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What's a "tar & chip" driveway? How does it compare to other materials?


Question: What's a "tar & chip" driveway? How does it compare to other materials?

    Pros of Tar and Chip Driveways

  • Attractive.
  • Cheaper than asphalt.
  • Low-maintenance (occasionally replace displaced stones).
  • The rough surface potentially affords good traction.
  • Durable.

    Cons of Tar and Chip Driveways:

  • Difficult to find contractors for installation.

Here's how tar and chip driveways (or "Macadam") are constructed:

Hot tar is applied to a gravel base. So much for the "tar" part. What about the "chip" part? Well, while the tar is still piping hot, stone chips are thrown on top, so that they can adhere to the tar. Since a major selling point of tar and chip driveways is their looks, people usually make sure the stone chips are pretty, not just any old stone chips. For instance, you might want stones that are a particular color. After the stone chips are laid on top of the tar, a steamroller presses them in firmly.

Besides their splendid appearance, tar and chip driveways are less expensive than asphalt, nor do they have to be sealed, thus cutting down on your yard maintenance.

Tar and chip driveways afford good traction, since the surface layer is composed of individual stones. So rather than having a smooth and potentially slick surface like asphalt, the surface of tar and chip driveways is rough. Just make sure you find a contractor who comes highly recommended, because, if not properly constructed, the same characteristic that gives these surfaces traction also makes them more difficult to plow and shovel: namely, all those individual little stones sticking up.

If you wish to be extra-cautious with your tar and chip driveway and keep any loose stones in place, instruct your plowing contractor to keep the plow blade up slightly off the surface (hopefully, your contractor follows instructions well!). But unless you plan on having that leftover 1 inch or so of snow melt off pretty soon (as it might on, say, a south-facing slope), you may be losing some of that good traction for which tar and chip driveways are known. In New England, where I live, an inch of snow can stay around for a long time (especially on a flat surface), and it will generally ice up -- creating a hazard.

Tar and chip driveways can be a beautiful addition to your landscape. Commenting on the durability of Macadam, This Old House mentions an additional advantage to tar and chip driveways, remarking that oil leaks can be rather easily hidden. Finding a contractor to install one, however, may be a challenge, as tar and chip driveways are not nearly as popular as asphalt paving.

Thanks to Daly Paving for advice about tar and chip driveways.

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