A Travertine Tile Guide: What You Need to Know

What is Travertine Tile?

Before we discuss the tile, we need to discuss what they are actually made of. Travertine is a natural stone – a kind of limestone, to be exact – that is formed in mineral and hot springs. It occurs when carbonates rapidly precipitate (or fall out of solution) from the water, which then deposits and builds up to form the natural travertine deposits. Travertine can be found naturally in many places, though Italy is well known for these deposits. While Italian travertine is highly sought after, you can find travertine deposits in many areas of the United States. However, note that much of the travertine in the United States is imported, not only from Italy but from South America and the Middle East. Thus, the travertine will be shipped to whatever location it is needed, and the costs for this transfer may be higher as you move farther away from a mine or deposit.

Note that the formation of this stone means that the material is relatively soft compared to other stone. This doesn’t mean that you’ll see it cracking and breaking all the time, just that it may be prone to wearing away. In addition, the surface of the travertine may change its appearance as it wears and new holes and air pockets are revealed. There are ways to prevent this from occurring, which we’ll discuss in a bit when we talk about maintenance. Still, travertine, being a natural stone, will stand up well to all that nature and humanity can throw at it, so you’ll have an indoor or outdoor installation that will stand up well to the test of time – it’ll probably outlive you and your descendents!

Uses for Travertine Tiles

Travertine has been a popular building material throughout the ages. Given its presence in Italy, the Romans made heavy use of the material for temples, statues, fountains, bath complexes, theaters,  aqueducts, and even the Colosseum!

This stone is still used today for many other buildings – all you need to do is look around and you’ll probably find it everywhere! However, you are probably not interested in building a structure with travertine – that would be quite expensive – but instead using it for flatwork.

Let’s discuss the indoor variety first, as you don’t need to limit your use of travertine building material to outside projects! One popular use for this material is as flooring. Travertine tile flooring can be used in kitchens, entrance areas, and bathrooms – travertine tile showers are especially popular. Note that travertine can also be used for other structures and fixtures in the home, but we won’t be discussing them in this article.

Travertine tile and the other forms of this material can also be used for outdoor hardscape projects such as walkways, patios, garden paths, and the like. They are also popular for pools, given that they stay cool even in the harshest sun, and they are slip resistant so you don’t have to worry about anyone falling near the pool.

Travertine Tile Colors, Shapes, and Sizes

Travertine tiles can come in many different colors, shapes, and sizes to satisfy any project demands. Sometimes you may hear to this material referred to as ‘travertine limestone’ or ‘travertine marble,’ though technically this stone is a limestone and not a marble.

The first thing to realize is that this material is naturally derived – this means that the exact colors, shapes, and textures cannot be totally controlled. Obviously, cutting, selecting, and polishing can change the appearance of the material to a point, but if you’re looking for consistency in your building material when it comes to aesthetics, you may want to settle for a ‘manufactured’ product such as concrete pavers or other paving stones.

In addition, due to the natural development of this material, and due to wear over time, travertine will usually exhibit pits and troughs in the surface. If you like the way this looks, then you don’t have to do anything – the material will still be strong as ever. But if you want a smooth look, you can have the holes in the surface of the tile filled in with grout. This is why you can buy travertine in ‘filled’ or ‘unfilled’ varieties. If you really want the material smoothed out, you can get the tile ‘polished’ for a very clean and smooth finish. If you want an ‘aged’ or ‘weathered’ look, you can also find tumbled travertine tile. More rugged stone will be in the “chiseled and brushed” category, a kind of travertine that is best for outdoor projects, while “honed and filled” stone will be smoother and less maintenance, thus perfect for indoor applications.

Travertine, since it is quarried and removed from the mine, can be cut or shaped into whatever shapes, sizes, thicknesses, etc. that you need for you project. Note that custom formed travertine will cost more than getting the ‘standard’ sizes. As for the ‘standard’ sizes, it varies, going from somewhere as small as 4” x 4” to 6” x 6”, 12” x 12”, 16” x 16”, and 18” x 18”. Other sizes and shapes will also be available, so check with your manufacturer or supplier for a full menu of options. For instance, check out the ‘travertine pavers’ that I, even as the owner of Concrete Pavers Guide, would recommend!

The natural colors for travertine generally are white, tan, cream, and other related hues. However, you can get this material in other colors as well, from everything from grey to red. Thus, note that the colors and textures of the material will vary greatly, even within the same ‘kind’ of tile. Thus, don’t 100% trust the image of the tile that you may see on a website or in a photo – what the material looks like in real life may be very different, both due to how the material looks in the photo as well as the natural variation in the stone itself. Thus, you’ll want to peruse as many travertine options available to find the variety and style that’s just right for you and your home – there is no one size fits all option!

