Slate Flooring Review: Pros and Cons

Is Slate Flooring Right for You?

Young couple sitting on floor choosing new tiles
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Natural slate has the ability to bring unique and powerful beauty to flooring installation, combining the functional durability of hard tile with the awe-inspiring essence of natural stone. Like any natural stone flooring, slate will add real estate value to your home. But in an era where the popularity of granite has made it a little common, a slate floor will be truly unique.

However, there are both benefits and drawbacks to the use of this material, which vary depending on the environment where it is being installed. Understanding the pros and cons can help you decide if slate is right for the use and demands of a particular room.

Pros
  • Unique, attractive material

  • Unique, attractive material

  • Very durable

  • Adds real estate value

  • Works well with radiant heat system

Cons
  • Expensive

  • Difficult to repair/replace

  • Difficult DIY installation

  • Requires sealing to prevent stains

Slate Flooring Cost

The initial cost to purchase natural slate flooring tiles can be quite high, especially when purchasing the top-quality materials that are most likely to last for decades. In addition to the high cost of the slate itself, which typically averages from $4 to $10 per square foot, the cost of professional installation can add an additional $10 to $15 per square foot. The high cost is a prime reason why slate is often reserved for the most visible rooms in the home.

Maintenance and Repair

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, especially in rooms like kitchens, but if properly maintained, slate can last for decades and look great without having to be removed or replaced. When sealed regularly it can be an excellent flooring material in bathrooms and kitchens and may provide many years of service where another type of flooring might require several replacements. It is generally a very good flooring material for heavy-traffic areas.

In some cases, a tile may be damaged due to violent impact, natural chipping, weathering, or flaking. Although it can be something of a chore, slate tiles can be removed and replaced, though the match will be best if you have saved leftover tiles from the original installation. Because slate tends to vary in color and appearance, it can be difficult to match new tiles to the old if they aren't from the same batch of stone. Don't expect new slate purchased years after the original installation to be a perfect match for color or pattern.

There is a certain amount of maintenance that is required to keep a slate tile floor looking attractive. During installation, the tiles must be sealed both with a penetrating sealer to close tiny pores in the stone, then a second barrier sealer to create a protective surface. Depending on the location and how heavily the floor is used, these sealers may need to be reapplied every year or so.

The grout lines on slate tile are also vulnerable. Any movement in the floor can cause the grout lines to crack, and they can be susceptible to stains, mold, and mildew, especially in damp locations. Regular sealing can help to some extent. It is also possible to completely remove and replace the grout between tiles periodically over the life of the flooring.

Design

There are innumerable solid colors and color combinations available when choosing slate floor tiles. The natural beauty of slate can manifest in unique ways in each stone, which means that every floor will have its own unique look, a piece of earth-born artistry.

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 types have wildly contrasting colors, while others are more subdued, but the appearance will always be unique. Your options increase thanks to the availability of many grout colors that can complement or contrast with the tiles themselves. This uniqueness can make slate a good choice for highly visible areas, such as entryways or large kitchens. It is less advantageous in rarely seen bedrooms or spaces that are mostly covered with rugs.

Slate is regarded as a relatively upscale flooring material. Although its initial price can be quite high, especially for top-quality materials, slate typically adds real estate value to the entire home. This is especially true when it's installed in locations such as the kitchen and bathroom, or in entryways where it is immediately evident to visitors.

The same uniqueness that is one of slate's virtues can also be a drawback. It can sometimes be difficult to obtain the precise design look you want because of variability in the materials, and future repairs can be difficult if you don't have a supply of extra tiles on hand. It is always best to buy plenty of extra tiles to have on hand when you install a slate floor.

Slate Flooring Installation

Although the installation of slate tile is similar to that of ceramic tile, precise installation is critical due to its brittle nature. Slate tile, like all natural stone, is difficult to cut without special tools. in addition, the subfloor and underlayment preparation must be done very carefully to prevent the flexing that can cause cracking of the grout joints or the tiles themselves. For this reason, it is usually best to have pros install slate flooring tiles.

Slate is a very heavy material, and there are sometimes structural issues when installing it in upstairs rooms. In some instances, you may even need to reinforce the floor structure in order to support the flooring.

Top Brands of Slate Flooring

There are no established national brands for slate flooring tiles, since most retailers buy from the same quarries and distributors, mainly in Asia. The best stone tile retailers are local companies rather than national brands. But limited selections of slate tiles are available at big-box home improvement centers and from franchised tile shops and direct-to-consumer distributors, such as MarbleWarehouse and The Tile Shop.

Comfort and Convenience

Slate, like all natural stone, is a very hard material, and it is best avoided in rooms where young children or older adults run the risk of falling. China or glass dishes that may survive being dropped on vinyl or laminate flooring will almost certainly break upon impact with slate.

Slate tiles come in several different textures. While the polished tiles are perfectly smooth, some forms of slate are finished with a rough, uneven (cleft) texture. This form is most often employed in wet environments where the extra traction can help prevent slipping. In other environments, though, cleft slate can be uncomfortable underfoot. Consider this when choosing slate flooring for a particular room.

Slate flooring, as well as other forms of natural stone, are great for radiating heat. That means that it is the perfect medium for radiant below-surface coil heating systems—both hydronic systems that circulate hot water, and electric mat systems. Such systems can be installed underneath the tile, heating not only the floor but also the surrounding environment as the heat rises. This attribute makes slate a good choice for bathrooms, provided it is well maintained to keep it waterproof. But without radiant heat, slate can be very chilly underfoot. The coolness may be desirable if you live in a warm climate but is much less so in cool climates. This can be a particular problem in bedrooms, bathrooms, and other locations where you often walk barefoot. This can be offset to some extent by the use of area rugs.

Slate vs. Granite Flooring

Slate flooring provides an extremely unique look, but it is a fairly high-maintenance flooring when compared to the most popular natural stone, granite tiles. Granite is a harder substance, and while it, too, requires sealing, you won't have to do this as often as you do with slate. Moreover, lower-quality slate can be crumbly and doesn't hold up quite as well as nearly indestructible granite. Granite is usually slightly less expensive than slate, though the costs are fairly comparable.

The real advantage of slate over granite is that because it's used less often, it creates a more unique floor. Granite is so popular that it's become a little common; a slate floor will always draw attention. Slate has a subtle elegance that is lacking with granite.

Is Slate Flooring Right for You?

Slate flooring is a very durable, beautiful, high-end flooring material that generally adds real estate value to your home, especially in kitchens, bathrooms, and entryways. But before choosing slate, you should also consider its high cost and maintenance needs.