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Natural Stone FAQ

What is Natural Stone?  

"Natural Stone" refers to a number of products quarried from the earth, used over many thousands of years as building materials and decorative enhancements. These products include Granite, Marble, Limestone, Travertine, Slate, Quartzite, Sandstone, Adoquin, Onyx, and others. They are more than just rocks – natural stone is hand selected from the best, most consistent sources for durability and beauty.

Natural stone products differ in composition, color, and texture even among pieces from the same source. This is usually considered a benefit, lending itself to one of a kind designs and distinctive, dramatic applications.

Who needs natural stone in the USA?  

In past eras, Natural Stone has mainly been used for large-scale construction and in formal applications such as churches and government buildings. It has also been used for road construction and monuments. For residential construction, wood and brick have been the traditional choice. However, there has been a growing trend in recent years to use Natural Stone in residential construction for both structural and decorative use. Popular applications include entryways, atriums, bathrooms, fireplaces, floors, countertops, and many other surfaces.

Why should I use natural stone in my home?  

Natural stone is prized its distinctive beauty and the sense of peaceful tranquility it creates, but there are also many practical benefits to using Natural Stone in your home. Natural Stone products are more durable than many artificial products, often lasting for decades with very little maintenance. With Natural Stone there are no worries about exposure to harmful chemicals in the home or released into the environment during production or disposal. Why invest time and money into a look-alike? Natural Stone is the real thing that the artificial products try to emulate.

What are the different kinds of natural stone?  

Natural Stone products include Granite, Marble, Limestone, Travertine, Slate, Quartzite, Sandstone and Onyx.

Granite

For maintenance-free elegance and durability, granite is unmatched. Its incredible strength and density makes granite the perfect choice for massive structural work – walls, monuments and supports. Though it is the hardest of structural stones, the amazing variety of mineral-rich colors and natural patterns gives it ornamental value as well. Granite products are ideal for flooring, countertops, vanities and decorative exterior applications.

Marble

Prized for its timeless style, texture and high-gloss polish along with a rich palette of beautiful colors, marble has a place anywhere in the home. Available in solids or dramatic veined varieties, marble may be carved or sculpted in many ways, making it one of the most versatile decorative stones. Often seen as a symbol of luxury, modern technology brings beautiful marble products even to budget-conscious homeowners.

Serpentine Marble

Also referred to as Verde Antique, Serpentine Marble is a dramatic green color with strong white veining.

Slate

Formed over thousands of years of sedimentary deposit and compression, slate splits naturally into beautifully textured layers. The various shades of slate products – brown, yellow, dark gray, pink, lavender and more – may even occur within the same piece of stone. Durable and stain-resistant, slate products are often used for flooring, cladding and landscaping.

Quartz

Shimmering and sparkling with tiny quartz crystals, Quartz is a rock similar to slate with a medium grained texture and incredible durability. Differing mineral content creates many color variations, from the sedate white, gray or beige to more adventurous shades of purple and pink. Quartzite is widely used for wall veneers and decorative tiles. A naturally non-skid texture makes it a perfect candidate for flooring indoors and out, including areas with heavy traffic and exposure to the elements.

Sandstone

With a uniform texture, an appealing variety of colors and finishes, and weather resistant durability, it's easy to see why sandstone products have been used for thousands of years for walls, floors, and pavers. As with other types of rock, its variations result from differing mineral composition – there's a sandstone product to match any décor.

Limestone

The muted, soft tones of limestone are perfect for today's casual and comfortable lifestyles. Available in hues of soft beige and tan, either polished or honed, limestone products are ideal for bathrooms, fireplaces, countertops and flooring in low-traffic, informal areas.

Travertine

Valued for its banded, pitted “distressed” appearance, travertine adds rich, distinctive character to a variety of indoor and outdoor building projects. Its patterns and veining effects were formed by hot spring water percolating through underground limestone. When used for interior applications, travertine is often filled with cement, grout or resin and sealed to create a smooth, stain-resistant surface.

Shell Stone

Shell Stone is a sedimentary stone similar to limestone, with many small shells embedded and visible upon its surface.

Onyx

A translucent stone with a glossy, polished surface, onyx is composed of crystalline silica and closely related to agate, a semi-precious stone. Often found in caves, onyx is formed by the slow flow of cold, carbonated spring water. Onyx is available in pastel shades of yellow, brown, green, orange, and white.

Cantera Stone

Cantera is a sedimentary stone that comes from the riverbeds of Mexico. It is used extensively for architectural columns, moldings, and for pavement tiles.

