After 25 years in this business, I’ve pretty much got it all figured out… First of all, for those who’ve never sealed their own driveway before, all I have to say is RUN! Run to the nearest phone, and call your local seal coating professional and let them do the dirty work. Some of my best customers were people that had tried to do this themselves at home. Unsuccessfully.
However, after studying this do-it-yourself guide to fun and profits in the seal coating business, you too will be able to seal coat with the best of ’em! But seriously, it’s not rocket science, and with a few basic tools, common sense, and a little manual labor, you too can learn to do this neatly and efficiently, and before you know it, your neighbors will be asking you to do their driveway. I kid you not! There could be worse things than making a few hundred dollars for a few hours labor in your spare time! So, if you want to have a little fun, save a lot of money, while preserving your asphalt investment for years to come, let’s get to it!
The basic tools for making this job quick and easy, include:
1. A weed trimmer, and preferably, a cheap, full face, plastic shield protector, or at least, safety glasses.
This is not an option! Safety is always rule number one. Besides, it hurts like hell to get hit by flying rocks,
and it would really suck (pardon my language) to lose an eye at the same time.
2. A good stiff “push broom”, preferably a “wire street broom” type. Either that, or a good stiff drink, and reach for that phone!
3. A good leaf blower, preferably the higher powered push type, but the smaller hand held type will do the trick.
4. A roll of 2 inch wide masking tape.
5. One of those metal paint stirring paddles that fit into a power drill. Often times, the fine silica sand
that is added into the seal coating material for traction, settles to the bottom of the bucket, and you can end up spending more time stirring up the stuff, than you do applying it. The best thing would be to just mix it up in the bucket it came in. You could even use a small shovel to mix it with.
6. Ideally, a professional grade 24 ” seal coating brush and handle. This is the one item that will make things so much easier and more efficient for you. You may want to include a paint brush, for hard to reach places.
Depending on the size of your driveway, you could theoretically use the smaller brushes sold at Home
Depot, but my advise here will be saving you hours of time, and hundreds of dollars, so why not buy a decent brush that will give you a better finish, and you can use year, after year? The time saving factor alone makes it a great investment.
7. You should wear old clothes and sneakers, because, contrary to popular belief, you will be walking through this stuff as you spread it out.
You should be using a Latex product, and it washes off with soap, water, and a gentle scrub pad.
One important thing to remember after you’ve stepped in this stuff is, don’t walk off of the asphalt onto something you don’t want sealed, like a brick walkway, or nice lawn.
If you must leave the area, shuffle your feet on the driveway, or step off into some mulch, sand, or a piece of old carpeting, cardboard, anything.
Even after you clean your sneakers, never walk onto your house carpeting! There’s always some material up in the treads or sides that will soil the carpet. Guess how I know this?
O.K., Let The Fun Begin!
STEP #1. Proper Edging.
Before you begin application of the seal coating material, proper cleaning and preparation is critical. After removing everything from the driveway, you should use a “weed trimmer” as needed, to ensure that all growth along the entire perimeter is removed, and there is no overhanging grass above the surface edge of the driveway, and I also use the trimmer to clean up against stone walls, and garage doors, Depending how close growth is to the driveway, you may get a sharper looking trim by holding the trimmer upside down, with the cutting string vertical, to get a precise edge. Of course, NEVER, EVER, use this type of tool without proper eye protection! I use a full face shield, the clear plastic type from Home Depot. They’re cheap, and every time I hear a loud “clunk” as a rock zings off of the shield, I just gotta smile. Plus, the rocks fly up at you more often when you hold the trimmer in this upside down position. Once you’ve trimmed the edges, now comes the really fun part. The cleaning! I hate the cleaning. Well, actually, unless your driveway has heavy dirt deposits, it’s really not too bad.
STEP #2. Proper Cleaning.
It is so much easier to have two people during this part of the procedure. One person on the broom, and one person on the leaf blower. If you’re using a small hand blower, that’s fine, it’ll just take a little longer. If your driveway is relatively clean, this won’t take much time at all. Start at one end, and slowly make your way forward in a back and forth pattern, while sweeping, and loosening up any sand or soil deposits, ahead of the blower. Keep marching forward, and make sure you blow off every square inch as you keep your pattern uniform so as not to miss any debris. If your driveway is exceptionally dirty, you may want to pressure wash it first.
