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Unique tar and chip driveways

Dear Ms. Builder: Our driveway needs to be resurfaced. Everyone in our area has either a concrete or asphalt driveway. Our budget is tight and I want ours to be unique. What do you think of a tar and chip driveway? - Tracy D.

Dear Tracy: You sound like a perfect candidate for a tar and chip driveway. It will definitely look unique from the other driveways in your area and you can probably have it installed at about a 30% to 50% savings over a conventional asphalt driveway. The natural beauty of a tar and chip driveway (also called shoot and chip or seal chip in various areas of the country) is hard to beat. You can vary the appearance of a tar and chip driveway by the selection of the color and sizes of the gravel (stone chips) that you select.

These driveways retain their attractive colorful appearance without having to treat it with sealers every two years like you do with a black asphalt driveway. This makes it even friendlier to your limited budget.

Tar and chip is an old technology that has been used for country roads, drives, etc. for many years. It is similar to a typical black asphalt driveway in that it uses a combination of asphalt cement (binder) and gravel as the main structural component.

Standard asphalt (blacktop) is premixed at the manufacturer's location and delivered to your home. Tar and chip driveway materials are delivered separately to your home and combined there. This is why you have complete flexibility over its final appearance.

Check with gravel dealers in your area. Gravel is available in many light and dark shades of browns, grays and pale greens. A combination is often most attractive. Also, small cubical-shaped gravel works best. The finished driveway surface is slightly rough for excellent tire traction in rain and snow.

Before you sign with a contractor and order the driveway, have your existing driveway inspected. It is very important to have a good base on which to apply the tar and chip surface. The surface layer, whether tar and chip or standard asphalt, is strictly a surface finish, not a support base.

A tar and chip driveway is usually installed in the following way. The driveway contractor will spray hot liquid asphalt over your existing driveway or gravel base. One gallon of liquid asphalt per two sq. yards is a commonly used rate. Gravel (chips) is often laid at a rate of about 50 pound per sq. yard.

Within minutes, while the asphalt is still hot and very sticky, the gravel is spread over the asphalt. So that the asphalt stays hot and sticky long enough for the gravel to be spread, it is best to do this on a sunny spring or summer day.

Select a contractor who is familiar and experienced at installing tar and chip surfaces. Also, inspect some previous jobs. If they work too slowly, or use too little asphalt, the gravel will not adhere adequately. If they use too much asphalt, it can come up through the gravel over time and diminish its unique, attractive appearance.

You can expect this tar and chip surface to last for about eight to ten years. If you had to have your old driveway surface removed first, because it was in poor condition, consider having two coats of tar and chip done. This surface can last up to 14 years.

Even though a tar and chip driveway is less expensive than other types, it is still a major investment. The Asphalt Institute (606-288-4960) is an excellent source of information to help you make a final decision. One of their more informative publications is ES-12 which you can order from them.

Send questions to: Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.