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    Stone Veneer vs. Full Stone: Which is Better?

    stone veneer vs. full stone which is better
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      With so many choices for interior and exterior enhancements, it can be tough to narrow your selection to a stone look. It helps that “mixing textures” is an invigorating design trend, but once you decide on stone, you need to decide if you’ll use natural stone or stone veneer. Because there are advantages to both, as well as challenges to using them, it will help your decision-making process to understand the differences. From that understanding, you can make the best choice for your space, wallet and climate.

      What is Stone Veneer?

      Stone veneer is, by definition, a slender and lightweight layer of stone, or stone-like material, used ornamentally or artistically to embellish exterior and interior surfaces, such as walls. Because stone veneer is thinner and lighter weight than full stones, it’s often chosen to add dimension and stone-like decoration without the availability issues, weight and cost of real full stone. Labor costs, as well as shipping costs, drive up the financial commitment to real stone.

      It’s important to know that your choice isn’t simply stone veneer or real full stone. Natural stone veneer can be extracted and cut from real stone, creating a slender layer of material that looks like stone (because it is!) and is fairly easy to work with, although it still requires mortar and a mason’s skill to install properly.

      RELATED: The Many Benefits of Mortarless Stone Veneer

      Natural stone veneer features distinctive textures, colors and patterns that come from the natural world and is sometimes described as “a testament to the artistry of nature.” It has an aesthetic appeal that can be tough to match.

      Manufactured stone veneer is as it sounds: A human-made product designed to reproduce the pleasing aesthetic of real stone.

      The production process and composite material of manufactured stone veneer varies by manufacturer, but nearly all creators of stone veneer use advanced manufacturing techniques where a lightweight composite mixture is poured into molds. Stone veneer manufacturer Evolve Stone infuses color throughout its mortarless stone veneer to further emulate the nuanced variation and versatility of real stone.

      In his blog, Bob Vila outlines the two stone veneer types succinctly.

      “There are essentially two types of stone veneer. The first involves genuine stone, so it comes at a relatively high cost. For those with deep pockets, however, it’s a gorgeous, long-lasting choice. Traditionally, natural stone veneer has been heavier than engineered products, but recent advancements have all but eliminated that issue. Manufacturers nowadays are able to cut the stone so thinly that its weight is not out of line with that of its artificial cousins,” Vila writes. “Faux stone, sometimes known as cultured stone, is the second type available to homeowners. In years past, artificial stone veneer looked, well, artificial, but times have changed. To the eye and even to the touch, manmade stone veneer now convincingly emulates the real thing. Lighter and a little tidier to work with, cultured stone veneer is the more DIY-friendly of the two options.”

      What is Natural Stone?

      The answer to what natural stone is may seem obvious because it’s straightforward. Natural stone is formed through physical changes, including melting, cooling, eroding, compacting and deforming, across millions of years. Now, natural stone in all types and myriad densities is quarried from the earth and used in modern infrastructure and design, as the the look of natural stone is—and has been—popular in residential and commercial construction and renovation.

      Natural stone offers an authentic aesthetic but is heavier.

      Full stone has been used on structures for centuries and is typically deeper (up to 4 or 5 inches in depth), which makes it heavier to transport and heavier to work with in construction or renovation.

      Full stone veneer usually requires a foundation footing or shelf and can only be used responsibly in applications where its thickness, weight and size are carefully calculated. In its raw form, full stone veneer can be less expensive than other products, but after transport and installation, its weight can make it costly. Its weight is also what makes it a challenge to install.

      As it’s heavier than thinner veneer materials, full stone veneer takes time and effort to work with. Even trimming and sorting stones to make the pieces fit correctly can be time-consuming.

      A Detailed Comparison

      Installation Process

      The difference between installing a thin natural stone veneer and full stone veneer includes the time and effort to lift, sort and place stone, mostly due to weight. But both thin stone veneer and full stone veneer require mortar.

      Mortar, usually a mix of fine sands, portland cement and lime, is a key component of real stone-veneer installations. Picking the right mortar type for installation is as important as choosing the right color and type of stone. Mortars work by creating a bond between the wall sheathing and the stone veneer unit. Bond strength is a key property of mortar. Workability is also an important factor, along with durability.

      Manufactured stone veneers can alleviate the need for understanding mortar and using a skilled mason. Evolve Stone’s mortarless stone veneer does not require specialized labor or structural considerations, reducing installation costs and cycle times. Evolve Stone installs using a finish nail gun and stainless-steel finish nails. No mortar required and no mess to deal with before or after installation.

      Other stone veneers can be clipped or screwed on a substrate, or stone veneer can be installed as a panel.

