To the untrained eye Tarmac and asphalt seem to be the same. But in fact, asphalt’s constituents are crushed gravel and bitumen (refined from crude oil), whereas Tarmac uses natural tar (Tarmac is also a brand name). Driveway installers generally use asphalt more than Tarmac as its more convenient, but most people use the terms interchangeably. For the purposes of this article, we’ll use the term ‘Tarmac’ to mean both types.
Tarmac is one of the cheapest and most popular driveway surfaces, both in material and installation costs. In fact, the following table shows how the price compares with other common surface finishes.
|Driveway Surface||Cost per m2|
|Tarmac or Asphalt||£45|
|Cement or Concrete||£70|
|Brick or Paving Slabs||£210|
Remember, your new Tarmac driveway will cost more than just the surface finish. Excavating the driveway and laying foundations has to be paid for too. An average domestic driveway in the UK measures about 50 m2. So, for a Tarmac surface expect to pay at least £2,000 with an extra £1,000 for foundations. The foundation costs for all types of surfaces are pretty much the same, so we can’t really differentiate between them, no matter which surface type you use. Tarmac resurfacing costs will vary, however depending on the quality of the mix.
Equipment & extra materials
If the contractor owns the equipment needed to lay your driveway, then their costs will be included in the quotation. Otherwise typical equipment hire costs are as follows.
|Mini digger hire||£150 per week|
|Waste skip hire||£50 to £100 per weekend|
|Weed mat underlay||£40 per m2|
|Crushed stone hardcore, 200mm thick||£50 to £80 per tonne|
|Compactor hire||£35 to £50 per day|
Also, remember that the price per square metre to lay a new Tarmac driveway will vary depending on where you live. The average cost to Tarmac a driveway in London and the South East will be far more expensive than the remainder of the UK. Tarmac contractors also tend to give estimates excluding VAT, so don’t get caught out by forgetting that and end up paying 20% more than you originally thought.
There are also other considerations that will be factored into the quotation for Tarmacking your drive, and you must be aware of these.
- How steep is the slope?
- Area of the driveway?
- Access to the driveway. Is it easy for the contractor to access the work area?
- Does surface water drainage need to be included?
- Does the public footpath need strengthening and does the kerb require dropping?
- How deep to excavate?
- Disposal cost of excavated soil. Remember that the volume of excavated soil is always larger than the volume of soil in-situ.
- Foundation material volume.
- Will Tarmac be mixed on-site or bought as ready mixed?
Unfortunately, the Tarmacadam driveway industry has many unqualified workers trying to charge you for a substandard job. They will try to tempt with a cut-price job. One of the commonest scams is to say “They have some Tarmac leftover from another job”.
Don’t believe it. If they’re a good driveway surfacing company, they will have calculated almost exactly how much material they need, so won’t have much leftover. To avoid other problems with ‘cowboy companies’:
- Check they have the correct insurance.
- Ask for references and follow them up.
- Ensure the paving contractor belongs to a recognised professional body or trade association such as the Mastic Asphalt Council.
Benefits and disadvantages of tarmac driveways
Although Tarmac is considered a cheap option for a driveway surface, its cheapness is one of its biggest advantages. You’ll end up with a smart and clean looking driveway for almost the same price as a gravel surface.
If the Tarmac contractor knows how to lay a driveway properly, you’ll have a durable, smooth and attractive looking surface. You’ll find a well build Tarmac driveway is relatively easy to repair in years to come. However, repair patches aren’t invisible and will always show. Tarmac will also degrade under the effects of ultraviolet light, eventually causing cracks and potholes. The bitumen in the surface covering, being a hydrocarbon, will dissolve and evaporate if it comes in contact with lighter oils such as diesel or paraffin.
Weeds and moss are always a problem, no matter what surface your driveway has. You will find, however, that they grow through the Tarmac surface. Moss and algae will usually grow in shaded areas that are always damp, and will eventually cause a dangerously slippery surface. Although a properly laid Tarmac driveway will have a geotextile weed membrane incorporated, this won’t prevent weeds sprouting from above the barrier membrane. Seeds easily find cracks in which to take root. And, in this case, the best you can do is to remove the weeds when they become a nuisance.
However, you’ll find that the Tarmac surface is inherently flexible so any small cracks will eventually heal when minor damage occurs.
