The share of new homes with stone as a façade or accent material rose 6 percent from 2004 to 2012, according to the latest Builder Practices Survey from Home Innovation Research Labs. By 2012, 10 percent of new homes used stone on the exterior, with a 50/50 split between natural and manufactured products. The share was higher on luxury homes, with 9 percent using natural and another 5 percent tapping manmade stone.
Though more builders are working with stone, evidence suggests it’s now more often used as an accent material.
“The great stone age was the run-up to the 2008 recession. Now, stone is used in a much more reserved fashion,” says Bill Sutton, principal at SYAA Architects in the Washington, D.C., area. Façades with stone wainscoting, entryways, porches, and landscaping barriers add heft to modern exteriors while also conferring longevity. “When a buyer says they want a stone house, they are thinking durability,” Sutton adds.
David Barrett also sees a trend toward accents. Barrett, vice president of product development and marketing at Centennial, Colo.–based Environmental StoneWorks, says the amount of stone used on new homes has been halved. “When the market dropped out, on average, the square feet of stone being applied to a house was 450 to 500 square feet; afterward that dropped to 200 to 250 square feet,” he says.
When stone is specified, builders have the option of a natural or manufactured product. Unlike full-depth, 6-inch natural stone—quarried by machine or dynamite and often sourced locally—manufactured or cultured stone is made from lightweight concrete with depths of a half-inch to 3.5 inches. At one-third to one-half the cost of natural stone and only a fraction of the weight, lick-and-stick products also cut installation costs and eliminate the need for wall ties or footings. Manufactured stone may cost less, but some are unwilling to compromise the timeless quality associated with natural stone.
On a front elevation, stone often is used with other claddings. James Wentling of Philadelphia-based James Wentling/Architects says stone should wrap around the side of the house to avoid a pasted-on look. Anne Postle, principal at Osmosis Architecture in Niwot, Colo., agrees. “Synthetic stone should be placed to look like it is the real thing,” she says. “Don’t end it at an outside corner and don’t use it like wallpaper.” While the mass and depth of real stone is hard to achieve with a synthetic, Postle notes that the look of manufactured products continues to improve.
Stone has transitioned through centuries of architecture, from the European mansion to the mid-century modern ranch. Versatile profiles from cut limestone to non-grouted stack stone all play well with natural surroundings and can equate a home with high quality. “When you see the outside of a house, it’s setting the table for expectations about what’s going to happen when you walk through the door,” Sutton says.