Natural slate has the ability to bring unique and powerful beauty to a flooring installation, combining the functional durability of hard tile with the awe-inspiring essence of a towering mountain range. However, there are both benefits, and drawbacks to the use of this material, which are often dependent on the environment where it is being installed. Understanding these can provide you with a framework not only for choosing slate but also maintaining it over time.
Slate Flooring Pros
Durability: One of the strongest standard natural stone flooring materials, slate has an inherent durability that makes it resistant to cracks, scratches, breaks, and chips. It does have to be sealed against stains on a regular basis depending on the environment where it is installed, but if properly maintained these materials can last for decades, looking great without having to be removed or replaced.
Style: There are innumerable colors and multi colors available when choosing slate floor tiles. This is enhanced by the fact that all features found in these materials are natural, and thus occur in unique ways across each individual piece. That means that every floor produced is a one of a kind work of earth-born artistry.
Value: Slate is considered to be a relatively upscale flooring material. While its initial price can be quite high, especially for grade A quality materials, it does have the ability to add real estate value to an entire home. This is especially true when installing in locations such as the kitchen and bathroom.
Replacement: In some cases, a tile may be damaged due to violent impact, natural chipping, weather, or slating over time. While this can be unsightly and dangerous, it is also possible to repair these pieces to restore the surface perfection of the floor. The important thing is to make sure you hold extra tiles over from a fresh install. Because slate tends to vary in color and appearance so much it can be difficult to match new veins to old strains.
Radiant Heating Systems: Natural stone and slate flooring are great for transmitting, if not retaining heat. That means that it is the perfect medium for radiant below surface coil heating systems. These can be installed underneath the tile and can help to not only make the floor toasty but the surrounding environment, as well, since heat will rise up throughout the space.
Colors: There is a wide variety of both solid color and multicolored slate materials that are available to match nearly any decorative style scheme you are trying to create. Some surfaces can contrast wildly, with powerful contending hues washing back and forth across their face. Others will be more subdued, though all natural materials will be unique. These options are then compounded by a number of grout colors that can be employed in conjunction with the materials.
Slate Flooring Cons
Expense: The initial cost to purchase natural slate flooring tiles can be quite high, especially when purchasing the kind of grade-A quality materials that will last for years and decades. This is increased by the need to purchase complementary materials such as grout and adhesive, and the rental of heavy equipment for shaping tiles. In many cases professional assistance will be needed, factoring in the cost of a contractor as well.
Maintenance: There is a certain amount of maintenance that is required to keep a slate tile floor looking attractive. During the installation, before grouting, and immediately after everything sets, you will need to use two different substances; first a quality below surface sealer to clog the tiny pores in the stone, and then a surface barrier sealer to create an invisible layer over it. Depending on location and use these may need to be reapplied periodically every year or so.
Grout Lines: While slate tile is solid, grout is not. Instead, it is made to be malleable so that expanding and contracting pieces of stone do not crack during temperature extremes. Unfortunately, that makes these lines the most vulnerable point in the installation, and they are susceptible to stains, as well as the growth of mold and mildew. Regular sealing can help to some extent. It is also possible to completely remove and replace grout lines without uninstalling the tiles themselves.
Clefting: The structure of slate is several flat layers which all press down on one another horizontally to create a tile structure that is solid and dimensional. In its untreated surface state, this material can be quite rough and uneven, and may even be sharp in some peaked places. This cleft finish is most often employed in wet environments where the traction provided can help prevent slips and trips. But in gentler environments where bare feet touch the ground, it can be uncomfortable. Honed and brushed surfaces do not have those issues.
Cold: While slate is great at transmitting heat and cold, it is terrible at retaining them, which can make for a very chilly and uncomfortable floor on icy winter mornings. This can be a particular problem in bedrooms, bathrooms, and other locations where people often go barefoot. However, it can be offset to some extent by the use of area rugs, and or radiant below surface heating systems.
Heavy: The weight of slate makes for a difficult and back-breaking installation process, which will either cost you in contractor payments or solid work man-hours. This also makes it difficult if not impossible to install this material in upper story locations, limiting its environmental possibilities.
Consistency: One of the beautiful things about using slate tile flooring in a space is that every single tile is unique, made from nature, and unlike any other that has ever been quarried and refined. The problem is that such a characteristic can make it difficult to pre-plan around this stone, since samples and pictures may vary from the actual vein strain available at any given time. It can also lead to design quandaries, and you should always dry lay out a slate flooring installation before committing to mortar and grout.