How long does the work take?
The length of time needed to lay a Tarmac driveway depends on different factors
- The size, shape and depth of the excavation.
- What drainage does it need?
- Are there any trees or shrubs to remove?
- What time of year is it? Rain and snow will increase the time needed.
- How many workers are on the job?
As a general rule, an average 50m2 driveway will take from two to three days to complete. Usually, all the excavation, drainage, sub-base and other preparation takes two days while laying the Tarmac happens on the third day.
UK Driveway Planning Permissions & Regulations
In 2008 the government updated regulations concerning the types of surfaces used for driveways and the planning regulations applicable to these. These changes attempted to mitigate the effects of development on potential flooding and pollution of watercourses.
What this means in practice, is that you won’t need planning permission for your new or replacement driveway if it is less than 5m2 or if you use a permeable or porous surface. Rainwater needs to drain through the surface so gravel, block, brick or porous asphalt is the best to use. However, you can use impermeable surfaces if you divert rainwater to a lawn or flower border, or install surface water drains to collect the run-off.
You might need planning permission if you intend installing fences, walls and gates as part of the front garden driveway. If you want to make a new driveway across a public footpath, you need to ask your local council for permission to drop the kerbs and you might have to strengthen the pavement too.
Tarmac Drive Cost FAQ
Is tarmac cheaper than concrete?
The cost to initially lay the Tarmac is cheaper than concrete. But, if you take into account the lifespan of a typical driveway, the concrete will win every time. Concrete is extremely durable and can last for at least 40 to 50 years. Compare this with Tarmac which has a usual lifespan of about 25 years and you can see that concrete will ultimately cost less.
Is tarmac cheaper than block paving?
The simple answer here is “Yes!”
Block paving is very labour intensive and a square metre of typical block pavers is far more expensive than the equivalent area of Tarmac. On average, the overall typical block paving driveway prices are between 5% and 10% more expensive than Tarmac.
What is the cheapest driveway surface?
Gravel is by far the cheapest driveway surface. It’s simple to pour, the materials are cheap and it’s very hard-wearing. However, because the material is loose, it’s easily disturbed by vehicle wheels and can be washed away if laid on a slope. Gravel driveways need to be replaced more often and require more maintenance than other surfaces. Weeds find it easy to sprout and in winter it’s also very difficult to clear snow from the surface.
How thick should driveway Tarmac be?
Unfortunately, the thickness of Tarmac is only part of the information you need!
- First, remove all topsoil down to a depth of at least 180mm. This depth will vary depending on local variations and you should always take the advice of a skilled Tarmac contractor.
- Lay the sub-base to a depth of about 150mm to 200mm. This is very important and shouldn’t be skimped. The sub-base is a mixture of small stones and sand and must be compacted to spread and support the load.
- The binder course comes next. This is a coarse 20mm to 28mm aggregate in a bitumen binder. Make this level about 50mm deep.
- Finally, lay the surface layer consisting of 6mm to 10mm aggregate in a bitumen binder. This layer should be between 20mm and 25mm thick.
How long should I wait for the Tarmac to cure before driving on it?
This answer depends on how fast the solvent in the bitumen takes to evaporate. Normally, Tarmac is firm enough to support a car from 1 to 7 days after installing. But, it’s usually hard enough for most uses after 3 days. If it’s still tacky after this time, consult the contractor.
The curing process can vary depending on the following factors.
- The temperature of the air and other climatic conditions.
- Whether the Tarmac was a slow-cure rather than a medium cure. This could be done on purpose or by accident.
- The bitumen grade is unsuitable for vehicular traffic.
- Sometimes, to make the Tarmac go further, unscrupulous contractors might dilute the mixture with diesel or paraffin.
Get Driveway Quotes
Briefly, you can contact local reputable driveway installers for quotations. But, we recommend that you check their references and professional background before using their services. Unfortunately, this procedure can be a lot of work and take a long time, especially if you don’t know where to start.
To make life easy for you, we’ve done all the hard work. Just fill out the form on our site specifying what work you want to be done. You’ll then receive 2 or 3 quotations from reputable companies. We’ve already made sure the Tarmac contractors have a good work history, checked their credentials and know their stuff. You won’t end up with a cowboy trader if you take advantage of our useful service.