Ed Pfeifer: Blacktopping is hard work, but it used to be much worse

Tuesday, August 27, 2019 | 4:47 PM


Professional driveway coaters are hard workers doing a dirty job. If it is daylight between May and October, they are covered, nose to toes, in tar. The black splatter dots their tanned skin like freckles and dyes their clothing the color of a Starbucks French roast.

Blacktopping is tough work that most homeowners are just not willing to do. But that may be because they are unaware of product improvements that ought to be brought to light.

Do-it-yourselfers a generation ago were spreading blacktop coatings left and right even though they mostly hated doing it. Back then, sealant was crazy stinky and took forever to dry. Those who used it generally needed a day to recover. They would nurse a headache, a side effect of inhaling the stench of the tar, and then treat themselves to an unpleasant spa treatment — full body paint thinner immersion, wire brush fingernail scrub and hack-job haircut — just to clean up.

About a day and a half after spreading the old stuff, it would be mostly dry and ready for traffic, but pockets of thick uncured coating would lurk in the shady nooks of the driveway where footsteps and car tires would squash them, pick up the goo and track it through the yard or down the street. Once completely dry, the surface was as slick as the ice on the North Park skating rink, which made carrying groceries across it without slipping an athletic accomplishment.

I think it was a combination of those patently unpleasant side effects that led to the rise of the professional blacktopper. But thanks to the blacktop manufacturer’s ingenuity, the products available now make the job easier, safer, less pungent and less miserable.

Asphalt emulsions, the new products, when done right look just as attractive as the old-style coatings but stink less, dry faster and are far easier to apply. They spread rapidly and evenly — similar to a coat of paint — and are best applied to a relatively cool surface, making for a quick chore in nice weather. Several manufacturers have added a light sandy aggregate to their products to provide an anti-slip component, and all are significantly easier to clean from hide and hair.

For those interested in sealing a asphalt driveway, it is important to note that early autumn is a wonderful time to take on the task. The normally dry and temperate conditions make it suitable for the product. Additionally, putting the stuff down now ensures that you will have a nice seal coat to protect against the snow, ice, road salt and abrasive grit of our Pennsylvania winters.

If you do your own seal coating this fall, you will be doing so with some advanced and really great products. Sure you will probably wind up tattooed with tar and peppered with pitch, just like the pros. I say wear that mess with pride. It shows you’ve done a job most homeowners are just not willing to do.