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The Art of Laying Tarmac

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 12 Nov 2019 | comments*Discuss
Driveway Drive Surface Material Tarmac

In our overview article about tarmac laying, we discussed the fact that it's not really a job for the ordinary handyman. This is because of the skill level required, the expense of getting in the specialist machinery, and knowing how to use it (see Tarmac Options For Your Driveway Or Patio). So in this article we'll discuss the key factors that lead to a well done job as a guide, to make sure that you know enough to follow what the contractors are talking about when they come and estimate for the job.

Club Together with Neighbours

One other point that's worth mentioning about tarmac is that although it's very cheap, possibly the cheapest form of hardstanding available, this is only true when the job is over a certain size. This is because of the high setup cost of getting the machinery and skills onsite.

So if you live in a street or estate where a lot of the drives are in need of repair, it might be worth seeing if you can get a few neighbours to club together. This will make the job easier for the contractor and that ought to be passed on to all of you in the form of cheaper drives.

Layers of Construction

As with most other driveway surfaces, there are a number of layers involved, starting with the foundations (see Excavating For A Driveway). Typically, excavations will go down to 16 to 18cm for a driveway or path, then a sub-base of crushed hardcore will go down and be rolled with a road roller. Edging Kerbstones, or a decorative stone or concrete block, whatever you have chosen, should then be laid and haunched on both sides so that they will be supported while the tarmac is laid.

The tarmac will go down in two layers, first the base and then the top surface known as the 'wearing' course. The base layer will use a larger grade of aggregate and has to be delivered in a heated lorry. Once laid roughly along the site of the driveway, the tarmac is spread out and levelled with large, sturdy rakes. The roller then comes over again to compact the base layer, only stopping when it no longer makes marks on the surface.

Top Surface and Finishing

The wearing course has smaller grains of aggregate so there's a finer, better looking and harder wearing top layer. In the future, if the job has been done right all the way through, the driveway can be rejuvenated by skimming the wearing course and re-laying it, a process known as 'overlay'. The laying is done in much the same way as the base course but with more care, and a professional crew will be looking for a tolerance of around half a centimetre across the levels.

The drive will set fairly rapidly and within an hour or so it will be available for careful use. It's best to avoid aggressive accelerating or braking for the first week or so, and in particular turning the wheels when the car is at a stand-still, something that's all too easy with a power-steered car.

Finding the Right Firm

The key to a top finish, however, has to be finding the right company to do the job. Look for at least three firms to come and quote for you, finding them by personal recommendation if possible (see our article Driveway Quotes And Estimates). Check how long they've been in operation, what their guarantees are, and ask to see jobs they have done where you can inspect the work and talk to the customers.

Never allow anyone who just knocks on your door on-spec to lay a tarmac drive at your property. At best, you'll end up with a job that's just a thin layer of tarmac over whatever was there before, and no one to complain to a few weeks later when it all starts looking ropey. At worse, you can find yourself coerced into paying far more than the job is worth by some heavy handed tactics.

