Stone tiles - Advantages and disadvantages of using natural stones for tile flooring
Natural stone-tiled floors can look so beautiful and so timeless that they can be worth the extra time and expense involved in laying them. Stone tiles are relatively difficult to work with mainly because they are products of nature rather than modern manufacturing. That is not to say that modern manufacturing processes haven’t helped; natural stone wall tiling was practically impossible until fairly recently after all.
If you're weighing up whether to use natural stone, porcelain or ceramic, then please check out my hub on the latter two options.
The first thing to be aware of is that natural stone tiles are hugely variable in strength. By this I mean not only that they can vary between stone to stone, but that there are also variations from batch to batch of the same stone and even differences from tile to tile. For this reason take particular care over your subfloor. The concrete or wooden base should provide the strength, while the tile should be responsible only for surface wear and tear. Use a polymer cement-based adhesive with enough flexibility and bond strength to fix the tiles properly.
Types of Stone Tile
Granites are tough and, for a natural product, consistently so. You can treat granite almost as if it were a ceramic tile, but when fixing the tile, make doubly sure to coat the tile’s back completely in adhesive. Some adhesives can visibly stain a natural stone tile so that it’s slightly visible from the other side but if the adhesive has been applied evenly then you wouldn’t be able spot it.
Slate tiles are unlikely to stain from the back but are vulnerable to watermarking. Resin that makes contact with the tile can cause this problem so be extra careful and quickly clean up any spillages. If you have purchased slate with a riven face then you have to fix them differently. The tile face will not be perfectly flat so you will need to accept that lips are inevitable and lay the tiles in a way that compensates best for the unevenness. The irregularity of natural materials is partly what draws us t use them so do not worry unnecessarily about this, although it could be worth getting in the professionals if you are unsure.
If you want to use marble tiles then it is best to buy honed tiles or those with a fine-rubbed finish. These are preferable to acid-polished marble floor tiles which look wonderful at first, but cannot maintain their sheen under constant foot traffic. Check with your supplier about the longevity of the tiles you are purchasing. Again, coat the back of the tile completely in adhesive and clean out all excess adhesive from the joints as you proceed. Otherwise, they are just like any floor tile when it comes to fixing.
Treat limestone tiles as you would marble tiles, but you need to pay special attention to their absorbency. They mark very easily during the fixing process and should ideally be sealed before being fixed. You can lay them out flat and apply sealant with a new or at least very clean paint roller, ensuring that the edges of the tiles are untouched. Wait for the sealant to dry and then fix the tiles as normal. Check with your supplier about this when you are buying the tiles.
The expense and inconsistency of natural stone tiles should not dissuade you from choosing this option over ceramic and porcelain alternatives. While extra planning and care may be required, natural stones can be well worth the effort as they can be spectacularly long-lasting and never go out of fashion. Find a supplier you can trust and make sure you are fully satisfied before you go ahead and make your purchase.