STEP #3. Crack Sealing.
This is something that’s a little more tricky. Some areas of the country don’t do any crack sealing, as freezing and thawing cycles are uncommon. However, water still enters, and gradually washes out the underlying base material, so if feasible, sealing them is best, as this is where most of the premature deterioration occurs. In some areas of the country, the crack sealing is the most important part of the job. Here in New England, it is critical. I use a “hot melted rubber” material, but unless you have the proper equipment, it’s difficult for the average homeowner to utilize this process. However, they do make a rubber tape, or rope, that can be applied, and then melted with a torch, and troweled out. You may want to sprinke a little fine sand on the hot rubber, so you won’t track it, or have leaves or debris stick to it before it sets up. There are also liquid acrylic fillers available, and depending on the size and quantity, this may work best for you. Any crack sealing should be done prior to seal coating, and if it’s the liquid type, follow the instructions, and perhaps give it some curing time prior to seal coating. If you use this method, I would get a cheap paint brush, and after applying the liquid crack sealant, sort of “touch it up” by dabbing the brush to help make the texture blend into the surrounding surfaces a little better. This brush should rinse out with water, and you may need it later on in this project. This would also be the time to address any oil stains that you may have. If it is a long standing stain that has soaked into the asphalt over time, nothing can solve it, but there are oil stain “primers” you can purchase to help the sealant adhere to the surface of the oil stain. It may be available where you purchase your sealant. If not, I could send you some with your wisely purchased professional seal coating brush and handle. All you need to do is pour some out, and brush it out over the stain. It should dry fairly quickly.
STEP #4. Preparing the Material.
This is where it could get messy. The best method, as mentioned, would be the long shafted paint mixer on a drill. Or have an extra empty bucket, and pour them back and forth while intermittently using something to stir it up in the buckets. Depending on the brand of sealant, sand content, and how long it’s been sitting on the shelf, this process may vary in difficulty. You may want to mix the majority of your buckets in advance, to eliminate stopping mid application to mix the next bucket. This is where it may help to have an assistant, but if the material seems pretty well mixed when you first open it, it won’t be an issue anyways. Be sure to do this mixing on the driveway, where if anything spills, it won’t matter. If you buy your material days in advance, you could always place them upside down for a few days to let the sand dissipate, and hopefully, the lid is tightly sealed, and won’t leak!
STEP #5. Applying the material.
Once mixed, start pouring it out! Try to keep it evenly spread out across the edge of the driveway in an even row from one side to the other. Don’t worry about the amount you pour out at this initial stage, and you can even dump the whole bucket at one passing, holding it out low in front of you to minimize splatter, as you move from one side to the other. It’s best to stay back 3 feet or so from the edge, just to play it safe. Once it’s on the surface, take your brush, and work from one side to the other, gently pushing a steady row of material closer and closer to the edges of the surface. At this point, you should be walking in the material, stepping gently so you’re not plopping into the material and causing splatter.
The general idea is to gradually work the material right up to the very edge, without too much excess material at the edge. You may want to practice in a non critical area first, instead of right up against a concrete apron, stone wall, or brick walkway. Hold the brush at an angle, pushing the material closer and closer, while at the same time, trying to regulate the amount of material you are pushing forward. Better too little, than too much. It’s just a little awkward to pull back the excess material when you get too much of it close to an edge. If you need to, and can’t get the brush in front of the leading edge to pull back excess material, you can always use some cardboard, your credit card (It’s the best use for them these days anyways), fingers, whatever. Another thing you want to keep handy in case of a mishap, or splatter, is a water hose. If you splatter a door in a major way, you can lightly hose it off, and I would recommend you always keep a small spray bottle of water very close by, perhaps hooked on your belt to quickly spray off any smaller mistakes.
Keep in mind, on a hot summer day, this material can dry within seconds on a hot surface, and then its too late to wash off. But don’t worry. Once dry, you can usually manage to get it off with a wire scrub brush, sandpaper, or some such thing. There are some solvents, even gasoline (be careful), that will get the material off, but some of these solvents make an even bigger mess, if on a porous surface.