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Hi , can any reputable tarmac companies be recommended for our long drive , local to Cheshire and Warrington please ? Regards .
Carolee - 12-Nov-19 @ 2:47 PM
We had a new ditch dug earlier in the year which holds a new drain, gas, water and electricity pipework, which goes to a garage extension/granny flat. This was covered with tarmac, which has since sunk by about 10mm after weekly visits by heavy refuse lorries. Originally the builder said that he would return to remove the top layer of asphalf and recover with new tarmac, as all the 'filler' below will be nicely compressed and the new tarmac should not be so easily compressed. He has just been in touch to say that he now aims to cover with a fine finish coat. As I do not know anything about 'finish coats' I would like to know if this is an acceptable option. Thank you.
John - 17-Oct-17 @ 9:30 AM
I have had a quote. For my concrete drive. To be surfaced over. By tarmac is this a good practice. Most of the concrete. Surface. Is sound.
fletch - 2-Mar-17 @ 6:29 PM
Recently had drive tarmaced looked great when done never parked on it for 4 days since then leaving tyre marks where its exposing the aggregate underneath as if there was insufficient tar coated to the stone and the tyres are removing the top surface i have had company out who in turn agree and the tarmac rep for the plant has been out to take pics what is my rights please regarding this newly laid drive we have receipt of work done which states covered for faulty materials but not wear and tear this cannot be wear and tear after 1 month of being layed
Tjwolf - 28-Feb-17 @ 1:10 PM
I have recently had my driveway dug out and a good base laid and then finished withtarmac ,but I find that after a shower of rain it is covered with large puddles ,l paid £3000 for this work . What redress do I have on this complaint ,
Smiler - 4-Feb-17 @ 8:07 PM
I had my driveway recently dug out and relaid with a tarmac finish ,cost £3000 which I paidfor .but I find when it rains I have large puddles on the surface ,which l am not happy with . What would you advise me to do ?.
Smiler - 4-Feb-17 @ 7:59 PM
I have just had a drive laid by a local firm . I was advised by the company that the curb I had asked for was unnessesaryas it was normal to lay the tramac straight to the edge of the lawn as the machine they used to lay the tarmac produced a great edge as a result of not having any containment of the tarmacwithin days the edge is begining to crumble .Large areas are beginningto come away where rocks have fallen into the paved area and the tarmac is only millimeters thick. Im beggining to understand that even if I didn't want visible curbs some form of containment is essential. Is this a correct assesment. Further I was told that the tarmac would be layed in a continuose strip but as the company did not manage to get the tarmac loads delivered on time I have a seam across the drive . The company agree this is a reasonable expectation but as it was not there faultit was not there problem. This seam was not sealed as I was told it was not nessessaryI have since been told that it shold hve been sealed to stop water \frost damage. The company has agreed to patch the areas that have crumbled but when I suggested that this was likely to happen everywhere at some point they simply pointed out that their work was garanteed for three years and they would patch it as it failed. that they say is the point of a garantee. I feel the pointis to give a level of assurance that it is not going to fail. I do not want a patcheddrive Having paid £12000 for As of yet I have not paid anything and they are demanding payment which I am currantly with holding. do you feel my dissatisfaction is reasonable and are you able to offer any advice as to what should be done to rectify the situation cheers tim
Tim Cracknell - 26-Nov-16 @ 9:01 AM
Have a black tarmac or bitmac dtive laid in 2000.About 22ft long ; about 22ft wide, narrowing to 16ft and sloping slightly.There are a number of surface cracks, with some small weeds .Am considering having it renovated - presumably by resurfacing? Have received one quote, as follows: Key out area and dispose of old material Supply and lay 5 6x5in kerbs£35.00 " ""concrete 25,00 "" "Tar tac coat 30.00 "" " 10mm DBM Asphalt 380.00 Labour 800.00 VAT 160.00 Total1524.00.
Fred - 27-Apr-16 @ 4:03 PM
mike - Your Question:
Should a newly laid tarmacadam surface have fine cracks in it, what would cause this, and how would you remidy this. The driveway had pavers that were lifted, concret removed, gravel laid leveled and rolled then two layers of one course then a fine tarmacadam layed. There were fine cracks noticed on first day, then much more fine cracking over the following days. Please advise.

Our Response:
Cracks do not usually appear for several years. A badly constructed base is often a cause but not always.
DrivewayExpert - 21-Aug-15 @ 10:00 AM
Should a newly laid tarmacadam surfacehave fine cracks in it, what would cause this, and how would you remidy this. The driveway had pavers that were lifted, concret removed, gravel laid leveled and rolled then two layers of one course then a fine tarmacadam layed. There were fine cracks noticed on first day, then much more fine cracking over the following days. Please advise.
mike - 19-Aug-15 @ 10:59 PM
Looking for a company in Northern Ireland that can offer a driveway rather than a black bitmac. Can anyone help
jmonty - 12-Apr-15 @ 5:10 PM
We live in a new build bungalow in Northern Ireland. We have a very large area of driveway to be lain with tarmac for which we have had a quote from a professional. The present surface consists of irregular shaped and sized stones which was lain by our builder. The area to be covered already has weeds and some grass growing in areas where the stones are not compacted by vehicular traffic. Obviously we need to get rid of these weeds prior to the drive being lain with tarmac. What are the best weed killers easily available and which give good coverage? Thanks and Regards John Fitzgerald
John F - 5-Sep-14 @ 4:53 PM
I would like to know what the problems are with having a patterned concrete drive/patio layed.Please inform.
macavity - 22-Mar-12 @ 12:55 PM
We need to know about 'Flexible Tarmac Laid on StructuralSlab Subject to Heavy Load'. Where is This material sell in Moscow or Russia? And how much money?
Askin - 31-Mar-11 @ 11:15 AM
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