What is the difference between tarmac and asphalt? | Checkatrade
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What is the difference between tarmac and asphalt?

Asphalt and tarmac can look almost identical, but they’re actually not the same thing!

Asphalt and tarmac difference

In short, asphalt refers to a mix of aggregates and bitumen. On the other hand, tarmac (short for tarmacadam) is a mix of aggregates and tar.

Although they’re pretty similar, they do have some key differences:


Asphalt is an umbrella term that refers to a number of different mixes in the construction industry.

While they all use bitumen, the aggregate could be anything from sand to gravel or crushed rock, and other elements might be added too, like rubber crumb, polymers or fibres. On the other hand, tarmac refers to a specific mix of coated stone and modified tar.


Both asphalt and tarmac are very durable. However, asphalt is even stronger and more hard-wearing than tarmac. Not only is it less likely to crack, but it’s also more resistant to extreme weather conditions.


Tarmac can get damaged by petrol or diesel spills. On the other hand, asphalt needs less maintenance.


Both asphalt and tarmac are often used for driveway surfaces, roads and pavements. However, asphalt is chosen more often for major roadways, cycleways and big parking areas.


Asphalt can easily be reused, which makes it kinder to the environment. Tarmac isn’t reusable, although it can be recycled in some forms.


Both asphalt and tarmac are cost-effective solutions, especially when compared to other materials. One of the reasons that asphalt is so popular for roads is that it’s cheap when used over a large area. That said, it can be more expensive when used for smaller areas.


Tarmac offers a coarse, impermeable surface, whereas asphalt can range from smooth to coarse depending on the mix – and can even be made to be porous. A smoother surface can increase tyre grip, which can make asphalt a safe choice for driveways.

Asphalt and bitumen difference

Bitumen is a thick, black liquid that comes from petroleum. It’s the binder that holds together all the different components that go into an asphalt mix. On the other hand, asphalt refers to the end result – a mix of aggregates, bitumen and sometimes other components.

Confusingly, in the US, bitumen is known as asphalt. So, don’t be surprised if you hear that sticky black substance being referred to as asphalt as well.

Choosing between tarmac and asphalt

Tarmac and asphalt are both fantastic solutions for surfacing your driveway. They’re durable, low-maintenance and cost-effective.

If you’re not sure which to go for, why not get in touch with a professional? They’ll be able to advise you on the best option for you, as well as providing some estimated driveway resurfacing costs to help you choose.

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