Natural Stone is a highly selective product with individual feel, touch and color sensitivity, subjected to desire for uniqueness and satisfaction of individuality. A classic look developed by natur over millions of years, that is not affected by fashions, nor perishable over a period of time. Natural Stone is being created as a result of millions of years of different geological changes that take place in the earth’s crust. This has resulted in the creation of a wide variety of vibrant colors and characteristics. Depending on the process, composition and characteristics, the Natural Stones have been categorized into Granite, Marble, Limestone, Travertine, Slate, Quartzite, Sandstone, Adoquin, Onyx, etc.
Natural Stone has been a popular housing and building material all over the world for centuries. However in America, wood has been the primary material used for housing. Natural Stones were mostly used for road construction and monuments. However this trend is now shifting towards the usage of Natural Stones in the Entryway, Kitchens, Atriums, Bathrooms, Fireplaces, Floors, Facades and many surfaces in homes and offices.
With the flooding of our environment with artificial equipment and material, Americans look for relief at home, and Natural Stone gives a timeless, realistic feeling and proximity to nature. When compared to all the visible items like wallpaper, paints, curtains, appliances, furniture, etc, only Natural Stone gives the classic look and a distinctive feeling. Natural Stone gives a hint of luxury, while still being affordable. Natural Stone is the REAL thing in today’s artificially decorated homes.
There are various different Natural Stones: Granite, Marble, Limestone, Travertine, Slate, Quartzite, Sandstone, Adoquin, Onyx, etc.
Granite is an important structural and ornamental stone, due to its high compressive strength and durability. It is the hardest of structural stones. Its mineral-rich colors, its hardness and density, make it an ideal choice for flooring, counter tops, vanities as well as exterior applications. A broad range of elegant patterns and colors makes granite the most versatile and durable of all stones. It is also the most “maintenance-free” of all stones. Granites get their wonderful variety of colors and patterns from minerals that are melted into the liquid mass as it is formed.
Marble has been valued for thousands of years for its rich palette of beautiful colors and appearance. It is perfect for use in almost any part of the house. Generally, calcite and dolomite marbles are of pure white color. Variations of whiteness of pure marbles are due to the mixture of foreign substances. Such impurities form bands, streaks and clouds. Black and grayish shades are due to graphite; pinks, reds are mainly due to the presence of manganese oxides or hematite.
A rock consisting mostly or entirely of serpentine, green to greenish-black in color commonly veined with calcite and dolmite magnesite or both. Serpentine is often referred to as verde antique but this term may also refer to green marble without serpentine.
A great combination of earth tone colors and the finish makes this stone one of a kind. The vibrant colors and unique textures make slates appropriate for interior as well as exterior applications. Because it is formed in layers, it can easily be split to expose beautifully textured surfaces. The usual colors of slates are earthy (various shades and mixes of browns, beiges, yellows), black, dark-grays, and greenish-gray but shades of pinks, purples and copper are also found. They usually exhibit a lot of variation in color among the pieces quarried from the same site. Slates, depending on their individual hardness, are used for flooring, cladding and landscaping.
Quartzites are very similar to slates, but with a higher content of Quartz, which gives them, a sparkling texture. They are so close in appearance to slates that usually they are referred to as quartzitic-slates. Just like slates, they are used for various applications depending on their hardness.
As the name suggests, Sandstone is made of sand cemented by silica, iron, lime etc. The color of sandstone depends on the cementing material; ferruginous (iron) sandstones are reddish, brownish; carbonaceous, black; siliceous, white and argillaceous, earthy to buff. Other than the hardness, the porosity of the sandstone is also a key factor in deciding the suitability for its applications.
The muted tones of limestone are perfect for today’s more casual and comfortable lifestyles. Generally these soft beiges and tans, either polished or honed, are appropriate for bathrooms, fireplaces, counters and less-traveled flooring, where a more informal decor is desired. Limestone’s are sedimentary rocks that are formed at the bottom of lakes and seas as silt and organic matter settle to the bottom. A more and more layers build up over thousands and millions of years, adding more and more weight, the heat and pressure cause chemical reactions to take place and harden the sediments into solid stone.
The cozy tones of Travertine range from the sandy beiges to shimmering gold giving a feeling of warmth and comfort. The Coliseum in Rome, having stood for over 2000 years, is perhaps the most famous travertine structure in the world. Travertine is commonly used outside as cladding and pavement, as well as inside for floors, walls and countertops. Travertine is generally filled with cement before it is honed or polished, which produces a uniform surface more like other marbles. Unfilled travertine is quite beautiful, and is often seen as exterior cladding on buildings. Travertine’s result from hot spring water percolating up through underground limestone. When the water evaporates, it leaves behind layers of dissolved limestone and other minerals, giving it its banded appearance. The characteristic holes in travertine are the result of trapped gas bubbles; as the gas escapes, crystals form in the cavities. Travertine’s are generally light-colored beiges and tans, though there are some beautiful, colored travertine’s that have resulted from other minerals dissolved by hot underground water.
A sedimentary stone sharing characteristics of limestone with fossils and shells imbedded in its body.
Translucent, generally layered, calcite with colors in pastel shades, usually yellow, brown, green, orange, and white. True onyx is nearly pure crystalline silica closely related to agate, a semi-precious stone. Onyx is formed by a slow precipitation from generally cold solutions of carbonated spring water.
A sedimentary stone found in the riverbeds of certain regions of Mexico. Cantera stone is used extensively in United States for architectural columns and moldings and for pavement tiles.
The very first and basic difference between Natural Stone and Ceramic Tile is that Natural Stone is a product of Mother Nature where as Ceramic Tile is man-made and hence artificial. And as is the case with most of the man-made material it is not as unique or as durable as most of the Natural Stones. Ceramic Tiles that get defaced due to staining or scratching need to be replaced, while Natural Stone can always be restored.
Natural Stone can be used for Flooring, Kitchen Counter Tops, Vanity Tops, Bathroom, Patios, Walkways, Fire Places, Facades, Wall cladding, Garden, Landscaping etc., practically on every surface, inside and outside of your house.
Granite is the hardest and densest of all the Natural Stones. The main minerals that can be found in granite are Silicates, Feldspar & Quartz. Silicates do not react much to the acidic substances like lemon (citric acid), vinegar, alcohol etc., something found regularly in our kitchens. The second aspect to note is that Granite is highly durable and scratch resistant. This means that the kitchen countertop will not get easily scratched with the heavy traffic of knives and vessels on it, and retain its fine luster over a longer period of time as compared to other stones or Ceramic Tiles. Feldspar in granite makes it the least water absorbent (0.02-0.04%). This prevents liquids from seeping into the counter tops and staining the material.
Hence Granite is the first preference for Kitchen or Bar Counters. It is often asked, "Why marbles can not be used for kitchen counter tops?" The answer lies in the composition of marbles. Most marbles have high carbonate contents, which easily react with all acidic material.
Limestones have the most muted tones and subtle shades and are perfect for today’s comfortable and casual lifestyles. Generally Limestones carry the soft beiges, tans, yellows and gold that give a neutral and warm look to the surroundings. Limestones can be processed with antiquated textures that create a very comfortable ambience. These properties of limestones make it easy to match or compliment all types of furniture and upholstery. So when you want to relax and unwind, you would obviously look for the soft tones and cozy textures of Limestones in your family room.
Marbles have a very wide spectrum of colors. People often want the bathrooms to have bold colors and smooth flowing patterns. This makes marbles visibly the best choice for bathrooms. In general Marbles are comparatively less expensive than Granite. Additionally, marbles can be easily detailed, carved and fabricated to provide traditional and artistic look.
Bathrooms and fireplaces are susceptible to lesser wear and tear, so marbles can be freely used here. Unlike kitchen, bathroom substances have alkaline content to which properly treated Marble does not react easily.
Slate is a great combination of earth tone colors and rustic look. This creates a very comfortable and natural atmosphere that goes with the exterior landscaping, plants, gardens etc. Another reason for using slate in patios or atriums is that these are usually open, so dust can settle. Dust tends to show up easily on polished Granite or Marble. The slip resistance of Slates makes them the best suited for use in Patios and Atriums, even when they are wet. Slates offer a very vivid collage of colors at an extremely low price. The beauty of slate lies in its bold and earthly impressions.
Natural Stones are products of Mother Nature. They are quarried from the earths crust. They are not man-made and so each piece is unique in its own way. They cannot be manufactured. They can only be processed and shaped into various forms, sizes and finishes.
Natural Stone knows no political boundaries. The Natural Stones existed even before man appeared on the face of this planet. The various Natural Stones that can be economically quarried and processed and shipped are spread all over the world, from USA to China, from India to Africa and to South America. Not all the stones can be feasibly quarried and used. Some Natural Stones are too brittle, while some are too hard. Some look good and some don’t. So only those Natural Stones that can be quarried economically can be used.
A second aspect to consider here is that labor in USA is very expensive, as compared to other countries. Therefore the cost of processing and importing the material from other countries is more cost effective. Most of the countries around the world have been using stone as a building material since time immemorial. These countries have established good systems for extracting and processing stone. The US, on the other hand has until recent times, used mostly wood for building purposes. So it is often works out more economically viable to import the stones than to generate a supply within the country.
As we know, Natural Stone is a product of Mother Nature, and the stones from different areas do differ due to the various geographical aspects. The distributions of minerals in nature are different from place to place and it shows up in the quality and characteristics of the stones. For example, the mineral Mica might be found more frequently in certain areas of the Earth, hence we will get bigger shiny crystals than that we can get from the places where less Mica is found. Some countries may fall in the region which has more limestone than granite or otherwise. So stone from some countries is good for one application and not for the other. Basically the Natural Stone qualities and characteristics differ by Geological configuration and not geographical boundaries.
The biggest reason why some stones cannot be used outside is that they cannot withstand the weather extremes. In places where you have weather conditions like snow and rain, or drastic changes in climate from cold to heat, some stones develop cracks or weather out easily. These stones cannot be used outside. Another factor to be considered is the slip resistance. If polished stone was to be used on a walkway, it could become slippery when wet. Yet another factor in considering the use of stone in exterior applications is how the color holds. Many green stones lose color when exposed to the sun's ultraviolet rays for long periods of time. Additionally, some multicolored slates bleed colors as a result of an oxidation with water. Therefore it is very important to determine the suitability of a stone long before using it on exterior applications.
About 700 distinct different types of Natural Stones, from around the world, are sold in USA today.
Today, almost all colors in various shades are available in Granite, Marble and Slates.It is therefore possible to specify the color with some tolerance of shade differences. However not all stones are available in all colors. E.g. Travertines are mostly found in shades of Beige, Yellows and Golds.
The criteria to use for selecting the color depend on the purpose of the application. Colors make a dramatic impact on the room. It can make small rooms seem larger, and larger rooms seem smaller. Consider the following characteristics to select the color of the stone.
- 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 therefore require more maintenance.
- Patterned material, usually in honed finish is comparatively easier to maintain.
- Dramatic patterns in the stone can help highlight and accent certain portions of the room.
Being a product of nature, each piece of the stone is unique in its own way. However the variation levels differ from stone to stone. Granites mostly show very less variation in color. But there may be variations in their patterns, grain density etc. On the other hand, some slates show a varied spectrum of shades of the same set of colors. Sometimes the very fact that the stones have come from different pits can be the reason for a variation in color, pattern or grain distribution of the material.
The neutral colors found in Natural Stones range from Earth tones, Beige, Tan and Creams. These colors are always complimentary to all kind of furniture and fixtures in the house.
Any color can be used as an accent color as long as it contrasts with the rest of the room. E.g. a white stone border can accent a black floor, or vice versa.
Grain structures on the tiles are formed during the cooling process of the stone. Slower the cooling process, larger the grains are formed. The crystal and flowery pattern that are seen on the surface of the stone are grains. Some stones have lots of veins on the surface. These veins can be found in Granite as well as Marble. In Granite, the veins are mostly in black, gray and sometimes darker.
COST OF STONES
All the stones have different hardness and density. Harder stones are difficult and more expensive to quarry and process. Quarries are usually in remote areas and the distance from processing plants is an important cost factor. Underground quarries are costlier to operate than over ground
The larger the size of the stone, the more difficult it is to process, handle, pack and transport. Larger sizes tend to have a higher wastage. This makes them more expensive.
Stone availability has more to do with the pricing then any other factor. Additionally, handling and transportation cost drops slightly for larger quantity. Stone dealer running a special on a particular stone may be the best way to reduce cost.
STONE SIZES AND THICKNESS
Different standard sizes available in tiles are 12”x12”, 16”x16, and 18”x18”. Also available sizes are 4”x4”, 6”x6”, 8”x8” and 24”x24”. The slab sizes varies from 104” x 70” to 125” x 80”. There are smaller sizes available too. This is depending upon material. The thickness of the slabs is generally ¾” (2cm) and 1 ¼” (3cm). Slates and Quartzites are produced in nominal and not exact sizes.
The size to be selected is completely a personal choice. However the sizes of the tiles should be proportionate to the size of the room or the visible area of the room. Smaller the size of the room, smaller the size of the tiles to be used should be. This helps in bringing out the colors and look of the stone.
The thickness of the Kitchen counter top can be 0.75" (2cm) or 1.25" (3cm). In the eastern United States, the trend is more towards 1.25" thickness as compared to the preference of 0.75" in the west.
Granite is Natural Stone and Corian is a man made material. As corian is a plastic based material, it is more prone to Scratches, and Deformation and Loss of Finish due to Heat. Granite is more durable and easier to maintain, as it is relatively scratch resistance compared to Corians which are more prone to stains than Granites. The beauty of Granite cannot be imitated by Corian. Granite comes in more vibrant and wider range of colors than Corian. Corians are also more expensive than most granite. Granite lasts longer, and requires lesser maintenance.
A combination of different sizes can be placed together to make a pattern. This adds to the beauty and uniqueness of the stone installed. Of late the use of patterns has become trendy