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The different types of natural stone flooring

Volume 27/Number 23; March 17/24, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 10.51.05 AM(Editor’s note: This is the third of a 10-part series on introducing flooring retailers to stone and the opportunities the category presents.)

Natural stone is a product of nature, offering vast differences in composition, color and texture, even among pieces from the same source. This is a key selling feature for flooring dealers who can highlight the truly unique designs and myriad applications of natural stone products.

But natural stone is not a simple sell, according to one expert. For dealers who carry natural stone products, or who are interested in getting into the category, it is critical they understand how it works and reacts to elements, and that they can clearly communicate that to their customer base.

As noted by Rod Sigman, business development manager for Custom Building Products (who is in charge of technical installation and care systems), “Stone is a beautiful product but it can’t just be a discussion about price and whether the product is pretty. There has to be a discussion of performance, and care and maintenance.”

Sigman spoke to FCNews about the differences in some of the more popular natural stone products, and what flooring dealers need to know and communicate to their customers at the point of sale.

Marble

Prized for its timeless style, texture and high-gloss polish, along with a rich palette of attractive colors, marble has a place anywhere in the home, including floors.

However, as a calcium-based stone, marble is susceptible to scratching and etching. Sigman said dealers must understand that household products as common as orange juice and vinegar are acidic, and if the contents are spilled on marble, the stone will be harmed over time.

In some homes, marble is used on bathroom floors and in shower stalls. The concern there, Sigman explained, is common bathroom products including cosmetics and toothpaste contain acidic elements that can etch the marble. “The whitening effect of peroxide from toothpaste, for example, and bathroom cleaning agents, like Scrubbing Bubbles, can attack marble and cause it to lose its shine.”

On the Mohs scale that measures mineral hardness—ranging from 1 (talcum powder) to 10 (diamonds)—marble is between a 3 and 4, according to Sigman. “You just have to understand what this stone will or will not do,” Sigman said. “Some people will be fine with how marble performs, others won’t.”

Marble, which is softer and more porous than granite, is more suitable for less-trafficked, formal areas.

Granite

From a durability standpoint, granite is one of the best natural stones and is considered ideal for flooring. It ranks a 6 to 7 on the Mohs scale, which is actually much more than twice as hard as marble. “Each change in numeric number on the Mohs scale is a degree of 10 times harder, thus a 4 is 10 times harder than a 3,” Sigman said.

Granite countertops grew in popularity in recent years because consumers wanted a harder stone that is scratch resistant. While incredibly strong and dense, granite also features a plethora of mineral-rich colors and natural patterns that give it an ornamental appeal.

Sigman said dealers need to be clear that what they are selling is granite and not some offshoot. “In most cases that is not a big deal, but in some cases it is,” he said.Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 10.51.29 AM

A case in point, he said, was a 400-unit luxury condominium in New York City that included “black granite” countertops. The black granite was actually Chinese basalt, which often is grouped with granite but will stain when exposed to oil and highly pigmented liquids.

“[The mis-labeling] wasn’t a problem until people started spilling stuff on the countertops,” Sigman noted. Problems multiplied and eventually the management company was forced to rip out all 400 countertops. “Then it becomes a very big lesson to learn, which could have been prevented with some advanced knowledge of the material and proper disclosure.”

Sigman added, “We have to do a better job in the stone industry of disseminating information. I am a technical geek but I do not talk in tech jargon because no one relates to that. The dialogue a retailer has with a customer has to mean something and be truthful.”

Travertine

The issue of full disclosure is especially true with travertine, which is formed by hot spring water percolating through underground limestone. Its distinctive character makes it a popular flooring surface.

“I love travertine; I have it all over my house,” Sigman said. “It’s a fantastic stone but you have to understand it.”

Travertine is a solid stone but directly underneath the surface are areas vulnerable to certain pressure points. “If you walk on it with high-heeled shoes, it could pop, and you will have to repair that,” Sigman said. “I can’t tell you how many people say, ‘Hey Rod, why all the holes in my floor?’”

In Sigman’s home, travertine is installed in the hallway, master bath, shower and laundry room. “If not installed properly, and not protected or waterproofed, you can have some big issues.”

It is crucial for retailers who sell travertine to know the potential mishaps and convey that information to customers before the product is installed. “A lot of people know about [the pressure points] but don’t want to discuss it because it’s a negative. But really, it’s telling the truth; that’s just the reality. If you don’t share that information with your customers, you are not going to be too high on their favorites list when they find out there is a problem.”

Quartzite

Widely used for wall veneers and decorative tiles, quartzite’s naturally non-skid texture makes it ideal for flooring, including areas with heavy traffic and exposure to elements.

This silicon-based stone measures a 7 on the hardness scale, making it as hard or harder than most granite. “Quartzite has a nice metallic, shiny look to it, and it is extremely chemical resistant,” Sigman said.

He added that quartzite is primarily used for commercial applications, such as patios and walkways. “It’s a monolithic stone, and maybe not as interesting as some of the other stones, but people like it because some of the variations in marble and granite are too much.”