Stone veneer has been a busy product category in recent years with manufacturers reporting double-digit growth. From siding accents to fireplaces, love for stone is growing. "There's no doubt that adding stone to a home adds perceived value," says Tim McGinnis, area sales manager for Boral. "We're finding that people are more likely to buy a home that has stone than one that doesn't."
Remodeling's 2015 Cost vs. Value Report underscores stone's attractiveness to buyers, and suggests that added value is real—not just perceived. In its first year in the report, a project replacing 300 square feet of vinyl siding with manufactured stone veneer recoups 92.2% of its cost. This high return makes a stone veneer accent the second most valuable home improvement project, only behind steel entry door replacement.
As new brands come to market with versatile installation options, here's what you need to know to start adding stone veneer to your service menu.
Range of Skills
"The mason is traditionally the guy that does the stone work, and we love that guy because he does the installation better than anyone," says Ramsay Hawfield, director of marketing for Eldorado Stone, whose Countryside Cypress Ridge is shown at the top of this story. "But during the downturn we saw a lot of trades asking, 'what else can I do?' We've definitely seen other groups showing more interest in manufactured stone because it's an option to make more revenue."
At Clipstone, vice president of marketing David Barrett says siding companies often lose one to two squares worth of business per house to stone masons. "Those siding contractors are looking at stone options now and seeing that it gives them an opportunity to gain back some of that share."
Historically, masons have installed stone veneer because the process can be somewhat tricky to the untrained worker. A weather-resistive barrier (WRB) is applied over the sheathing, followed by diamond lath, and then a scratch coat of mortar that may have to cure for up to a day before the next step of individually placing back-buttered stones on the wall. For rustic-style designs, going back to grout between the stones is the final step. Brands like Eldorado Stone and newcomer Creative Mines rely on this installation process, which yields an authentic result when done properly, but the process can be time consuming. Tile contractors that are already used to working with mortar and grout can broaden their service menu with these products more easily than other contractors might.
For those to whom "mortar" is a dirty word, enter the screw-installed stone veneer option. Clipstone (above) recently joined this market where Ply Gem Stone had already been playing for several years. These products still require a WRB over sheathing, but do away with mortar in favor of brackets that link small panels of stone to one another, then screw to the wall. For remodelers and siding contractors that already have a screw gun on their belt, the option is an attractive one.
Boral and Ply Gem offer both types of stone. "The great thing about the traditional installation is a lot of design flexibility," McGinnis says. "You can combine ledge stone and field stone profiles to create a new look, and you can also blend colors so your home won't look exactly like the neighbors. With panelized sysetms you'll generally have to work within the color palettes and profiles they offer, but they're easier to install."
Based on current design trends, traditional installers may save themselves the grouting step at the end of the process. "The area of contemporary design is something we felt we could capitalize on as we entered the market," says Creative Mines co-founder Nick Lewis. The brand's Monsoon Craft Board Form is pictured at left. "We're getting great feedback on those profiles, and not just in Southern California where we're located. I've walked into architects' offices in Montana and gotten the same reaction—everyone's excited about contemporary design."
Hawfield agrees, noting that Eldorado has introduced a selection of limestone-styled veneers in response to the trend.
Whether homeowners want their designs to trend modern or rustic, a profile is available to suit their needs, and the design options only start on the exterior of the home. "I don't know that there's a newer hotel or restaurant around that doesn’t have stone somewhere on the interior or exterior," says Jerry Blais, senior vice president of marketing for Ply Gem Siding. Ply Gem also manufactures mortared profiles and screw-installed styles. "Seeing it on the commercial side is really helping the adoption rate, and showing people how versatile manufactured stone veneer can be. With veneer, if you have an existing home, you don't have to reinforce the footer to accommodate the stone, and it can be installed anywhere. That's what's driven the category and made it so accessible to the average person."
In terms of which type of product—traditional mortared or screw-installed—is best for a given project, there is no right answer. Manufacturers agree that profiles and colors will be the real drivers for choosing which type of veneer to work with. In correctly following installation instructions, both formats can be used indoors or out, and both are designed to weather the elements without issue. The availability of a mason or other skills will be another factor, and cost certainly plays a role.
A general survey of the market shows traditional manufactured stone veneer ranging in price from $3 to $8 per square foot for materials only. Material costs for screw-installed products range from $8 to $12 per square foot. Those higher up-front costs account for the engineering that goes into bracketing systems for screw-installed installation, which ultimately saves on labor. Traditional veneer will require additional materials and significantly more labor, easily bringing the installed costs even with panelized products.