In this article, I’ll be going over a type of stone commonly used in landscaping known as Travertine. This variant of limestone has been utilized in backyards and outdoor patios over many decades and has many benefits if you choose to work with it.
The stone has gone through a few name changes over the course of its existence, but its etymology remains rooted in the Roman town of Tibur (modern-day Tivoli). Travertine has a layered mixture of colors resembling a cream swirled into the sand, and is one of the most durable stones that can be used, weathering the elements for centuries.
Landscaping with Travertine Pros and Cons
Travertine is great for outdoors. Travertine is one of the more durable stones when used in landscaping and backyard projects. It also has an extremely unique look with its series of pits and troughs that give the stone its characteristic look. Its ability to withstand harsh weather, heavy foot traffic, and resistance to chipping, makes it an ideal option.
Travertine intended for the outdoors is usually formed into something called a ‘paver’, a flat uniform stone. These landscape pavers are cut about 1.5″ or thicker, quite thicker than the travertine tiles used indoors, to allow the stone to settle more naturally into the ground.
Bear in mind that while travertine is an excellent option, there are a few subtle downsides. The fact that it’s porous means it can absorb stains and liquids, so if you intend to barbecue over it or use it as a driveway, there’s a chance it will become discolored. The other thing to take note of is the upfront cost. While it may be an expensive stone relative to other options, using travertine in your backyard can lead to an overall increase in property value.
Travertine Landscaping Ideas
Thanks to the distinct nature of travertine, you’ll be able to design any kind of project you want with the many colors to choose from. Patios are a common use for travertine, with its durability for continued foot traffic, textured look, and ability to match any house color.
Image credit: MSI
The driveway plays a large part in the curb appeal of your home. A travertine driveway could be a strong element for increasing your property value. Travertine pavers are more durable than concrete and resist staining far better. While it may cost more initially, this could be a sleek addition to any home and may be worth the investment.
If you’re thinking of adding a special touch to your stairs then travertine could be a timeless choice. It’s naturally slip-resistant, looks professional, and comes in a variety of tones that will accent the path leading to your home.
In my opinion, travertine is one of the best natural materials to use for a pool deck. It’s slip-resistant, it’s heat-resistant, and won’t burn your feet as the stone will transfer the heat to the subsurface. The porous nature of travertine may also benefit you if you live in an area with high rainfall, as it will absorb the excess and prevent the creation of slippery surfaces.
Image credit: Pera Tile
Much the same for patios, high-foot traffic won’t affect your travertine walkway. The pavers are thick and durable, are a wonderful way to put a personal touch to your property, and can be decorated any way you like.
Installing Travertine on Patios and Walkways
Travertine pavers are used in a multitude of backyard concepts ranging from patios, walkways, garden paths, fire pits, and stairways. There are two types of paver installation, the dry-set method, and the mud-set method.
The dry-set method involves excavating the desired area to give you ample room to fill it in with aggregate. Filling the excavated area with gravel creates a solid base for your stones which will need to be compacted with a compactor, this will ensure that they don’t shift or become displaced over time.
After you’ve compacted your crushed rock, add an inch of coarse sand and compact it, then you’re ready to place your pavers. Once they’re installed, tamp them down with a mallet, power wash the pavers, and finish them with sand to fill in the gaps.
Image credit: Travertine Mart
A mud-set installation involves placing pavers atop an existing concrete surface. It requires a solid and stable substructure as without this you’ll end up having uneven pavers. First, you’ll need to prepare the surface for installation and clean up any debris or material that will impact your pavers. Apply a layer of adhesive or mortar evenly to ensure the pavers lay flat on the surface.
After all this work you’ll need to maintain your pavers. Each type of stone will have a different maintenance routine, some being more resilient to weather, others to grime. I’ll go over a few tips to keep your investment looking pristine. You’ll want to remove any unsightly weeds that grow between the cracks of your pavers by tearing them out and applying a weed deterrent.
Make sure to rinse and dust your pavers frequently, this will minimize any wearing patterns from use and keep them looking fresh. If you use a power washer make sure to keep the pressure low to prevent any accidental damage to the stones. If your travertine pavers become dirty don’t grab any chemical detergent, there are a variety of chemicals that can corrode your travertine, including bleach, ammonia, and even simple bases like vinegar. Instead, opt for a neutral cleaning agent that is formulated for travertine.
