Tar and Chip Driveway

Dear James: Our driveway needs to be resurfaced. Everyone in our area has either a concrete or asphalt driveway. Our budget is tight, but I want ours to be unique. What do you think of a tar-and-chip driveway? — Tracy D.

Dear Tracy: You sound like a perfect candidate for a tar-and-chip driveway. It will definitely look unique from the other driveways in your area, and you can probably have it installed at about a 30 percent to 50 percent savings over a conventional asphalt driveway.

The natural beauty of a tar-and-chip driveway (also called shoot-and-chip or seal chip in various areas of the country) is hard to beat. You can vary the appearance of a tar-and-chip driveway by the selection of the color and sizes of the gravel (stone chips) that you select.

These driveways retain their attractive colorful appearance without needing to be treated with sealers every two years like a black asphalt driveway. This makes it even friendlier to your limited budget.

Tar and chip is an old technology that has been used for country roads, drives, etc. for many years. It is similar to a typical black asphalt driveway in that it uses a combination of asphalt cement (binder) and gravel as the main structural component.

Standard asphalt (blacktop) is premixed at the manufacturer’s location and delivered to your home. Tar-and-chip driveway materials are delivered separately to your home and combined there. This is why you have complete flexibility over its final appearance.

Check with gravel dealers in your area. Gravel is available in many light and dark shades of browns, grays and pale greens. A combination is often most attractive. Also, small cubical-shaped gravel works best. The finished driveway surface is slightly rough for excellent tire traction in rain and snow.

Before you sign with a contractor and order the driveway, have your existing driveway inspected. It is very important to have a good base on which to apply the tar-and-chip surface. The surface layer, whether tar and chip or standard asphalt, is strictly a surface finish, not a support base.

A tar-and-chip driveway is usually installed in the following way. The driveway contractor will spray hot liquid asphalt over your existing driveway or gravel base. One gallon of liquid asphalt per two square yards is a commonly used rate. Gravel (chips) is often laid at a rate of about 50 pounds per square yard.

Within minutes, while the asphalt is still hot and very sticky, the gravel is spread over the asphalt. So that the asphalt stays hot and sticky long enough for the gravel to be spread, it is best to do this on a sunny spring or summer day.

Select a contractor who is familiar with and experienced at installing tar-and-chip surfaces. Also, inspect some previous jobs. If they work too slowly or use too little asphalt, the gravel will not adhere adequately. If they use too much asphalt, it can come up through the gravel over time and diminish its unique, attractive appearance.

You can expect this tar-and-chip surface to last for about eight to 10 years. If you had to have your old driveway surface removed first because it was in poor condition, consider having two coats of tar and chip done. This surface can last up to 14 years.

Send your questions to Here’s How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.