A Granite Tile Guide: What You Need to Know

The Basics of Granite Tiles

One of the more elegant and desired home improvement materials out there is granite. Granite is a natural stone that actually forms from hardened magma (liquid rock). Granite is incredibly hard, as it is composed of many different rock types, including quartz, feldspar, mica, and more. It can be used for many home improvement projects, and it is a popular choice for those who want to make a statement with their home. Thus, this article will discuss the basics of this elegant and beautiful, but expensive, material.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Using Granite

Granite has been used for centuries due primarily to its versatility and its strength. Granite is so hard that it will withstand almost anything your or nature can throw against it. Thus, it can be used for both outdoor applications and for indoor ones, as you won’t have to worry about the effects of weather or of messy children on your granite projects. Granite is also beautiful and value, and it makes a statement to any onlookers about your style and class.

There are a few drawbacks to granite that you need to know about. First, due to its hardness, it is not easy to cut the material, so your ability to customize the tiles on the fly is very limited. In addition, you will be relatively limited in the colors of granite available; however, this is a small price to pay for the beauty and quality you will receive when you use this material. Finally, as we’ll discuss later in this article, granite is notoriously expensive, so it shouldn’t be something you should go into debt over!

Note as well that granite is very heavy, so it may be difficult to work with if you don’t have the right skills, tools, and equipment. This is why, in most cases, installing granite tiles is not a simple DIY project and will require the services of a professional.

Projects With Granite – Esp. Granite Tile Flooring

Granite can be used for both indoor and outdoor applications. In this article, we are going to focus mostly on the outdoor uses of the material in the form of tiles, but we must make a few notes about its use indoors. Granite tiles can be used for indoor flooring just as it is used for outdoor flooring. Granite can also be used for other structures in the home; perhaps the most popular are granite tile countertops. This is due in part to its resistance to heat, its strength, its durability, and its beauty. Note however that granite can stain due to its highly porous nature; thus, you will want to seal the surface with a water-based sealer to help prevent the stains from setting.

However, in this article we’ll be focusing mostly on the outdoor aspects of the material, and in particular its use in granite tile flooring. Granite can be used for many structures outside the home, including patios, walkways, walls, veneers, pool decks, garden and landscape structures, and much more. Note that you can also used granite tiles not just for flatwork (i.e. floors) but also for walls – you can use the tile for outdoor (and indoor) wall veneers to give the structure an elegant and natural look.

As with the indoor projects, you’ll want to make sure that the outdoor granite is sealed to prevent stains, especially if the granite will be used in an area that may be exposed to oils, paints, heavy dirt, etc.

Designing With Granite Tiles

One of the things you need to decide on when it comes time to deciding on your next granite project is the finish, or outward texture and appearance, of your granite. There are four main kinds. The first is polished, which is the smoothest and shiniest. Next is honed, also known as matte. It is also smooth, but it has a more complex texture than simple polished. Next come the last two, more textured varieties: flamed or brushed. These two varieties do not reflect much light at all, so they are not shiny, and they may have rougher, less elegant edges, sides, and backs.

The kind of finish you pick will depend on the project. In general, the flamed and brushed finished granite tiles are best for outdoor projects, such as walkways, benches, patios, external flooring, decks, and more. This is because they will be more slip resistant and will require less maintenance to keep up their beautiful appearance. The honed surface can also be used for indoor and outdoor flooring and sidewalks, so it can give you a good balance between smooth finish and durability. Finally, the smoothest, polished granite should be reserved for indoor applications, primarily counter tops, vanity    tops, and other three dimensional structures, though you may use these polished granite floor tiles for flooring that receives low daily traffic. Polished granite tiles are generally not recommended for bathroom flooring – this is because they will get slippery when wet, providing a significant safety hazard.

Granite tiles also come in a few shapes and sizes, but due to the hardness of the material, it is not at all easy or cheap to customize the size and shape of it. If you want something that you can modify on the fly, you’ll want to go with a softer natural stone or even concrete. Some common sizes include 12” x 12”, 16” x 16”, 18” x 18”, and 24” x 24”. Note as well that the thickness of the tile may also vary; common thicknesses include 3/8” and 1/2″.

