Tar-and-Chip Driveways – Budget Friendly

Tar and Chip Driveway

If you’re tired of seeing the same old concrete and asphalt driveways in your neighborhood and want to stand out without breaking the bank, it’s time to consider a tar-and-chip driveway. Also known as chip-and-seal, seal chip, macadam, or liquid-asphalt-and-stone, this paving option offers a rustic, yet charming appearance that’s both budget-friendly and visually appealing.

What is a Tar-and-Chip Driveway?

Tar-and-chip driveways consist of successive layers of gravel, hot liquid bitumen asphalt, and more loose stone that are laid over the surface and compressed. The result is a surface that looks similar to asphalt but uses a different installation process. This type of driveway has been successfully used for many years, particularly in rural areas, and offers a cost-effective alternative to more common paving materials like concrete, gravel, pavers, and asphalt.

Pros and Cons of Tar-and-Chip Driveways

Before diving into the world of tar-and-chip driveways, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons to determine if this option is the best fit for your needs.


  • Low cost
  • Good traction
  • Easy maintenance
  • More durable than gravel


  • Limited lifespan
  • Contractors may be hard to find
  • Easily damaged by snowplows

Tar-and-Chip Driveway Cost

Since tar-and-chip driveways primarily consist of asphalt and gravel, it’s useful to compare their cost to other paving options. A tar-and-chip driveway will typically cost about twice as much as a gravel driveway and slightly less than an asphalt driveway. Expect to pay in the range of $2 to $5 per square foot, with the exact cost varying depending on your region and labor costs in your community. Keep in mind that the costs of oil have a significant impact on the installation expense, and the price of these driveways may increase if the commodity price of oil goes up.

Longevity of Tar-and-Chip Driveways

While tar-and-chip driveways offer a more budget-friendly and durable option than gravel, they’re not as long-lasting as concrete. A tar-and-chip driveway can last up to 10 years, compared to 40 years or more for a concrete driveway. To prolong the lifespan of your tar-and-chip driveway, consider layering it with a thin under-layer of concrete, which can increase longevity and potentially save money in the long run.

Maintenance and Repair of Tar-and-Chip Driveways

One of the advantages of tar-and-chip driveways is their low maintenance requirements. Unlike asphalt, they don’t need to be repeatedly sealed, and small cracks tend to heal themselves. The surface can be renewed every 10 years or so by spreading additional hot bitumen and loose stone.

However, be aware that the rough surface of tar-and-chip paving can be scraped by snowplows that apply too much pressure. If using a plow, keep the blade slightly above the surface; a shovel or snow blower may be a better choice.

Design Considerations for Tar-and-Chip Driveways

Tar-and-chip driveways offer a rustic appearance that’s most suitable for rural locations or informal landscapes. Because they’re relatively inexpensive, they can be an excellent paving material for long driveways. When selecting the top layer of stones for your driveway, you can choose from various colors to create a unique and personally appealing surface.

Tar-and-Chip Driveway Installation Process

Building a tar-and-chip driveway is a relatively simple process, but it requires the expertise of a skilled contractor. First, a gravel base is installed, followed by the pouring of hot liquid asphalt over the gravel. Next, a coating of loose stones is rolled into the bitumen to form the finished surface.

Tar and Chip Driveway Installation

Tar-and-chip driveways can be installed over existing driveway materials, provided they’re in reasonably good shape. However, finding a contractor experienced in tar-and-chip driveway installation can be challenging, as it’s not as common as asphalt paving. Be sure to do your research and find someone in your area with the necessary experience and equipment.

Comfort and Convenience of Tar-and-Chip Driveways

The texture of tar-and-chip paving offers better traction than asphalt and concrete when the surface is wet or snow-covered, making it a safer choice for homeowners in areas with inclement weather.

Top Brands for Tar-and-Chip Driveways

There are no national brands for tar-and-chip driveways, so it’s essential to research and verify the credentials and reputation of local contractors before hiring them. Your best option is to search for asphalt businesses, as some of them may also install tar-and-chip driveways.

Tar-and-Chip vs. Asphalt Driveways

Most tar-and-chip paving today doesn’t use genuine tar but is instead comprised of liquid asphalt (bitumen). Both materials refer to a sticky liquid or semi-liquid form of petroleum. Unlike tar, which is a distilled substance, bitumen (asphalt) is a naturally occurring material.

Asphalt paving involves a premixed blend of bitumen and gravel that’s applied as a hot, malleable material and packed and flattened to form a paved surface. In contrast, tar-and-chip driveways feature separate layers of petroleum-based liquid and aggregate. This results in a more informal look than asphalt, and it’s also less expensive and less durable. However, finding contractors experienced in tar-and-chip paving might be more challenging than locating those who specialize in asphalt installation.

Is a Tar-and-Chip Driveway Right for You?

A tar-and-chip driveway may be the best choice for homeowners seeking informal, budget-friendly paving material. However, be sure to check with local regulations, as some urban or suburban communities may have ordinances or covenants against using this informal material for driveways.


Tar-and-chip driveways offer a unique and cost-effective alternative to traditional concrete and asphalt driveways. With their rustic charm, low maintenance requirements, and relatively low installation costs, they’re an attractive option for many homeowners. However, it’s essential to find a skilled contractor experienced in tar-and-chip driveway installation to ensure a high-quality finished product. If you’re looking for a driveway that stands out from the crowd without breaking the bank, a tar-and-chip driveway might just be the perfect solution.

Tom Whitford
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