Travertine is highly porous which allows water and other liquids to penetrate deep into the stone and can lead to molds, so you’ll want to reseal your pavers every three to five years, especially if you have them installed as a pool deck. First, let them dry for a few days before sealing, then I would suggest a water-repellent sealant. This will help protect them from the constant moisture and UV rays.
It’s not uncommon to find cracks in your pavers after a few years of installation. You’ll want to get this fixed up soon, as a cracked travertine tile may have a sharp edge and store water that could lead to mold or mildew. If you plan on repairing the crack, clean the surface of the paver then fill it with a water-resistant epoxy.
Costs of Travertine
After all this information you may be wondering exactly how much a travertine patio, pool deck, or fire pit might cost you. If we’re talking square feet then the cost of travertine pavers will vary anywhere between 5 and 40 dollars/sq.ft depending on the style, grade, and finish.
This will just be the beginning. If you’re doing a mud-set installation you may need to pay for laying down a sub-base if one doesn’t already exist, which will increase the labor and material cost for things such as concrete. Expect labor to cost between 50 to 70 an hour, depending on the need for things like masons or concrete contractors.
Designing a modest 3-by-15-foot (45 sq. ft) travertine walkway could cost you roughly 500-1000$, depending on various factors such as the cut, grade, and style.
A 16×16 foot (256 sq. ft) patio which is considered a larger-sized patio, should cost you 4000$-8000$.
If you’re paying for higher-end travertine then a pool deck, which can be as large as 900 sq.ft, can cost you as much as 30‘000$. Keep in mind that labor costs can increase when building a pool deck, as the unique shape of pools and other considerations could tack on an additional 20% to your costs.
Don’t forget that once your travertine pavers are installed, you’ll need to double-seal them with a sealant. This can cost roughly up to 40$ per quart, and a single quart can cover between 250-900 sq. ft depending on how porous your travertine is.
Types of Finished Travertine
When it comes to selecting your travertine, there is a multitude of different finishes, each serving its own purpose and giving a variety of aesthetic styles to suit your needs.
Tumbled travertine is a way finishing style that’s created when rough-cut travertine tiles are placed into a tumbler alongside materials such as sand, steel bearings, and water. Like a rock tumbler, this large drum will rotate for a prolonged period of time causing the tiles to rub against the materials inside creating a weathered and textured surface. When the process is over they’ll take out the tumbled travertine to properly wash and dry them.
This process can take up to 5 weeks and will then typically be left unfilled, leaving a smoothed-down natural appearance and feel which is excellent for foot traffic. The porous nature of tumbled travertine provides a proper grip that you wouldn’t achieve with a polished finish and would be ideal for use in a pool deck.
The finish of the honed travertine is a smooth texture that can be either filled or unfilled. The stone has a smooth matte texture which is achieved by grinding the unfinished stone on one side The processors will begin sanding the tile with a coarse grit and end with a fine grit, just like polishing furniture. Once it’s finished the sealer may be applied to protect it from staining and moisture depending on its application.
This finish is very similar to honed, except taken even further during the sanding process. To achieve the polished surface the grit could be as high as 360. The polished style provides a smooth and glossy finish that is usually bolstered by the filler.
The brushed travertine is a style of finish attained by taking a wire brush to the surface of the stone. This will remove the softer layers of the stone leaving behind a slightly textured matte finish. The style works best in rustic aesthetics and typically comes in more muted colors due to its finish.
Different Grades of Travertine
Travertine comes in three different grades, premium, standard, and commercial. These grades vary in cost, uniformity, and filler.
The highest grade of travertine, premium, is cut perfectly with a uniform thickness throughout the stone, evenly cut edges and consistency in color. Machinery is used to fill the pits of premium grade travertine with epoxy resin, but if any perfections remain, they will tend to it by hand. If you’re designing a pool deck or water feature I would strongly recommend premium travertine, as the smooth edges will reduce any risk of being cut by the pits and troughs found naturally throughout the stone.
