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Flagstone vs. Slate: Unraveling the Differences for Your Hardscaping Project

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The world of sedimentary and metamorphic rocks can be overwhelming, especially if the goal is to build rock walls. Flagstone and slate are both natural stone options popular for hardscaping, but what exactly sets these materials apart? Understanding the key differences between slate vs. flagstone can help you choose the right material for your patio, walkway, or wall project.

In this guide from architectural and building products from local stone supplier Stone Center in Cincinnati, Columbus, and beyond, we'll compare and contrast flagstone vs. slate in terms of appearance, texture, durability, patterns, and more. Whether you prefer slate's smooth uniformity or flagstone's earthy colors and customizable shapes, read on to learn all about the distinguishing characteristics of each stone to help you make your decision.

What Is Flagstone?

What Is Flagstone?

Flagstone is a broad term used to describe a range of sedimentary and metamorphic rocks. These rocks are called flagstones because they can be easily split into flat segments that are used to pave patio walkways and build rock walls, in addition to other home applications. Essentially, when a stone is called a flagstone, it doesn't point to one specific stone, but instead any stone that's suitable as a paving stone.

What Is Slate?

On the other side of the slate vs. flagstone debate is slate.

Slate is a type of rock that many find difficult to differentiate from flagstone and for a good reason. Slate is a type of flagstone used in various outdoor applications, as it's easy to cut into thin layers and is often readily available and affordable. This is because it's the metamorphosed form of the sedimentary rock, shale.

What Is Shale?

Shale is fine-grained sediment and is a key base component for slate. This material is formed when shale sediment morphs into rock after prolonged exposure to pressure under the earth's crust. This shale is made from organic matter that settled into the mud and built up to a point where the pressure turned the matter into shale. Due to the large amount of organic matter found in shale, it's a great source of natural gas.


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Metamorphism: How Slate and Flagstone Are Formed

To better understand slate and flagstone, let's first define metamorphism.

Metamorphism is the process in which shale is converted to slate. This happens over time, as the geological processes cause shale to move deeper within the earth's crust. When shale is exposed to extreme conditions, the pressure and heat increase. This causes it to undergo chemical and textural changes. With these changes, shale eventually changes into the metamorphic stone, slate.

Flagstone undergoes metamorphism, too. This process results in significant changes to the structure and composition of the rock, creating an even surface and enhancing its durability. Through this process, the natural irregularities of flagstone are minimized resulting in a smooth and more uniform appearance that can be seen in various applications such as pathways, patios, and walls.

What Is the Difference Between Flagstone and Slate?

Though they have some similarities, flagstone and slate have distinct differences. Let's compare these two types of sedimentary and metamorphic rocks in terms of appearance, texture, durability, and more.

Slate vs. Flagstone Cost

Slate vs. Flagstone Cost

Beyond the fundamental difference between flagstone and slate, there's also the slate vs. flagstone cost to consider. Let's break it down.

The Cost of Slate

Slate is a popular natural stone known for its stunning appearance and durability. The cost of slate can range from $5 to $20 per square foot, depending on factors such as the quality, thickness, and origin of the stone. This wide price range allows flexibility when selecting a slate for your project. Whether you're looking for a more affordable option or willing to invest in a higher-quality slate, there are choices to suit different budgets. When considering slate and comparing it to other natural stones like flagstone, it's important to factor in the cost alongside your desired aesthetic and your overall project requirements.

The Cost of Flagstone

With naturally beautiful colors, with shades from sand to gray, red, and purple, there's a great appeal to flagstone. With a rustic charm and a durable design, it can be more affordable than other types of stone, usually costing $2 to $6 per square foot on its own. That said, some flagstone varieties can cost $10 to $15 per square foot. The difference in cost between slate and flagstone may be not so high, the cost of flagstone vs. slate still tends to be in favor of flagstone when it comes to remaining within budget.

