Q&A / 

Natural Stone

Natural stone is the handiwork of Mother Nature. My college degree is in geology, so I'm very partial to rock and what it takes to create it. I've seen my share of natural stones, and my walk into and out of the Grand Canyon in the summer of 1972 was one place to see an enormous variety of stone including, but not limited to, limestone, sandstone, shale, schist, quartzite and some granite. Many of these rocks look drab and uninteresting in the field, but when you slice them and polish them, their hidden beauty jumps at you faster than a frog into a pond.

Natural stone tile is popular because it allows the average person to install a stone product that normally was done by a select group of professionals. Prior to the explosion of stone tiles, master craftsman stone setters would install larger slabs of stone. This requires great skill and tools. But the natural stone tile handles just like ceramic tile, only requiring a diamond wet saw or an angle grinder to make cuts.

If you're considering natural stone flooring, then be sure to look at all of your options. One of the most amazing finishes I've seen is flamed granite. Instead of the normal high-polished look, flamed granite has a rougher texture that appears burnished. It produces a slip-resistant surface that looks strikingly beautiful.

Natural-stone products can be found at specialty stores as well as home centers. If you want the best selection, and often the best prices, avoid the home centers. The selection there is extremely limited. Many larger cities have multiple businesses that sell nothing but stone products. You can also discover many natural-stone products using the Internet. Many online businesses will sell natural stone direct to you.

Natural stone marble as well as natural stone granite are possibly the most popular stones used by homeowners. Marble has a timeless beauty with its rich veining and intertwined colors. Granite is appealing for it's vibrant colors, crystals and extreme durability. I have both granite and marble in my existing home. My lake house in New Hampshire has soapstone countertops. I'm partial to granite because it's beauty takes my breath away.

If you decide to incorporate stone into your home, you'll need some natural stone supplies. Some stone products need to be set with epoxy, rather than thinset. You'll need special high-quality sealers. Special sanded grouts or seam epoxies might also be required. Don't let the home-center employee play Jedi mind tricks on you getting you to believe you don't need these things. Always speak to a merchant that specializes in natural stone. They know what works, and more importantly what doesn't work when it comes to setting stone permanently.

If you live in an area where stone is littered all over the land, you might be able to gather enough to build a natural stone wall. I spent the majority of my life in Cincinnati, and there was limestone to be had at road cuts and stream beds. This rock made fantastic retaining walls. Well over 150 years ago, there were quarries on top of the highlands that overlooked the Mill Creek Valley in downtown Cincinnati. These quarries produced vast amounts of natural stone that was used in thousands of foundations in the older buildings of Cincinnati.

The land I own in New Hampshire has natural stone walls that are perhaps 200 years old. The granite stone is just dry stacked, but the walls along many of the boundary lines are still in great shape. My goal is to rebuild as many of these walls as possible where they have been breached by logging skidders, and people who just pushed them over. If you choose a natural stone that resists erosion, the wall can last for hundreds of years. Some stone walls in Europe are over one thousand years old.

Fireplace natural stone is where you'll typically see stone in a home. The building code requires that fireplaces be surrounded by a non-combustible material, and stone surely meets that requirement. Another advantage of many stone products is their affordability. The stone usually costs nothing, the distributor just has to pay the quarrying cost and transportation. Stone is often dressed and sized in the field by the stone mason who's building your fireplace surround.

If you want a floor that wears like iron, then install a natural stone floor. I have five of them at my current house, and will have at least that many in my new home. Slate is an excellent flooring material as is granite. If you install these materials on a stiff floor that has no bounce to it, the stone will remain crack-free for generations.

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2 Responses to Natural Stone

  1. Hi,
    We have a stone fire surround with an inset fire. The height of the stone above this inset is only 6 inches and I was wondering if you can put a granite mantlepiece this close to the inset.

    The stone is 5 inches deep from the concrete block wall but the granite mantlepiece is 7 inches deep so it extends out over the inset fire by 2 inches and I'm wondering if it will get too hot.

    Many thanks in advance and best regards,
    Geraldine Collins.

    • Go for it. The granite will not get hot. The infrared heat from the fire does not wrap around the front edge of the fireplace opening. It projects out in a straight line from the fire as would light from a flashlight.

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