The standard grade of travertine will require more filling than the premium grade, and some of the filled areas will constitute the entire thickness of the cut. It’s possible to get unfilled holes with this grade, and the colors won’t be as uniform as the premium. You’ll get a more consistent color than with the lower commercial grade stone throughout the lot, but there may still be off-color swirls. Standard grade travertine is suitable for almost every project in the backyard or patio while still being cost-efficient.
Commercial grade travertine will have small defects, and unfilled holes that may perforate throughout the entire paver. The filling process will be done exclusively by machinery which means there could be a variety of imperfections, as well as cracked edges. You’ll have to be less picky when it comes to color consistency with the commercial grade as you may not even get to select a choice. If you do select a color, expect a greater variation in the gradient as the tiles may not look similar. I would choose commercial grade travertine if you’re creating a more rustic garden pathway, somewhere you’d be likely to wear shoes as the edges could be sharp if not sanded or tumbled down.
Colorations of Travertine
Travertine is a unique stone with a menagerie of colors, any of which can suit the various needs of your backyard projects. I’ll go over the most common colors, their patterns, and their potential uses.
The most common type of travertine. This style typically has a beige or cream-colored look, occasionally with different earthen shades such as grays, browns, and sometimes a rusty appearance. The color will change depending on the quarry its mined from, as well as the various percentages of minerals present during its formation.
Noce travertine is composed of warm, earthen tones including browns, beiges and complimented with ivory veins. Another name for it is walnut travertine. It’s quarried primarily in Turkey, where it’s referred to as “Noce di Turco”, or “Turkish Walnut”. Noce travertine is mostly found in the Denizli region, which is well-known as a producer of high-quality travertine. This rustic-looking travertine will complement desert aesthetics, or pair well with a lush garden.
This popular coloration of travertine consists of a grayish base which can range in depth, coupled with subtle veining of beige, brown, or sometimes white. This coloration is due to the inclusion of iron oxide. This travertine is mostly quarried in Italy but is also found in a multitude of Mediterranean countries.
This type of travertine is similar to the silver. It’s primarily white, as the name suggests, with more subtle veining in shades of gray and beige. While there are some similarities to marble, the veins of travertine are more distinct and the overall composition is less cloudy. Compared to the Classico travertine it has more pronounced and exuberant veins that shows off the beiges rather nicely.
Yellow travertine is an extremely unique type, given the name you can picture a golden-yellow color that can even resemble woodgrain. This type of travertine appears more sedimentary (made up of compacting layers) than other types. If you’re looking to bring in a warm glow to your outdoors this could be a perfect choice.
This versatile flavor of travertine can be used in a variety of outdoor applications. It pairs fairly well against natural woods and has an unfinished yet charming look. This irregular travertine is for the person who isn’t concerned with perfect, as it will range in colors from beige to brown, and may have some odd edges with rougher surfaces.
The ivory travertine comes from Turkey and Italy and boasts an extremely low variation between cuts. This timeless look comes in a natural palette of beiges, creams, and whites, which mix together into delicate patterns. Ivory travertine has an oil and water appearance as opposed to yellow travertine which is more layered with seams.
How Travertine Pavers and Tiles are Made
We begin the process within a quarry. These quarries are selected on a variety of factors including quality, color, and cost of establishment. Once the location has been chosen, the next step is to begin quarrying the stone, this can be done with a few different methods.
The first is the channeling machine, a large piece of machinery that can be as large as a railroad car, which cuts deep grooves or channels into the stone. This makes it easier to extract the slabs in uniform pieces. Some other options include diamond-tipped water saws, chain saws, and water-jet cutters.
Once the travertine has been into a more manageable block, its transported to a factory or production facility where it will be cut into smaller pieces and refined. Whether it’s pavers or tiles, they’ll cut the blocks into the desired size and then sanded down.
At this stage, travertine undergoes a multitude of different processes which is dependent upon the desired finish that is required. Facilities will hone the tiles to remove rough edges or uneven areas, grinding down the spots with abrasive pads.
They may or may not fill the tiles with a mixture of resin and rock dust, this will give it a solid and smooth appearance. At this point, there will be a range of finishes that may occur depending on the desired smoothness. Once they’ve completed the finish, may be sealed with epoxy to protect them from moisture damage.
Interesting Facts About Travertine
Travertine has a rich history and has cultivated a strong following since its use around the 3rd century, B.C. Here are some of the most interesting facts regarding travertine that I could find.
