The Art of Laying 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.

The Contractor’s Viewpoint

Due to the above clubbing together situation, you’ll also need a good contractor and one that is experienced at dealing with situations like this. Otherwise, he might just take one look at all of you and runoff. The fact is that in order for all of you to get cheap drives, he has got to be able to get the equipment in there quickly, and if he’s booked for a long time frame then that’s simply not going to happen.

That means if you are going to try clubbing together with neighbours, make sure you ask the contractor about his experience of this before you book him. Also, ask if his machinery can be moved around easily

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. It sounds easy, but the skill does come in when you have to get a consistently good finish that doesn’t need topping up or needs as little of it as possible.

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. This will help keep the tarmac correctly aligned while it sets solid.

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.

On the day that the job starts, check how much machinery they have and if it’s heavy enough for the job. The hard work involved is why driveways cost more than paths, so be sure you’re paying a fair price. Above all, make sure the company has been recommended to you by someone who knows

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.

High Quality Driveways From The Experts

If you need a new driveway, make sure you choose the best from the start. A good driveway will add an enormous amount to any property – professional drives can last up to 30 years in some cases – and you don’t want it ruined by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Make sure the job is done by the experts and take a look at what they recommend that you install under your tarmac to avoid any problems in the future.


Owning a house is a great investment regardless of whether you rent out your property. It can be an even better one when it comes to getting more than what you originally purchased it for as long as you leave maintenance up to the experts rather than try DIY solutions. The same goes for tarmac driveways, and hiring professional companies will save you a lot of time, money and effort in the long-term.

The upkeep on asphalt is minimal if you stay away from direct heat sources like fire pits. In fact, a simple broom and water cleaning every once in a while should do the trick but it’s also prudent to have the driveway power washed yearly by a professional to remove any built-up grime. A year will go by fast and you’ll be glad you decided to hire a professional when it comes time to sell your property.

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