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What is a Tarmac Driveway?

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  • Written By: Lori Kilchermann
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2016
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Tarmac is an asphalt-type material very popular in Great Britain. The black material is laid in place by a specialized machine. Placed over a proper foundation, a tarmac driveway will last for years. The main problem with a tarmac driveway is improper application from fly-by-night applicators and crews. The proper method of laying a tarmac driveway is to prepare a proper sub-base first, then a base followed by a binder course and finally topped with a surface course or level.

One common issue with a tarmac driveway is that the finished surface can be no better than the preparation levels. Tarmac is subject to a phenomenon known as reflective cracking. This means that any cracks or imperfections to the surface underneath the tarmac driveway will be reflected or replicated in the final surface. The effect will cause the tarmac driveway to fail prematurely. It is for this reason that a tarmac driveway should never be laid over the top of an old concrete base.

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One major hazard of a tarmac driveway is a leak-prone automobile engine. Tarmac is petroleum-based, so any substance such as motor oil, diesel fuel, kerosene and gasoline will break down the components in the tarmac and cause damage. The damaged tarmac can be patched, but the patch will remain very visible to the eye and may still resemble a problem area. Tarmac is also very sensitive to ultraviolet rays, and the sun will cause the surface to deteriorate and become crumbled and soft. Tarmac, if applied properly, can last for 10 trouble-free years in most cases.

While a tarmac driveway can be laid by hand, it is best to apply the tarmac with a machine. The tarmac is prone to water damage over time, so a proper fall must be engineered into the driveway to promote adequate drainage. Proper maintenance is recommended for the surface in the form of sweeping the debris away and watering the tarmac with a garden hose. Individuals should never use a power washer to clean tarmac, as it may cause damage by dislodging small stones from the surface.

While comparable to American asphalt, European tarmac is generally much less durable and more difficult to apply. One advantage tarmac enjoys is not needing to be rolled flat the way asphalt does. Many people use tarmac to create paths through a yard or garden. While this is a common practice, it can become dangerous. Improper preparation often leads to a surface that will become cracked and is then prone to moss growth, which is a slippery walking surface.

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