Actually, this product has been around for several decades. Despite this fact, it is surprising just how few people—even builders—realize that this product exists and that it makes a wonderful alternative to the real thing. Recent advances in the manufacturing process have improved both the quality and the appearance of manufactured stone, along with lowering the cost. It can be used in just about any sort of building project—commercial/residential, new construction/remodeling, interior/exterior, and landscaping.
Most people use it to enhance the exterior appearance of their home, office, or commercial building. But we provide stone for a lot of other kinds of projects too, like interior fireplaces, outdoor kitchens, retaining walls, wine cellars, and so forth.
Just about everybody loves the look of natural stone. But real stone is extremely heavy, expensive, and time consuming to build with. Our stone gets around all of these limitations… it's kind of like 3-dimensional wallpaper, and any sturdy wall will do. Plus, since we make it custom to order in our Tulsa facility, you can get colors and styles that you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else, including exclusive colors to fit your specific design needs. You can also use it in places where natural stone just won't work, particularly in interior applications like kitchens or decorative walls.
Manufactured stone is a cast cement product that is designed to look and feel like the real thing. The process starts with the creation of a set of rubber molds. Our mold vendor carefully selects high-quality, representative natural stones with varying shapes and textures—the kind that will give lots of visual interest to the finished projects our customers wish to create. These natural stones are used as masters to create our molds. Once the molds are ready, we prepare a mixture of Portland cement, lightweight aggregate, water, and iron oxide color pigments, and then pour this mixture into the molds. We use a number of techniques to achieve the coloring and shade variations that each customer wants. Once the mixture dries, we remove the finished stone product from the mold. We then cure the finished product for a period of several days, and finally ship it to the customer.
Most of our stone styles are delivered as individual stones, just as if you had purchased natural stone. Our QuickFit product is the only exception, as it features a “panelized” look that simulates Ledgestone through a series of rectangular pieces with multiple stone impressions per piece.
Our molds provide at least 100 square feet of finished product without repeating. This ensures that your project will achieve the look of natural stone with no noticeable pattern repetition. Of course, your installer must also strive to avoid grouping large numbers of similarly sized/shaped stones together to achieve the best results.
We suggest that your first stop should be our showroom where we can show you our stone samples and photos of projects we’ve done. When you come, please bring any items that you’ve already selected for your project, such as brick, tile, shingles, and so forth. Our personnel can help you identify the stone styles and colors that will best complement your selected project materials. If you have photos of stone projects that you like, bring them in as well so we can help you find or create a close match. Once we’ve narrowed down your options a bit, we can direct you to nearby homes, offices, or commercial buildings that have used the product(s) you are considering. And of course, you can check out our Gallery to see lots of finished projects.
This question is rather difficult to answer, because we really have to fall back on the old “it depends” routine. But let’s start with the big picture… you basically have three choices when it comes to attractive, three-dimensional surfacing options: brick, natural stone, and manufactured stone.
Of these three options, brick is going to be the most cost-effective in virtually any circumstance. The only real exception might be an interior application where a suitable foundation does not already exist (a second floor fireplace, for instance). Brick is very heavy and it requires a solid foundation to support its weight. If a foundation needs to be built to support the project, the project cost can go up dramatically.
Next on the cost-effectiveness scale is manufactured stone. The product is classified as an “adhered veneer” due to its light weight (approximately 10 pounds per square foot). As such, it requires no footings, wall ties, or foundations and is therefore ideal for both interior and exterior applications. It can be applied to any properly prepared, structurally sound wall surface such as wood, wallboard, masonry, or metal. So there are almost never any “hidden costs” associated with installing the product. On the other hand, the product generally requires some surface preparation. It also calls for an installer with a fair amount of artistic skill to achieve a high-quality, visually appealing result.
Last is natural stone, which is extremely heavy (thus requiring a suitable foundation, as with brick) and requires a highly skilled installer (even more so than with manufactured stone). In addition, if the stone you want is not indigenous to your local area, you’ll pay premium shipping charges to get it to your work site. It also takes much more time to install than brick or manufactured stone—because of the weight, installers must lay a couple of feet, then allow the section to fully set up before continuing with the next section. A project that takes just a few days with brick or manufactured stone will take weeks with real stone. Thus, its only real advantage is the ephemeral satisfaction of knowing that it is indeed “natural”.
What about numbers? Each project is different and will require a quote from a qualified installer. That said, here are some broad price ranges:
|Material||Basic Material Cost||Installed Cost||Brick||$2.00 - $3.00 per sq ft||$5.00 - $6.00 per sq ft|
|Manufactured Stone||$3.85 - $4.50 per sq ft||$8.50 - $11.50 per sq ft|
|Natural Stone||$2.50 - ??? per sq ft||$12.00 - $20.00+ per sq ft|
Using a grout line produces a traditional, more formal look, while the drystack (i.e., no grout line) technique produces a more rustic look that is very popular these days. Our Cobblestone, Hackett, and Ledgestone styles can be installed with or without a grout line according to your aesthetic preference. Our QuickFit product can only be drystacked. Our Fieldstone and River Rock styles cannot be drystacked due to the shape irregularities inherent in these styles.
A scratch coat is a thin layer of masonry mortar that is applied to the lath wire and allowed to dry overnight. This creates a hard, flat, smooth surface to attach the stones to. While there is no universal agreement on the necessity of a scratch coat, most professional installers use one. A good reason for this is that sometimes the lath can buckle if it is not secured very snugly to the wall surface, and if it does buckle, the movement can cause a newly placed stone to fall off the wall. Another reason is that it can be difficult to place stones—especially the Ledgestone style units—in those areas where two pieces of lath overlap. So the scratch coat can make the installation process go a bit more smoothly, but as far as the structural soundness of your project is concerned, a scratch coat is really optional.
