The Importance of Base Material in Pavement Projects

June 17, 2019

Any pavement project consists of several components. Base material is one of the most important. Without a sturdy base, your new driveway won’t last as long. In this post, we’ll go over the importance of base material and professional installation when it comes to pavement projects.

The build starts from the bottom up, so the first component to consider is the subsoil. Subsoil characteristics combined with customer requirements determine the characteristics of the pavement to be constructed. That consists of various layers, ranging from embankment materials on large infrastructure projects, to a few base layers on small, residential projects.

The bottom layers are labeled base, subbase, and subgrade. These are made out of rock, gravel, and sand. The top layers can be poured cement, concrete pavers, or different paving materials.

It is of the utmost importance to note that these layers, laid on the existing subsoil, act in unison. The characteristics of any of these have an impact on the overall strength and longevity of the final pavement construction. Thus, the optimal pavement construction in terms of quality and value is achieved by selecting proper materials and their thickness in relation to one another.

You can think of it in terms of a series of springs. Imagine three springs on top of each other and a weight on top of the springs. If one of those springs is weak, then we need to make the others stronger to hold that weight. Conversely, even if we have one very strong, expensive spring, the whole system will collapse if the others are too weak.

Crack in a concrete slab due to improper base layer preparation

To add to this equation, pricing for each layer varies significantly. Reinforced concrete is the most expensive by far, while the gravel base layer is the cheapest. So, the variance in depth of each layer carries a key significance in the total price for the customer. That means that of all the different options for building a quality paved surface, there are just a handful of them that offer the highest value as well as top quality.    

Since subsoil characteristics are a product of natural rock decomposition for any given area, they are impossible to change. They are also somewhat difficult and expensive to measure and analyze for a small, residential project. Thus, some precautions must be taken in designing a paved surface for a home so that it conforms to the highest standards of quality and longevity.

The only way to ensure proper quality, while maintaining a reasonable price, is by creating a quality base layer that will ensure a solid, flat surface for final pavement installation. While the final concrete layer is the one that will be visible to everyone, and the most expensive part of the construction, its longevity will be seriously compromised by an improper base layer.

Concrete layer thickness is the main driver of total project price, but even a thicker layer of concrete will likely crack and separate if the ground shifts. California has frequent earthquakes. Building a thicker concrete layer to cover all eventualities is at best ineffective, and will end up costing the customer much more than necessary.

A properly compacted, thicker, layer of base rock on the other hand, is the optimal way of ensuring that concrete is poured onto a hard, flat surface, which will remain stable for decades to come. Combined with quality reinforced concrete and proper drainage, this will create a durable, high quality pavement in tune with modern engineering practices.

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