Everything You Need To Know About Tarmac Driveways

Tarmac is one of the most popular materials for driveways and with good reason. It has a lot of excellent qualities including durability and fast installation. Of course, there are some downsides to tarmac as well so it’s really important to look at all points to figure out if this is the right material for you. 

Furthermore, homeowners considering this material may wonder how much a tarmac driveway costs and what they’ll need to do to care for their new surface. 

With all those burning questions, you may feel as though you’re in a minefield which is why I’ve put together this handy guide on everything you need to know about tarmac driveways. 

What Is Tarmac?

Tarmacadam, often simply referred to as tarmac, is a bituminous material that’s very dark and is laid while it is still in a hot liquid form. The material is made using tar, crushed aggregates and sand and is commonly used for surfacing roads and driveways, among other things. Once the liquid is laid and left to cool, the result is a hardwearing and durable surface.

How Are Tarmac Driveways Installed?

One of the great things about tarmac is how quickly it can be installed. Of course, there are some steps involved and you may not be able to use the surface for 48 hours after installation which is something worth keeping in mind.

Before the new tarmac driveway can be installed, the current area needs to be excavated to around 175 mm. It’s important that this excavation is smooth and level but the depth may need to be altered depending on the integrity of the ground. 

After this, your contractor will edge the area which is a process that ensures the final solid tarmac will not crumble. How this is done depends on what materials are available and your personal preference. For example, some people will use concrete or kerbs whereas others might opt for something like railway sleepers.

Once it’s time to lay the tarmac, your contractor will do this in two layers. The first is called the base layer which is delivered in a heated vehicle and poured out onto the surface before being spread. When it’s spread, a roller is used to flatten and compact it.

The second layer, or wearing course, will then be installed and is composed of finer stones so that the end result looks smooth as well as being incredibly durable. The installation will be much the same as the previous layer but attention to detail will be much higher.

Are Tarmac And Asphalt The Same Thing?

A lot of people use the terms tarmac and asphalt interchangeably and you’ll notice that the two materials look very similar to the untrained eye. But despite this, they are not the same thing and when you look more closely, you’ll notice that there are some very clear differences.

Tarmac is made using tar and crushed stones which results in a very strong and resistant surface that has extremely good grip. What’s more, the aesthetic value of tarmac cannot be understated which is one of the main reasons that so many people choose it for their driveways.

However, while tarmac was once a very widely used material, there is now something called bitmac which is often used in its place. When choosing a contractor, if you want authentic tarmac, you’ll need to make sure you’re clear on what they’re using. But I’ll go into more detail on choosing the right tradesperson later on. 

Bitmac is made by using bitumen in place of tar and the good thing about this is that there is less chance of stain damage from things like petrol spills. The surface is actually a lot closer in nature to asphalt than it is tarmac. But this still doesn’t mean they’re the same thing. 

In bitmac, there is much more sand whereas asphalt has a very high aggregate content and this is mixed with bitumen which binds everything together. 

The great thing about asphalt is that it’s a lot more cost effective when you’re surfacing a larger area which is why it’s often used for roads, public car parks and so forth. That said, if you’re only surfacing a small driveway, it’ll probably cost you more. 

On top of that, you have to consider that, while asphalt is very durable, it isn’t as resistant as tarmac to things like tyre scuffs. But if you’re looking for something that’s easy to maintain and will resist the elements better, asphalt usually comes out on top. Plus, it’s the more eco-friendly of the two options which is something that’s important to the modern homeowner.

So, it’s easy to see that asphalt and tarmac are not one of the same and while there are clear benefits to asphalt, tarmac is a more affordable option for small driveways. 

The Pros Of Tarmac

Aesthetically speaking, tarmac is not one of the top contenders in terms of driveway materials. It doesn’t look bad, not by a long stretch but there are things that might be a little easier on the eye. That said, if you’re happy with a simple look then tarmac, with its many advantages could be the right choice for you. Here are some of the pros. 

Ease Of Installation

What’s great about tarmac is that it can be laid over pretty much any surface. This isn’t the case with things like concrete or pavers so the project will always be a lot simpler. You will need to remove a lawn and excavate as I discussed earlier but otherwise, you’re good to go.

Fast Installation

As well as being easy to lay, tarmac driveways are among some of the quickest surface installations out there. If you hire a professional, they should be able to have things done in the space of an afternoon so you won’t need to worry about having your life disrupted for days on end.


One of the best things about tarmac is how durable it is. If you’re looking for a strong surface material then it’s right up there because it’ll resist the weight of cars and other vehicles extremely well.

On top of this, tarmac is an impermeable material that will help to reduce the risk of water damage. It’ll easily resist the weather, especially when it is well taken care of.


Tarmac is an incredibly affordable option for your driveway and in general, you can expect to pay no more than around £65 a square metre. Compare this to imprinted concrete which can cost up to £130 per square metre and it’s easy to see the difference. 

