Crucial Shopping Center Parking Lot Repair Decisions for Commercial Property Managers

In every shopping center in America, there is a huge piece of of bituminous pitch mixed with sand and gravel (also known as asphalt) that must be maintained and carefully cared for and the job generally falls to commercial property managers who may or may not be experienced in this area.  These multi-acre black behemoths are often taken for granted.  They last forever, right?  Nope.  They don’t, and they are extremely expensive to replace–like $3,000,000-$6,000,000 to replace.  For the commercial property manager, maintaining the parking lot is a very key task.  A well-maintained parking lot can last 70 years.  A poorly maintained one will limp its way to a 30-year lifespan.  So, what can go wrong with a parking lot and how should you make repair and maintenance decisions?  As the graphic below shows, $1 spent in the first 10 years will save your having to spend $6-$10 in the last 10 years of a parking lots lifespan.  Invest a small amount now or pay a lot more later–I think I saw this in a fortune cookie somewhere…

What can go wrong with a commercial parking lot? 

The moment a commercial parking lot is laid, it begins to break down.  The sun beats down on it and the rain puddles on top of it.  Making things worse, cars and commercial trucks but their weight on it over and over and often, commercial parking lots have been under engineered and are are not built to handle the weight of large trucks.  Asphalt, a petroleum-based product, begins to break down.

The life of asphalt is determined by a few factors (this paragraph sounds boring but nerd out with us for a second–cool pictures are coming!):  The most important factor is the initial design and construction.  If a thin amount of low quality asphalt and aggregate is put it, it will look nice for a few years and then quickly begin to break down.  The parking lot must have been designed for the loads that it will be holding.  If commercial trucks are coming through then the asphalt must be thick enough to with stand it.  Also, the parking lot needs to be designed to drain water.  Ponding water is a killer for parking lots and the fastest path to alligatoring and cracks.

As the asphalt breaks down, what problems occur?


ALLIGATORING                                                        POT HOLES                                                             SINK HOLES


RUTTAGE                                                       RAVELING                                                                                   SLIPPAGE


ROOT CRACKS                                                            CURB BREAKAGE

What are the stages of repairs and what do they cost?

As a commercial property manager looks to address the issues, they should consider taking the following approach:

  1. Fix the bad areas first.  It is tempting to seal coat it and make the parking lot look great for another year or two but it is just putting a band aid on the issue.  If you isolate the problem areas and remove and fix them, it will be a lot less expensive down the road.  As one section of asphalt gets week and cracks, water enters that area and weakens the asphalt around it.  The cracking spreads and gets worse.  Your best bet is removing the problem areas and laying fresh asphalt there.

COST: $5-8 per square foot but the cost is lower because you are only treating problem areas.

  1. The next option is to mill down the parking lot and then lay fresh asphalt on top. This will give your parking lot an as-new appearance at a much lower cost than a brand-new parking lot.

COST: $1.50-$3.00 per square foot.

  1. An alternative to this is an overlay. First, paving fabric is layed down and then fresh asphalt is placed on top.  If your curbs are 8 inches then you can add 2 overlays over a 20-30-year period and still have 4” curbs.

COST: $1.75-$3.50 per square foot.

  1. It is recommended that you reseal your parking lot every 3 years or so.  This gives the parking lot a fresh look and a new layer of protection against the sun and rain.

COST: $0.11-$0.20 per square foot.

  1. The last option is to dig out and replace the parking lot. Putting in a new parking lot is very expensive and generally your last option.

COST: $7-$9 per square foot.

Congrats on making it though this article!  I think you have a bright future in commercial property management!  Now go out and talk to your local asphalt company.  They are are actually a pretty cool group of people and are glad to talk about their industry and process.  Buy someone a lunch and you will know enough to sound like a parking lot expert for life.  You can casually throw out cool terms like “ruttage” and “soil subgrades” and then ask your boss for a raise because you are so smart.  Have a great day and Pave On!


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