Over the years, the great debate within the stone industry has focused on how manufactured stone veneer, or MSV, compares to natural stone. While both provide many benefits, MSV’s lightweight properties, which allow for faster installation and require fewer to no structural interventions such as footings and tie-ins, have given it a clear advantage over natural stone on both commercial and residential projects. Also, unlike full-bed-depth natural stone, MSV can be applied to a variety of substrates including wall sheathing, cement board and concrete.
Today, this debate has shifted with the introduction of thin-cut natural stone, which offers comparable benefits in terms of weight and overall application opportunities. Now that natural stone brands offer thin-cut profile options, what are the other points of differentiation between natural and manufactured products?
Here are three important factors to consider when weighing the alternatives:
1. A Growing Selection of Contemporary Forms
Manufactured stone profiles provide specifiers with a broad range of diverse color palettes, textures and shapes. Particularly within the past decade, manufacturers have expanded their portfolios to cater to new audiences by providing solutions beyond the strictly “natural” look and feel, developing a growing selection of linear, contemporary shapes and cuts. These large-format, plank shaped and/or panelized profiles come in a variety of saturated monochromatic hues, as well as diverse and multilayered color palettes to help blend traditional and contemporary aesthetics. The focus on design diversity extends to brick veneer options as well, with manufacturers producing a number of evocative dark and nuanced white brick profiles to appeal to contemporary design sensibilities.
Architectural stone veneer, which includes the highest quality manufactured products on the market, also draws inspiration from elements outside of the stone and brick category altogether. Aged barnwood, for example, offers texture and color variations that exemplify the Contemporary Farmhouse design aesthetic and support the growing influence of biophilic design in both residential and commercial applications around the nation.
2. Packaged for Jobsite Efficiencies
Time efficiencies on the jobsite can make or break a project when it comes to staying on schedule and on budget. Even the most subtle differences in packaging technique can heavily influence the effectiveness of the project team, and this is an area where architectural stone veneer excels. As a manufactured product, architectural stone and brick veneer is carefully packaged in a pre-blended manner, with multiple shapes and color tones already arranged in a varied aesthetic. This can help masons and other workers save time over implementing thin-cut natural stone options, which tend to be packaged with little variation and therefore require more extensive unboxing, sampling and shaping of materials to blend shapes and color tones before application.
Architectural stone veneer involves stone shapes and/or panelized systems that are precision engineered to fit together with little to no cutting and shaping, and the products are thoughtfully packaged in layers to be install-ready right out of the box. This minimizes the amount of physical waste from shaping and cutting and results in less jobsite cleanup time. Most natural stone products, by comparison, will require more cutting and shaping throughout application, resulting in additional cleanup time once installation is complete.
Manufactured profiles also feature a raked-back construction that makes for an easier application process compared to the smooth-back surface of thin-cut natural stone.
3. Reliable Long-Term Color + Texture Options
Throughout the life span of the stone veneer, manufactured profiles also prove to be incredibly reliable in offering shapes and color palettes to match existing applications when a homeowner or business decides to expand its physical footprint. As a manufactured product, architectural stone veneer offers more consistency in color application from one box to another, and this color consistency is similarly achievable over the long term, with color palettes to match previous project applications many years down the road. Finding and/or developing an exact match with manufactured veneer can also be less time consuming in terms of both sourcing and installation.
Color consistency can also benefit some projects in the short term. For example, large commercial projects with significant quantities of stone may find it challenging to source natural stone veneer products that provide the color consistency required for an entire building façade. Since many natural stone products are not packaged in a pre-blended fashion, it may be more difficult for workers on some larger projects to identify and adjust for color shifts while moving from one crate to the next.
While the development of thin-cut natural stone certainly yields advantages over full-bed-depth natural stone, architectural stone veneer continues to provide significant advantages in terms of its contemporary offerings, pre-blended arrangement within the packaging, and long-term color and texture consistency. Among a growing selection of stone veneer options, manufactured profiles remain the preferred choice for interior and exterior spaces in residential and commercial projects.
As Director of Marketing and Portfolio Management for the Boral Stone Division, Sarah has successfully coupled her design talents with business acumen to refresh, refine and distinctly position five standout brands in the North American market and abroad. She continues to provide design direction for the brands’ variety of best-selling modern profiles and trend-forward color palettes while enhancing the prestige of the category among masons, builders, designers, architects and consumers.