Pros and Cons of a Tar-and-Chip Driveway

A builder's model home on Lake Granbury hopes to attract new buyers.
Dave Shafer / Getty Images

Though the name "tar-and-chip" might not be familiar to you, you almost certainly have seen driveways and roads built this way. Or maybe you know it by another of its names: chip-and-seal, seal chip, macadam, or liquid-asphalt-and-stone. Whatever the name, it may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think driveway. The more common choices are materials such as concrete, gravel, pavers or asphalt. 

But just because you may not have heard of tar-and-chip before doesn't mean you shouldn't consider it. You've almost certainly driven over miles of tar and chip roadways and parking lots. It's a good driveway choice for those wanting to keep costs down.

A tar-and-chip driveway is a low-cost alternative to asphalt, offering a more solid surface than plain gravel. It also has a rough texture, which makes for much better footing when wet or snow-covered, compared to poured concrete, which can be slippery.

The expression "tar-and-chip" is a shorthand term that refers to a paving surface made from asphalt (liquid form) and stone. 

How to Maintain a Tar-and-Chip Driveway

There really is no regular maintenance required of a tar-and-chip driveway. Unlike asphalt, it doesn't have to be sealed regularly. That's the good news. On the other hand, snow removal can create problems. If you use a snowplow to clear the driveway, it can damage the surface. For best results, make sure that the plow rides just above the driveway surface, then remove this leftover snow with a shovel or just wait for it to melt away. You'll not be faced with this problem if you clear snow with a shovel or snowblower.

How Long Will a Tar-and-Chip Driveway Last?

Tar and chip driveways are not built for the long haul. Expect the surface to remain sound from 7 to 10 years. At that point, you may want to add another layer of tar and stones.

What Does a Tar-and-Chip Driveway Cost?

Since it is primarily composed of asphalt and gravel, it is useful to compare the cost of a tar-and-chip surface to those other two options. A tar-and-chip driveway will typically cost about twice as much as a gravel driveway and a little less than an asphalt driveway. Expect to pay in the range of $2 to $5 per square foot (the exact cost will vary depending on your region and the labor costs in your community). As is the case with asphalt driveways, the costs of oil are a big factor in the installation expense. Expect the cost of these driveways to climb a bit when the commodity price of oil climbs. 

How Is a Tar-and-Chip Driveway Built?

Building a tar-and-chip driveway is a pretty simple process. First, as with most driveway materials, a gravel base is installed. Then, hot liquid asphalt is poured over the gravel. This is followed by a coating of loose stones, which are rolled into the asphalt to form the finish surface. Tar-and-chip can be installed over existing driveway materials, provided they are in reasonably good shape.

It's in the selection of this top layer of stones that you have choices to make regarding the look of your finished driveway. You can choose from different colors of stones to create a unique and personally appealing surface.

One problem with building a tar-and-chip driveway, however, is that there aren't a lot of contractors who specialize in this type of work. And it's certainly not a DIY project. Before getting too committed to using tar-and-chip on your own driveway, do some Internet hunting to see if you can find someone in your area with the necessary experience and equipment.