Slate flooring is a natural, attractive flooring choice. Few synthetic options can approach slate’s classic aesthetic appeal and superior durability as a flooring material. It’s a metamorphic rock, uniquely composed to be cut into flat shapes and sizes perfect for the floor in your home. Earth tone colors of slate vary exquisitely and the surface texture as well as thickness of the rock can be adjusted to meet the requirements of any indoor living space and decor.
On the Moh’s scale of mineral hardness, slate is located in the range of 3 to 4—approximately the same as marble. It is also rated as low to very low in porosity.
In the U.S., most slate is sourced from the states of Maine, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New York and Virginia. Usually, it is quarried on mountainsides. After millions of years forming beneath ancient sea beds, what qualities does natural slate flooring bring to your home today? And what about any downsides should you be aware of while you’re considering a slate floor?
Here’s a rundown of the pros and cons of this elegant flooring to help you make a decision.
Slate’s Strong Points
The diversity of colors, patterns of striation and surface textures gives you full freedom to exploit slate’s visual appeal and complement any decor aesthetic. Slate today is available in literally hundreds of colors. From vibrant hues to low-key, elegant blacks and grays you have a natural palette at your disposal to express your own style.
The appearance of slate varies according to its source location. For example, slate derived from certain areas of Maine and Pennsylvania tends to be deep blue to black in coloration; New York and Vermont, conversely, produce green, red, purple and even multi-colored slate. Virginia slate often exhibits a subtle luminescence to the finish due to high content of mica occurring naturally in the rock.
Today, China and Spain, as well as certain African countries, are also exporting slate in new distinctive colors to the U.S. flooring market.
Slate is commonly available in a choice of finishes including a natural cleft finish that maintains some of the rock’s roughness for better traction and a sandblasted finish that lends a slick appearance and tactile feel. Penetrating sealant formulas applied to slate create a matte wet look without excess glossy buildup.
Where does the visual appeal and utility of slate flooring belong? Certainly on display in foyers and other prominent high traffic areas. But also anywhere else you want it. It’s true that slate fits almost any room or indoor environment. Bathrooms, kitchens, mudrooms? No problem, and no need to limit slate flooring to indoor applications only, either. It’s even a popular flooring option for garages, too, as well as around the poolside.
Slate originally rose to prominence in this country not as a classy flooring material, but rather as the superior roofing material widely utilized in the 18th and 19th centuries. At one point, over 200 quarries in the U.S. produced slate tiles strictly for installation on roofs.
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In this demanding outdoor application, many slate roofs typically stood up to a century or more of weather exposure without defects. That’s evidence of how tough and resilient slate is. It’s also a good predictor of how well it stands up to exposure to indoor life when utilized as flooring in the typical household.
Despite its cultured, elegant appearance, slate is unaffected by foot traffic and resists all wear and tear like the tough natural material it really is. Its low porosity means it resists water absorption and, after sealant is applied, is almost impervious to liquid stains. It also makes a very slip-resistant floor surface for wet, bare feet. And, of course, like any natural stone flooring, slate is totally fireproof.
Though it’s a rock, natural slate provides a smooth comfortable texture to walk upon that feels great—particularly in bare feet. Unlike some other stone flooring materials that become piercing cold during winter, slate has heat retention properties that tend to keep it slightly warmer even on frigid mornings. Because it holds and releases heat evenly, slate is often the flooring material of choice to install atop a radiant heating system embedded beneath the sub-floor or in the concrete slab.
Drawbacks of Slate Flooring
Like most natural stone flooring, slate can be pricey. The typical cost of an installed slate floor consisting of high grade tiles starts around $10 per square foot and could rise as high as $20. Travertine, another natural stone, runs about $8 to $14. Manmade ceramic tile ranges from $4 to $12 per square foot installed.
As a durable flooring material, slate is not only heavy-duty, it’s just plain heavy. This fact influences installation issues that may arise. The weight of slate tiles is significant because, if they aren’t installed on a level supporting sub-floor, the tile could crack under its own weight.
Preparation of the subfloor to accept that load is critical. The floor must be perfectly level so that the slate tiles install very flat. If the existing installation surface isn’t perfectly flat, a bed for the slate will need to be created using self-leveling concrete. Does this sound like a job for the average do-it-yourselfer? In most cases, the services of an experienced flooring contractor to install slate are required.
A characteristic shared by many very long-wearing, hard stone materials like slate is that they can also be brittle under certain circumstances. While slate is superior in withstanding wear and tear and bears heavy weight easily, a sharp impact by a very heavy object could possibly crack a slate tile.
Also, slate can conceivably be scratched by other objects if the material is harder than slate (few typical materials found in a household are, however.)
While walking across slate’s smooth surface is pleasant, lengthy periods of time standing in one place on an extra-hard flooring material like slate could potentially be uncomfortable. This would more likely affect individuals with joint or foot problems that require a softer standing surface.
Slate is the natural choice for those looking for the optimum blend of beauty and durable service life. For many homeowners, a slate floor is more than an improvement to the house; it’s an investment in a long future. Consider the pluses and minuses, and then shop carefully for the best product and a qualified flooring contractor to install it.