When Sal Picone started carrying manufactured stone in 1990, “masons weren't inclined to install what they called ‘fake stone,'” he says. So the founder and managing partner of Picone Stone and Fireplace, in Holtsville, N.Y., formed his own installation crews.
Today, the market is well developed and Picone has installed manufactured stone — he carries the Cultured Stone line from Owens Corning — on interior and exterior walls, around fireplaces, as kitchen back-splashes, in bedrooms, even on the ceilings of home wine cellars.
GROWTH PATTERN Centurion Stone, in Nashville, Tenn., has enjoyed similar growth, says Lucia Cunning-ham, architectural customer relations manager. For the 13 years she has been with the company, sales have increased by some 20% a year, she estimates.
“It's very popular, and getting more popular,” agrees Patrick Zygadlo, owner and president of Tri-State Brickface & Stucco, in Monroe Township, N.J. It outsells stoneface — stucco — despite costing 80% more, he adds.
The stone — a mix of cement, lightweight aggregates, and iron oxides for color — is formed in molds made from natural stone. It offers several advantages that make it an attractive alternative to the real thing. It's about a third of the weight of full-thickness stone and about half the cost installed, says Kevin Grotke, director of national sales for Owens Corning Masonry Products. Because it's relatively lightweight, installation is easy and doesn't require the footings and foundations natural stone demands.
And it is indistinguishable from natural stone to all but the most practiced eye, Picone says. “Many of my own people can't tell the difference.”
DESIGN OPTIONS It seems a natural add-on for siding contractors, which can enable them to offer homeowners some significant value added in their jobs. For instance, Weather Tight, a home improvement company in Franklin, Wis., just added a manufactured stone line to enhance sales of other siding products by creating design options. As an accent, a homeowner can make an impact for as little as $2,500. However, a siding contractor has to adapt to a different installation process or subcontract the stone installation.
“Siding is a dry trade, whereas stone is a wet trade,” Picone says, and siding crews generally aren't accustomed to working with cement and mortar. Still, there's nothing tricky about installation. It is well within the abilities of a reasonably competent do-it-yourselfer, manufacturers say.
“Network with someone who is accustomed to working with cement,” Picone advises. Tying manufactured stone accents into a siding job is “very easily done, and there's no downside to it.”