Durability of Slate and Flagstone

Slate and flagstone are both popular choices for outdoor paving, but they differ in terms of durability. Slate, a low-grade metamorphic rock, is known for its exceptional durability, making it highly resistant to weathering, fading, and cracking. It can withstand heavy foot traffic and harsh weather conditions over time. While slate is equipped to withstand water, it typically offers a glossy shine that can become slippery. Plus, its glossy finish means the stone can get especially cold in the wintertime. These are two important considerations when considering your comfort and safety.

A key reason many homeowners opt for slate for a patio is that it's both waterproof and heavy-duty. Due to the texture of this material, any time of water, including rain, won't erode the surface. This is due in large part to the texture, which greatly enhances the durability of this stone.

The Difference Between Slate and Flagstone Application

The Difference Between Slate and Flagstone Application

Flagstone and slate offer distinct characteristics that make them suitable for different applications. Flagstone is a versatile landscaping stone that's commonly used for a variety of outdoor projects. Its flat segments and irregular shapes make it ideal for creating natural-looking pathways, flagstone patios, and walls. Flagstone can also be used in architectural designs to add texture and visual interest.

In contrast, slate is often chosen for its smooth and uniform appearance, so it's a popular choice for paving and roofing. Its durability and resistance to moisture make it ideal for areas that experience heavy foot traffic or extreme weather conditions. Whether it's for landscaping or architectural purposes, both flagstone and slate bring their unique charm and functionality to any project you may have.

Flagstone vs. Slate: Maintenance

Flagstone vs. slate differ in terms of maintenance requirements. While both materials are known for their durability, flagstone generally requires more regular maintenance compared to slate. Flagstone may need periodic sealing to protect it from stains and water damage. It may also require occasional re-leveling and replacement of loose stones.

However, slate is relatively low-maintenance, especially compared to other materials. With minimal upkeep, slate can maintain its appearance and integrity for many years. However, it's important to note that the specific maintenance needs may vary depending on the quality and type of flagstone or slate being used.


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Appearance of Flagstone and Slate

Flagstone and slate exhibit notable differences in terms of appearance. Flagstone has natural irregular shapes and earthy hues that create a rustic and organic look. It's often used to create charming pathways, patios, and rock walls.

On the other hand, slate offers a more refined and uniform appearance. Its smooth and sleek texture, along with its wide range of colors like grey, black, and green, makes it a popular choice for contemporary and modern designs. Whether you prefer the rugged beauty of flagstone or the elegant appeal of slate, each material brings its unique aesthetic to landscape and architectural projects.

Flagstone vs Slate: Key Differences
Aspect Flagstone Slate
Cost Low to moderate, $3-12 per square foot installed. Moderate to high, $6-20 per square foot installed.
Application Patios, walkways, pool decks, entryways. Patios, walkways, pool decks, flooring, countertops.
Durability Durable but softer than slate. Very durable.
Versatility Available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors and patterns. Typically uniform in shape and color.
Maintenance Can require sealing. Low maintenance.

Choosing Between Flagstone vs. Slate: Final Thoughts

When choosing between flagstone vs slate for your hardscaping project, consider the key differences in appearance, texture, durability, and pattern options. Flagstone comes in a wider variety of earthy colors and offers more customizable shapes and patterns compared to slate's smoother, more uniform look. Both natural stones have their advantages, but flagstone's distinctive beauty and patterned flagstone versatility make it a popular choice for patios, walkways, walls, and floors.

Still unsure about which is right for you? Feel free to contact Stone Center in Columbus, Cincinnati, or your local area to view our selection of flagstone and slate options side-by-side and get a free estimate. With expertise in all types of natural stone, we can help you determine the right material for your vision.


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Jon Smiley

Jon, the owner of Stone Center, is a knowledgeable expert in natural stone products, specializing in various types of stone for landscaping and architectural projects. Passionate about promoting the beauty and versatility of natural stone, Jon aims to use these blogs to inspire readers with creative ideas to upgrade their homes.

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