How do natural stone tiles differ from ceramic tiles?  

The most important difference is this – Natural Stone is a product of nature, and Ceramics are man-made. Most man-made materials cannot compare in durability to natural ones. While damaged ceramic tiles usually need replacing, natural stone usually needs minimal restoration if stained or scratched. Other differences are explained below:
 

CERAMIC                            
NATURAL STONE 
Homogenous composition Unique composition
Low absorbency, thin and lightweight, corrugated backing Differs from category to category
Acid resistant Acid sensitivity varies from stone to stone.
Have only one plain finish and practically no edge finishes. Have a whole spectrum of finishes like Polished, Honed, Antiquated, Tumbled, Leather, Rugged (Split face, River Rough, River Wash, Flamed) and more. Different types of edges like beveled, bull-nosed etc. are possible.
The sizes in ceramics are restricted and patterns are very uniform and geometric. No size restriction. Available in huge slabs as large as 125' X 75' or in small tumbled mosaic pieces of 1”x 1”. Natural, random patterns are found in Natural Stones


Where in my home can I use natural stone?

Natural Stone can be used on nearly every surface both inside and outside the home, including floors, kitchen countertops, vanity tops, bathrooms, patios, walkways, fireplaces, facades, wall cladding, and garden landscaping.

Why is granite preferred for kitchen/bar countertops?  

Countertops in kitchens and bar areas are often exposed to acidic substances such as lemon, vinegar, alcohol, and tomato sauce. Knives, dishes, pots and pans, and other implements may cause scratching of lesser materials. Granite is the hardest and densest of all natural stones – the feldspar content keeps it water resistant, and the silicates it contains won't react with acid. These properties help Granite resist staining and retain its fine luster over a longer period of time than ceramic tiles or other stones.

Although Marble is commonly requested for countertops in bars and kitchens, marble's high carbonate content makes it vulnerable to acidic substances.

Why are limestones and travertines preferred for family or living rooms?  

The family or living room in a home is a place for peace and relaxation, and the soft, muted tones and textures of limestone or travertine are the perfect touch. Available in shades of beige, tan, yellow and gold and processed with a tumbled or antiqued texture, limestone complements all types of furniture and upholstery.

Why is marble preferred for bathrooms and fireplaces?  

Homeowners often enjoy bathrooms with bold colors and smooth, flowing patterns. Marble is the perfect choice for this application due to its wide spectrum of available colors. It also lends itself well to carved patterns and details, creating both traditional and artistic designs. While kitchen countertops are often exposed to acidic substances, bathroom countertops are more likely to be exposed to alkaline products, which do not react with Marble.

Why is slate preferred for patios or atriums?  

The earth tones and rustic look of slate create a comfortable, natural look that is right at home with exterior landscaping and interior garden designs. Slate is naturally slip resistant, even when wet, and is much less likely to show dust and dirt than polished granite or marble. It's also relatively low priced, which makes it a great choice for large, informal areas.

Where do natural stones come from?  

Natural stones are quarried directly from the earth's crust, and every piece is unique. The only processing they need is shaping into various forms, sizes and finishes.

Why are most natural stones imported?  

Sources of natural stone with desirable qualities are found all over the world, in many different locations. Some sources are better than others due to the stones' appearance, hardness, and other qualities. Therefore, stone may be quarried in China, India, Africa, South America, and some does come from within United States borders.

Cost of processing is also a factor. Since natural stone has been used as a building material for thousands of years in many locations overseas, those areas have a long-established system for quarrying and processing these stones which is efficient and economical.

What is the quality difference in stone from different countries?  

Natural stone from different areas contains a varying mix of mineral deposits and rock formations. For example, the mineral Mica may be found more frequently in some areas, which means that the rock from that location will contain bigger shiny crystals than we would find in places where less Mica is found. Some countries quarry more limestone than granite. Therefore, stone from certain places may be better suited for one application than another. Natural stone qualities and characteristics differ due to geological formations, not geographical boundaries.

Why can some stones not be used for exterior applications?  

Some types of stone are better suited for interior applications than exterior because they cannot withstand harsh weather extremes and may crack, crumble, or fade. Also, stones with naturally slip-resistant surfaces are better for outdoor walkways or patios than those with smooth, polished surfaces. Some multicolored slates bleed color upon contact with water.

Why are some stones more expensive than others?  

Stones that are harder and denser are more difficult and expensive to quarry and process. Quarrying methods vary as well; stones may be quarried below ground, which is more expensive than above ground. Also, since natural stone is quarried all over the world, long distance shipping factors into the price.

