Parking Lot Maintenance

A  properly maintained parking lot can make a real difference in the impression of your business. It’s sometimes the first thing a consumer sees and can provide a competitive advantage. Yet owners typically overlook the need for maintenance and proper design. 

Even though it’s the least glamorous asset of commercial property – parking lots are an investment. Experts say that proper parking lot maintenance can extend the life of your parking lot beyond 20 years.

Parking lot damage is not only unsightly but costly.

Leaving the lot neglected can cause it to sustain damages that go beyond repair and require total lot replacement.  Once a parking lot begins to crumble, repaving and reconstructing it is typically the only course. In order to avoid the cost of complete replacement, a maintenance plan is needed to keep it clean and in good condition.

 “The key to a longer life cycle is to have a well-built lot with a reasonably good design that is properly maintained through the years”, says Alan Curtis, president of CHEC Consultants Inc., a Redding, Calif.-based civil engineering company that specializes in pavements.

Different cars parked on concrete parking lot

How to keep your parking lot in good condition

Creating a strong foundation in your parking lot is an important first step.

If its base is not stable, the lot is prone to more issues caused by cracking and sinking. If you want your lot to last it’s important to be sure it’s installed great to begin with.  

Ensure the base is secure by improving any low quality soil. To prevent pavement failure, be sure the soil is compacted to the recommended 95% of the maximum density.

Although a nice looking pavement in your lot makes for a pleasing aesthetic, the sub-base installation of the parking lot is pivotal. The strength of the lot’s surface is directly related to the strength of it’s base. 

Good drainage conditions should be ensured in the sub-base.

Around 85% of parking lot failure is due to drainage problems. It is important the sub-base stay as free from water as possible. Any excessive water in the base can weaken its stability and cause issues on the surface. Careful consideration to drainage design and size should be taken. A minimum of a 2% slope is recommended for parking surfaces. Reevaluate sub-base materials in any soft areas, and replace or add drainage as needed.

Asphalt requires a special mix design.

Using hard asphalt can crack more, but using too much soft can result in ruts. This example from Asphalt Magazine shows  “typical balanced mix design test results will determine a minimum asphalt content to meet a crack resistance threshold and a maximum asphalt content that corresponds to a maximum allowable rut depth. The range of acceptable binder content for this example becomes 5.2 to 5.9 percent. The question then becomes ‘which binder content is selected?”

Binder contentCrack ResistanceRut Depth
5.2150 cycles5.2
5.9825 cycles6.8

Clean, clean, and clean some more.  

If you own a business, you certainly wouldn’t leave the interior dirty, so why leave your parking lot – the first impression of your business – dirty? Settled dirt and oil spills not only make your lot look bad, it can also damage the surface. 

Consider having a litter collecting vehicle regularly pick up litter. Consider buying a machine to collect litter and debris, or hire a service to regularly clean up.

Clean up oil spills quickly before they cause permanent damage. Dawn dish detergent, baking soda, and kitty litter are 3 suggestions for fixing an oil spill. Soaking the spill with any of these, scrubbing, and washing away can prevent the oil from staining.

Clean concrete lots with a broom and power washer at least twice a year.

If you choose a gravel lot, rake weekly to remove any debris. Add fresh gravel when needed – especially after heavy rain.

Keep your lot looking fresh and tidy by repainting surface lines. Check the parking lines, arrows, and words for discolour. Faded lines can be dangerous for traffic flow. 

Prevent injuries or damages by repairing potholes.

Potholes can cause damage to the sub-base by collecting water. A small pothole can easily turn into a much bigger, more expensive problem if left in disrepair. Avoid a pile of fallen off tire rims by repairing them as needed.

You can give asphalt a temporary fix by filling it with hot asphalt or using a cold patch. A patch will last if the sub-base is not damaged. For a long term solution, repair the base and seal it.

Any holes in a gravel lot requires new gravel replacement to retain the strength of the base.

If dealing with concrete, remove the broken pieces and any standing water. Then fill the hole with new concrete and either sand or gravel as needed.

Sealcoating over cracks is a must!

The best preventative measure to use to save money is to fill cracks right away.

Use sealant to prevent corrosion from water building up in cracks and freeze damage. Determine the right sealant for the job by considering what kind of crack it is, what climate you live in, and the amount of traffic flowing over the crack.

“Water is the enemy,” New England Sealcoating advises, “Crack sealing your asphalt will help prevent water from penetrating into your sub-base which is a major cause of pavement failure.”

With a concrete parking lot, it may be easier to pour new concrete or resurface the lot if extensive repair is needed.

Those cracks in asphalt that look like alligator backs, also known as fatigue cracks, are caused by excessive bending under a large traffic load. This is the start of deterioration and makes the surface unstable. Seal those up in the early stages. You can also patch them by cutting a rectangular pattern, removing everything within the rectangle, and replacing it with new fresh asphalt. If badly alligatored areas get severe, they will turn into potholes.

An asphalt parking lot with cracks on the surface

Repair curbing to keep landscaping in place.

