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Understanding Asphalt Paving: Let’s Talk Types, Uses, And More

Key takeaways:

  • Asphalt is aggregate and bitumen combined
  • Bitumen is a dark liquid derived from crude oil
  • Tarmac is short for tarmacadam, or tar and crushed stone
  • Blacktop shares a similar composition as asphalt but with a higher stone content
  • Tar and chip paving consists of small stones laid in hot asphalt

Asphalt is one of the most commonly used materials for paving roads, driveways, and parking lots. As most paving contractors will tell you, there are different types of asphalt, each with unique properties.

This blog post will discuss asphalt basics – including what it is, how it’s made, and the different types of asphalt. We’ll also talk about its uses and benefits.

This post is a must-read if you consider installing asphalt pavement on your property!

What Is Asphalt?

Asphalt is a black, sticky material that consists of bitumen – a petroleum product – and aggregate, which can be anything from sand to gravel.

When these two ingredients are combined, they create a robust and durable material to withstand a lot of wear and tear. Asphalt is often used in constructing roads and driveways because it can withstand heavy traffic.

It’s also a popular choice for parking lots due to its easy maintenance and repair. Paving contractors can advise you on whether asphalt is the right choice for your project.

What Types of Asphalt Are There?

To fully tackle this question, we must address certain misconceptions about asphalt. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of common questions many asphalt novices have in the following:

  1. Are asphalt and bitumen the same thing?
  2. What’s the difference between tarmac and asphalt?
  3. Is blacktop another name for asphalt paving?
  4. What exactly is tar and chip paving?

These are only a drop of the ocean of questions regarding asphalt pavement. This article will zone in on each of them, their differences, and their relationship to asphalt.

What Types of Asphalt Are There?

Are Asphalt and Bitumen the Same Thing?

Let’s start small and build our way up.

Item 1: What Is Bitumen?

Bitumen is a black or dark-colored (solid, semi-solid, viscous), amorphous material derived from crude oil. It’s sticky when it’s hot and brittle when it cools. You can find it in natural deposits or refine it from crude oil.

It works with asphalt aggregate as a binder, holding everything together and binding asphalt pavement to the ground. Its semi-solid state is pliable, so paving contractors can work with it.

Item 2: Asphalt vs. Bitumen

Like asphalt, paving contractors can use bitumen in projects such as driveways and parking lots. However, there are some key differences.

  • Durability: Asphalt will last for over 20 years with regular maintenance. Bitumen, with a lesser layer depth, will last about 5 to 10 years.
  • Skid resistance: That painful screech you hear when you slam on the brakes? That’s your asphalt thanking you for the new tire marks. Bitumen makes for noisier, less safe stops.
  • Cost: Asphalt is more expensive than bitumen, but paving contractors will tell you it’s worth the price.

What’s the Difference Between Tarmac and Asphalt?

As always, it’s better to understand the materials we’re dealing with before delving into the differences.

Item 1: What Is Tarmac?

Its full name is tarmacadam or bitumen macadam, a mixture of tar and crushed stone. It was patented in 1901 by Edgar Purnell Hooley, a British civil engineer. He was working for Tarmac Limited at the time.

People often refer to airplane parking areas as “tarmac,” even though the term is inaccurate. You’d be hard-put to find pavement made of tarmac at a modern airport.

Item 2: Asphalt vs. Tarmac

Now that we’ve established what tarmac is, let’s move on to its differences compared to asphalt.

  • Application: Asphalt features in constructing roads and pavements. Tarmac isn’t as commonly used.
  • Lifespan: Asphalt paving can last from 15 to 30 years. Tarmacadam has a shorter lifespan.
  • Durability: Chemical spills and stains easily damage the tarmac. Asphalt is more resistant to such elements.

Is Blacktop Another Name for Asphalt Paving?

Another elusive asphalt term is blacktop. You’ve probably heard this one before but were never quite sure what it meant. Let’s find out!

No. 1: What Is Blacktop

To answer the earlier question, blacktop is not another name for asphalt paving. Although both feature pavements and roads, they have different compositions. Asphalt has a higher tar content than blacktop.

On the other hand, blacktop holds a higher stone content than asphalt. The asphalt is mixed with stone, sand, and gravel to create the blacktop.

No. 2: Asphalt vs. Blacktop

Besides their compositions, asphalt and blacktop have different uses.

  • Use: Blacktop works well in areas with light traffic, like residential driveways and small parking lots. Asphalt is preferred for areas with high traffic, like highways and commercial parking lots.
  • Application: Asphalt generally takes about two days to cure. Blacktop takes longer and requires hotter temperatures to cure properly.
  • Maintenance: Asphalt makes for easier winter maintenance. Blacktop is more delicate and needs frequent sealing to prevent cracking.

What Exactly Is Tar and Chip Paving?

If the name sounds like a mystery to you, don’t worry – you’re not alone. We’re here today to brief you on tar and chip paving.

No. 1: What Is It?

Also called “chip seal asphalt,” tar and chip paving is a pavement surface made of asphalt covered with small stones. It usually features on driveways and roads with low traffic, but it can also be used on heavier-traveled surfaces.

You can enjoy a variety of colors with this paving, as the stones can be mixed to create exciting and unique patterns. Plus, it offers an excellent grip for tires.

No. 2: Asphalt vs. Tar and Chip

The next step in this discussion is to compare asphalt with tar and chip paving.

  • Maintenance: Tar and chip paving is virtually maintenance-free, while asphalt needs sealing every 3 to 5 years.
  • Cost: Tar and chip paving costs less to install, but asphalt is generally sturdier and lasts longer.
  • Lifespan: When properly maintained, an asphalt pavement lasts 15 to 20 years, while a tar and chip surface will last about 12 years.

Suppose you’re considering tar and chip paving for your driveway. In that case, this article from Designing Idea has all you need.


Asphalt isn’t limited to driveways and parking lots – you can also use it for walking paths, asphalt shingles, and more. If you’d like to know how to choose a good paving company, check out our article on choosing one for your commercial or residential property.

We at American Paving proudly serve Charlotte, NC, with reliable and affordable asphalt paving services. We are willing to answer any questions you might have. Get your free estimate today!