The Clock is Ticking

by Katie Lee

When it comes to retail parking lots, ‘time of year’ does matter.

By C.B. Kuzlik

You’ve heard it said before. “It’s that time of year…” But, when it concerns your retail parking lots, what does time of year have to do with it? Indeed, one of the most important factors when developing a pavement management plan is timing. The frequency or intervals at which maintenance is performed is one aspect of timing. Time of year is another critical component. While no two plans will mirror each other — either in frequency or time of year, there are some general considerations of which to be mindful when determining the right months to perform pavement maintenance.

For most of the country, pavement maintenance is seasonal due to unfavorable weather conditions in the winter and limited access to hot-mix asphalt. That leaves roughly 9 months in which to perform preventative or structural maintenance on retail parking lots. From February through October, it is possible to schedule a variety of procedures; but, just because it is feasible does not mean it is optimal.

clockIn fact, contractors have been known to push for certain procedures in the spring, summer and fall; but, in most cases, the suggestions are a sales tactic and do not have anything to do with the property or conditions at hand. This article will help you understand when and why time of year truly matters.

First and foremost, there are temperature and weather conditions that must be adhered to for a variety of pavement maintenance services. These restrictions, along with regional climate, will dictate the best time of year for a particular procedure and must be thoroughly discussed with a reputable contractor. Of utmost importance, however, is product application condition. Keep in mind that different pavement products will have different requirements; but, in general, most products can be applied in conditions that are widely prevalent throughout the country in spring and early summer.

For example, when crack sealing, most product manufacturers recommend an ambient air and surface temperature of 40°F or above, common in springtime. Plus, as the most cost-effective pavement repair, it is crucial to perform crack sealing as early as possible to minimize water infiltration which, if left untreated, can permeate through cracks and quickly erode the sub-base.

Seal coating is another procedure better suited for spring or early summer. Most product manufacturers recommend a pavement and air temperature of 55°F and rising with a maximum temperature of 95°F. There should be no rain, fog or frost for 24 hours prior to and after application. For a proper cure, air temperature should be at or above 70°F with full sunshine and humidity at or below 60%.

For striping projects, it is recommended that acetone acrylic paints be applied when surface and air temperatures are between 40°F and 90°F. For optimal results, the air temperature should be at least 5°F above dew point and relative humidity should measure below 85%. When using a water-based coating, the pavement surface should be 60°F or higher, relative humidity should be less than 80%, and no precipitation should be forecasted for at least 24 hours. Ultimately, with any striping procedure, performing the job during warmer, less humid weather will result in a quicker dry time, which means less downtime or disruption to any retail center.

Scheduling is another big consideration. Generally speaking, climate and weather are more predictable and favorable in late spring and early summer. Conversely, waiting until September or October creates a higher probability for scheduling delays due to rain or huge temperature swings, for example. Stores can be negatively impacted from delays if areas have already been closed off in preparation, essentially reducing available parking or limiting access to entrances. This, of course, can affect sales performance for the month and, ultimately, the bottom line. In addition, delaying maintenance and hastily issuing a PO for work late in the year can result in undesired ‘carry over’ due to declining temperatures.

While the appropriate timing of pavement maintenance is undeniably linked to climate, the next explanation has to do with the basic concept in economics known as supply and demand. When supply and demand are equal, the price of goods — in this case, asphalt — is at a fair market value. For the asphalt industry, the closest state of equilibrium occurs earlier in the year when asphalt plants re-open and produce or supply the same amount of material being demanded. Therefore, for the best bet and bang for your buck, spring is an ideal time of year to buy pavement services.

sealcoatingAlso related to supply and demand is the availability of paving contractors to meet the demands for pavement maintenance services. Most paving contractors have a “busy season” beginning in April and running through August. During this time, they employ more crew members and back-office support and operate extended hours. Their availability and capability to complete a greater number of projects for a cluster of job sites increases. For facility managers with multi-site portfolios, this translates to fewer mobilizations, reduced travel costs and, oftentimes, savings for buying material in bulk. The opposite scenario occurs in September and October when some contractors lay off crew members and staff in preparation for the slow season over winter. This reduction in resources means fewer people are available to do the work. As a result, retailers that delay maintenance until fall — when contractor resources are spread thin — will pay a premium. In fact, it’s not uncommon for contractors to estimate jobs as much as 10% to 12% higher than for the same service performed in spring. In addition, asphalt plants decrease production at the end of the year in anticipation of shutting down; therefore, procuring material can be more challenging and less cost-effective.

Finally, budget plays an important role in the timing of maintenance. Facility managers put out fires constantly; as a result, toward the end of the year, funds that were initially allocated for capital projects including pavement upkeep may have been used in other areas. That is why it is best to plan for and perform proactive parking lot maintenance earlier in the year to ensure proper funding is available. Use the months of October, November and December to consult with your preferred partner in paving to develop a comprehensive pavement management plan spanning 2 to 3 years ahead. A highly effective plan will include the cost for materials and labor for each site so there are minimal surprises.

Ultimately, when considering pavement maintenance and time of year, the old adage ‘the earlier the better’ certainly applies. Weather is more predictable, scheduling is more convenient, supply and demand are compatible, and the coffers are full. Plus, a job completed in spring will make a great impression for a longer period of time compared to projects executed in late fall, which are then subject to harsh winter weather and its damaging effects. For the best outcome across your portfolio of retail properties, rely on a partner in paving to help you get an early start in both planning and performing parking lot maintenance.


— C.B. Kuzlik is president and founder of Let’s Pave, headquartered in Oak Brook, Illinois. Let’s Pave provides complete preventative and structural parking lot maintenance services to retailers nationwide as well as partner solutions including pavement planning, contractor procurement and project management.

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