Slate tile flooring: pros, cons & costs.


By Clair Belmonte

Want to infuse natural beauty into your home? Consider installing slate flooring. Few materials are as versatile, durable and beautiful as slate tiles, making it the perfect way to customize your home and show off your unique style. In addition to increasing your home's overall real estate value, slate flooring can add drama and texture to any space for years to come. 

However, slate isn't the best fit for every home. For some homeowners, material and installation costs may be too expensive. Plus, installation costs can quickly increase if your contractor finds any issues with your subfloor that need to be fixed before starting the project. Still, in many cases, professional installation is necessary — installing slate tiles may be too difficult for many DIY-ers.

Choosing slate flooring isn't a decision to make lightly. Read this guide to find out if slate flooring is right for you.

What is slate?

Natural slate brings elegance and texture to any home, but many homeowners are surprised to learn how durable it is. Slate's artistic coloring and unique grooved texture set it apart as a top choice for both indoor and outdoor flooring, roofing, shower tile, countertops, backsplashes and more. Naturally-occurring slate comes in tons of color and texture variations to match your home's style.

Slate's texture makes the stone naturally slip-resistant, making it a great choice for wet areas like bathrooms, kitchens and backyards. These tiles also resist bacteria and mildew, which make them even less susceptible to slipping. While these tiles can be challenging to install due to their brittle nature, they're extremely durable once laid and ideal for high-traffic areas.

High resistance to temperature extremes makes slate ideal for outdoor installations, roofing, and backsplashes. Plus, slate floor tiles work well with radiant, underfloor heating systems. However, without radiant heat, slate can often feel cold and uncomfortable under your feet, especially if the tiles you choose have significant texture.

Slate tile flooring pros & cons.

Installing slate in and around your home can be costly, so it's important to know the pros and cons of using this material for your flooring before you begin your project. Here's everything you need to know about the benefits and drawbacks of slate tile.

Slate flooring pros:

  • Durability. Slate is uniquely durable and resistant to cracks, breaks, and chips once it has been placed.
  • Longevity. Slate can last up to 100 years, whereas flooring materials like laminate and linoleum last up to 25 years.
  • Cleaning. Once sealed, keeping slate clean can be as easy as any other flooring material.
  • Design variation. Tons of natural variation in the stone's coloring and texture offer a custom look that fits your style. You can also opt for honed or smoothed slate tiles for even more variety.
  • Fireproof. As with any stone, slate is fireproof, making it an ideal choice for roofs.
  • Slip-resistant. Resistance to bacteria and mildew reduce slip risk. Slate is also naturally slip-resistant due to its texture, so it can easily be installed in damp places like backyards, bathrooms, kitchens, and basements. 
  • Radiant heating. Good at radiating heat, making slate a great option to install over radiant heating systems.
  • Real estate value. Because it’s a natural stone, you’ll likely increase your home’s value by replacing your old, worn-out floors with slate.

Slate flooring cons:

  • Cost. At $4 to $10 a square foot, slate can be more expensive than many other materials.
  • Installation. Slate can be difficult to install and is not recommended for DIY projects. Experienced slate tile installation requires lots of skill and patience, resulting in higher installation costs. 
  • Replacement. Variation in coloring and texture can make finding replacement tiles difficult. It's best to buy multiple replacement tiles or shingles when you do your project.
  • Comfort. Without radiant heating, slate floor tile can feel uncomfortable and very cold underfoot.
  • Maintenance. To maintain its beauty, slate should regularly be resealed, leading to ongoing yearly maintenance costs.
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What to expect when installing slate floors.

Installing slate floors can be a detailed and arduous process, making it a poor choice for a DIY project. 

The first step to installing slate floors is removing your existing flooring down to the subfloor. Laying slate demands a sound subfloor, and a pro can help you determine if your subflooring needs repair before installing the tiles. Even small weak spots, sponginess, or bounce in your subfloor can cause problems down the line, leading to cracked and shifting tiles. 

Your pro will start by repairing areas of your subfloor. That may include sanding plywood or filling flaws in concrete, which can add a day of labor to your installation. The pro then adds a cement board between the subfloor and the tile for waterproofing.

Next, your pro will measure the room to designate reference lines to ensure the tile is laid straight. Once they've recorded their reference lines, the pro will place the tiles to check that they fit in the room.

Finally, the pro will mix their mortar, spread it on small areas of the cement board, and begin laying the slate tiles. They'll use tile spacers to secure the tiles and may level the tile's height. Your pro will also use a wet saw to cut tiles to fit the corners and edges of your room.

Once the mortar dries, the pro will remove the tile spacers and seal the floor with a sealant. After the seal is dry, it’s time to add grout to secure the tiles into place. The last step is sealing the grout to reduce water entering through the seams. 

Depending on the state of your current subfloor, installing slate tile often takes between two and seven days. It's important to plan ahead because you won't be able to walk on your new floors during the installation process.

DIY vs. hiring a pro to install slate tiles.

Even for experienced DIYers, installing slate tiles can be uniquely difficult. The material's brittle nature means installers need to be especially delicate while moving and placing tiles, which are often large and heavy. This can be back-breaking work that takes years of strength and experience. Without the right experience in this work, your DIY project could easily take twice or three times as long as a professional job.

Generally speaking, due to the substantial learning curve, it's highly recommended to work with a flooring professional to install your slate tiles. Installing slate roofing shingles, wall tiles in a shower or slate countertops is also difficult due to the material’s weight and delicacy. Plus, cutting flooring tiles to fit your space involves using a saw, which not all home improvers are comfortable or experienced with.

Even the smallest flaws in your subfloor can impact your slate flooring installation, so your subfloor may need repairs before you install your tile. Working with a professional to repair your subfloor can reduce cracks and damage to your slate flooring down the line, ultimately saving you money on replacement tiles.

While professional slate installation may seem expensive, working with a pro ensures that your floors look beautiful, professional and secure. With expert installation and minimal maintenance, your slate flooring can look great for years to come. 

Find a Thumbtack pro to install slate flooring in your home.

If you're ready to add an elegant touch to your home, it's time to install a new slate tile floor. However, installing slate flooring definitely isn't for the faint at heart, so it's critical to find the right pro for the job. Working with a pro is a valuable investment to ensure that your brittle slate floor tiles are installed securely and look beautiful year after year.

Not every flooring pro has experience working with slate floor tiles, so finding the right pro for the job can be tough. Explore local flooring pros near you to find experienced professionals who are up to the challenge.

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Is slate tile expensive?

The average cost of natural slate tiles is $4 to $10 per square foot, making slate an expensive option for some homeowners. Plus, slate often costs more to install than other materials due to its brittle nature.

Does slate tile need to be sealed?

Slate floor tiles must be sealed after installation to protect your floor and prevent stains. Most pros recommend sealing your slate floor twice a year to avoid damage.

Are slate tiles slippery when wet?

Slate's natural texture makes slate tiles particularly slip-resistant and an ideal option for outdoor spaces or bathrooms.

Are slate floors hard to maintain?

Beyond regular sweeping, mopping and sealing, slate floors are very easy to maintain. However, it's important to seal your slate floor twice a year to ensure spills don't damage your floor.

Do slate tiles crack or break easily?

Once your slate tiles are placed, they are largely resistant to cracks, chips, and breaking. Despite being brittle, which can cause breaking or cracking issues during installation, slate is extremely durable once it has been laid, grouted, and sealed.

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