Note that for some projects, you may have to have custom sized and shaped granite. This is possible to do, but you’ll have to work directly with a supplier or manufacturer to make it happen. You will also have to pay more for this than if you simply bought the material ‘as is.’

You’ll also have to decide on the granite colors you want to use for your project. In general, you will find colors in the range of blacks (such as black galaxy), greys, tans, blues (such as blue pearl), yellow, brown, and other natural colors. Note that getting consistent color within a pallet of granite can be challenging, as it is with any natural stone, so make sure you don’t rely on a picture only when making your color decisions, as the actual color of the material when it’s on the ground may appear very different.

Next, figure out the square footage of your project. In general, you’ll want to make sure you order plenty more above the square footage of your project, because you DO NOT want to be short in material. Getting replacement material that will match the texture and color of your granite will be very hard. You’ll also want to make sure you have plenty of granite tile edging – machine cut, smooth, or whatever – you need to finish the structure off, if this is something you need (particularly necessary for indoor projects).

One final note: don’t forget that you can get granite in other shapes than simply ‘tiles.’ One example of this different kind of material are granite pavers, described in this article on this site. Another example are granite slabs may be very useful for some outdoor and indoor installations, so consider that size as well when designing your project. Note that these slabs are much harder to work with, as they are relatively large (around 105” x 54” at the minimum) and can weigh hundreds of pounds each. Thus, this material may work best for large scale projects.

The Cost of Granite and Finding Granite Tiles for Sale

One of the biggest drawbacks of this material, as mentioned above, is its price. Granite is simply expensive, and it may not be as good of an investment as you may think or hear it to be. Granite tile prices, for just the material itself, may run you anywhere from $3 to $10 per square foot or more. The actual price will depend on the color, quality, finish, total square footage, and other factors. This price doesn’t even include the cost for shipping and installation, which could triple or more the total price per square foot. Thus, expect to pay in the neighborhood of $10 to $30 per square foot. I know this is a large range, but it’s so hard to give you an exact price given all the factors that could affect the final tally. Just know, going into your project, that you could be paying a decent chunk of change for your granite vision.

One of the main reasons for this high price is the transportation costs required to move the material from mine to factory and factory to your home. Granite is found all over the world, but you may end up ordering it from mines and factories in China, India, and Brazil. Thus, the high cost of this material is simply sunk, and lost, in these transportation costs.

Still, it may be worth it to do your homework when it comes time to find granite tile for sale. While you may not find discount granite tile, you may be able to get a cheap deal from one site for the exact same material that you find for a higher price on another. You will also want to consult your local mason supply yards and home improvement stores for local quotes, though you may find your best deals could be direct from manufacturers online. This is because shipping direct from manufacture sites will lower the cost of shipping, thus passing on the savings to you. Also, don’t forget to keep an eye on Craigslist; a homeowner demolishing an old granite installation may have some material left over to sell to you for reduced cost.

You may be tempted to go with super cheap granite to save a buck, but make sure you’re not compromising on quality. Make sure that your granite is, preferably, mined without dynamite or explosives, as this may cause invisible fractures in the material that could haunt you later. Make sure the granite is cut with water cooled, not kerosene cut. Make sure the quality and standards of the granite are properly controlled and inspected. If the granite passes these tests, then go for it, but if it doesn’t, you may want to hold back even though you think you’re getting a great deal. The deal may not be so great a few years from now when the granite starts to crack, rust, and give you problems.

Installing Granite Tiles

Granite tiles are generally laid or installed according to a ‘wet’ method. Unlike concrete pavers, you cannot simply lay them and compact them together with sand between the joints. You must use mortar and/or grout to hold them to the ground and to hold them together as one unit structure. While it is possible for a homeowner to install this material him or herself, in general its best for a specialized contractor to come in and do the work. This is because the quality of the project depends so much on the quality of the installation, and you don’t want to risk the big money that you’ll be spending on the material simply to try to save a few bucks on the installation end of the process.

Natural Stone Steps Information

One of the more interesting and elegant projects you can add to your yard, landscape, and hardscape are steps. If you have an area of your yard that is at higher grade, or a path that travels up or down a rather steep slope, you might consider adding steps to the area. And one of the best materials you can use for these new steps is natural stone.

