If You Want Real Stone, You Should Try Manufactured Stone Instead

Red Leather Sofa in Living Room with Stone Fireplace
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Love that stone exterior facade or cozy fireplace that you see?  Unless you live in a traditional locale with very old buildings, and where real stone is the norm, it's probably a "fake stone" called manufactured stone or artificial stone veneer.  Unlike that ultra-fake stuff called faux stone, which is closer to plastic, manufactured stone has the heft and texture of real stone and might be just what you want for your home.

While it does come from the earth, it is not quarried directly from the earth.

Real stone is just that: igneous rock that comes in wildly varying sizes and colors. The term veneer means that it is a decorative or decorative/functional surface applied to the surface of the actual load-bearing structure. So, a fireplace composed of brick or cement block might have veneer stone on the surface to give the illusion that the fireplace is made of stone.

Inside is a mix of cement, aggregates, and pigments.

Manufactured stone is nothing new; it's been around for ages. Veneer stone companies in the last three decades have been refining their manufactured veneer "recipe" so that it looks remarkably like the real thing--even upon close examination.

Most manufactured veneer is composed of Portland cement, aggregates, and iron oxides. The cement gives veneer its stability; the aggregates help to lighten the weight of the stone, and the iron oxides provide pigments to color the stone.

Can you install it yourself?

Unfortunately, manufactured veneer stone still hasn't come into full-scale DIY use. One reason is that, even though it's artificial stone, it's still a masonry project. Like some other remodeling tasks--tiling, electrical, plumbing--masonry does have a learning curve.

Most of the major veneer manufacturers have excellent videos and installation guides on their sites. The bar for interior veneer stone installation is set lower than for exterior. With interior stone, you don't have to worry about waterproofing. For exteriors, you'll need to waterproof the surface behind the veneer stone, as veneer is not intended to be your sole barrier against rain and snow.

Important to distinguish between thin and full-dimension veneers.

Depth is an important issue when it comes to veneer. Since it is purely an addition to what's already there, you want to minimize the thickness of that addition.

While it may not matter much in some exterior applications, it certainly does matter in the interior, where every square foot counts.

Full-dimension veneer starts at around 2 inches thick and goes outward from there. Thin stone veneer maxes out at two inches.

Then decide between dry stack veneer and mortared.

These convey completely different styles.

  • Dry-stack stone looks like building blocks laid right on top of each other, block to block, without mortar between them. Dry-stack has a cool, contemporary look.
  • Mortared stone veneer, as the name says, has mortar between each stone, and it projects a traditional, Old World look.

You can use it on exteriors but you need to take care to waterproof the structure behind it.

If you are laying exterior stone veneer, you can waterproof the structure either with builder's felt (similar to roofing paper), builder's paper (a special kraft-paper material), or house wrap.

Specifically, Eldorado Stone recommends either 2 separate layers of #15 felt, 2 separate layers Grade D paper, or 1 layer house wrap and 1 layer Grade D paper.

Veneer stone manufacturers:

Don't expect to find endless varieties of manufactured veneer stone at your local Home Depot or Lowe's. They do carry a few examples, but mostly you need to look at shops catering to the masonry trade, contractor supply houses, or other specialized shops. Some of the biggest names in veneer stone manufacturers are:

  • Cultured Stone: Cultured Stone is a subsidiary of Owens Corning.
  • El Dorado: Their motto is, "The Most Believable Architectural Stone Veneer in the World."
  • Coronado Stone Products: This company's veneer stone is found at Lowe's stores.