Driveways are an incredibly useful feature of any property. A house that offers off-road parking is often more marketable, and parking can also add significant value, especially in urban areas. If you’re building a new home, or you’re planning major renovation work. And you’re toying with the idea of creating a new driveway or modifying an existing external area, it’s always wise to weigh up your options. 

There’s a vast range of materials that can be used to produce a new drive. One of the most popular options is tarmac. If you’re in the process of putting plans together or coming up with a vision of what you want your new home to look like, here’s a useful tarmac drive guide. This informative guide will tell you everything you need to know about tarmac driveways.

A tarmac drive between two houses leading up to a cul de sacA tarmac drive between two houses leading up to a cul de sacA tarmac drive between two houses leading up to a cul de sacA tarmac drive between two houses leading up to a cul de sac

A tarmac drive is not only practical, but it also looks great when maintained

An Introduction To Tarmac Drives

The name Tarmac originates from John MacAdam, and this is why tarmac is sometimes known as tarmacadam or macadam

Tarmac is one of the most commonly used materials for both residential and commercial driveways. Famed for providing durability and value for money, tarmac appeals to a wide range of homeowners. The name Tarmac originates from John MacAdam, and this is why tarmac is sometimes known as tarmacadam or macadam. 

Tarmac was created by using tar, a natural binding material, to hold stones together. You may also come across articles or features that refer to tarmac as bitmac, which is a short form of bitumen macadam. This type of tarmac is formed when bitumen is used as a binding agent, rather than tar.

Tarmac driveways are very popular, and they offer a number of advantages. Although they may not be every home builder’s first choice, it’s always beneficial to explore every option before making a decision. 

If you are designing and building your own home, or you’re renovating an old or dated property. It’s useful to know what kind of benefits each type of material offers. With a tarmac drive, there is limited scope for individual style and flair. But you know exactly what you’re getting, and for many, the durability and reliability of tarmac make it an obvious choice.

The Pros And Cons Of Tarmac Drives

This type of driveway is often significantly cheaper than alternatives, for example, block paving

Designing or renovating any kind of property requires careful planning and preparation, and there are choices to make throughout the process. When it comes to bringing a vision to life, you have to focus on the aesthetics, but it’s also wise to consider the practicalities. 

You want a driveway that looks fantastic and adds serious curb appeal, but you also need to ensure that it works for you as an individual buyer, a couple or a family. If you’re looking into the possibility of laying a tarmac drive, here are some pros and cons to bear in mind.

The Pros

  • Cost: there are few things that are more important when building your own home or carrying out extensive renovation work than budgeting. When you buy a turnkey property, you know exactly how much it is going to cost you to complete the purchase and move in. You add the offer price to legal fees and stamp duty, and you have a total.

    With building or working on a project, budgeting is more complex. You have to incorporate costs for every single element of the build or remodel to get an accurate idea of how much the property or the renovation work is going to cost. And how much value any work you undertake will add. One of the most appealing benefits of tarmac is the cost.

    This type of driveway is often significantly cheaper than alternatives, for example, block paving. If you’re working to a specific budget, or you’re looking to make cutbacks without sacrificing quality or durability, tarmac could work for you. The exact cost will depend on the individual property, but you should find that tarmac is one of the cheapest options out there.

    You’ll find more detailed information about prices and the cost of tarmac drives in the section entitled ‘How much is a tarmac drive?’

  • Value for money: when you take on a building project of any size or scale, it is beneficial to use materials that offer value for money. Sometimes, the cheapest option is appealing based on the outlay, but investing in the future is preferable.

    With tarmac, you get the best of both worlds. Tarmac is a cheaper option than other materials, but it is also built to last. This means that you can create a driveway that will stand the test of time on a relatively low budget. 

  • Durability: tarmac is an incredibly hard-wearing substance, which is capable of withstanding wear and tear and adverse weather conditions. Although there is a risk of tarmac cracking in extreme heat, it’s very unlikely that temperatures would ever reach this point in the UK.

