Natural stone has been used as a flooring material for centuries all over the world. In addition to its timeless aesthetic qualities, its low-maintenance profile and recyclability make it a sustainable flooring choice.
So, when renovating a home or office, or building from new, the benefits and longevity of natural stone floors can play an important role in deciding what to use. Generally, stone is a very durable flooring material that can add an instant air of class and opulence to the area.
Natural stone has a number of advantages over alternative flooring materials. Maintenance is minimal as well as cost-effective, and the longevity of these materials allows them to be salvaged and reused time and again. Also important is the fact that natural stone flooring does not contribute to poor indoor air quality if low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) sealants are used.
Dust and allergens are unable to accumulate on the surface of stone, particularly when a routine cleaning schedule is followed. Cleaning can be accomplished with a gentle pH Neutral (non-acidic or alkaline) soap and water solution, and the surface treatments of natural stone (even those in heavily trafficked areas) require only abrasion (as opposed to chemical polishing compounds) to achieve a glossy finish.
Stone itself contains no VOCs, and the mortar and grout needed to anchor the stone do not diminish the indoor air quality. Even the conventional VOC-rich sealants used for the protection against stains and scratches have now been largely replaced by low-VOC options.
Once the decision has been made to use stone flooring, the next step is to decide what type is right for the project in hand.
It is very important to realise that all dimension rocks, be they marble, granite, stone or travertine, have unique characteristics which must be known in detail, especially when they are to be used in large quantities.
In addition to their intrinsic properties, materials may behave differently according to the quarrying, processing, installation and conservation procedures applied during their lifetime; from raw materials to installed finished products subject to maintenance.
Quarry characteristics are very important for designers too, especially when large quantities of materials and/or special shapes are required. The availability of a dimension stone in terms of quantity and the maximum size of slabs obtainable depends on the nature of the deposit and the technology used.
Once a block of dimension stone has been extracted from a quarry, it is taken to a workshop to be transformed into the final stone products. The technology used and the experience and expertise of the workers are also of utmost importance in this processing stage.
Finally, for the product to be seen at its best, the laying and maintenance techniques are fundamental. The success of the project and the complete satisfaction of the client/user depend not only on the correct choice and size of the product used but also on the technology used in its laying.
Incorrect laying techniques and/or unsuitable maintenance and cleaning treatments may lead to various problems. From the above it is clear how important experience and expertise are in order to guarantee that a product is perfectly suited to its use, so always make sure you are dealing with a reputable supplier and an experienced and reliable installer.
Benefits and types of stone
Natural stone flooring is a favourite choice in warm climates because it remains cool despite air temperature. When installed inside, it can provide a welcomed respite from the heat.
The durability of stone floors is well documented; they are resilient, long-lasting and require little care. They don’t scratch, chip or bend and are resistant to stains, and stone is fireproof.
The versatility of natural stone is another major benefit, because stone floors can be customised to fit almost any look.
Which to use and where?
Slate is less porous than other stone such as sandstone, travertine and marble. It is good in wet areas due to the laminations on the surface of the tile making it non-slip. This of course means it does not have a smooth-textured appearance. Slate is a relatively dense stone making it durable and hence suitable for high traffic areas.
Marble is a good option for any area of the home or commercial project. It is available in a huge selection of colours and many finishes to suit specific applications.
Quarryface sandstone features a rough texture comprised of quartz sand grains. This type of stone flooring is slip-resistant and durable, which makes it a good choice for outdoor areas, Due to its non-slip texture, sandstone is ideal for wet areas such as pool surrounds.
Quartzite, which is available in a natural or quarryface finish, as well as a honed finish, is a very hardwearing stone, characterised by its metallic lustre. It is well suited for outdoor areas and especially around swimming pools.
Limestone is a flooring option that is ideal for someone who wants a natural-looking flooring. These tiles feature natural items such as shells and corals, which gives them a subtle appearance. Care must be taken, as limestone from certain areas of the world are soft and more suited for low traffic areas and wall cladding. Other limestones are very durable and an even be used in commercial flooring applications.
Granite is the hardest of all stone flooring. It is ideal for high-traffic areas. This type of stone flooring is available in a varied selection of colours, from white to black and almost every colour in between. It is also available in several finishes, including flamed, which is a ideal finish for outdoor use, providing excellent slip resistance.
Terrazzo is manufactured stone flooring that is made by mixing cement with other types of stone flooring chips. This makes it a less expensive option than most other stone flooring types.
Travertine is a popular choice as it is available in many different finishes. It falls within the limestone tile category, but is characterised by walnut colouring, and can be used in many formats for flooring and decorative cladding. It can be left in its natural state, with small cavities in the stone giving a relaxed rustic appearance and assisting with slip resistance, or filled and then honed for a sleeker and easily maintainable satin sheen.
Specifying and installing natural stone is an uplifting experience, not least for the end-user. Doing so means following in the footsteps of Michelangelo and scores of designers before him, as well as equating with the very best in modern architecture.
Acknowledgement and thanks are given to the following for information contained in the compilation of this article: Natural Stone Council of USA (www.naturalstonecouncil.org); Ms Paola Blasi, (Facebook): Geologist and director of the International Department and the International Stone Information Centre (ISIC) at IMM Carrara Italy; Michael Tully (Mazista Tiles); Lars Nielsen (Natural Stone Warehouse).