Words: Sarah Lograsso, Director of Marketing at Boral Stone Division
Photos: Cultured Stone, Eldorado Stone
Stone is one of the world’s most enduring building materials, and it’s never offered as much versatility as it does today. Manufactured stone, in particular, offers lighter, thinner, and more diverse interpretations of natural materials than almost any other material. As manufacturing methods have continually improved over the years, manufactured stone veneer has become incredibly popular in today’s building market for a variety of reasons.
No other product offers the depth, complexity of color, pattern, and tactile distinction of manufactured stone. The nature-inspired textures and authentic color palettes of quality manufactured profiles are virtually indistinguishable from stone and other natural materials.
What is Manufactured Stone Veneer?
Manufactured stone veneer, also known as MSV, is a lightweight building material used as a decorative wall covering for exterior and interior surfaces. It is made of concrete and replicates the textures and colors of natural stone. The best manufacturers create molds from natural stones to capture and recreate the most authentic textures. The end result is a durable, lightweight stone veneer a few inches thick which creates the illusion of a structural stone wall.
Common interior applications of manufactured stone veneer include living rooms, fireplaces, kitchens, bathrooms, stairways, wine cellars, and other unique spaces. On the exterior, popular applications include full façades, entryways, landscape walls, outdoor kitchens, fire pits, and more.
The Origin of Manufactured Stone Veneer
Manufactured stone veneer products originated in 1962 when brothers Garrett and Floyd Brown of Vallejo, California, saw the need for a new kind of building material. The entrepreneurial pair of plasterers developed manufactured stone veneer as a concrete mixture cast in flexible molds and hand-colored with iron oxide pigments to resemble natural stone. Made of lightweight aggregate materials, the veneers were approximately one-quarter the weight of natural stone and easily adhered to most wall surfaces.
The Browns’ small, regional company began selling to dealers in Northern California but grew quickly as it added new products with a broader geographic appeal. Soon, their products were distributed throughout the United States and Canada.
Advantages of Manufactured Stone Veneer
Through ongoing research and development, manufactured stone products are innovative and beautiful, and often engineered to solve design and installation challenges. From a design perspective, many collections have expanded beyond stone to include modern profiles that resemble other popular materials such as tile, brick and wood. Also, with respect to installation efficiencies, many manufacturers now offer panelized products to enable a more rapid application without sacrificing the desired aesthetic.
Here are a few additional advantages of working with manufactured stone:
As the market continues to evolve, interior and exterior stone applications move in new directions, expanding beyond traditional stone and brick textures and incorporating a variety of contemporary shapes. While earth tones have traditionally been king in the manufactured stone veneer industry, there is an increasing demand for veneer profiles that utilize clean, linear formats and give specifiers a solution for elevating the stark simplicity of a modern aesthetic with nuances of color, depth and shadow.
There’s also been a recent surge in interior applications when looking to dress up an accent wall with evocative textures and hues. Installing these products as fireplace surrounds, accent walls, or even as a backsplash in the kitchen, creates a rich atmosphere that helps to define spaces in a new way.
Manufactured stone veneer is the perfect solution for specifiers who want to incorporate the authentic character of stone or brick without a lengthy installation process. Natural stone may require wall ties and footings, which can increase installation cost and difficulty, whereas manufactured stone veneer is designed to adhere easily to a variety of structurally sound surfaces. At roughly one-third the weight and half the cost of full-bed-depth natural stone, MSV requires fewer structural modifications during a remodel and lower labor costs upon installation, making installations less difficult and less costly to achieve.
Beauty and durability often depend on how well a product is installed. Careful consideration regarding the type of profile and color selected, the actual installed stone “pattern,” and the type of grout technique used, are all important factors to consider. It is also important to check with local distributors to make sure products are tested for freeze/thaw durability. Incorporating good building practices that include proper flashing and water diversion techniques will help ensure a successful installation.
Not only does the best manufactured stone veneer endure years of weathering, including freezing, thawing, and heating without chipping or fading, but quality manufactured stone veneer companies also provide extended warranty coverage for up to 50 years.
Whether installed as an accent wall, around a fireplace or on the façade of a building or home, stone veneer is a cost-effective, design-friendly and durable way to add interest to exterior and interior spaces for any project.
The Manufacturing Process
Manufactured stone veneer (MSV) is produced by using a concrete mixture that’s poured into a mold and colored using mineral pigments. The best manufacturers create these molds from natural stones to capture the finest textures and then hand-paint each stone shape within the molds during the production process.
Once the concrete is cured, the manufactured stone is de-molded and packed into boxes for sale. The end result is lightweight, decorative stones (both flat stones and 90-degree cornerstones) that are only a few inches thick yet create the illusion of a natural, full-depth structural stone wall.
In addition to MSV, some manufacturers offer a variety of concrete-based products to enhance interior and exterior spaces. These include outdoor living products, fireplace surrounds, and fire bowls that are made by spraying rapid-set concrete into molds and allowing them to set over several hours. These are de-molded, then sanded to create beautiful, handcrafted products that are sold all over the world.