    A tarmac drive should last up to 20 years, provided that it is laid and maintained properly. If you use your driveway on a continual basis, or you have heavy vehicles for work purposes, for example, tarmac could be an ideal option for you. 

  • Speed: tarmac drives can be completed in just a couple of days. A professional can mix and lay tarmac within hours and then the new driveway is left to dry.

    As tarmac dries faster than other materials and installation is simpler, this means that you can start enjoying your new drive sooner. 

  • Practicality: tarmac often ticks the practical box because it’s quick to install, it’s strong, and it dries rapidly. If your driveway is ready to use within a few days, this means less disruption for you and anyone else who uses the path.

    Tarmac is also a sensible choice because it is designed for heavy use. With tarmac, you don’t have to fret about your pristine driveway being ruined or damaged by torrential downpours, changes in weather conditions or chips or scuffs. 

  • Versatile aesthetics: some people may prefer the look of paving or block paving, but there are aesthetic benefits of tarmac drives. Tarmac on its own works well for many properties, especially those with a contemporary look, but it also complements other materials.

    With tarmac drives, you can incorporate brickwork, tiles or stone to add interest or create a unique driveway for your home. 

  • Impermeable: it’s fair to say that we get a lot of rain in the UK. So investing in an impermeable surface is a good idea. Tarmac is resistant to heavy rain, so you don’t have to worry about tackling a clean-up operation if the weather takes a turn for the worse. 

  • Hassle-free maintenance: time is of the essence for most people, and choosing tarmac will benefit those who don’t want to devote a lot of time to tending to the drive. It’s easy to repair scratches or dents, and even if there is significant damage, it’s often possible to add an overlay. 

  • Environmental impact: many of us are eager to be more eco-friendly. Using tarmac can help to conserve natural resources because it can be recycled and used multiple times. Tarmac does not run into rivers and waterways like some other building materials, as it solidifies very quickly. 

The Cons

  • Looks: tarmac drives aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Some people like the simplicity and boldness of a tarmac drive, but others prefer paving or tiles.

    When you’re renovating a property or you’re building your own home. It’s up to you which materials to use, and you should make a decision based on your individual preferences and the style of your home. 

  • Size and shape limitations: tarmac is suitable for the vast majority of homeowners, but it may not be the best option for those who have a bijou or an awkwardly-shaped external area.

    In tight spaces, it can be challenging to manoeuvre the machinery required to lay the tarmac, and other options may be more suitable. 

  • Weeds: if you have a tarmac drive, you may find that you notice weeds and moss growing. To prevent this, you can ask your contractor about installing materials that will act as a form of membrane barrier.

  • Compatibility: if you’re building a new house or you’ve taken on a fixer-upper, and you have neighbours, your decision may be influenced by the properties around you. If they don’t have tarmac drives, you might find that creating a tarmac driveway doesn’t work as well.

    If you live in a rural area with no houses nearby, this won’t be a concern. 

A team of road workers applying tarmac to a drivewayA team of road workers applying tarmac to a drivewayA team of road workers applying tarmac to a drivewayA team of road workers applying tarmac to a driveway

Preparation and correct installation is hugely important with tarmac

Installation Requirements

Have you decided that a tarmac driveway is the best option for you? If so, it’s wise to be aware of the steps involved in the installation process. When you contact contractors, ask about the services included, and make sure any quotes you get cover the entire job. 

Typically, installing a tarmac drive will involve the following steps:

  • Site survey: a contractor will visit the site to take a look around and locate gas and water systems. The survey is used to plan the installation and maximise the chances of everything running smoothly once work is underway.

  • Digging out and excavating the site: this process involves removing waste from the site and preparing the area. If there are deep-rooted trees or shrubs, this step will take longer. 

  • Installing a drainage channel: drainage is crucial to prevent pooling and flooding. A drainage channel will be created and connected to a soakaway, which will ensure that surface water seeps away. 

  • Laying weed prevention felt and preparing the ground. 

  • Laying the base

  • Adding edging stones

  • Laying the course tarmac

  • Laying the fine tarmac surface layer

The time it takes to lay a tarmac drive will depend on a number of factors. 

