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Pros and Cons of a Tar and Chip Driveway

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tar and chip surfacing
Photo courtesy Grand Canyon NPS @ flickr/Creative Commons
When most think about driveway materials, tar and chip (also called chip and seal, seal chip, or macadam) is not one of the first things that come to mind. Concrete? Asphalt? Gravel? Pavers? Yes, those are the more common driveway choices. But just because you may not have heard of tar and chip before doesn't mean you shouldn't consider it. You've almost certainly driven over miles of tar and chip roadways and parking lots. It's a good driveway choice for those wanting to keep costs down.

Tar and chip driveways are a low cost alternative to asphalt, offering a more solid surface than plain gravel. They also have a rough texture, which makes for much better footing when wet or snow covered.

What Is a Tar and Chip Driveway?

The expression "tar and chip" refers to asphalt (liquid form) and stone. I suppose that somewhere along the line, someone decided that "tar and chip" sounded better than "liquid asphalt and stones."

How To Maintain a Tar and Chip Driveway

There really is no regular maintenance required of a tar and chip driveway. Unlike asphalt, it doesn't have to be sealed every year or so. That's the good news. On the other hand, snow removal can create problems. If you use a snowplow to clear the driveway, it can damage the surface. For best results, make sure that the plow rides just above the driveway. You can remove this leftover snow with a shovel, or just wait for it to melt away.

How Long Will a Tar and Chip Driveway Last?

Tar and chip driveways are not built for the long haul. Expect the surface to remain sound from 7 to 10 years. At that point, you may want to add another layer of tar and stones.

What Does a Tar and Chip Driveway Cost?

Since it is primarily composed of asphalt and gravel, it is useful to think of its cost in comparison to those other two options for a driveway. A tar and chip driveway will typically cost about twice as much as a gravel driveway, and a little less than an asphalt driveway. Expect to pay in the range of $2 to $4 per square foot. As is the case with asphalt driveways, the costs of oil are a big factor in the installation expense.

How Is a Tar and Chip Driveway Built?

Building a tar and chip driveway is a pretty simple process. First, as with most driveway materials, a gravel base is installed. Then, hot liquid asphalt is poured over the gravel. This is followed by a coating of loose stones, which are rolled into the asphalt to form the finish surface. Tar and chip can be installed over existing driveway materials provided they are in reasonably good shape.

It's in the selection of this top layer of stones that you have choices to make regarding the look of your finished driveway. You can choose among different colors of stones to create a unique and personally appealing surface.

One problem with building a tar and chip driveway, however, is that there aren't a lot of contractors who specialize in this type of work. And it's certainly not a DIY type of project. Before getting too committed to using tar and chip on your own driveway, do some Internet hunting to see if you can find someone in your area with the necessary experience and equipment.

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