Sometimes it’s better to leave a small spot than create a bigger one. I would also recommend you place masking tape over the edge surface of anything you want to keep clean, such as walkways, garage aprons, etc., at least until you become proficient at “cutting-in”. Once you’ve got your first pass completed at the beginning edge, just keep walking back and forth, pushing the material in front of you as you go along. Just relax, and let the brush do the work, but you must keep a firm grip on the brush with a gentle downward pressure, to keep the bristles bent slightly backwards. If they pop forward, or face straight down, it could “chatter” and flick material where it doesn’t belong. Just keep the brush handle at a fairly steep angle up near your chest area, and you’ll be fine. Make sure you never push the brush with the handle in front of your throat. If it catches on something, or you trip, it’s really hard to pull a broomstick out of your throat while you’re flopping all over the ground. Oh, sure, it might be great fun to watch this happen from a safe distance as you’re calling 9-1-1, but it makes such a mess! Once you get the first row started, just keep on going, overlapping the row you just finished, to help insure maximum penetration of the material.
This may all sound complicated, but rest assured, after a few passes, you’ll get a feel for it, and you’ll be off and running like a pro. As you reach the end of one row, try to regulate the amount of material as you get near the end edge, and sort of swoop the brush “around the corner”, if you know what I mean. Not a real corner, but brushing the material as close to the edge as possible, without spilling excess material off the side, and continuing forward up the side a little ways. Sometimes, I will continue up the side for 4 or 5 feet if I’ve got a good “run” going. You will find that you switch the brush handle from one side to the other in your hands, as you change direction from left to right. Are you thoroughly confused now? Great, I’ve done my job!
After you brush out 2 or 3 rows of material, you must now go back to the beginning and brush out all those foot prints you just left behind. Same thing, different technique. Now you need to step out of the path a little as you brush out the footprints in the same pattern as you spread it out. I will sometimes spread out 4 or 5 rows of material before going back to hit the footprints. This gives you a little more room to brush out a few rows of prints, while giving you space to spread out a few more rows of material without having to step in the material you just “finish brushed” the footprints out of. Make sense?
If you brush over any low spots, leaving a puddle of material in a place that the brush missed, just pick the brush up off the surface a bit, and angle it so you just brush out the low spot with the end of the brush. You can also use this technique to “flick off” any pebbles that may mysteriously appear in your material from time to time. Try to keep the rows uniformly straight, as it will improve the final appearance. Many driveways curve, or have odd shapes. Just take a look around as you’re brushing, and try to imagine the uniform patterns that make the most sense of trying to keep an even progression towards the finish line. For example, as your coming into a turn, the rows will be wider at the outside edge of the turn, and narrower at the inside of the turn, as you gradually angle the rows to try and stay parallel with the general width of the driveway. Just aim your brush straight while disregarding the previous row you brushed, as you no longer will be keeping the rows evenly spaced. It’s sort of like the luggage conveyor belts at the airport. As it hits the corners, the inside edge becomes narrower as the outside edge fans out. It’s like magic I tell ya, magic!
Often times, a driveway will have a “turning apron” where you can back into and “turn around”. When you come to one of these, there are a couple of ways to address them. The best one is to stop your rows, while making sure you leave an excess amount of material at the leading edge, to minimize the potential of the edge drying before you finish cutting-in the turn-out. If you do this, also make sure you brush out the footprints right up to the leading edge, to make sure they don’t “dry-in” while you’re busy cutting-in.
Now turn and face the turn-out, and you’re sort of looking at a mini driveway in front of you. Just use the same technique as you did from the very beginning, and after you’ve finished brushing in this turn-out, stop at “it’s entrance line” leaving a little excess at the leading edge, like before, and go back to where you left off on the “main field” of the driveway. You then begin spreading the next row, and if it’s begun to dry out while you were busy doing the turn-out, try to avoid stepping in the semi dry material, and brush out a row or two while standing on the unsealed side of the driveway, until you can step back onto freshly wet sealant, and off you go.
As you begin to meet the leading edge of the turn-out, just blend the two together in as straight a seam as possible. That’s probably the simplest way of doing this. In the event of a driveway that leads straight in, with the garage off to the right, you may want to start at the far end, and work your way out, while cutting in the garage to you left, row by row, as you work your way out. There’s no right or wrong ways, just better ways. You need to think about the easiest brushing pattern for you, without boxing yourself in.