Manufactured Stone Veneer vs. Thin-Cut Natural Stone
Over the years, the great debate within the stone industry has focused on how manufactured stone veneer, or MSV, compares to natural stone. While both provide many benefits, MSV’s lightweight properties, which allow for faster installation and require fewer to no structural interventions such as footings and tie-ins, have given it a clear advantage over natural stone on both commercial and residential projects. Also, unlike full-bed-depth natural stone, MSV can be applied to a variety of substrates including wall sheathing, cement board and concrete.
Today, this debate has shifted with the introduction of thin-cut natural stone, which offers comparable benefits in terms of weight and overall application opportunities. Now that natural stone brands offer thin-cut profile options, what are the other points of differentiation between natural and manufactured products?
Here are three important factors to consider when weighing the alternatives:
1. A Growing Selection of Contemporary Forms
As mentioned, MSV profiles provide specifiers with a broad range of diverse color palettes, textures, and shapes. Particularly within the past decade, manufacturers have expanded their portfolios to cater to new audiences by providing solutions beyond the strictly “natural” look and feel, developing a growing selection of linear, contemporary shapes and cuts. This large-format, plank shaped and/or panelized profiles come in a variety of saturated monochromatic hues, as well as diverse and multilayered color palettes to help blend traditional and contemporary aesthetics. The focus on design diversity extends to brick veneer options as well, with manufacturers producing a number of evocative dark and nuanced white brick profiles to appeal to contemporary design sensibilities.
Manufactured stone veneer also draws inspiration from elements outside of the stone and brick category altogether. Aged barn wood, for example, offers texture and color variations that exemplify the Contemporary Farmhouse design aesthetic and support the growing influence of biophilic design in both residential and commercial applications around the nation.
2. Packaged for Jobsite Efficiencies
Time efficiencies on the jobsite can make or break a project when it comes to staying on schedule and on budget. Even the most subtle differences in the packaging technique can heavily influence the effectiveness of the project team, and this is an area where manufactured stone veneer excels.
As a manufactured product, MSV is carefully packaged in a pre-blended manner, with multiple shapes and color tones already arranged in a varied aesthetic. This can help masons and other workers save time over implementing thin-cut natural stone options, which tend to be packaged with little variation and therefore require more extensive unboxing, sampling, and shaping of materials to blend shapes and color tones before application.
Manufactured stone veneer includes stone shapes and/or panelized systems that are precision-engineered to fit together with little to no cutting and shaping, and the products are thoughtfully packaged in layers to be install-ready right out of the box. This minimizes the amount of physical waste from shaping and cutting and results in less jobsite cleanup time.
Manufactured profiles also feature a raked-back construction that makes for an easier application process compared to the smooth-back surface of thin-cut natural stone.
3. Reliable Long-Term Color + Texture Options
Throughout the life span of stone veneer, manufactured profiles also prove to be incredibly reliable in offering shapes and color palettes to match existing applications when a homeowner or business decides to expand its physical footprint. As a manufactured product, MSV offers more consistency in color application from one box to another, and this color consistency is similarly achievable over the long term, with color palettes to match previous project applications many years down the road. Finding and/or developing an exact match with manufactured veneer can also be less time-consuming in terms of both sourcing and installation.
Color consistency can also benefit projects in the short term. For example, large commercial projects with significant quantities of stone may find it challenging to source natural stone veneer products that provide the color consistency required for an entire building façade. Since many natural stone products are not packaged in a pre-blended fashion, it may be more difficult for workers on larger projects to identify and adjust for color shifts while moving from one crate to the next.
Not all manufactured stone veneer is created equal, so it is important to take the time to select the perfect look for each project Most manufacturers have implemented processes to produce authentic textures and color palettes, although some options on the market still fail to replicate the true aesthetic of the natural world.
For those companies that have crossed this threshold, the look and feel of quality MSV are virtually indistinguishable from natural stone and other natural materials. The most innovative brands have also continued to push the envelope and expand on the versatility of MSV with collections that include modern profiles and others that resemble popular materials such as tile, brick, and wood.
Manufactured stone veneer requires little maintenance after installation and can stand up to years of weathering, with little change to the color just like natural stone. Other environmental factors, such as freezing and thawing, are also not an issue, and MSV products can withstand hot environments as well. In terms of day-to-day or seasonal cleaning, MSV is easy to clean with a water rinse and a soft bristle brush to remove any debris.
When it comes to selecting the right materials for any project, it’s important to streamline your specification process and consider every detail. given the intense attention to detail that goes into the development and evolution of MSV, manufactured profiles remain the preferred choice for interior and exterior spaces among a growing selection of options in both residential and commercial projects.
About Sarah Lograsso
Sarah Lograsso is the Director of Marketing for Boral North America’s stone division of brands (Cultured Stone, Eldorado Stone, Versetta Stone, Dutch Quality, StoneCraft and ProStone), where she manages all of the brands’ marketing, advertising and promotional projects and objectives. She is well versed in manufactured stone and brick veneer, masonry techniques, biophilic design, fireplace surrounds, outdoor living, fire bowls, color and texture, and up-to-date industry and market trends.