Why are bigger sizes more expensive?  

The larger the stone, the more difficult it is to process, handle, pack, and transport. Larger sizes also tend to have a higher amount of waste compared to the part that is used, which makes them more expensive.

Do I get lower prices for larger quantity?  

The availability of a particular stone is the most important factor in determining price. However, handling and transportation cost does drop slightly for a larger quantity. The best way to reduce cost is to find a stone dealer who is running a special on a particular product.

What are different kinds/types of stone finishes?  

The different types of stone finishes include:

Natural Cleft

Unique to slate, it has a slightly uneven surface that is still usable for flooring. This finish cannot be created, but occurs naturally as the layers of slate are quarried. One side (back side) can be gauged to facilitate ease of “thin set” installation. Some marbles, sandstones and limestones are available with heavy clefting, suitable for wall installations only.

Polished

Grinding, sanding, and buffing produces a high gloss, mirror-like surface.

Honed

Grinding and sanding produces a smooth, yet not glossy finish. This is best for low maintenance, high traffic applications.

Flamed

A flamed surface is achieved by subjecting the stone to the high temperature flame of a torch and burning most of the carbon content, leaving textured quartzites with gentle coloration.

Sandblasted

This is a rough, but tidy look created by applying a high pressure blast of sand to the stone’s surface.

River Wash

This finish is often given to granites, and provides a non-slippery surface while retaining the coloration and grain structure of the stone.

Leather

Available only in Melange marble, this finish gives the stone a suede look and feel. This texture is smooth and slip-resistant.

Tumbled

Tumbling stones in a solution of sand, water and mild acid creates an old world, weathered look.

Split Face

Mainly used for cladding, this is achieved by splitting stone either by hand or by machine so that the surface exhibits a natural quarry texture. It has a flat back and uneven front surface, and creates the uneven look of protruding bricks.

Fleuri Cut

This is achieved by cutting quarried marble or stone parallel to the natural bedding plane.

Cross-Cut

The cross-cut method involves end-cutting blocks of travertine to display a less linear, more rounded “wavy” pattern.

Vein Cut

Opposite of cross-cutting, the veining of the stone is shown as a linear pattern.

Veneer Stone

Any stone used as a decorative facing material as wall cladding which is not meant to be load-bearing. Veneer may be made from different finishes, such as split face, cleft, honed, polished, flamed or tumbled.

Gauged vs. Ungauged

Slate is cleft out of blocks to form tiles. When it is cleft by machine or saw, it is gauged because a uniform thickness is formed. Ungauged stone is hand-cleft and its thickness may vary up to 5/8 of an inch.

Various edge finishes include chipped, pillowed, bull-nosed, beveled, chamfered, and others.


Why are some finishes preferred for a particular application?  

There are three important reasons for choosing one finish over another in certain applications:

Safety

When choosing flooring, it's important to choose a slip-resistant surface for outdoor applications where the floor may become wet. Highly polished surfaces should only be used for interior floors. Also, highly clefted, uneven surfaces may cause a tripping hazard when used for flooring.

Maintenance

Softer, less dense stones such as marble or limestone are unsuitable for high traffic areas because they will quickly become dull and will need frequent restoration to maintain their finish.

Usability

The application should be consistent with the type of finish selected. A rough finish such as flamed would be a poor choice for countertops, due to the difficulty in cleaning it. Clefted material should not be used for tabletops, because it would present an uneven surface.

Is a polished floor recommended for a commercial application?  

Polished flooring may be used in a commercial application if the floor is unlikely to become wet and slippery. It is advisable to have the floor material professionally tested prior to installation. Sealers are available that can improve the slip resistance of the surface without removing its gloss.

Why is a honed finish so popular for homes?  

A honed finish creates a soft, matte, appearance that is more suited to casual, comfortable environments than a formal, polished surface.

Why are travertines filled or unfilled?  

Travertine is characterized by the presence of many tiny holes, caused by trapped gas bubbles during its formation. This creates a porous, uneven surface, which is referred to as Unfilled Travertine. When these cavities are filled with cement or another material, the result is called Filled Travertine and may be honed and polished to provide a uniform surface similar to marble.


Is cleft finished slate a tripping hazard?  

Slate with a heavily cleft finish may create a tripping hazard. Most slates are lightly clefted and suitable for flooring in kitchens, bathrooms and on patios. A pallet of slate may contain a few pieces with heavy clefting, but these are generally not used for the flooring installation.

Why can some finishes not be used outside?  

Polished stone surfaces may become slippery when wet, and tend to lose their shine in a short time due to weathering.