How to Install Travertine Tile

Travertine tile installation can be a DIY paving job for many homeowners as long as you are comfortable with ‘wet’ installations – using mortar and grout, that is. For the purpose of this article, we are going to assume that you are installing travertine tile floors – installing travertine patios, walkways, or three-dimensional structures will have other requirements! At this point, we are not going to give a full discussion of how to lay travertine tile, but we can give you the basics.

First, you’ll want to make sure that the underlying foundation is sound. Make sure to remove all flooring and subflooring to reveal the surface below. You may then have to prepare the surface to be ready to hold the weight of the tiles, such as adding cement backing to the floor. You may also use special “membranes” to help keep the structure together, manage water vapor, etc.

Next, inspect all the tiles to make sure they are in good condition before you lay them down. Sketch out the layout of the tiles with chalk lines. Make sure to leave some room for the grout when you do this. You may have to cut the tiles using a wet saw in order to get them to fit into corners or fit into the pattern you’ve selected; make sure the tiles are dry before you lay them. Then, apply the thinset adhesive to the underside of the tiles and lay them in the design you’ve drawn out. Let them sit for about a day, then apply the grout in between the cracks to hold the floor together strongly. You may then want to seal the tile immediately, though you should make sure to test the sealer on a small, hidden part of the floor to make sure it doesn’t damage the surface.

A Travertine Tile Cost Estimate

The price that you’ll pay for your travertine tile will vary widely, due to many different factors. We could write a whole article about this topic alone, but for now we’ll just settle for a general discussion of travertine tile price.

In general, expect a range anywhere from $2 – $5 per square foot, though sometimes you’ll find particular varieties closer to $10 per square foot. Note that these travertine tile prices does not include two major factors: shipping and delivery costs, which can cost just as much as the material, and installation costs, which can be high, due to the fact that installing travertine tile can be a challenge, as the material can be brittle until it is put into the ground. In addition, the tile must be laid by hand in the precise travertine tile patterns that are desired by the customer. You can expect this installation to run you another $3 – $4 per square foot, though this price will depend on a ton of factors too. Thus, all told, you may be looking at anywhere from $10 to $20 per square foot for the laying of your travertine tile bathroom, shower, floor, patio, or whatever.

There is actually quite the market for travertine online, so if you are looking to buy travertine tile, especially for cheap, you may want to start there. This is especially important because you can avoid the ‘retail game,’ where you pay much more per square foot due to dealing with the ‘middleman.’ Your contractor may also help you find the material for a discount, as they may know where to find your choice of travertine tile for sale without having to go through the retail outlets.

Designing With Travertine

If you want some travertine tile design ideas, then look no further. Here are a few ideas that we’ve discovered or invented that you might find useful for your next project. Even if you don’t use them, at least it’ll get you thinking about the creative ways you can use this awesome material.

*One great aspect about travertine is that it can be used inside and outside, so why not make a seamless transition between an indoor party area and an outdoor patio, all using the same flooring?

*If you have the budget, consider mixing different kinds of natural stones, such as marble, slate, flagstone, and granite, to get the best balance of warm colors, natural, old-world charm, and beauty.

*Don’t limit your travertine tile bathroom ideas to simple floors – travertine can be used in showers, in basins, and in many other applications! This goes for the rest of your house, indoor and outdoor, as well.

*For 10 great travertine paving ideas, check out this article!

Maintenance of Travertine Tiles

Note that any natural stone will stand up well to the rigors of its environment, so constant maintenance won’t be needed. However, even a little amount of attention will go a long way in preserving the beauty, strength, and appearance of your tile. One great way to protect your stone is to get travertine tile sealer. Sealing travertine tile is almost a requirement, especially in bathrooms, kitchens, and outdoor environments, due to the possibility of foreign substances hitting the ground. This will help protect the surface of the material from stains; being porous, travertine can often suck up stains very easily, making it hard to remove them. Sealer will help prevent the stain from setting deeply. This is also true about dirt – dirt can often be grinded into the surface of your travertine, especially in outdoor structures, so you’ll want to make sure the surface of your travertine is kept relatively clean. Never use acid cleaners on your project, as the acid will totally eat away and damage your travertine. (Remember, it’s made from calcium carbonates, and these don’t mix with acid at all!!)

In addition, if you are finding that your travertine is wearing away to an unacceptable degree, you can have it polished or honed to bring back the smooth finish.