Characteristics of Marble Tile
To understand the suitability (or unsuitability) of marble as a building material in the home, we don’t necessarily need to delve into the various types and species of the stone, which are myriad. To keep things from getting cluttered, I’ll lump all the varieties together and simply call them marble.
To say that marble is stone is not enough. It is actually stone that has been transformed from other stone, limestone specifically. Along the way, some marble picks up fossils (corals, for example) and incorporates them into its final makeup. From this we can judge marble to be very old, millions if not billions of years. Marble is not, then, a renewable resource for our purposes, but it is plentiful. There are marble deposits throughout the world.
Marble is quarried in large chunks, cut from the surrounding rock and brought to mills where the stone can be further processed. The largest slabs possible are sawn first, then smaller slabs, and finally marble tiles, which are cut in several sizes, most often 12 inches square and about a half inch thick.
So marble tiles might be considered leftovers. These “leftovers” will have been cleaved from a number of larger, more valuable pieces, and pronounced variations can be expected in color and veining from tile to tile. This variation is what makes a marble tile installation what it is. Do not expect the tiles to match one another. Many times they won’t even come close. Often, the final effect can be described as “scatter-quilt” or “checkered.”
Many varieties of marble tiles contain weaknesses we call “faults.” Faults run through the stone in random directions and at times appear to be veining. Often, these imperfections are filled with tinted resins before the tiles receive their final polishing at the factory. Some marble tiles are so inherently weak that fiberglass mesh is attached to their backs to strengthen them.
Marble, as stone goes, is soft, and it will scratch easily. It should not be used in areas of high traffic in the home. What starts out as a very elegant floor can become a dismal eyesore in very short order. Marble floors will also oxidize if not regularly cleaned and polished.
Marble, since it is primarily limestone, is extremely susceptible to acids, to include citric acid and vinegar. We can deduce, then, that marble would not be the material of choice for the kitchen floor (or the kitchen counters, either). For example, orange juice, if it is not wiped up instantly, will etch the surface of the stone. Many household cleaners will do the same thing.
For the reasons I’ve already mentioned, marble is not a good material to use in showers. It is almost impossible to maintain under the constant barrage of waterborne minerals and chemicals used in bath soaps and shampoos.
If you think I’m trying to talk you out of using marble in most areas of your home, you are correct. Granite, although usually a little more expensive, is a much better choice if your taste runs to natural stone.
But marble is beautiful and elegant. Nothing matches its allure. A front entryway would be a logical place to install a marble floor. In most homes the front door does not see a lot of traffic. Practically everyone uses the back entry. The floor will still have to be kept polished on a regular basis to protect it from oxidation, but this can be done easily enough.