Tarmac Drives – A history

Tarmac drives have been popular since the 1960s. Originally evolved as a road surfacing method created in the early 1800s of adding a layer of crushed gravel to the surface of a road. In those times anyone with money would have been travelling around in a horse and cart. Adding tar to a ‘macadamized’ (broken stone) road, created a much smoother surface and less sore bottoms. Consequently, the name stuck ‘Tar’ and ‘Mac’.


Image thanks to Phil Catterall, via Wikimedia Commons

The use of tar died out as the oil industry took off and bitumen (by product of oil refining) replaced it. By binding aggregate with bitumen we end up with bitmac or tarmacadam. Confusingly, many use the term asphalt.

NOTE: Tarmac is the name of a company owned by corporate conglomerate ‘Lafarge’. In everyday language and to most people Tarmac is what is on the road. However, corporations are very protective over copyrighted names and patents and whilst ‘tarmac’ is used throughout this page, it is in no way in reference to the mighty ‘Tarmac’ company!

A tarmac drive – a good choice?

Tarmacadam costs less than block paving, concrete, resin and gravel. Its hard wearing nature makes it one of the most suitable materials for areas of heavy traffic use.

Tarmacadam is a mixture of aggregate (stone) and binder and there are different types of tarmacadam available. The strength of tarmacadam depends on the stone used and density of binders. Binders range from very hard to soft and a grading system exists that measures density. The density of binders is measured by  ‘penetration grade’  or ‘pen grade’. The lower the grade the harder the binder. Almost all residential tarmac drives have pen grades of 100 or more.

Most newly laid tarmacadam will be jet black but vehicular use (including frequent turning) and weather make it fade over time. Using a darker aggregate such as basalt or granite helps to keep the surface black for longer.

Tarmac Drives – installation

A Tarmacadam installation  is easy in comparison to other types of driveway surfacing installations and the sub base is key to achieving the best result. Large driveway areas are most suitable for installation but smaller areas (machinery permitting) can also be spruced up, too.


Choosing an installer – Tarmac drives

There are many tarmacadam contractors to choose from and it is advisable to view a portfolio of work and visit previous (satisfied) customers. Most of all it is important to view work that has been installed more than 3 years ago.

Tarmac Drives – Repairs

Tarmacadam repairs are easy to complete. Tarmacadam fades over the years and whilst dips and grooves are easy to fix, it is nearly always impossible to get a colour match.


Tarmac repair on a driveway A fresh tarmac repair. Will it blend?

How much does a Tarmac drive cost?

Tarmac drives are cost effective for larger areas. You can expect to pay around £65 per m². Ofcourse all depends on what there at the moment and what the size of your driveway is. As said, the larger your driveway, the more cost effective.

Tarmac contractors

The tarmac contractors in the picture below were working on a large stately home. The installers are no longer around, but the driveway is.


Tarmac driveway installers in front of stately home in 1906

1906 tarmac contractors image by Paul Townsend under creative commons licence


You can find tarmacadam contractors on our directory or by looking around in your local area. Most people are happy to share their driveway stories therefore it can really help to find out which tarmac contractor somebody in your local area has used.

  • Avoid contractors that only offer to overlays.
  • Many tarmacadam installers work on road laying projects which means they have lots of experience and knowledge.
  • Try to a contracter who can show a lot of different driveway projects that have been worked on in your area.

Tarmac contractors – Accreditation

Poor installations reflect badly on all those in the driveway industry. Whilst accreditation can provide peace of mind it will also increase costs.

Tarmac contractors – Insurance

There are different types of insurance available therefore it is driveway wise to ensure any potential tarmacadam contractor you use has as much insurance as possible.

Evaluate by asking the following questions:

  • Will damage be covered by my insurance? Check policy and contact insurer.
  • Will heavy machinery be used? If so what is the weight? What checks are made to establish weight bearing capacity of existing driveway surface?
  • Are the products covered by a warranty? Against erosion, fading?
  • Is public liability insurance in place?
  • Have there been previous claims against the company you intend to use?

It is important to ensure installation contractors have sufficient insurance which covers damage to your property and also public liability.


Find tips on a tarmacadam installation here.

Furthermore, there are other types of driveway surfacing which are worth considering. Options are resin, pattern imprinted concrete,gravel driveways and block paving.

All driveway surfaces have their pros and cons, however, it might be worth considering some other options too.