Marble is a very popular natural stone used for tiles and slabs for floors, countertops, and walls. It is a metamorphic rock that forms when a sedimentary stone, such as limestone, is transformed under heat and pressure into a harder stone with beautiful color and veined patterns. Marble is sometimes confused with granite, however, granite is an igneous rock derived from volcanic magma, not layered sedimentary rock. Granite typically has a pebbly color pattern, while marble has a veined pattern.
Marble has been very popular building material for millennia, quarried in mountainous regions around the world. Prized for its beauty, style, and elegance, this material has graced the palaces of kings and queens for centuries, making it an upscale, luxurious option for interiors. When used for floors, marble has some undeniable virtues, but it also comes with some serious drawbacks and concerns that must be understood.
Pros of Marble Flooring
Marble tiles have a number of notable advantages as a flooring material:
- Elegant style: The biggest advantage of marble floor tile is that it can instantly elevate the appearance of a space, giving it a regal bearing that is hard to imitate. At the same time, marble is available in multiple colors, and even in stunning multicolor mixes, providing flexible options for a variety of decorative schemes. Tiles can also be cut to rectangles, and triangles of varying sizes, in order to create complex mosaic installations.
- Unique appearance: Because it is a product of the earth, every single piece of marble tile used in every single floor is a one of a kind; there is no other like it anywhere in the world. In the case of multi-colored marble, this uniqueness can be quite pronounced, with distinct features blaring forth from every tile. With more solid-colored marble, the color differences shifts are much more subtle and subdued, but your floor will still stand out with its own personality.
- Natural material: The look of a marble floor can bring the stunning power and dignity of a flowing mountain range into an interior space. Even if the material is heavily refined, the inherent feel and presence of its energy have a potent effect, infusing an environment a timeless natural aesthetic.
- Translucent color: Artists have treasured marble for centuries because it has a natural translucent property that allows light to penetrate slightly. This can make a statue, or even floor tiles, glow when the sun hits them just right. The illuminating effect is much more pronounced in white and lighter colored materials.
- Easily polished: Unlike most natural stones, marble is able to take a very high polish, achieving a silky smooth and shimmering look when treated properly. This look of sophistication and glamor evokes the highest sense of elegance in a space.
- Adaptable to radiant heat systems: Marble is a great conductor of heat, making it easily adaptable to a variety of below-surface radiant heating systems. Radiant heating can eliminate one of the prime disadvantages of marble tile—its coldness underfoot. A marble floor heated from beneath with radiant coils can bring a rush of cozy warmth that is both unexpected and delightful, especially on cold winter mornings.
Marble Flooring Cons
Before choosing the elegance of marble flooring tiles, keep the following limitations in mind:
- Scratches easily: Even though it is stone, marble is actually a relatively soft material that can be scratched, scraped, and chipped under the wrong conditions. This is especially true if the material is polished, as the imperfections will be more noticeable in the smooth, flat solid surface. Unfortunately, scratches cannot be easily repaired without replacing the damaged material completely.
- Acid substances can stain: Marble has a pH on the base (alkaline) side, due to its origin a sedimentary limestone. This means that it can have a chemical reaction whenever it comes in contact with acidic substances. This can include a wide variety of foods, sauces, beverages, and cleaning products. Unfortunately, the discoloration stains that come from these materials are permanent.
- Susceptible to water damage: Most natural stone is porous, and marble is especially prone to water penetration, and staining from colorful liquid agents. This can be prevented by applying a chemical penetrating sealer, as well as a surface sealer after installation. But for optimal protection, the surface sealer needs to be reapplied annually.
- Brittle: Being relatively soft, marble floor tiles can suffer from cracking, breaking, and chipping. If the floor is improperly installed, this can be a particular problem, as any gaps between the material and the subfloor will be weak points ready to burst and break under even standard pressure.
- Matching replacement tiles can be difficult: Whenever marble is installed, purchase at least one extra box of tiles and keep them in storage. Every lot of marble tiles will have slightly different coloring and veining, and having replacement tiles from the same batch ensures that they come from the same quarry, making it much easier to match tiles if one breaks, cracks, or becomes stained.
- Surfaces are slippery: When polished, marble can be a dangerously slick and slippery surface. In kitchens and bathrooms where water is likely, this can be a problem, since these floors are unforgiving on bones and joints in the event of a fall. Use non-slip rugs in these areas if you are using highly polished marble, or opt for less polished forms of marble tile.
- Floors are expensive Marble floors are a premium architectural element, and they are priced accordingly. Generally, they fall on the high-end range of all natural stone, and they generally do not last as long as slate, granite, and other natural stone. Marble floors typically cost $10 to $20 per square foot or materials alone, with some specialty marbles running as high as $40 per square foot. Ceramic tile is typically about half the cost of marble, although the cost of installation labor is fairly comparable.
- DIY installation can be difficult. Marble tile is a very heavy but brittle stone, and unprepared DIYers may find that they waste a good deal of material through breakage when installing marble tiles themselves. Although the techniques for installing marble tiles and grouting them are exactly the same as for standard ceramic tile, proper preparation of the floor is critical, and natural stone is considerably more difficult to cut and drill, requiring specialty tools.
No flooring material conveys elegance like marble tiles, but marble is a temperamental stone that requires considerable care when installing it and when caring for it afterward. Be aware of its limitations before you spend the money on marble flooring.