What is thermal or flame finish?  

The thermal, or flamed finish is achieved by subjecting the stone to the high-temperature flame of a torch. This burns off most of the carbon content, creating textured quartzites with gentle coloration. Only granite is tough enough to withstand this treatment, and the piece must be fairly thick or it may crack or break under heat and pressure. This is a popular finish for commercial wall and flooring applications.

What is stone tumbling?  

Tumbling stones in a solution of sand, water and mild acid creates an old world, weathered look. Typically sizes of 5/8" X 5/8" to 6"X 6" and sometimes even 8"X 8" are true tumbled pieces. Larger sizes are given a "Tumbled" finish, manually. Very small pieces like 5/8" X 5/8" & 1" X 1" are usually, mounted on 12" X 12" meshes for ease of installation. Most commonly used size is 4" X 4" and it is used in straight & diamond patterns, or as accent pieces. When mixing different size tumbled pieces, the look may vary.
 Is the sizing always exact in tumbled material?   Tumbled stone pieces are intended to produce a rustic, old-world look. Therefore, they are not created with precision and may vary slightly in size. Some pieces may have large chips on the edges or may have a corner missing. Care must be taken to ensure an even surface when installing tumbled stone flooring.

Can I specify that there be no grout joints?  

Creating an installation without visible grout joints is difficult, but if the surface of the floor is straight and the tiles are perfectly cut, very little grout should be seen. A professional, experienced installer should be chosen to create this look.

What are the tightest grout joints I can request?  

The tightest grout joint that you may request is 1/16".

What is blending? When is blending recommended?  

Because stone is a natural product, there is always some variation within a selection. By sorting out the stone tiles before installing, it is possible to place the tiles on the surface before installing, blending the varying colors, grain, and veining as desired.

What are general recommendations for installation?  
 

  • Open all boxes and mix up all of the pieces before installation. This will help to create a visually pleasing distribution of stone variation.        
  • A good installer knows that green marble and some other stones require water-free epoxy thin-set.        
  • When stone is installed on a concrete slab at ground level, ensure that a proper moisture barrier is in place prior to installation.     


Can the installer fill travertine with grout?  

When travertine is filled at the factory or at the time of installation, the fill can work its way out of the spaces. Normal maintenance may involve re-filling these voids.

Who determines grout color?  

Grout is an important design element. Because it is used to fill the spaces between each tile, the grout must be selected carefully. A wide variety of grout colors is available to enhance the beauty of the tile installation and may be chosen to contrast with, match, or accent the tile.
 
Contrast Grout: emphasizes a pattern created by the tile.        
Matching Grout: blends seamlessly with the tile.        
Accent Grout: a shade slightly different from the tile, gives them an appearance of depth.

How many different colors of stones are available?  

Natural stone is available in a nearly endless variation of colors, patterns and veining. These may include shades of beige, gray, gold, red, pink, blue, and green.

Can I specify the exact stone color I want?  

Granite, marble, and slate may be available in nearly any color, so it may be possible to specify stone color, with some tolerance for shade differences. Not all stones are available in all colors, however. Travertines, for example, are only found in shades of beige, yellow, and gold.

What criteria do I use to select stone color?  

The criteria for selecting stone color will depend on the application. Color choice can make a room appear larger or smaller, formal or warm and inviting. Consider the following characteristics:
 

  • Lighter colors tend to make a smaller room seem larger.        
  • Dark colors tend to make a room more intimate and cozy.        
  • Solid colors, smooth and polished tiles show more dirt and require more maintenance.        
  • Patterned material, usually in a honed finish, is one of the easiest to maintain.        
  • Dramatic patterns can help highlight and accent portions of the room, including architectural features.    

 

How much variation can I expect from the sample of stone shown?  

Each stone is unique, and some types of stone display more variation between the pieces than others. Granites show little variation in color, but may have differing patterns and grain density. Slates tend to show a wide variation in color, even within the same pallet of stone.

What are the neutral stone colors?  

The neutral tones found in natural stone include beige, tan, and cream. Most people enjoy these colors, and find that they complement all types of furniture and fixtures.

What are the accent stone colors?  

Any color may become an accent color, contrasting with the main color in the room. For example, a white stone border can accent a black floor.

What is grain structure and vein formation in the stone?  

The grain structure in a piece of stone was formed during an igneous stone's cooling process. The slower the stone cooled, the larger the grains. “Grain” refers to the crystalline and flowery patterns visible on the stone's surface. Some stones, particularly marble and granite, have a great amount of veining, which is caused by the distribution of various minerals within the stone.

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