Stone 101

Where Does Natural Stone Come From?

Natural stone has been the premium building material of choice since the beginning of time. Quarried from rock beds formed over millions of years, the natural stone used in residential and commercial settings comes from all parts of the world, including Italy, Spain, the U.S., Brazil, Canada, China, France, Isreal, Greece, India, Mexico, Germany, Taiwan, and Turkey.

Marble and granite, two of the most popular stones among homeowners, are quarried in the form of huge blocks, some weighing up to 35 tons. These blocks are cut into slabs generally ¾” or 1 ¼” thick and the faces are polished to the specific finish. The slabs are then carefully crated and shipped to fabricators worldwide who process them into the final product.

What Value Does it Add?

Whether you're building a new house or remodeling, natural stone offers you unparalleled beauty, permanence, and uniqueness – and adds true value to your home. See what others are saying about natural stone:

Natural stone is a key part of two of the top 10 elements of design in the home that are resonating with today's buyers: the desire for low-maintenance/no-maintenance materials and the use of natural materials inside and outside the home.
Builder Magazine/National Association of Home Builders

Homeowners who remodel recover the following percentages of their remodeling costs at resale (note: upscale projects include stone):

  • Bathroom remodel-upscale: 92.6%
  • Bathroom addition-upscale: 84.3%
  • Kitchen remodel-upscale: 79.6%

2003 Cost vs. Value Report, Remodeling Magazine
In a study of materials for kitchen countertops, granite had the highest number of "excellent" ratings of any surface.

Consumer Reports
Because stone is a natural, not manufactured product, no two pieces are exactly alike, which means each finished countertop, wall, floor, mantle, or sill in your home is distinctive and matchless. And, unlike synthetic imitations, natural stone can be three-dimensional. When used in exterior applications, natural stone has also proven superior to manufactured or engineered stones in withstanding the effects of nature.

What Factors Should I Consider in Selecting a Natural Stone?

You have many options when it comes to beautiful, long-lasting natural stone for your home’s interior and exterior: Slate, granite, onyx, travertine, and sandstone, just to name a few. Choosing a natural stone for your home is a very personal decision, much like selecting wallpaper or artwork.

While there are scores of natural stones to consider, some are better suited than others to particular uses in and around the home.

Natural stones are available in a beautiful spectrum of colors. Color in granite and marble, for instance, can range from soft beiges and pinks and classic black and whites to rich corals, greens, and multi-colors. Some stones feature swirls and veins of colors, while others have a flecked, pebbled or even fossilized appearance.

Unlike the repetitive sameness of materials produced by machine or assembly line, natural stone’s naturally varied appearance has wonderful character and creates a one-of-a-kind effect everywhere it is used.

Natural stone can be polished, honed, brushed or flamed for a distinct appearance:

A polished finish has a glossy surface that reflects light and emphasizes the color and marking of the stone. This finish is typically used on walls, furniture and countertops, and floor tiles.

 

A honed finish is a satin-smooth surface with relatively little light reflection. It is generally preferred for floors, stair treads, thresholds, and other areas where heavy traffic will wear off a polished finish.

Brushed and flamed finishes are different treatments done to the face of the stone to give it a soft (brushed) or rough (flamed) texture. This look gives the stone a more rustic appearance and is frequently used on floor tiles.

The harder the stone, the more it resists abrasion. One measure of a natural stone’s strength is its Measurement of Hardness (MOH) rating, on which 1 is the softest and 10 is the hardest. On the MOH scale, most travertine and marbles rate 3-4 and quartz-based granites and slates rate 6-8. Using a softer stone simply requires the owner to use gentler cleansers and more frequent dusting to prevent scratching.

What is the Difference between the Popular Types of Natural Stone?

Ideal for foyers, bathrooms, floors, and hearths
Marble is found in the mountainous regions of Canada, Italy, Germany, Spain, the U.S., and other countries worldwide. Because of its beauty and elegance, marble is a popular choice for countertops, floors, foyers, fireplace facings and hearths, walls, and windowsills.

Marble adds a sophisticated element to your home, and its wonderful appearance, superior engineering characteristics, and ease of maintenance makes it a natural choice for floors, wall coverings, table tops, and bathroom walls, floors, vanity tops, tub decks, and showers.

Another option for marble-loving homeowners is using another natural stone – serpentine – for kitchen counters. Sometimes called the "green" marble, serpentine is not a true marble but offers a marble-like look. And, because it is magnesium-silicate based, it is not sensitive to citric acid and other kitchen spills.

An excellent choice for kitchen countertops, floors, and other heavily used surfaces
Granite, quarried from the mountains of Italy, the U.S., India, and dozens of other countries around the world, is one of the most popular natural stones on the market. Available in a striking array of colors, granite's durability and longevity make it ideal for kitchen countertops and other heavily used surfaces, including table tops and floors.