Curbs are an ideal accessory to your lot because they are low cost to build, they protect the landscaping, and they control drainage. Curbs are the only part of the lot not affected by snow removal.

Rain and bad parking jobs can damage landscaping. Without a curb to guide them, cars can drive off the edge of the lot onto the surrounding landscaping. This can deteriorate the edges and cause it to break up.

Well maintained landscape and undamaged curbs makes a good first impression to consumers.

Make sure basins and manhole covers are clean and working.

Repairs can  be pricey if not done right away and can lead to collapse.

To avoid excessive sitting water in basins, consider hiring a company that specializes in cleaning them out.

 Any holes next to a basin or manhole cover usually means there’s some structural damage. It could simply need a brick or block replacement.

In colder climates you will need to make sure the manhole covers are flush to the pavement after frost is off the ground. If the covers are lifted even slightly, plows can do damage during snow removal.  Patching or resetting the manhole cover or catch basin can prevent massive damage during the winter.

 Mother Nature is a huge problem for parking lot maintenance!

Water can desecrate the surface and cause destruction all the way down. 

Old age is an obvious and unavoidable situation. Over the years, with an asphalt parking lot, the surface becomes rough, a condition known as unravelling. You will need to apply a seal coat typically every four years, with the first happening three to four years after the original construction. To protect your parking lot investment, and slow the inevitable damage of aging, have a parking lot maintenance plan in place.

Sealing cracks as they happen can stop water from getting into the sub-base. Water damage to the sub-base can result in the lot needing to be completely redone.

Have a good method for deicing and snow removal using the right materials. Water damaged sections and any asphalt that is scraped off during snow removal should be repaired or cut out and replaced once a year. Water in the sub-base can freeze and expand causing ultimate damage so be sure to use proper deicing. You also want to be sure to use the best deicing treatments that won’t damage the surface.

 If your lot is asphalt and it goes from jetblack to 50 shades of gray then it’s time to toss another sealcoat on it.

Tar and chip parking lot with markings

So what’s the cost of properly maintaining your lot? 

Experts say that in the first 10 years of life of an asphalt or concrete lot, it costs roughly 8 cents per square foot to maintain. Preventative measures will be 14-16 cents per square foot, and more complex preventions can set you back 60-65 cents for a simple overlay and even up to $1 for a more extensive project.

A parking lot located in a place that experiences snow is more vulnerable and will need more repair. Sealing will be scraped off during snow removal, causing the pavement to crack faster than usual. If the owner reseals the lot as soon as needed, it would cost around 19 cents per square foot. If the owner fails to reseal it in a timely manner, the parking lot would then need resurfacing, which on average costs $1.60 per square foot. 

Regrading a gravel lot costs less than 10 cents per square foot.

On average, the cost of painting over faded lines is about $4.25 per 18-foot line. 

While proper maintenance will protect your investment, don’t forget to be sure you have the parking lot installed correctly to begin with! Avoid further damage costs by using proper installation techniques.

Choose a contractor who has experience in your specific lot needs. Find a company that will create a parking lot and a maintenance package that suits your needs and strategizes around your budget.

Figure out what materials you will use for the surface of your lot. 

  • Asphalt is better in colder climates, as it can soften in extreme heat. 90% of all parking lots in the US are made out of asphalt, which can easily become unsafe and ugly over time.
  • Concrete is known to be slippery when wet, which makes it not ideal in areas where rain or snow happen often.  Concrete is more aesthetically pleasing, but requires similar upkeep to asphalt.
  • Gravel is a low cost and easy to maintain material to choose for your lot. However, gravel can look muddy and dirty and is not the best choice for a commercial lot with nice aesthetics. It also is prone to ruts and sinkholes. Do not choose gravel in a snowy climate as snow removal disturbs the rocks and creates a whole new level of upkeep.

Avoid big problems by creating a custom lot based on the expected burden from estimated traffic.  

Ask your contractor these basic questions before signing a contract:

  1. Are you fully licensed and insured?
  2. Do you have experience with similar projects?
  3. Is cleanup included in the estimate?

You can also ask if the contractor has a team that performs maintenance tasks, or hire a business based on their recommendations.

When investing in property, one thing you need to consider in the maintenance price is keeping the parking lot safe and functional.

A big asphalt parking lot with proper markings.

Related Articles:

About 20% of car accidents happen in a lot. 

The parking lot structure can either cause or prevent the number of accidents in it per year. Potholes and damaged pavement can cause drivers to lose control of their vehicles. Safety precautions such as having adequate lighting, maintaining the parking lot paving, and repairing cracks and potholes can lower the number of accidents. Parking lot owners could be sued if they don’t do damage control swiftly and the damage causes an accident or injury. 

Keeping your lot in good condition keeps your lot safe and gives your business a great good impression.  Our own  post about how parking lot paving is important to make a good impression says “maybe it’s not fair to assume a business is slipshod based solely on a few cracks in their parking lot, but regardless, that is what happens.”  

Hiring paving crews, mechanics, and parking lot stripers to help maintain your lot can save your investment. Give yourself a solid parking lot maintenance plan to save yourself money.