Manufactured stone installation requires a bit more time than brick, but substantially less time than natural stone. As a general guideline, a seasoned installation professional can cover about 100 to 150 square feet of surface area per day.
Our stones average about 1¼ inches in thickness, plus or minus about ¼ inch. By the time you get the felt paper, the lath, the mortar, and the stones attached, the total thickness of the completed stone surface is about 1¾ to 2 inches deep.
The product is just about as durable as any surfacing product you can buy. Our stone products are designed to provide many years of service with no noticeable discoloration or surface texture degradation. We are so confident in the quality and soundness of our products that we offer a 50-Year Limited Warranty.
No, our products are designed to be essentially maintenance-free. You would maintain them the same way you maintain brick or stone—with an occasional wash to remove surface dust and debris.
Because our product is made of concrete, it will absorb water just like any other concrete surface. Over time, the repeated absorption of water in a freeze/thaw cycle may potentially cause permanent damage to the stone. A sealer generally helps to close the pores in the concrete, thereby repelling the water rather than allowing it to be absorbed.
Since manufactured stone is reserved for use in vertical (wall) applications, water and ice usually don’t have the chance to sit on the surface long enough to cause a problem. Stone laid at ground level, however, may be at greater risk.
Is a sealer an absolute must? Our experience leads us to believe that it is not. Is it a good idea? In implementations where standing water could potentially cause a problem, it may be a good idea. However, our research indicates that certain impregnating, hydrophobic sealers may actually LEAD to damage from freeze/thaw cycles, so you must be very careful when reviewing your options.
If you elect to use a sealer, industry standards recommend that you always use a high-quality, breathable (i.e., non-filming) masonry sealer in strict accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. And be sure to test your sealer on a small portion of our stone to ensure that the final appearance is what you’re looking for.
Our products will hold up at least as well as any other high quality, lightweight concrete material in this application. If you wish to use our products in this type of application, we recommend that you apply a breathable masonry sealer to the finished surface. However, please remember that any material—concrete or natural—will eventually fade due to continued exposure to chlorine and other chemicals. We do not recommend using our products in salt-water pools, as the salt has been known to wear away the surface of manufactured stone.
This is known as “efflorescence”. It is basically salt that migrates out of the cement matrix to the surface when certain ambient conditions are present. We have noticed that efflorescence is much more likely to occur on exterior projects in cool, moist conditions during the fall and winter months.
Efflorescence is a common occurrence in the masonry trade. Cinder block, brick, and natural stone surfaces can all effloresce, as demonstrated in the photos below. Since all masonry surfaces are susceptible, the phenomenon may have more to do with the implementation methodology—namely, the use of mortar—than with the manufactured stone product itself. Most mortars contain a fair amount of Portland cement. This increases the likelihood that the mortar itself may effloresce, with deposits accumulating on masonry unit surfaces.
That said, the problem is particularly noteworthy within the manufactured stone industry. We’ve seen efflorescence on many projects, including those featuring stone made by our higher-priced competitors. Based on this observation, we conclude that the problem is not related to a lack of quality control in the manufacturing process. We do use both primary and secondary efflorescence control chemical admixtures in our concrete mix, but these cannot eliminate the problem entirely. To our knowledge, there is no sure-fire method of eliminating it during manufacture or after the fact. We do not recommend “treating” it with any sort of chemical, sealer, or harsh cleaning process in an attempt to permanently eliminate it.
We have observed that the problem seems to be exacerbated in projects that feature cinderblock underlayments, such as retaining walls and outdoor fireplaces. As the photo below demonstrates, large quantities of efflorescence can occur on bare cinderblock wall structures. Consequently, we can’t know with certainty to what degree the problem may be attributed to the manufactured stone itself or to the underlayment.
Compounding the mystery is the fact that the scope of the problem varies greatly from project to project. While many manufactured stone projects don’t seem to effloresce at all, others may show fairly heavy concentrations. We frankly cannot pinpoint why the range of outcomes is so broad.
While it is aesthetically undesirable, efflorescence does not affect the structural integrity or the coloration of the stone units. In addition, efflorescence is not permanent, as eventually all of the salt will migrate out of the stone units. In the meantime, the next good rain shower will usually wash away the salt. Of course, if the rain shower is heavy enough, it may also loosen other pockets of salt within the cement matrices, which may bring a new layer of efflorescence to the surface.
If it doesn't go away on its own, we recommend that you take action. Salt of any kind is caustic to all concrete products, including manufactured stone. It is not a good idea to allow the salt to stay on the surface of the stone units for extended periods of time. If you see a persistent and/or particularly heavy build-up on your stone units, use a garden hose to rinse the salt away from the surface.
Here is a link to Wikipedia’s insights on this phenomenon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Efflorescence
Over the years, many of our customers have asked us to make “specialty” pieces by pouring our concrete into custom molds that they provide. We are a bit reluctant to do this, because we don’t have the expertise needed to guarantee a desirable outcome for the customer. But we don’t like to tell our customers “No” without even trying, so we generally accept the assignment with the understanding that the customer is 100% responsible for the outcome. This means we will not process a refund of the purchase price if the customer is dissatisfied in any way. If you’re thinking of asking us to make a special piece for you, here are some things to keep in mind:
If all this sounds like more risk than you’re willing to take, we don’t blame you one bit! That said, we have had many excellent outcomes where the customer was thrilled with the finished piece. So, if you’re game, we’ll give it a shot.