Tar and Chip Driveways
DEAR TIM: It's time for a new driveway at my house. I really like the look of a gravel road but don't want the dust. Blacktop is simply too plain. I have seen roads constructed using asphalt and small gravel. Can this be done on a residential driveway? Is it practical? What about the cost? L. A.
DEAR L.A.: You bet they are possible. That's the exact type of driveway I have. Locally they are called tar and chip. Some other installers refer to them as seal chip or shoot and chip. No matter what you call them they are a dynamic, beautiful surface. I happened to use two distinctive brown gravels, one from the Meramec River in Missouri and one from an Indiana location. Quite possibly this stone or a similar one is available in your city.
A tar and chip driveway is very similar to standard blacktop in composition. Both types of driveway use asphalt cement as the ingredient which creates adhesion to the aggregate. Blacktop is mixed at a central plant. The asphalt cement completely coats the large, small, and fine pieces of aggregate. Tar and chip surfaces combine either a special cutback liquid asphalt cement or an emulsified asphalt cement and small similar sized pieces of clean, angular, washed gravel. These ingredients are mixed together at your house.
Tar and chip surfaces were standard fare on virtually every highway in the USA prior to 1935. Central mixed blacktop technology was just beginning at this time. Tar and chip surfaces are a wonderful alternative that is unfortunately being left by the side of the road.
The contractor applies the hot, liquid asphalt to a standard gravel base or your existing driveway if it is in good shape. They usually spread one half gallon of asphalt per square yard. The small cubic shaped pieces of gravel are then immediately embedded in the liquid asphalt. Often they are applied at a rate of 40 - 50 pounds per square yard. The stones are then rolled and compacted into the asphalt. It is not uncommon for two layers to be installed. That is what I did.
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The completed surface differs as well. The tar and chip surface is almost always rougher. This makes for excellent traction. Not only that, the surface is not black. The color of your driveway is the color of the gravel you choose. If you wish to have a unique country look, you can cover the driveway with a thin (1/2 inch) layer of the colored gravel. This works great on level drives. I don't recommend loose stones on sloped driveways.
These driveways can only be installed in favorable weather conditions. Hot, dry weather is ideal. If the weather is cool, the asphalt cement may cool and set up to rapidly. The gravel may not achieve a high level of adhesion. Rain can wash away an emulsified asphalt before it cures.
These driveways have a unique feature. They can heal themselves if a small crack develops. In hot weather the asphalt cement can flow into the crack. The loose stones work in conjunction to disguise this imperfection. As long as the right asphalt cement and the correct chip size is selected, the asphalt does not get on your shoes. We have never had a problem in my house.
These surfaces are inexpensive. Often they cost less than half that of standard blacktop. Unlike blacktop, they never have to be sealed. The service life of a single coat job is often 8 - 10 years.
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Who Does This Work?
Tar and chip pavement surfaces are nothing new. In fact, there is a strong possibility that you have driven across hundreds of these roads. Many counties use this surface on secondary and rural roads. It is a cost efficient method of repaving and sealing an asphalt roadway.
Businesses and manufacturing plants often pave large parking areas with this material as well.
There is a good chance that a large paving contractor in your city or town does this work. If you are really fortunate, you may find a smaller company that does it as well.
If you have trouble locating a contractor in your town, there is one sure fire way to determine if this paving system is done in your area. If there are blacktop or asphalt driveways in your area, there is an asphalt plant. This is where blacktop is made. This is the same place where the tar and chip people must purchase the tar or asphalt cement. Find out where the plant is and call and speak to the general manager. Ask if he can put you in touch with the contractors who purchase the tar.