There are so many other options and possibilities too numerous to get into during this brief “homeowners” training session. Now, it’s semi important to try to keep enough material laid down ahead of you, so you don’t run dry. It really helps to have an assistant pour it out while you brush. Especially if your in the hot sun, when it may dry quickly. If the material begins to thicken up, you can always “spritz” a little water into it, and sort of brush it around and mix it up on the surface of the driveway. Like I said, it isn’t rocket science. Just use some common sense, and you can’t go wrong. Well, you shouldn’t go wrong… The material should have the consistency of maple syrup, only a little thinner. Sometimes what you buy may be a little too thick to smoothly spread out. Just add a little water & stir it up! When it is poured out, try to overlap the material already on the surface, to minimize having to “back brush” the material.
The number of buckets you will need may vary by manufacturer, viscosity of the material, and surface texture of the asphalt. You need to figure out the total square footage, length X width, and sometimes it’s easier to break up the driveway and measure it section by section because of odd shapes and such. It’s far better to have too much material than too little, as long as you don’t open the last buckets if your getting close to the end. If you don’t have a measuring wheel, or tape, you can pace off the distance. The average long stride is approximately 3 feet in distance, unless you’re really short. Therefore, 10 long paces equals about 30 feet. 5 long paces equals 15 feet. 30 X 15 = 450 square feet. The buckets should have their specific calculations printed on the side. You should probably figure in an extra 10% safety margin to keep from running out on the job site. As you’re pouring out the material, try to judge how far one bucket goes, and make an educated guess on whether you will need to open the last couple of buckets. If not, you can return them, but it sucks to run out, and if you stop and start again after a section has dried, it may be visibly obvious.
Another thing to be aware of, is that on a hot sunny day, you need to get the footprints brushed out quickly, before they “dry in.” If you don’t feel comfortable with this technique, you can always brush it out while staying just out of the material, but it’s so much more work. Also, #5. “Cutting in” Around the Edges. Often times, there will be a need to “cut-in” around certain areas. If there are a lot of little things to “cut-in” around, up the sides, or in tight areas, you can always do these areas first, and then when you get to that point with your rows, just slightly overlap with the areas you “pre-cut-in” and you won’t get bogged down with the small detail work as you’re spreading out the rows.
STEP #6. Making the final cut.
As you are approaching the end of the project, the most important finishing touch that really makes the job stand out, is ending with a nice neat “street line”. For this, it helps to have assistance. You want to lay down a strip of 2 inch masking tape across the end of your driveway. Depending on the shape, or condition of the street seam, you may want to extend the line a few inches out into the street. Have one person hold the leading end of the masking tape at one corner of the driveway, while you take the spool of tape and walk towards the other corner of the driveway. As you face your assistant, have them place their end of the tape on the ground visualizing where you want the “street line” to be. Then have them “tack down” the tape and begin slowly walking along, stepping on the tape as they go (not shuffling their feet, as this causes bunching up of the tape), while you slowly move the tape in the direction you want the line to be. This is very similar to the sobriety checks the police utilize, so save the stiff drinks until after you’re finished, and celebrating a job very well done. You’ll have earned it!
Heck, even if you buy the material, have second thoughts and never even do the job, celebrate and have a drink or two anyways. Did I mention I’m Irish? No offense. It’s easy to make the line curved if needed, to conform to the geography, simply by moving the spool of tape you are holding, in whatever direction it needs to go, while your assistant continues to slowly walk forward on the tape. The further away you are from the person walking down the tape, the easier it is to control gentle curves, or straight lines. Once the tape is down, I always step back 20 feet or so up the road, in both directions to check that the line looks OK. It may look good while your standing right on top of it, but you would be amazed at how crooked something may appear from 20-30 feet away. It’s always best to double check, as this is what people notice first and foremost.
I usually make a gentle “curve in” at each corner of the driveway, or depending, a sharp angle with a smaller piece of intersecting tape at the corner. Whatever looks best for your individual driveway. It varies. Once down, go back and make sure every inch of the tape has been stepped on. This prevents material seeping under the tape, even though it would be a minor seepage. I’m just very fussy, and demand nothing but the best from myself and my assistants, and expect nothing less from you, my dear friends. If a job is worth doing at all, it’s worth doing to the very best of your ability. You can do this, and do it well. Have faith. If you feel nervous about your cutting in abilities, you can always add a second strip of tape next to the first, for a wider margin of error.
