Natural Stone Tile Flooring Options

Stone tiles are sliced from boulders into a variety of sizes and shapes. Not all stones are suitable for use as a flooring material. Some are practically indestructible. Others may contain soft spots, fissures, and other imperfections that diminish performance. Porous stone tiles may warp from exposure to water or moisture. These may have to be installed with an epoxy adhesive and grout. Colored grout can pose a danger to some stone tiles as it can stain the tiles permanently.

The color and appearance of a single stone tile won't represent the entire batch required to surface a floor -- even if all the tiles were cut from the same block of stone.

The finish on stone tiles must be carefully chosen and matched to the anticipated wear. For example a highly polished marble will dull on the floor in a beach house. For that reason you might want to limit highly polished tiles to areas where soft footwear is generally worn, such as in a bedroom. Whatever stone you choose, glossy finishes have a tendency to show finger- and footprints and can be slippery when wet. For better traction, choose a honed finish.

Types of stone

Some stones are naturally hard and nonporous, and therefore maintenance free.

  • Granite is the most durable natural stone -- it can withstand heat and moisture, and is impervious to stains. Rare colors and unusual patterns of granite cost significantly more than more commonly occurring grays and beiges.
  • Soapstone starts out as a light gray color and then mellows to a dark charcoal after oiling and aging. Like granite it can withstand heat and moisture and doesn't stain when oiled regularly.
  • Slate is slightly more porous that granite but is also durable.
  • Marble, travertine, and limestone are porous stones, so they must be sealed regularly to reduce staining.

Pro Tip: Warm floors

Stone and tile floors can feel pretty cold against bare feet, especially in northern climates. With a little forethought you can take the chill out of these floors by installing a radiant or hydronic heating system below your new flooring. (Stay away from underfloor heating if you're installing a solid wood floor; the change in temperature causes too much expansion and contraction and can cause permanent gaps and bulges in the flooring.)

Radiant heating systems typically have a network of electrical heating cables or hot-water-filled tubes installed between the subfloor and finish floor. Most systems can be installed across the entire floor or confined to a specific area such as the space in front of a vanity or tub. Like other heating systems a thermostat that can be turned on or off, up or down, controls the temperature. Radiant heating systems are available for purchase from most home centers.


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