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Stone or Tile: What to Consider

Check out the pros and cons of these two venerable and popular materials.

By Jan Soults Walker

You want the look of stone but wonder if a tile look-alike is the option you should choose. How do you decide? Here we take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of both materials so you can make the best choice.

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Martha Stewart Living™

In the beginning

Stone is a natural product that's quarried from the earth. You'll find many types of stone on the market, such as slate, limestone (including travertine, a type of limestone), marble, granite, quartzite, and onyx. Because stone is a product of nature, no two stone slabs are alike, making it a choice that is widely considered timeless.

Though tile comes in a variety of materials, the two most common types of man-made tile are ceramic and porcelain. Porcelain, which is more dense and fired at higher temperatures than ceramic tile, is considered the more durable and water-resistant of the two. In the past, repeating patterns made it easy to spot tile as faux stone; however, today's technology allows the creation of tile designs (particularly in porcelain) that look very similar to stone.

Installation and cost considerations

Sonoma Cast Stone
If you're in a climate where freezing occurs, stick with stone for exterior installations because other materials will crack during freeze/thaw cycles. In milder climates, quality porcelain tiles are an alternative.

For interiors, both stone and ceramic or porcelain tiles work well in kitchens, bathrooms, and high traffic areas—on floors, walls, and backsplashes. One benefit of either stone or porcelain tiles is that the color runs through the body of the tiles, so if chips occur, the damage won't be as noticeable. When the color (or glazing) chips on ceramic tile, however, the different color clay body is clearly visible.

For flooring ideas, read Flooring Materials Pros and Cons.

Of the three options, stone is generally the most expensive to install, requiring more time in terms of labor as well as additional materials (particularly thinset, an adhesive mortar). Additionally, stone must be sealed annually to repel stains and water.

Porcelain tile is typically less expensive than stone to install, and ceramic tile requires the least investment of the three for installation costs.

Maintenance matters

For stone, honed finishes are considered easier to maintain than polished; either finish requires a Ph-balanced stone cleaner. As mentioned earlier, stone must be sealed periodically. Keep in mind that the surface of some softer stones, such as marble, can be permanently damaged (or etched) by acid-based foods, such as ketchup, mustard, fruit juice, and vinegar. Even a glass of ice water can leave a permanent ring.

For ceramic or porcelain tiles, use a damp mop and all-purpose cleaners (or vinegar, as a natural alternative).

Locate walk-off mats at entryways to catch sand and other particles that could scratch the surfaces of stone, porcelain, or ceramic tiles.

For more home design ideas and advice, check out:

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