These include:

  • The size and shape of the driveway: larger drives and those that have an awkward shape are likely to take longer than medium-sized drives that are a routine shape. Tarmac may not be recommended for very small spaces. 

  • Trees and large shrubs: if there are trees or large shrubs present in the area that is due to be excavated and covered, this can make the task more arduous. Tree roots will need to be removed, which can take time. 

  • Weather: as with most building and construction tasks, the speed of progress can be hampered by the weather. If it’s raining, there is ice on the ground, or it’s snowing, it may be necessary to delay work by a day or two. 

  • Workforce: the completion date often depends on how many people are working on the drive. If there are two contractors rather than one, for example, the job will be done faster. 

Choosing The Right Contractor

Search for a company that has expertise in the kind of driveway you’re looking for

If you took a second to search online for a driveway contractor, you might find that there are several companies in your local area. It’s advantageous to have a choice, but how do you go about choosing a contractor and making sure that you select the best company for the job?

When looking for a contractor, follow these steps:

  • Ask for recommendations: if you’re moving into a town or village, or you’re building close to other houses, ask around for recommendations. This is particularly beneficial if you spot homes nearby that have fabulous looking driveways.

    You can also ask friends, family members and colleagues or post on social media and see if your contacts have any tips. 

  • Read reviews: reviews play an increasingly important role in the decision-making process. Many of us read reviews before booking a table at a restaurant or ordering from an online store. And it’s also really useful to consult websites and look at testimonials when researching contractors.

    Use impartial sites, and take a look at websites that are designed specifically for companies and individuals operating within the construction industry. You can view ratings and read comments left by genuine customers. 

  • View previous work: looking at galleries and portfolios is a great way to get an idea of what you can expect from an individual contractor. Search for a company that has expertise in the kind of driveway you’re looking for, and don’t be afraid to contact different contractors and ask to view images. 

  • Check the credentials: when you’re paying out for a new driveway, you want to be sure that you can trust the contractor to do a brilliant job. Before you sign any contracts or agree on prices, check the company credentials. And make sure they are registered with the relevant authorities and that they have public liability insurance.

  • Get some quotes: competition among contractors is fierce, and this is why it’s crucial to get a host of quotes before you make a decision. Take your time to mull over the options, and figure out which offers the best value for money.

    This might not always be the lowest price. Some contractors may provide a more comprehensive service or they may be able to complete the job sooner, for example.  

  • Agree on a price: sometimes, when you contact a contractor, they will provide you with an estimate, rather than a set fee. If this is the case, and you’re thinking of proceeding with that offer. Agree a final price and ask for the quote in writing.

  • Read the small print: before you sign on the dotted line or pay any money, read the small print and make sure you’re aware of the terms and conditions. 

  • Ask questions: if you have questions about your new driveway, don’t hesitate to ask contractors before you make a final decision. It’s important that you have all the information you need before you commit to a contractor. 

A homeowner pouring tarmac down to repair his driveA homeowner pouring tarmac down to repair his driveA homeowner pouring tarmac down to repair his driveA homeowner pouring tarmac down to repair his drive

Tarmac can be repaired relatively easily

What To Look For In A Tarmac Drive

As a proud homeowner or budding self-builder, you want to create a driveway that offers both style and substance. When browsing portfolios and looking at examples of previous work, here are some key points to look for in a tarmac drive:

  • A flawless finish

  • A sturdy, solid base

  • Attention to detail

  • Speed and efficiency: look for contractors who have an excellent track record in completing projects on time and on budget

Selecting The Right Type Of Driveway

If you’re building or renovating a house, it’s important to consider the aesthetic impact of adding a new driveway

There are several different types of driveway available. Unless you have your heart set on a particular material, it’s advisable to explore different options before you reach a decision. Here are some factors to consider during the decision-making process:

Aesthetic Appeal

Most of us want to feel proud when we pull up outside our homes. If you’re building or renovating a house, it’s important to consider the aesthetic impact of adding a new driveway. Is tarmac ideally suited to your house, or would you prefer a more rustic or intricate design? 