This is the sequence I would follow to do the job. However, you may want to lay down the tapeline first, so you don’t have to stop, clean your feet, and interrupt the flow of your work progress. Now, as you are approaching the end, try to avoid putting out too much material, as you will have to scoop up the excess if you do. Just have a flat shovel or dustpan handy, in case this happens, and you can just brush it into the shovel, and pour it back into the bucket. As you are brushing out the final rows, and approaching the tape, be careful to stay “within the tape lines”, and brush out the final prints up to the tape line as close as you comfortably can. This is where you have to step off the driveway to brush out the last of the footprints from the street side of the tapeline.
If you have mulch, sand or gravel at the end side of your driveway, you can shuffle your sneakers off in that, or step onto a mat or cardboard, or simply step out of your sneakers, and finish the final row in your socks. It wouldn’t be the first time… DO NOT forget to “wipe” before walking out into the street. Oh, yes, don’t forget to “look both ways”. It would suck to be run over before you got to finish the job.
STEP #7. “Happy Endings”.
Once you have brushed out the last of the prints, if there is a little excess material in the corners, or anything, you can just gently brush it out back onto the driveway. Now for the “getting your hands dirty” part, if you haven’t already. When removing the tape, be sure to hold it over the driveway as you are pulling it up, so any excess material won’t be falling onto the roadway. If it does, just hit it with a little water, and as long as the water flows away from the driveway, cool. Otherwise, some paper towels will do the trick in mopping up the water. It might be handy to have one of your empty buckets nearby to dump the handful of messy tape into for disposal. Before walking away from the end of the driveway, make sure you place a barricade to prevent anyone from driving on it. DO IT NOW!!! Even if you live on a dead end street that hasn’t had another car on it for ten years, the minute you walk away, someone will turn into your driveway, looking for directions because they’re lost on a dead end street. Guess how I know this…? Place a row of your empty buckets across the driveway, close enough together so that even a very small car can’t fit between them, looking for those directions. If they can, they will.
Once again, how do I know this? One time, this woman pulled onto the newly sealed driveway just as I turned around to get the two wooden grading stakes and a roll of caution tape that I usually use as a barricade. I was literally 3 feet away and just turned my back for an instant. Actually, it’s happened twice. I was not very happy about this. No, not happy at all. The second time was a UPS delivery truck right in front of my face. At least I got to scream at him to STOP RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE! DON”T MOVE! DON’T BACK UP! DON’T MOVE OR I’LL SHOOT! DAMN…I’ll miss that UPS guy. At least he only got his front tires 6 or 8 feet into the driveway, and I had to wipe them off as he was backing off the wet surface onto the dry street. There was a faint tracking, but not bad. The bottom line is, people are just oblivious to their surroundings, and don’t pay attention. Not that I’ve ever done something so stupid, of course. The more I meet some people, the more I love my dog. Anyways… Once the barricade is in place, simply rinse your brushes thoroughly before they dry out, and you’re done. Time for that drink now! Once the material dries, it will turn a flat black color. After a few hours, you should be able to gently walk on the surface if you absolutely must, but you should wait at least 24 hours before driving on it, and preferably 48. The longer the better.
Once you begin to use the driveway, you may notice some tire scuffing, especially in tight turns of the wheel. This is normal, and simply the scuffing off of the top layer of fine silica sand that’s been added for traction. It’s similar to using a piece of sandpaper for the first time. It really stands out. Shortly, it will all blend together as you continue to use it. You should also try to prevent turning the steering wheel of your vehicle unless it is in motion. This will badly scuff the surface, and on a hot day, can actually dig into the asphalt. Well, I guess that’s all there is to it.
I meant it when I said, once you’ve done such a great job, others will ask about it, and it wouldn’t be such a bad idea, if you were so inclined, to start making a few hundred dollars an hour doing the same for neighbors and friends in your spare time. If you do decide to take the next step, I can help. This was just the tip of the iceberg. I have 25 years of experience, and that just doesn’t fit in 5,000 words or less.