Fake Stone Proves a Real Hit For Its Looks, Durability and Cost

By Gary Dymski
Saturday, October 21, 2006

COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.Y. -- Ten years ago, Paul Porco never would have considered using manufactured stone in the construction of his dream home, a two-story, 7,000-square-foot English Tudor.

A second-generation custom-home builder, Porco had the same reservations as many of his fellow contractors when it came to using the man-made product, also called engineered stone or stone veneer. "For a long time, it never looked like the real thing," said Porco, owner of Rosewood Custom Builders in Centerport, N.Y. Architects and designers also frowned on "faux stone."

But during the last decade, manufactured stone has worked to make a better impression. It's now the fastest-growing exterior siding in the construction industry, boasting increases in use of 15 to 17 percent in each of the past five years.

People just seem to like it. Among homeowners, builders and architects, more remodeling projects and new homes are featuring manufactured stone -- which is made by pouring concrete and pigment into molds -- as either exterior siding or interior accents.

Frame a fireplace. Draw a roving eye to a great-room wall. Or enclose the built-in outdoor grill. Manufactured stone delivers a combination of color, durability and style.

"There's a realistic look to the stone today," Porco said while leaning against the exterior of a stone-clad turret to his formal living room. On the rear of his home, a stone fireplace chase climbs the two stories and extends to the rooftop, separating two small decks and doorways. Both the turret and chase are covered in the same manufactured stone as the front of the home and portions of the concrete porch.

Overall, Porco's new house features about 1,000 square feet of York limestone, a manufactured line from Eldorado Stone, a California-based company. He's thinking about using more stone to highlight the main fireplace in the great room.

"I just think it looks great," Porco said. "There's a consistency in the color that you can't find in natural stone."

Appearance is the primary appeal, according to distributors and manufacturers of the product. But there's more to it, said Brent Spann, Eldorado Stone's vice president of marketing. "The realistic look of the product is No. 1," Spann said. "But it's also half the cost of natural stone, and because it is lighter than natural stone, it's a lot easier to install."

Most manufactured stone companies warranty the product for 50 years. Because it's concrete, it stands up to pounding from the weather, from Arizona's desert heat to Florida's drenching rain. "When you consider the durability factor and the impact, it's not a huge investment," Spann said.

Installation, including materials, can range from $15 to $35 a square foot on Long Island, said Mike Sapio, a sales associate for Allied Building Products Corp. That's about half the cost of natural stone and nearly double the price of the nation's most popular siding, vinyl. Once considered more of a low-end "specialty" product, manufactured stone is now readily available at masonry yards and building supply stores across the country.

Sapio entered the supply end of the construction business about 25 years ago, when manufactured stone was first making an impact. "Early on, there were a couple of companies making the stuff, and there were only one or two styles," he said. "Now, there are literally dozens of manufacturers and hundreds of styles.

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