It is worth noting that tarmac can be used alongside other materials to create a more detailed look. If you’re unsure what kinds of materials would look best, browse interior magazines and blogs. Have a drive around and see if there are any real-life examples that catch your eye and peruse online galleries posted by driveway contractors. 

Adding a fantastic looking driveway can not only enhance your appreciation of the look of your home. It will also add value and make your property more appealing to buyers if you choose to sell.

Cost

Whether you’re designing and building a brand new property, or you’re overhauling an old house, your budget is likely to impact the choices you make. Some driveway materials are cheaper than others, and the price may affect your decision. 

If you’re struggling to decide, get some quotes for different materials from a few contractors and then weigh up your options.

Size

The size of the drive may also play a role. If you have a very small outdoor area at the front of your house, for example, tarmac may not be the best option. Although tarmac is often a cost-effective choice, in the case of small drives, it can actually work out more expensive due to the cost of labour and equipment. 

Purpose

When you’re exploring different driveway options, it’s important to think about how you plan to use your drive. If you live in the city, and you don’t drive. It could be that your driveway is purely there for aesthetic reasons, and this means that durability and strength are less important. 

If you own multiple vehicles, you have a truck or a van, you drive regularly. And you expect your drive to withstand wear and tear and traffic, it’s wise to select a material that is going to look the part for years to come.

Tarmac being smoothed out with a large deck brushTarmac being smoothed out with a large deck brushTarmac being smoothed out with a large deck brushTarmac being smoothed out with a large deck brush

If your tarmac drive is damaged you can patch it back up with the appropriate products

How Much Is A Tarmac Drive?

The best thing to do if you are toying with the idea of adding a tarmac driveway is to call some local contractors

Cost is an essential consideration for the vast majority of homeowners and self-builders. Although it’s possible to get a rough idea of the cost of a tarmac driveway based on the average cost per square metre. The best thing to do if you are toying with the idea of adding a tarmac driveway is to call some local contractors and get some quotes for your property. 

Installation costs can range from around £45-£65 per square metre, but there are multiple factors that can affect the total price of a project. These include:

  • Your location: you may find that your postcode affects your quote. Driveway contractors based in London, for example, are likely to charge more than those based in other parts of the country. Prices tend to be higher in the South than in the North, but this is not always the case. 

  • The size of the drive: as prices are calculated per square metre, the larger the drive, the higher the fee. 

  • Installation requirements: some drives are easier to install than others, and this will be reflected in the cost. If there is already a flat, smooth surface in place, preparation work will be less intense, and the cost will be lower than a first-time installation.

  • Local rules and regulations: in some cases, you may need permits and permissions to create your driveway, and this might affect the overall cost. Make sure you do your homework and contact your local authority to enable you to budget properly. 

  • Drainage: if you don’t already have drainage systems in place, these will need to be implemented, and this will increase the cost of the project. 

  • The number of coats: the number of coats or layers of tarmac will affect the price. The more coats, the higher the price. 

  • Labour fees: labour fees vary from one contractor to another, so obtain several quotes before making a final decision. 

  • Colour: red tarmac tends to cost more than black tarmac. 

  • Sloped drives: if the ground is sloped, the job becomes more complex, and the price may rise.

  • Restricted access: if it’s difficult to access the site, a contractor may charge more. 

How To Maintain

Tarmac is incredibly strong and durable, but it’s not immune to damage

Tarmac is often chosen by homeowners due to the fact that it is easy to maintain. Once you have a flawless driveway, it’s natural to want it to look pristine for as long as possible. The good news is that you don’t have to put a huge amount of effort into maintaining your drive to keep it in tip-top condition. 

Here are some simple maintenance tips:

  • Let your drive dry completely before applying pressure: If you’ve recently had tarmac laid, make sure you let it dry out completely before stepping or driving on the surface. If the tarmac is still soft, this could cause indentations. 

