One of the many benefits of using natural stone in and around the home is the many different styles and personas that stone can take. For many years the trend was to use only stone tiles that had been cut and polished to a high shine, but newer trends are beginning to turn toward stone that is left in a more natural and organic state. To that end, one of the many stone trends that is coming up again and again at home shows and in spec homes is stone wall cladding.
Wall cladding uses a natural cleft-faced stone like slate or quartzite that has been cut into strips or pieces of varying widths, lengths, and thicknesses. Some companies produce what is known as a “V” tile or a piece of stone that is thicker at one end than at the other to produce an effect as if the stone is being woven across the wall.
Stone wall cladding is a very popular technique for covering fireplaces, backsplashes, and other interior walls. This type of installation is not meant to be grouted, because the pieces of stone are fitted so tightly together. Because of this, wall cladding is not meant to be used in wet areas such as bathrooms, but used properly, these unique stone installations can be used to great effect in living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchens as accent walls where some extra texture and color is needed on the wall.
Stone wall cladding installs very similarly to other types of stone tile. It requires a no-slump, white, latex-additive thin set mortar that has been keyed to a consistent depth. The pieces should be dry fit ahead of time to help ensure good color placement, blending, and a pleasing arrangement of the different pieces. Depending on the manufacturer, there may be specific patterns the cladding is meant to be worked into, or it can be arranged at the installer’s prerogative.
So for home’s following the trend of using natural materials left as close to their original state as possible, consider some stone cladding for the walls.
With more and more homeowners turning to natural materials for kitchens and bathrooms, one material that has remained popular many years now is river stone mosaics. Made of stones found on the beaches of Indonesia, these smooth round stones are usually sold on interlocking mesh sheets for easier installation. Despite the fact that manufacturers do their best to ensure that the sheets install seamlessly, many people installing them for the first time end up having some small issues.
River rock installation is similar in many ways to other stone mosaic installation. The key is in working slowly to ensure that the stones end up looking as they are intended; as a smooth, uninterrupted field of stones whose surfaces gently rise up out of the mortar.
Like all stone mosaic installations, river rocks should be set in a bed of white, latex additive thinset mortar. The mortar should be smoothed out after it’s been keyed to ensure the best coverage and the least amount of mortar coming through the mesh into the grout joints. Each sheet should be carefully pushed together with the next so that no lines can be seen around them, then each sheet should be beaten into the mortar to ensure the stones are level.
Once the mortar is set, the stones should be sealed, then grouted. Grouting is the real secret to the stone’s appearance; river rocks require a lot of grout, far more in fact than other stone mosaics of similar size. It is not uncommon to need to make several passes with the grout and grout float to get the right amount on the stones. This is where it pays to go slowly; if you go too fast and apply too much grout at once, you may swamp the tops of the stones and negate the soft rounding effect they otherwise make.
When installed properly, river rocks can provide a massage to the feet or a natural wall material that enhance spa showers. Take your time putting them in to ensure they always look their best.
While stains and etching are two of the biggest concerns in using natural stone in the home, one frequently overlooked problem that is a real issue for many homeowners is yellowing of white stones. Marbles such as Bianco Carrara, Calacata, and Bianco Venetino all start out with white backgrounds and some degree of gray or gold veining. Over time, however, these stones can take on a yellow to orange cast or hue that can ruin the look of the stone for the users.
There are essentially two causes of yellowing in white stones. The first is simply a top layer of grime and staining. If the floors have been waxed such as Tuscan finished stones, the wax may also yellow as it absorbs some dirt from the surrounding area.
If the yellowing is caused by dirt, the stone can be cleaned either with poultices, or by grinding down the surface and refinishing the stone. You can test to see if the issue is grime by using a deep cleaner meant for marble on a small area of the stone, or by using a stone poultice to see if it lifts the yellow color.
The second cause of yellowing is the oxidation of the stone. Most white stones such as Carrara marble contain large amounts of iron. Sometimes this iron can oxidize or begin to rust, particularly if the stone is used in a wet area such as a shower or entryway. If the stone begins to rust, this cannot be altered, as the iron goes right through the stone and does not sit on the surface where it can be ground or buffed away.
Not every white stone will oxidize or rust over time, but if the stones are meant to be used in an area with hard water, which could speed up the oxidation process, it may be better to choose a white quartzite such as Ajax or another type of stone altogether to avoid the issue.
Many homeowners choose to use natural stone tiles in and around their homes for the beauty that comes with every stone tile. Unfortunately, there are several issues that sometimes crop up with stone use, particularly as more and more people are beginning to use larger format stone tiles in their homes. A large format tile is defined as anything larger than 16-inces in size. One of the most common problems that is seen and reported by homeowners using large format stone tiles is lippage.
Lippage is the condition where one tile – often at the corner – lifts up above the surrounding tiles. Lippage can occur to any degree, but is most likely to be a problem when the lift is about the thickness of a nickel or greater.
The cause of lippage is due to poor installation, and is not a problem with the stone itself. Substrates are rarely if ever perfectly level and even. Therefore, when installing large stone tile, the surface it is being installed on needs to be built up slightly to allow the tile to have sufficient mortar to even itself out in. This is known as back buttering and involves placing additional mortar directly onto the backs of the tiles before installation. Often the stone is also beaten into the mortar bed to help achieve level.
On walls, tile lippage can be removed with levelers inserted into the joints. When the levelers are pulled together, the tiles even out and the lippage is removed. All of these steps have to take place during installation in order to avoid lippage.
Once the lippage has occurred, there is little that can be done. If the height difference is less than the thickness of a nickel, often it is recommended that the stones be left alone. If it is higher, the stones can be ground down and repolished to remove the offending ridges.
Proper installation methods can help prevent lippage, which can detract from the beauty of a new stone tile installation.