Concrete vs. Tarmac: Which to Choose?

Concrete vs. Tarmac: Which to Choose?

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If you are planning to make some kind of driveway or walkway, there are a few common materials that you may use. Two extremely popular materials for this purpose include concrete and tarmac.

These two materials are two very different things, although they can sometimes serve the same purposes. Today we’re going to figure out what concrete and tarmac are, what makes them similar and different, and which one you should use for specific applications.

Concrete and Tarmac: The Basics

Before we talk about similarities and differences, let’s first determine what these materials are.

What Is Concrete?

First, we have concrete, which is an extremely common building material in today’s world. Concrete is made by mixing cement, specifically Portland cement, with water, as well as an aggregate, which may be sand, stone, small pieces of gravel, or a combination of the above.

When water mixes with the cement it causes a chemical reaction to occur, which causes it to start to harden and cure. This dries and hardens into an extremely dense, durable, and non-porous material.

Finished concrete is extremely durable and weather-resistant, as well as fire and pest resistant. Concrete can also be reinforced using steel bars or rebar. On that note, concrete is a great building material for walls, foundations, driveways, and even very large buildings.

What Is Tarmac?

To start off, tarmac is actually short for tarmacadam. Technically speaking, tarmac is created when a layer of crushed aggregate, usually small stones, is mixed and coated with tar. This tar and aggregate mixture is then laid down on the surface, and with a vibrating roller, is compacted into a smooth surface. It is not to be confused with asphalt.

For those who don’t know, tar is a black and very sticky liquid that is made out of thick oil. Tar hardens through a special drying process. Tarmac is generally used as a surfacing material for roads and driveways because it’s very resistant to great deals of weight.

This is why it is commonly used for roads that seat high amounts of traffic, as it is relatively unaffected by heavy loads rolling over it. Tarmac is extremely long-lasting and very weather-resistant. In fact, the most common use of tarmac is for airport runways.

Similarities of Concrete and Tarmac

Now that we know what they are, let’s figure out what makes these materials similar.

1. Relatively Strong

One similarity shared by both of these materials is that they are both relatively strong and durable. Concrete is used for a wide variety of building purposes and is load-bearing in all circumstances. While tarmac is not something that you can easily build with, it is technically still very durable. This is why it is used to make airport runways. It has great resistance to a variety of elements.

2. Weight Bearing Capabilities

Although you can build in ways with concrete that you just can’t with tarmac, both can still bear a whole lot of weight. Concrete is extremely solid, strong, and dense, so it can easily bear the weight of vehicles. Tarmac, on the other hand, while it’s not quite as durable, is much more flexible, which also allows it to bear a great deal of weight, especially when it comes to something like vehicles.

3. Weather Resistance

Both concrete and tarmac have excellent weather resistance and can be easily used for outdoor purposes. Heat, cold, and other conditions won’t affect either of these building materials too much, at least not for the first few years after they have been built with.

4. Some Common Uses

In terms of making a road, driveway, sidewalk, or any other kind of walkway, tarmac and concrete can both be used.

Differences Between Concrete and Tarmac

Now that we know what makes them similar, let’s figure out what makes these two materials different from each other.

1. Appearance

One of the first differences between concrete and tarmac has to do with appearance. Concrete driveways and roads can be chemically stained, polished, and stamped, to achieve a certain look. Tarmac driveways, on the other hand, are generally just standard black. Because of this, concrete driveways will end up looking a bit nicer than tarmac driveways.

2. Stain Resistance

Another big difference between these two is that tarmac driveways, although they don’t look quite as nice, are much more stain-resistant than concrete driveways. They’re also easier to clean once they do get stained.

3. Cost

Perhaps one of the biggest differences here, especially when it comes to using it for home purposes, is that tarmac is much more affordable. In fact, a tarmac driveway is one of the cheapest driveways you could possibly have. A concrete driveway, however, is going to cost much more.

4. Maintenance and Repairs

What does need to be said, however, is that tarmac driveways need extremely frequent maintenance and will need to be resealed once every two or three years.

Meanwhile, concrete driveways don’t need very much maintenance at all. You really just have to reseal a concrete driveway every five years or so.

With that being said, although tarmac driveways need more maintenance and repairs, holes and cracks can very easily be sealed and repaired. Concrete driveways, on the other hand, will require more costly repairs, and will likely require a professional’s services.

5. Durability and Overall Lifespan

While both of these two building materials are durable in their own rights, concrete is more so. Concrete is just a much more solid building material. Concrete also tends to have better weather resistance, especially when it comes to moisture.

That being said, tarmac may be the better option if you live somewhere that has extreme temperatures, especially both hot and cold, as tarmac typically has better temperature resistance.

Although, in spite of tarmac’s higher temperature resistance, due to its higher level of durability, concrete is going to last much longer. A well-installed concrete driveway is going to last for about 40 years, whereas a tarmac driveway is going to last about half as long.

Concrete vs. Tarmac: Which Should You Use for Driveways and Other Purposes?

If you’re making a driveway, which of these two materials you use depends on your main goal. If you want an easy-to-install driveway that will last for a good 20 years, but will require regular maintenance, then tarmac is a good option. This is also the case if you want a cost-effective material.

However, if you’re going for maximum durability and longevity, then concrete is worth the extra cost. Of course, if you are pouring a foundation, building walls, or anything else of the sort, then concrete is what you need.


When it comes to making a driveway or a walkway, you should now know all of the relevant differences between concrete and tarmac to make an informed decision.

Before picking either, you might also want to see how concrete and asphalt compare.

How Does Concrete Compare with Other Materials?

Below, you can find articles that compare concrete with: