For those who have decided on hard flooring it can sometimes be difficult choosing between stone or ceramic as a floor covering.
The two materials have similar properties, the main being that of hardness. Both are unforgiving on dropped objects, falling children and knees!
They are both also extremely cold in chilly weather, especially for bare feet, and may not be very inviting to sit or play on, unless you go for strategic use of thick rugs.
However, there are distinct differences between stone and ceramic which may influence your choice of them as a floor covering.
Natural Stone will inevitably harbour flaws and fissures and uneven tone, as well as some pitting in certain types of stone, such as granite.
Every piece is unique and large pieces will not have a consistent appearance across the surface.
Ceramic tiles, on the other hand, can offer you a reliable consistency and uniformity in appearance.
Stone flooring generally requires more maintenance. Aside from needing a grout release before installation, stone floors will also need a sealer applied after installation.
This sealer will need to be penetrating or impregnating and be re-applied regularly over the course of the stone floor’s lifetime.
Lastly, stone floors will need to be professionally deep-cleaned on a periodic basis.
Stone and ceramic floors are installed in different ways. The former is usually installed on a medium-or mud-bed with a grout joint 1/16″-3/16” – this thicker setting bed means that the floor will be more level on installation.
Ceramic floors, conversely, are installed using a thin-set method, using a 3/16″ or greater grout joint.
The differences in installation are also reflected in costs with stone slabs and even tiles being more expensive than ceramic to install.
This is because of the greater difficulty in stone floor installation, especially the tighter grout join.
Stones are more porous so they “breathe”, absorbing moisture from the atmosphere – and any spills! Thus, they need to be finished with a penetrating sealer which will still allow them to exhibit their natural breathing properties but at the same time, prevent any staining.
Moisture transmission can cause stone, especially larger stone pieces, to discolour due to the hydrostatic pressure within the slab.
Although natural stone is expected to be harder, it is not as resistant as ceramic in certain situations. For example, many types of slate are not frost-resistant and will literally “explode” in freeze-thaw conditions and thus are not suitable for outdoor use in winter weather.
Note, of course, that some slates are weather resistant – which is why slate roofs are often used in countries with cold climates.
Similarly, some ceramics are not suitable for outdoors use but anything with less than 3% absorption rate can be safely used outdoors, for example porcelain tiles which tend to have a 0.5% absorption rate.
Another situation where natural stone may not perform as well as ceramic is in resistance to wear and tear.
Granite, for example, is the hardest type of stone but a natural porcelain tile can actually be up to 30% harder than granite.
Furthermore, polished stones can be scratched and dull easily, and become difficult to clean.
Lastly, many household products will actually stain or etch stone, whereas it will have almost no effect on ceramic tile.
Even something as simple as a glass of ice cold water can leave a ring mark on white marble, while vinegar, ketchup, mustard and fruit can stain many natural stones.
Perhaps most obviously, there is a difference in cost between natural stone and ceramic with the former usually much more expensive, especially when considering the more “exotic” options such as granite and marble.
This is partly because stone has a higher perceived intrinsic value and therefore gives more of a “premium” luxury look – and partly also because of the additional difficulty of installation.
In many instances, particularly if you are on a tight budget, ceramic might be the better choice. However, it is undeniable that it is hard to match the timeless beauty of natural stone.