Slate is a product that most people are familiar with, many of us see it every day of our lives on roofs or steps but it is also a widely used product for flooring in many parts of the world.
In the UK we have a few indigenous varieties of slate, notably Welsh roofing slate and the harder, green slates from Delabole in Cornwall but there isn’t much variety in colour and Welsh slate in particular is relatively soft which makes it ideal for a roofing material but less so for flooring – indeed, if you visit Wales, you may see a few large slate doorsteps and you will notice how worn down they have become from years of foot traffic.
There are many companies currently importing flooring slate into the UK at the moment, far too many to list here and the main countries that they are exported from are India, Africa and China. Each continent has its own particular geology and colour/type varieties that have made their way to the UK and have become established as very fashionable and popular flooring materials – widely used in Kitchens, Hallways and Conservatories.
For flooring purposes, there are two basic types of slate – diamond sawn and chipped edge. The diamond sawn varieties are formats that are cut into varying sizes using water cooled diamond saws to produce tiles that have clean straight edges and are useful for more formal installations, the others are chipped edge formats which tend to be softer and have a very rustic hand trimmed edge to them – lending themselves to more rustic installations.
Slates also come in calibrated and uncalibrated thicknesses – if heights are an issue, calibrated varieties are the best to choose as they are more uniform in thickness and are less tricky to lay level and true – uncalibrated are exactly that and there can be as much as 10mm variance in the thickness of a single tile from one edge to another – these types are better left to installation by seasoned professionals as they can be very tricky to bed correctly.
As slates are essentially compressed mud, they are porous and as such they will need to be sealed during installation in order to make them a serviceable floor. Again, there are a raft of different sealers on the market either being solvent or water based and in most cases the slates will need an impregnator applied before finishing with two coats of sealer. Impregnators enhance the colours in the slates and form the essential primer coat that makes the tile ready for its final seal coats. Most final seals are water based and give the tiles a warm, eggshell lustre which lends itself perfectly to the type of material that it is.
Maintenance of a sealed slate floor is simple, a soft broom sweep over is usually enough and for those who want to wash their floors, just warm water in a mop and bucket or a specialist cleaner such as HG Superfloor or Pool Universale.
Over time, your slate floor will “round” with wear and it is normal for there to be minor flaking or delamination during the first 12 months of its fitted life – dont forget the stone is laid down in layers and sometimes these layers flake away – all that is needed is to reseal the exposed surface and let the floor wear in again.
All in all slate floors make an excellent choice for hard worked areas and if chosen carefully, will compliment many decor schemes within the home… but if you are unsure about fitting them, seek professional advice and employ the services of a good tiler who is familiar with the product.