  • Drive carefully: it’s highly unlikely that you’ll pull into your drive at high speed, but driving carefully can help to reduce the risk of scuffs, as well as collisions. 

  • Supporting heavy weights: tarmac is incredibly strong and durable, but it’s not immune to damage. If you have a caravan or a trailer, protect your driveway by slipping a wooden board underneath the wheels. This will help to reduce the risk of indentation and scrapes. 

  • Sealing your drive: you can preserve the surface of your drive by applying sealant, which acts as a barrier. It’s usually best to start using sealant around 12 months after the tarmac is laid. 

  • Seeking advice: if you have any concerns about the appearance of your drive, or you think that a damaged area may be getting bigger, for example, don’t hesitate to contact your contractor. If there is a worn or cracked patch, it’s usually best to remedy the situation before it gets worse. 

A tarmac overlay being applied to an old tarmac drivewayA tarmac overlay being applied to an old tarmac drivewayA tarmac overlay being applied to an old tarmac drivewayA tarmac overlay being applied to an old tarmac driveway

A tarmac overlay may be a more convenient option for you

What Is A Tarmac Overlay?

When researching tarmac drives, you may come across the term tarmac overlay. An overlay is a surface layer of tarmac, which is placed over the top of an existing driveway. This may be an option if your drive is worn, for example. 

An overlay is cheaper than a new tarmac driveway. But it’s only a viable option if the structure of the existing drive is sound and stable, and there are no holes or patches in the base layer. With an overlay, the installation process is much simpler and quicker, as there is no need to incorporate a sub-base or a binding course of tarmac.

If you’re renovating an old house, and there is a driveway, but it has seen better days. It’s worth seeking advice to see if it would be possible to lay an overlay. 

Replace Or Resurface An Existing Tarmac Drive?

A well-maintained tarmac drive should last up to 20 years. If you plan to stay in your current home, or the home you’re in the process of building, for a long time. This may mean that you need to consider either replacing or resurfacing your drive in the future. 

Generally speaking, the decision to replace or resurface will depend heavily on the condition of the tarmac. Resurfacing is a lot less expensive than replacing the driveway, but it might not be a viable option for everyone. If the tarmac is worn and tired, or there is substantial damage, replacement may be a better long-term option. 

Resurfacing will strengthen the tarmac and enhance aesthetics for a period of time, but the results won’t last as long as a new driveway. If you’re unsure which option is best, consult an expert. They will be able to tell you which option is best based on the condition of your drive and how long you plan to stay in the property.

What Are The Alternatives To Tarmac?

Tarmac is one of the most popular options for driveways in the UK. If you’re not convinced, or you want to explore other ideas, here are some of the alternatives:

  • Gravel and small stones: gravel is an affordable option, and many people love the aesthetic, but it can be difficult to walk and drive on. It is relatively easy to create a gravel or stone driveway, and there’s also the added benefit of enhanced security provided by the noise underfoot. 

  • Block paving: block paving is a very popular option. This is a versatile material, and there’s a huge range of patterns and designs on offer. Block paving is durable and hard-wearing, but it is often more expensive than tarmac, and the installation process takes longer. 

  • Concrete and pattern concrete: tarmac driveways tend to be cheaper than concrete drives, and they are also easier to maintain. The major benefit of concrete is its durability. It’s not uncommon for concrete driveways to last for up to 40 years. If you choose pattern concrete, you can also create a more detailed and unique aesthetic. 

In Summary

Tarmac is a hugely popular choice for homeowners in the UK. Tarmac is strong and durable, it is capable of withstanding the elements and it looks smart and stylish. If you’re looking to create a tarmac driveway, it’s useful to weigh up the pros and cons, to compare tarmac with other materials. And to consider how much you want to spend and how you plan to use your driveway. 

If you decide that tarmac is the best choice for you, and you’re looking for the best contractor in your area. Read reviews online and ask colleagues, neighbours, and friends for recommendations and contact companies and ask to see examples of previous work. It’s best to get a series of quotes before you make a decision. And to agree on a price for the job, which is confirmed on paper.