StoneFacade manufactured veneer stone in Appalachian Twilight: photo courtesy of CertainTeed
Frank Lloyd Wright loved using stone or Roman brick both inside and out. Artfully designed, these materials provide a sense of solidity and give a building or room instant distinction. “It’s emotional,” is how Massachusetts contractor Chris Zorzy describes the effect.
Today, homeowners no longer have to hire an expensive architect to get the look of stone, and adding it to a home’s exterior costs a lot less than it did a hundred years ago when Wright was speccing it. A recent report by QYR Research lists 19 “major players” who are making manufactured stone, thin veneer stone, or thin brick and masonry panels, and offering these materials in an expanding array of profiles and colors.
Weighing about a third of what natural stone weighs, and with an installed cost that is nearly half what it would take to install brick or stone, manufactured masonry veneers have caught on. “People want it,” says Atlanta contractor Roone Unger owner of Exovations. Homeowners can visit the company’s design center and see what an exterior facelift, including stone, might look like. “That’s where we end up doing a lot of the stone,” he says.
Contractors like Exovations love the classiness stone products bring to exterior design and build that option into every siding proposal. Others are simply happy to accommodate homeowners who want the product. “It’s usually the homeowner who brings it up,” says Lynette Rogers, owner of Homescapes of New England, a New Hampshire siding contractor whose exterior designs have won Best of Houzz awards. “They’ve researched it and looked at photos. Or the house is new for them and they want to renovate it.” She estimates her company does about one siding job with stone a year.
Logistics, Disposal, Time
But not every siding contractor is eager to introduce clients to the aesthetic attractions of stone veneers. Some steer clear of stone, arguing that it complicates a job that then takes longer. “We don’t use it,” says Scott Barr, president of Southwest Exteriors in San Antonio. “I’ve thought about it, looked at the pricing, and talked to the people doing the installation,” he says, but “we never rolled it out to the sales department.”
Barr’s reasons for deciding against offering stone as an option include the logistics of moving a heavy material to and around job sites, and the need to dispose of leftovers. Other contractors cite an absence of competent installers as a reason for passing on stone veneers, or not selling more of the product than they do.
Cost is a factor for many. “It’s pricey,” says Zorzy, owner of A&A Services Home Improvement in Salem, Mass., who’s looked into incorporating the stone veneers offered by his vinyl siding manufacturer, CertainTeed. “It puts us in space somewhere.”
On the other hand, companies such as Exovations in Atlanta, and K&B Home Remodeling in Randolph, N.J., include stone veneers somewhere in every siding design proposal. Homeowners often bite. Paul Panagiotidis, owner of Total Home Construction in Melville, N.Y., on Long Island, estimates a third of his siding jobs now include stone veneers. “It’s the ultimate in curb appeal,” he says. “They’ve seen it on the neighbor’s house or they’re online looking. People love it.”
Adding that boutique look to the front of a house can cost an extra $6,000 to $10,000 but, Panagiotidis says, it will do just what a great tie will do for almost any suit—make the whole ensemble instantly appeal.
Still, for many contractors, the challenge isn’t in logistics or selling as finding expert installers. “Very few people are talented at doing stone,” Panagiotidis says. “I would push it every day if I could find more guys to do it.” Right now, his uncle is the stone-installing subcontractor of choice.
K&B solved the labor problem by connecting with a local mason to whom it directs all its stone or stone veneer installations. Exovations, Unger says, went through eight stone installers last year before settling on two that the company now regularly uses. “You can find guys who have a couple crews who do good work, but you have to stay on top of it,” Unger says. “Call them three days before and then call the morning of the job and say: you’re on your way, right?”
A Slow Go
“Less is more with stone,” says Panagiotidis. Whether you’re speccing 4 square feet or 40, it takes time to set up and to prepare the wall surface. The installation is messy and labor intensive and, as with any subcontracted trade, masons are in high demand and availability is unpredictable. “I can finish two siding jobs in the time it would take to complete one that included stone,” Rogers notes while explaining why she doesn’t sell it more aggressively. “There’s a lot more coordination and planning.”
While the extra time required may push back the job schedule and collection of final payment, some contractors have adapted. Terry Stamman, co-owner of Twin Cities Siding Professionals in St. Paul, Minn., estimates his company includes stone in anywhere from 15% to 20% of its jobs, a figure that varies yearly. “We do a whole front occasionally,” Stamman says. Where other contractors say they’re wary of adding stone because it delays the end of the job and final payment, Twin Cities Siding Professionals switched some years back from the three equal payments system that many exterior contractors use (deposit, start of installation, and completion) to a graduated payment schedule similar to that of a design/build remodeler. “They make mini-payments if we’re waiting for gutters or stone,” Stamman says, so the company’s not out a big chunk of cash while waiting for the grout to dry.
Even if you’ve got the payment problem licked, a siding job with stone is still going to take longer. “Depending on the scope, you’re adding days,” says Mike Damora, K&B Remodeling’s vice president of marketing and sales. But, he says, “you’re also adding a wow factor. You’re impressing them with design. I can’t tell you how many times I hear: ‘Oh, I really like that.’ Because the last three guys came in and said: ‘You want siding? Here’s the price.’”