Why is my driveway cracking up? This is a question that millions of homeowners will ask themselves one day, if they haven’t already. Cracked pavement, whether asphalt or concrete, is a very common problem. In fact, every paved surface will begin to crack sooner or later. Although a professionally installed driveway can easily last a decade or more, we still haven’t invented pavement technology that lasts forever. Time, weather and heavy use will eventually play their part, wearing the pavement down and causing cracks over time.

However, the vast majority of driveway cracks appear not as a result of ‘normal’ aging, but because of common mistakes and malpractices that compromise integrity of the pavement. Here are a few examples:

1. Mistakes during installation

If your driveway is showing cracks within a few years of installation, chances are it’s your contractor’s fault. Putting in a driveway requires expertise, the right tools, and years of experience. When any of these elements are lacking, installation errors and “corner cutting” can lead to premature cracks. This usually involves problems with the base level beneath the actual asphalt or concrete surface. It can also involve low-quality pavement materials and mixes.

2. Pouring too much salt in the driveway during winter

Salt is a common treatment for icy driveways in places like New Jersey, where winters can be fierce. This may help in the short term, but in the long term, salt actually undermines the integrity of both asphalt and concrete. Specifically, the chemical action of salt allows water to penetrate the surface of the driveway, where it then freezes and thaws again, depending on the temperature. This creates expansion and contraction, leading to cracks. Sand and other de-icing treatments are a useful alternative to salt, especially when it comes to preserving your driveway long term.

3. Expanding tree roots

Trees are ultimately more powerful than any driveway. That’s why it’s important to look at the surrounding trees and their root systems before installation a new driveway. If the tree is already mature, the likelihood of problems may be less. But young trees with rapidly expanding root systems will have no problem lifting and pushing a driveway around over time. Special barriers can sometimes be installed, though they may be harmful to trees. Getting the opinion of a reputable driveway specialist is a smart move when it comes to avoiding conflicts between tree roots and your driveway.

4. Putting too much weight on the driveway

Homeowners sometimes assume that a driveway, once installed, is virtually impervious to pressure. But this isn’t the case. Paved surfaces and roads that are expected to support heavy weights (more than 10,000 lbs of pressure, for example) are constructed differently than ordinary driveways. For this reason, it’s important to discuss the kind of weight and pressure you expect your driveway to support, prior to having it installed. Otherwise, excess pressure may lead to cracks.

Stopping cracks before they develop

When you first notice cracks in your driveway, it might not seem like a big deal. But there are many homeowners out there who will tell you how quickly these cracks can widen and lengthen. There are certainly things you can do to keep your driveway in good shape—but the first and most important step to avoiding cracks is having a reputable driveway installation company on your side. That way, you’ll have a much better chance of avoiding driveway cracks before they develop.