- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2007

Specialty asphalt franchises are creating a new kind of curb appeal for homes in Maryland and Virginia.

Two years ago, Victor Schendel and his wife, Wilhelmina, decided to upgrade the bumpy asphalt driveway in front of their Germantown home.

Instead of getting a new concrete or brick surface, the Schendels opted to add a bit of flair to their cul-de-sac and install a decorative asphalt driveway.

“When people come and visit us they generally mistake it for real brick,” said Mr. Schendel. “I think it looks really good.”

The process, called StreetPrint, was created by Integrated Paving Concepts Inc.

The 15-year-old company, based in British Columbia, uses an innovative technique that softens existing asphalt so contractors can press templates into the surface, creating grooved patterns. The final step is to apply a protective polymer cement that adds color and texture to mimic the look of a brick or stone driveway.

“When all is said and done you have a pavement that doesn’t look at all like asphalt, and the average person driving by would not be able to notice,” said Scott Hind, vice president of marketing at Integrated Paving Concepts.

Stamped asphalt driveways are becoming more popular in the metropolitan area.

As home sales decline for the second year in a row, many homeowners who would have considered selling are remodeling instead. Installing decorative asphalt is cheaper and less time-consuming than laying bricks or stones, Mr. Hind said.

Installation costs $5 to $6.50 per square foot for a standard pattern, but can vary depending on the complexity of the project or the difficulty of preparing the site.

Brick or concrete can cost $7 to $12 per square foot to install.

The price may be right, but local contractors said the big selling point for pressed asphalt is its resistance to weeds and resilience in harsh weather.

“What’s great about this product is that people can get the aesthetics [of a brick driveway] without having to worry about the maintenance,” said Mr. Hind.

“Asphalt is not affected by de-icing salts, which can affect concrete surfaces,” said Mr. Hind. “Furthermore, the continuous surface of pavement means that there can be no vegetation growth, a factor that can lift and displace bricks.”

Bricklayers are skeptical.

“I would question this surface’s claim against clay brick durability,” said Stephen Sear, a spokesman for the Brick Industry Association, a Reston trade group. “Nothing beats the authenticity and durability of real brick surfaces.”

“If you look at Beacon Hill in Boston, or some streets in Georgetown, there are brick and stone surfaces that are over 200 years old. This [pressed asphalt] product has only been around for a short period of time.”

Mr. Schendel acknowledged that his landscaper ran a lawn mower across his driveway and accidentally scratched the paint.

But his contractor “restored the pattern and repainted it,” said Mr. Schendel. “And now you can’t even see the difference.”

Durability issues aside, the decorative asphalt trend seems to be catching on. Even regional transportation officials are beginning to apply it.

The Montgomery County, Arlington County and D.C. departments of transportation are experimenting with stamped concrete to highlight crosswalks at busy intersections.

“The city put it in to see if drivers would react to it differently,” said Erik Linden, a spokesman for the District of Columbia Department of Transportation.

“The process involved stamping the roadway with what looks like a giant waffle iron,” said Mr. Linden. “It can be used to create distinctive and colorful patterns.”

City officials hope the designs of the stamped-concrete crosswalks will remind drivers to stop for pedestrians.

Two of these crosswalks are at the intersection of 14th and S streets Northwest and at the intersection of Bradley Lane and Maple Avenue in Bethesda.

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