Now here’s something you don’t see a lot of these days…a tar and chip driveway. Years ago this was a very common method of paving. You still find tar and chip roads particularly in rural areas.

The basic make-up of a tar and chip driveway includes a thick, compacted base of stone aggregate topped with a couple of layers of liquid asphalt and small gravel.

Occasionally I’ll recommend a drive like this on a project, but more often it’s requested by the homeowner. So what’s the attraction with these drives?

Tar and chip driveways (that are built correctly) have some admirable qualities.

  • From a design standpoint they do have a certain charm.  You can choose just about any color chip (gravel), and have the drive blend more with the landscape rather than compete.
  • The sound of a car’s tires on the gravel is an attraction too. The homeowners that request a tar and chip driveway always mention this.  Birds and waterfalls aren’t the only sounds in the landscape!
  • Long lasting. Asphalt drives eventually become brittle and cracked.   Repairs are obvious and replacement is expensive. Tar and chip drives easily outlast them.
  • The gravel texture is great for traction. I should mention, however, that if you have snow to remove you need to raise the snowplow blade a bit.

The homeowner that goes for the tar and chip driveway is mostly motivated by the look and sound.  But the practical side is compelling too.

A tar and chip driveway will last almost indefinitely if it is built right. Eventually the drive may need a fresh coating of tar and chip.

stone curb on gravel drivewayFrom experience I have learned that a border of some kind helps maintain the edges of any driveway.  For a tar and chip driveway a border also helps keep the loose chips (stones) on the drive.  The picture at the top has a belgian block border.  And to the left is a natural stone border.  Both are set on concrete footings.

For certain landscape settings it would be perfectly fine to install the tar and chip driveway without a border.  Sometimes you want the more relaxed, seamless look of a driveway without distinct edges

The initial tar and chip driveway should have 2 layers of liquid asphalt and chips (stones).  This establishes a more substantial “top” to the driveway from day one.

Although the final coatings of chips are rolled into each layer of liquid asphalt, there’s usually a small percentage of loose chips left on top of the final layer.  That’s okay and really adds to the authenticity.

It’s not unusual for some of the loose chips on top to move a bit and gather, particularly where the tires might repeatedly turn.  These are the spots where you might have to rake or broom the loose chips back into position once in awhile.

The belgian block driveway apron (in the first picture) is both functional and attractive. As I previously mentioned, gravel driveways can have the problem of “pushed” gravel in areas where tires are turning – like at the entrance. The apron will alleviate that.

I don’t know about you, but with the house pictured above with its cedar shake roof, to me this gravel driveway fits like a glove.

P.S. Tar and chip driveways should not be confused with a conventional gravel driveway.  These drives do not have any asphalt ingredient in their makeup, but when built correctly will provide an excellent, low-cost driveway.  Check this article out at on what comprises a well-built gravel driveway.

  • Peggy Lowe
    12:56 PM, 14 April 2017

    Thanks for this article. The street I lived on as a child was made this way and I know how stable it was, but a contractor who came to look at my driveway said that the slope is too steep (no steeper than the hill on my street, and probably a lot less) and that the turn at the top was too sharp. He said that turning tires would just dig into and rip it apart. Do you have an opinion on tight turns and slopes?



    • Roger
      10:01 PM, 15 April 2017

      I must say I’ve never installed a tar & chip driveway with a slope like I think you’re describing.

      A properly built tar & chip driveway is more stable on the surface than a conventional gravel drive (i.e. without liquid asphalt). Even though, they still will show the areas where repeated turns occur. It’s more of a cosmetic issue (vs. structural) and at that just requires some occasional maintenance — usually by using a stiff bristle broom to push the displaced surface gravel back where it belongs.

      It could be that this “cosmetic” issue of displaced surface gravel might be a bit more on a sloped drive because of the need to accelerate up the slope. I don’t know how sharp your turn is, but there will surely be moving surface-gravel at the turn. Again, well-built tar & chip drives are pretty durable. However, if it is a very tight/sharp turn and people take that turn quickly, I guess over time it could break down the “bonding” of the liquid asphalt layers.

      I don’t know the exact situation or conditions you have, so it’s hard to give a strong opinion one way or another. One approach would be to do a well-built tar & chip drive to start. And then if there are problematic wear issues — for example at the base of the slope where you first accelerate and the sharp/tight turn — you could treat those areas differently. For example you could transition to decorative pavers, belgian block, clay brick or even conventional asphalt paving in areas like that.

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