When it comes to maintenance, you’ll find that the ongoing costs of owning a tarmac driveway aren’t bank breaking. The worst case scenario is that a new layer needs to be added on top but this really only applies where there is extensive damage. Otherwise, you can repair any scratches or dents with a polish which won’t cost the earth. 

The Cons Of Tarmac

While tarmac does have a lot of excellent traits, it’s just like anything else and does come with some disadvantages. These might not be deal breakers as it really depends on what you’re looking for but they’re worth considering in any case. 

Not UV Resistant

Tarmac is great at resisting heat which is why it’ll hold up well in summer. However, frequent exposure to UV rays means that the surface will become easily damaged. The result of this is that the tarmac becomes brittle and, after some time, you’ll begin noticing potholes.

Problems With Oil And Petrol

If your vehicle accidentally leaks oil or fuel onto your tarmac driveway, there is a risk of damage where other materials might resist this. The oil can dissolve the binding agents within the material and this will eventually cause the surface to crack.

Weed Growth

If your tarmac driveway develops cracks then these can be an ideal place for weeds to thrive. This is why it’s really important to repair any cracks as soon as you notice them because the growth of weeds could cause them to widen. 

On top of this, you have to consider that tarmac makes the perfect place for algae and moss to grow which typically happens when the surface is left wet for long periods of time. When this happens, your driveway will be very slippery and unsafe.

Choosing The Right Contractor To Install Your Tarmac Driveway

I’d never advise trying to install your own tarmac driveway; choosing a reliable contractor will ensure that the job is done correctly and to a high standard. But of course, there are dodgy people out there and you’ll also want to make sure you’re getting the best value for money. So, here are my top tips on finding the right contractor for your tarmac driveway. 

Getting Quotes

You could call up a contractor who gives you a seemingly brilliant quote and that’s great. But they aren’t going anywhere and there could be someone else offering something much better so it’s worth shopping around. 

Generally speaking, you’ll want to get quotes from at least three traders. Not only will this help you find the best price but it’ll also give you a fair idea of what the average cost in your area is.

Read Reviews

We are fortunate to live in a time where we have access to a wealth of information online and that includes reviews of various contractors and companies. 

Before you agree to working with anyone, make sure you read up on their previous customer’s experiences. This will tell you a lot about the quality of their work, their value for money, their customer service and much more. 

People are very happy to provide honest reviews especially when the work has been particularly good or bad so you’ll get a clear picture of what to expect very quickly. 

Look at independent reviews on things like Yell or Google as opposed to testimonials on the contractor’s website as they typically only display the good ones. Independent sites will show the good, the bad and the ugly so you can pick out the best of the best. 


Not just anyone can lay a tarmac driveway, it takes a certain amount of knowledge and skill. This is why it’s really important to look at your chosen contractor’s accreditations so you can be assured of the quality of their work. Things like an accreditation with Construction Online or the Federation of Master Builders are very good signs. 

Taking Care Of Your New Tarmac Driveway

Once your new tarmac driveway is installed, you’ll be keen to put it to good use. However, it is recommended that you leave the surface for at least 48 hours to set before you drive your car onto it. Doing so beforehand could cause indents since the surface will still have a softness to it. However, light foot traffic will be OK before this. 

On top of making sure that you wait the full setting time before using your new tarmac driveway, there are a few other things you’ll want to consider in terms of taking good care of it. 

  • I wouldn’t recommend using your car’s power steering when on the tarmac as this comes with a risk of tye scuffs. The probability of this is even worse when the weather is hot. While in a lot of cases, the marks will fade, it’s best if they aren’t there in the first place. 
  • When summer comes around and things heat up, the tarmac may soften somewhat and this means that it’s more likely to be damaged by anything that places pressure on the surface. This could be something as simple as a ladder or bike stand so it’s worth using something underneath items like these to relieve some pressure. 
  • As I discussed earlier, spills of fuel or oil can be damaging to tarmac so it’s best to avoid this where possible. However, accidents happen and when they do, get onto it right away by cleaning the tarmac with water. You can also place down sawdust to soak up the liquid.
  • Make sure to treat your tarmac driveway with weed killer, especially where there are cracks. The longer the driveway is laid, the more prone it will become to weeds. 
  • While it is OK to use a pressure washer on tarmac, I’d always recommend using low pressure to avoid damage. Before cleaning with water, you’ll need to sweep away any debris for the best results.

Final Thoughts

If you have been thinking about installing a tarmac driveway then you’re among one of the millions of people who choose this durable and long lasting material. There are a lot of advantages to using tarmac but a few points that I’d urge you to consider before settling on a decision. 

It’s also important to choose your contractor wisely and educate yourself on how to properly care for your new driveway. Everything you need to know can be found in this guide.

Driveway Expert