Asphalt is truly one of the most amazing products in the world. Considering how versatile and durable it is, the cost of the material is hard to believe. There’s a good reason why so many governments and public works organizations use asphalt for the vast majority of their paving needs. And when you factor in how asphalt is one of the most recyclable and sustainable of all materials, the case gets even stronger.

Yet asphalt, for all its great qualities, does eventually break down over time. Anyone who has driven a car knows this, even if we don’t really think about it. Asphalt begins to warp and crack up. Potholes begin to form. There may be areas of the pavement that start to break up and crumble.

1. Fluctuating temperatures

When the weather gets really hot, asphalt will expand. This is true of other materials as well, so it should come as no surprise that asphalt behaves the same way. And what happens when the temperature falls below freezing? That’s right — asphalt contracts. And if you live in an area where summers are hot and winters are cold (New Jersey is a good example), these temperature fluctuations can be dramatic, even over the course of days. As asphalt expands and contracts, it will eventually weaken and start to develop imperfections.

2. Poor installation

When you see asphalt breaking up or deteriorating, you’re not necessarily seeing problems on the surface of asphalt. A correct asphalt installation also involves deeper levels known as the base and sub-base layers. These are actually the foundation of the pavement. They hold it in place and keep it functioning as traffic rolls over it, and as temperatures change. Incorrect installation of the base and sub-base layers is one of the main reasons why so many asphalt surfaces develop problems before they should.

3. Overuse

This one often can’t be helped — but it bears mentioning that asphalt will eventually deteriorate under the strain of constant use, especially if heavy trucks are driving or sitting on top of the pavement for long periods of time. We often assume that since asphalt is so “hard” and so commonly used, it doesn’t really matter how much traffic drives over it, or how heavy the vehicle may be. This isn’t true. Overuse is one of the main factors that will lead to deteriorating asphalt.

Steering clear of common problems

With a little proper planning, and some understanding of why asphalt surfaces begin to deteriorate before they should, it’s certainly possible to prolong the lifespan of your driveway and walkway. Working with the right kind of professional (upstanding, honest, with a good reputation in the community) is always a great first step. Businesses and other organizations can also make their asphalt projects more successful by partnering with an asphalt specialist who truly knows their craft and doesn’t cut corners. Most asphalt installations may look alike the day they’re finished. But what really matters is how long and how well they perform over time.