While some synthetic surfaces scratch easily and melt under hot cookware, granite resists heat. Granite is also one of the most bacteria-resistant kitchen surfaces, and it is not affected by citric acid, coffee, tea, alcohol, or wine. It is also nearly impossible to scratch, and with proper cleaning, will not stain under normal use (ask your professional contractor about sealants available to further improve resistance to staining).
A leading consumer magazine recently compared granite with engineered stone, ceramic tile, laminate, butcher block, and other manufactured surfaces. Granite received the highest overall performance rating as a kitchen countertop material.

Because of its exceptional strength, granite is well suited for exterior applications such as cladding, paving, and curbing.

Beautiful enhancements for your home, inside and out
Travertine, limestone, sandstone, and slate are other examples of natural stone frequently used in residential applications.

Travertine is a type of limestone and one of the most popular natural stones for interior flooring and exterior wall cladding, interior and exterior paving, statuary, and curbing. It is also widely used in vanity tops and sinks. It is popular for its matte (honed) finish, rather than high-gloss (polished) look, that makes it appear more natural. It is available in a variety of edging and neutral shades from creams and browns to golds and reds.

Limestone is widely used as a building stone because it is readily available and easy to handle. Popular applications include countertops, flooring, interior, and exterior wall cladding, and exterior paving.

Slate is a popular flooring material and sandstone and slate are often used for exterior paving stones or pavers. Other sandstone applications include fireplace facings, chimneys, garden walls, patio benches, and poolside. Additional slate applications include kitchen countertops, fireplace facings, tabletops, and roofing.

How do I Care and Clean Natural Stone?

The natural stone you have purchased for your home or office is an investment that will give you many years of beautiful services. Stone is a natural product and simple care and maintenance will keep it looking beautiful. The number one recommendation to protect your natural stone is to seal it with a natural stone sealer once every few years (more if in wet areas). Here are some recommendations for routine care and cleaning.

Use coasters under all glasses, particularly those containing alcohol or citrus juices. Many common foods and drinks contain acids that will etch or dull the stone surface

Do not place hot items directly on the stone surface. Use trivets or mats under hot dishes and placemats under china, ceramics, silver or other objects that can scratch the surface.

Floor Surfaces
Dust mop interior floors frequently using a clean non-treated dry dust mop. Sand, dirt, and grit do the most damage to natural stone surfaces due to their abrasiveness. Mats or area rugs inside and outside an entrance will help to minimize the sand, dirt, and grit that will scratch the stone floor. Be sure that the underside of the mat or rug is a non-slip surface. Normally, it will take a person about eight steps on a floor surface to remove sand or dirt from the bottom of their shoes. Do not use vacuum cleaners that are worn. The metal or plastic attachments or the wheels may scratch the surface.

Other Surfaces
Clean stone surfaces with a few drops of neutral cleaner, stone soap (available at hardware stores or from your stone dealer) or mild liquid dishwashing detergent and warm water. Use a clean rag mop on floors and a soft cloth for other surfaces for best results. Too much cleaner or soap may leave a film and cause streaks. Do not use products that contain lemon, vinegar or other acids on marble or limestone. Rinse the surface thoroughly after washing with the soap solution and dry with a soft cloth. Change the rinse water frequently. Do not use scouring powders or creams; these products contain abrasives that may scratch the surface.

Bath and Other Wet Areas
In the bath or other wet areas, soap scum can be minimized by using a squeegee after each use. To remove soap scum, use a non-acidic soap scum remover or a solution of ammonia and water (about 1/2 cup ammonia to a gallon of water). Frequent or over-use of an ammonia solution may eventually dull the surface of the stone.

Vanity Top Surfaces
Vanity tops may need to have a penetrating sealer applied. Check with your installer for recommendations. A good quality marble wax or non-yellowing automobile paste wax can be applied to minimize water spotting.

Food Preparation Areas
In food preparation areas, the stone may need to have a penetrating sealer applied. Check with your installer for recommendations. If a sealer is applied, be sure that it is non-toxic and safe for use on food preparation surfaces. If there are questions, check with the sealer manufacturer.

Outdoor Pool & Patio Areas
In outdoor pool, patio or hot tub areas, flush with clear water and use a mild bleach solution to remove algae or moss.

  • Do dust mop floors frequently
  • Do clean surfaces with mild detergent or stone soap
  • Do thoroughly rinse and dry the surface after washing
  • Do blot up spills immediately
  • Do protect floor surfaces with non-slip mats or area rugs and countertop surfaces with coasters, trivets or placemats
  • Don't use vinegar, lemon juice or other cleaners containing acids on marble, limestone, travertine or onyx surfaces
  • Don't use cleaners that contain acid such as bathroom cleaners, grout cleaners or tub & tile cleaners
  • Don't use abrasive cleaners such as dry cleansers or soft cleansers
  • Don't mix bleach and ammonia; this combination creates a toxic and lethal gas
  • Do call your professional stone supplier, installer or restoration specialist for problems that appear too difficult to treat.