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Stone Renaissance: Manufactured Stone Revisited.

April 07, 2021

By Steve Maxwell

Advances in the quality and authenticity of manufactured stone are partially responsible for the explosion in popularity of stone for residential and light commercial projects today. Design variety is another reason. There are a surprising number of visual choices that fit into the category of “full-bed stone” provided by a handful of Canadian companies that are leaders in the world. Winning projects that include stone can boost your reputation as a contractor and your financial bottom line, but that’s probably not going to happen unless you understand today’s stone scene.

What’s Full-Bed Stone?

The term “full-bed manufactured stone,” refers to an installation of man-made stone elements created in factories. These elements are 90 mm thick and rest on some kind of foundation ledge. This stone is tied to the building by brick ties, and there’s an air space and weep holes at the bottom, just like with brick veneer. The main difference is the shapes, sizes, textures and patterns of the different stone options. Despite installation similarities, the visual effect of stone is quite different than brick – different and more varied.

“Ontario is traditionally a very strong masonry market,” explains Blake Palmer, sales rep with Permacon, a leading Canadian stone manufacturer. “It’s only natural you have some of the large stand strongest companies in this province. Competition breeds innovation and the requirement that the materials produced are of the highest quality.”

“We ship our products to almost all four corners of North America,” explains Bob Sanders, director of marketing and sales with Shouldice Designer Stone. “Canada is our largest market but our long history in the US gives us strong markets there, too. Manufactured stone allows for a more streamlined and productive installation, while still allowing a stonemason to be creative.”

One of the challenges with full bed stone for you as a contractor is helping clients choose. It’s not as simple as it seems because there’s so much variety, ranging from traditional broken ashlar patterns to fieldstone to modern styles that look like natural, unfaced stone layers with no visible mortar. One reason today’s manufactured choices look so authentic is that they’re copies not fabrications.

Bradstone began as a UK company that came to Canada in 1984, and they’re one of the firms that have advanced the look and quality of full bed stone options a lot. “We start by buying natural stone”, explains Brad Miller, sales manager for Bradstone, “then we hire a stonemason to dress and mathematically organize a pattern. This also allows for enough stones that vary in size and texture to avoid repetition. We make an imprint of each stone, then make moulds for wet-cast coloured concrete.”

Although all full-bed stone is similar in some ways, each option is manufactured in a unique way. “Arriscraft has been producing full-bed stone since 1949 and we’re the only company in North America to produce what is called a calcium silicate stone,” explains George Winsor, sales manager with Arriscraft. “We don’t use moulds. Instead, we compress fine grains of sand, lime and oxide pigments under steam and pressure. What normally takes a natural process a long time to complete, we condense down to 10 hours. Our unique technology makes our product inherently stable, resulting in a more natural, weather-tough product that’s warranted for life.”

Cost, Style and Installation

The further along work progresses on a project, the more likely you are to run into concerns about project cost. The more money that’s been spent, the more likely clients are to cheap-out by changing the plan. This is one reason people opt for less expensive, non-masonry options when some kind of masonry is clearly a better financial and environmental choice. Sometimes the premium reputation of stone scares some clients off before they even look at the numbers. The thing about manufactured stone is that it’s an “investment feature” as opposed to a “cost feature.” Investment features yield more benefit than they cost over the long run. Not many building choices fit this description, and the added cost of manufactured stone is minimal when you look at the larger picture.

The difference between the price of a full-bed stone exterior versus, say, vinyl siding, adds about as much to mortgage payments as the cost of a daily cup of coffee. Full bed stone boosts resale value, it eliminates the need for exterior maintenance, lowers insurance premiums and reduces energy consumption. The long service life of masonry means that it’s also the most environmentally friendly option going. Manufactured stone costs more than brick (about $5 to $6 per square foot plus installation) but less than quarry stone. It’s this reasonable cost that’s the biggest single factor behind the exploding popularity of stone in residential and commercial projects.

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