“It’s all about curb appeal, what draws you to the home.” Faisal Susiwala, Canada’s Top Real Estate Broker, based in Cambridge, Ontario, understands that if you want to increase the resale value of your home you need to immediately capture the buyer’s attention. One way of doing this is by replacing your home’s old stucco or vinyl siding with classic stone work. After all, nothing says permanence and value like fieldstone or granite.
Unfortunately, building with natural stone can be prohibitively expensive, negating much of the increase in the resale value of the home. Susiwala explains, “There’s no question the value would increase significantly. How much depends on the cost of doing the work.”
Fortunately, there is another option. Manufactured stone veneer is much less expensive than full block natural stone, and even than natural stone veneer. It’s easier to work with and is much lighter, reducing costs even further.
Artificial Stone, Real Benefits
Artificial stone is typically made by mixing Portland cement, stone aggregates, and pigments poured into a flexible mold and vibrated, often under pressure, until set. The molds are patterned after natural stones, with the formulation and pigments chosen to match those stones.
While artificial stone has been around for centuries, only recently has the technology improved such that today the result is virtually indistinguishable from natural stone. Even experienced masons would need to carefully examine a wall made with quality artificial stone veneer to be certain the material wasn’t a product of nature.
Properly installed, treated, and maintained, the stone can be expected to last for generations. Most manufacturers provide a 50-year warranty.
Read Fine Homebuilding covering manufactured stone, from Amazon.
Artificial stone veneer owes its popularity to its relatively light weight — about two-thirds the weight of natural stone veneer, and a quarter or less the weight of full-block natural stone — depending of course on the type of stone being imitated. This lighter weight translates into heavy savings. The reduced weight means reduced shipping costs, transporting the stone from the manufacturer to your construction site.
Reducing the weight also reduces the need for costly structural reinforcements, allowing you to consider projects that may otherwise be impractical or impossible. Want to put a fireplace in the middle of your living-room? Constructing the surround and chimney using natural stone would require reinforcing the floor beneath the fireplace to support the tremendous weight, possibly several tons. Even if that were possible, it would cause the cost of your project to skyrocket. With artificial stone veneer, such measures are unnecessary.
The lighter weight also makes the stone easier to work with, and manufacturers often provide convenient shapes and sizes pre-formed for corners, ledges, arches, and even light fixtures, further saving time so masons can install it faster, thereby reducing labor costs.
Factor in the lower price of the stone itself and your project will likely come in at about 50% to 60% of what it would cost using natural stone. That can translate into a concrete net gain for the resale value of your house.
The Natural Advantage
Of course, every option has its drawbacks and no manufactured product will be able to match the quality of nature’s best work.
It can be difficult to tell, just by looking at an artificial stone, how long it will last, if its color will fade in a few years, or if the stone itself will crumble the first time it encounters inclement weather. While standards bodies have published recommended specifications for manufactured stone, anyone can produce and sell the product irrespective of those standards and with however long a warranty they like. But a 50-year warranty etched in stone will be worthless if the company that sold it to you turns to dust before you try to collect.
Failures of the stone itself are only part of your concern. Many vendors advertise that their stone is so easy to install anyone can do it using only basic mason’s hand-tools. But as any weekend handyman can attest, what’s easy for one person may not be easy for another. The term “lick and stick” is often used to describe the installation of artificial stone veneer — apply the mortar and press the stone to the wall — but that’s an oversimplification of the process.
Michael Pieper, owner of AP Masons in Philadelphia, has worked with both natural and artificial stone for more than 15 years. He readily acknowledges that artificial stone veneer is easier to work with than natural stone, but he cautions, “If it’s not installed properly by someone with experience, it’s a lot easier to come out shoddy. You can end up with a very unattractive product. It ends up looking cheap.”
Part of this is due to the manufacturing process. Economics dictate that manufacturers can only use a finite number of natural stones to produce their molds. In any given load of stone, therefore, there are bound to be duplicates. If you’re not careful when applying the stone you may end up with obvious patterns on your wall, a dead giveaway that you’ve used artificial stone.
Poor installation can also result in structural problems later so it’s important that you pay attention to regional building codes. Pieper explains, “Pockets or holes in the grout can allow water to get behind the stone. When it freezes and expands, the stones can pop off the wall.”
Even if your installation is solid and with no repeating patterns, the artificial source of your stone may be exposed another way. When natural stone breaks or chips, what’s revealed underneath is more natural stone, with the same color and texture of the surface. When artificial stone chips, the underlying concrete comes into view, without the colored pigments that gave the stone its natural appearance. Similarly, scrapes on natural stone may simply add to its character. Scrapes on artificial stone tend to make it look … artificial. Therefore, manufacturers advise against using the product in areas where it’s likely to be damaged, and to clean it with only mild detergents and soft brushes.
Even with the caveats mentioned, artificial stone veneer can be an excellent option for a wide range of building projects, both new constructions and renovations. Just be sure you take the time to find a reputable vendor, plan your project carefully, and — unless you’re certain you can install the product yourself — hire an experienced mason.
There’ll be nothing artificial about the enhanced appearance — and resale value — of your home.