Travertine use During the Roman Period
Humans have been using travertine since the ancient Romans, who found it in vast deposits by the inhabitants of Tibur, which is now Tivoli. To this day, Tivoli is one of the leading producers of travertine.
The Colosseum in Rome was partially built with travertine. The stone was ferried from Tivoli and was used for the building’s main pillars, ground floor, and external wall. Travertine is so strong and durable that slabs of it were paved to surround the Colosseum to support the outer walls of the building. It’s estimated that over 100’000 cubic meters of travertine were used in the construction.
Emperor Augustus and the Noble Stone
Having loved Travertine so much, the Roman Emperor Augustus once proclaimed that Roman Travertine shall be elevated to the rank of “noble” material. Travertine was subsequently used in the most important segments and structures of the city, quite often being the material that held columns upright at the base.
Largest Travertine Deposit: Pamukkale, Turkey
The largest travertine deposit discovered was found in Pamukkale, Turkey. The ancient Greek city of Hierapolis was built atop the natural travertine formation, where the main street ran alongside a cliff with travertine terraces. You can still visit the ancient ruins of Hierapolis thanks to its inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
Travertine Deposits in Yellowstone
Travertine is considered sustainable by Today’s standards as naturally occurring stones do replenish themselves, albeit slowly. In Yellowstone National Park, geologists have recorded travertine growing at a rate of 5 millimeters a day within the mineral-rich hot pools. Though travertine is considered a renewable resource, it’s not an unlimited resource, so we shouldn’t be wasteful.
Mass of Travertine Imports
The biggest importer of travertine is the U.S. In 2019 there were over 17’000 tons – that’s 34’000’000 lbs – of imported travertine. The majority of those imports came from Turkey, with over 12’000 tons.
Bavaria is host to the longest castle in the world, the Burghausen Castle. Construction of the castle began in 1255 and is made almost entirely of travertine. The castle extends over 1000 meters and consists of six fortified buildings. This castle stands the test of time largely thanks to travertine.
The Formation of Travertine
Travertine is a rather interesting stone when compared to others. We imagine stones as taking centuries, if not millennia to form. Travertine is unique in that if you find yourself staring at a bed of travertine, you’re watching it grow in real time.
The formation of travertine occurs when high amounts of dissolved carbon dioxide come into contact with limestone, or other rocks containing calcium carbonate. One of the most common sources of this carbon dioxide is from soil containing organic material such as plant roots, and other decaying matter. The water is then precipitated from freshwater sources such as rivers, creeks, and lake beds until it finds its way to a deposit of limestone. As this carbonated water makes contact with limestone, the sudden change in temperature or acidity dissolves the surrounding limestone and forms a dense, porous stone.
Sometimes the inclusion of organic material such as moss, algae, and cyanobacteria becomes encrusted within the stone as it forms. These organic materials, as well as local minerals, can affect the color of the travertine. The range of color can vary from dark grey to shades of red, yellow, and even green when calcite is released in cooler temperatures.
To recap what we’ve learned, travertine is a form of limestone with unique characteristics and appearance and is one of the most durable stones to use in the backyard. It’s been used for centuries since the Romans and is a popular choice for contemporary backyard constructions. It’s heat resistant, non-slip, and can be used for a variety of projects such as patios, walkways, garden paths, fire pits, and pool decks.
There are a few downsides including its porous nature, which can absorb stains and liquids, so be mindful of how you use it.
It’s also not the cheapest material compared to other options, though it may help increase your property value. It comes in a variety of colors and three different grades, each of which should be considered depending on your purposes.
Hopefully, by now you’re accustomed to all things travertine regarding its formation, acquisition, and how to best use it in backyard settings.
– Travertine. Wikipedia
– Roman Travertine Quarries. Poggi Bros
– Types and Grades of Travertine – Learning Center. The Hardwood Outlet
– Travertine Tile and Travertine Pavers. Travertine Mart
– Harrell, J. A., STONE IN ANCIENT EGYPT. Department of Environmental Sciences, THE UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO
– Karydes, M., Kirk, K., Freed, S., Carter, H., Vierra, S., & Vozza, S. Articles and Information Promoting the Use of Natural Stone