Note that natural stone is actually a broader category that encompasses many kinds of natural stone. They all share the fact that they are quarried from the earth and cut into the shape you need. Thus, how the natural stone will look, how easy it is to work with, and the price you’ll pay for it will all depend on the specific type of stone you get, from cobblestone to flagstone and everything in between.

The Benefits of Natural Stone Steps

Natural stone offers you many benefits that other materials options, like concrete and brick pavers and regular concrete, can’t offer you. Like the other hardscaping options, natural stone is durable and strong. It will resist the weathering effects of wind, sun, and rain, and you won’t be able to crack the stone or chip it. Think about it – it’s a material that’s stood the test of time for eons, just waiting to get to your yard. You can thus be sure that your natural stone steps will have a long life, so you shouldn’t expect to have to reinstall a new set of steps again unless you want to change up your yard.

Another advantage of natural stone over its competitors is its beauty. Sure, concrete pavers can compete with natural stone in terms of the ‘ordered’ and ‘manufactured’ look, but if you want a material that captures the beauty and disorder of nature, you’ll want to go with stone.

Finally, stone can be cut and shaped into whatever forms you need it. Thus, you’ll be able to build your steps according to your own specifications. If you do like regularity, of course, you can by stone pavers that work much like their brick and concrete brethren. However, if you want a more free form and ‘natural’ looking staircase, as if it were already there in the natural world, you can also go with irregular block and slabs of stone.

Designing With Natural Stone

The main variable when it comes to designing a natural stone step, besides the dimensions (i.e. length, width, curves, size of step, thickness, etc.) is the ‘regularity’ of the project. This largely depends on the kind of stone you buy. If you buy stone that is regularly cut, almost slab or paver-like, you’ll get a ‘regular’ looking set of stoops. However, if you buy irregularly shaped stone, stone that seems to have been ripped straight from the ground with little ‘manufacturing,’ you’ll have an irregularly laid step project. There is of course a continuum as well between ‘regular’ and ‘irregular,’ and where your project sits along this continuum depends on your tastes and needs for the project.

While we can’t give you every single stone type that’s out there, we can at least point you in the direction of some popular choices. What may be available to you will depend on what’s available in your local area. Some popular stone types include: sandstone, slate, granite, limestone, chilton, bluestone, cobblestone, flagstone, and much, much more. Certain natural stone suppliers may also have ‘branded’ types of stone that are particular to that company.

Also realize, besides the different kinds of stone out there, that you can also get different kinds of stone colors and textures, even within the same ‘family’ of stones. This is why it’s important to shop around and see sample products in person. Pictures can lie sometimes, despite best efforts, so it’s always good to preview the stone in person to get a better idea of its properties.

Note that you can also get natural stone veneer and tiles that you can use to face old concrete steps and stoops. This is a great way to capture the beauty of natural stone without dealing with the heavy expense that’s usually associated with it.

Natural Stone Steps Cost

The main disadvantage of natural stone, and one that prevents most interested homeowners from pursuing the material, is its cost. Natural stone prices do vary depending on the kind of stone, but you will pay more than other options, regardless of whether you get finely cut natural stone pavers or ‘irregularly shaped’ stone. Even if you get the stone for sale, expect to pay $100 to $200 per step, or more, for materials and installation. The exact number you’ll pay will depend on the contractor you hire as well as other factors in your local environment.

Building Natural Stone Steps

While you can work with natural stone as a DIY paving project if you have the skills, most homeowners will not want to attempt to build natural stone steps themselves. Instead, they should find a contractor who can do this kind of work.

A word of caution. All hardscape projects – patios, driveways, walkways, and the like – have a certain element of ‘artistry’ involved. In other words, a good contractor is not only skilled at doing the work; he also has an eye for the artistic and aesthetic aspects of the project. This is very true when it comes to natural stone steps, as there’s an art to making your steps look ‘natural.’ So when you’re evaluating a contractor for this work, make sure you see samples of previous job’s he’s done to make sure that he will craft something beautiful and according to your expectations. While natural stone can never be boring, it can certainly be laid suboptimally.

If you want to learn more about patio steps, including how to build them yourself, follow this link.