared. If not, your parking lot could become flooded. It all goes back to that idea of an ounce of prevention.”
New, “Green” Approaches
These days, new products are constantly coming to the market, including “green” pavement preservation and repair materials. A new material called SunShield is designed to help reduce heat on pavement and can help a building meet LEED requirements. The downside? “It is very expensive,” says one contractor.
Geo-textiles are another new development, designed to cover over cracks. According to Burns, “it’s not 100 percent effective and not all pavers will use it.” For an association looking for a new approach, however, it might be worth an inquiry.
While the demand for eco-friendly paving materials is still in its infancy, manufacturers believe that will change as federal, state and local regulations and standards evolve. Michael Wohlfahrt, New England account executive for Unique Paving Materials Corp., based in Cleveland, Ohio, says that his firm anticipates that those tighter restrictions will be coming soon to the industry. As a result, Unique Paving Materials recently released a new permanent patching product called UPM Green that has zero volatile organic compound or VOC emissions. These VOC numbers are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and paving products must meet minimum standards on emissions. Unique Paving Materials exceeds these standards, he says, with their zero emissions.
Part of the issue in promoting or encouraging the use of green paving products, Wohlfahrt says, is that no one has really defined what “green” means in the industry. “We see that there are many shades of green, but no one has defined what eco-friendly is going to be. Is it using plant-based materials instead of fossil fuels? Or recycled materials?” Right now, the industry is unsure but Wohlfahrt believes that will change in the future. “It all depends on what the EPA does,” he says.
Getting a Jump on Repairs
Putting repairs off is never a good idea, despite the temptation in today’s still-uncertain economic times. But with parking lots, ignoring trouble spots and hoping those pavement cracks get smaller simply won’t work. In fact, in the long run, it will only make needed repairs more expensive. “You can defer things for only so long,” Burns says. “Eventually, deferred maintenance will catch up with you and deferred maintenance always costs more than preventive maintenance.”
"With this last couple of winters, we've had, the snow removal has been wreaking havoc on HOA's budgets," Lisznaski continues, "and there's not enough money left for any kind of extensive maintenance work for the asphalt pavement. So it's been minimal—stop the bleeding, basically. Take care of the bad areas for now so it does not get worse and totally destroy the parking lot."
Making repairs in a timely and efficient manner also will help managers and boards avoid, or at least put off the end of their parking lot pavement’s useful life. When it’s too far gone for seal coating, and when cutting and patching cost more than repaving it, the surface is likely done for.
With the right planning however, that day can be decades away. With good maintenance and preventive care, says Burns, the dividend can be an extra 10 years on the life of your lot. And for condo managers and boards, that is an extra decade of happy residents walking and driving on clear, safe pavement.
Liz Lent is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator. Editorial Assistant David Chiu contributed to this article.