      Appearance and Aesthetics

      Natural stone veneer carries an authentic aesthetic that can be difficult to replicate. But modern manufacturing processes have allowed faux stone veneer to realistically emulate natural stone’s look.

      Stone veneer is versatile for both interior and exterior applications.

      The patented material that inspired Evolve Stone allowed the company to produce a diverse portfolio of projects in theming and custom fabrication. Evolve Stone products are on display at places that many associate with nature, such as Cabela’s, Sea World, Royal Caribbean and downtown Disney World.

      Durability and Longevity

      While natural stone veneer is often viewed as more durable and long-lasting, high-quality manufactured stone veneers, including Evolve Stone, also offer a considerable lifespan.

      Mortarless stone veneer is designed to withstand harsh weather conditions, including extreme temperatures, moisture, and UV exposure. This durability ensures its long-lasting performance.

      Overall, most modern manufactured stone veneer is durable. Be sure to evaluate warranties and reviews to assess if the brand that’s chosen is considered up to the durability job.

      “Beauty and durability often depend on how well a product is installed. Careful consideration regarding the type of profile and color selected, the actual installed stone ‘pattern,’ and the type of grout technique used, are all important factors to consider,” according to Masonry Magazine. “It is also important to check with local distributors to make sure products are tested for freeze/thaw durability. Incorporating good building practices that include proper flashing and water diversion techniques will help ensure a successful installation.”

      RELATED: Maintenance Tips for Mortarless Stone Veneer

      (Because it’s mortarless and nailable, Evolve Stone is free of the grout technique aspect.)

      The upkeep of mortarless stone veneer is basic. Check the veneer pieces for chips and marks regualrly. Use a soft sponge or cloth to clean the stone veneer with mild dishwashing soap. This method is good for both interior and exterior mortarless stone veneer. Avoid harsh cleaning products, as they often contain ingredients that stone veneer should never be exposed to, such as acid, bleach and ammonia. Chemicals can damage the stone veneer and alter its appearance. Products containing acid are especially dangerous and will strip stone veneers of their surface color.

       Stone veneers usually don’t require a high-pressure cleaning, so a regular hose used in the yard will work for exterior surfaces. For interior surfaces, use a sponge to rinse. Before you begin cleaning, make sure you read the instructions from the stone veneer supplier. There may be additional steps specific to your stone.

      Natural stone requires the same regular checks for places where the mortar has degraded, which could indicate a water problem, and loose stones. The Natural Stone Institute  has suggestions for the cleaning of specific sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rock, including sealing, stain removal and prevention and everyday maintenance.

      Inspectapedia offers advice on mortared stone veneer upkeep here.

      Cost Analysis

      Stone veneer ranges from $5.50 to $10.75 per square foot installed. According to Modernize, “the cost to install stone veneer siding on the average sized 1,500 square foot home would fall between $8,250 and $16,125, or an average of $12,188.” Manufacturer stone veneer is a less expensive alternative to natural stone siding, which can cost up to $48 per square foot. See Evolve stone’s blog on how to estimate the cost for stone veneer.

      RELATED: How to Determine a Rough Estimate for Stone Veneer

      Use Cases and Suitability

      Exterior Applications

      Stone veneer offers versatile exterior applications, enhancing aesthetics. It beautifies facades, creates a timeless look for homes and commercial buildings. Its weather-resistant properties make it ideal for siding, accent walls, and outdoor fireplaces. Whether rustic or modern, stone veneer elevates outdoor spaces, blending nature’s elegance with architectural functionality.

      Stone veneer has a shorter installation timeline.

      Real stone exteriors exude timeless charm and durability. Quarried from nature, they offer unmatched authenticity and character. These natural elements enhance architectural beauty, from classic stone-clad cottages to modern urban structures. Resistant to weathering and ageless in appeal, real stone exteriors stand as a testament to craftsmanship and endurance.

      Interior Applications

      Both real full stone and manufactured stone veneer enrich interior spaces with elegance and texture. They transform ordinary walls into focal points, create cozy fireplaces, accent walls and stunning backsplashes in kitchens. Their versatility allows for various design styles, from rustic to contemporary, while their durability and easy maintenance make them a practical choice for enhancing indoor aesthetics.

      The difference lies in the cost of real stone vs. manufactured stone veneer and the ease of installation. Mortarless stone veneer is faster to install and its lightweight nature helps to keep freight and installation costs down. 

      Climate and Weather Resistance

      Stone veneer exhibits remarkable climate and weather resistance, making it an ideal choice for exterior applications. It withstands harsh elements like rain, snow, and UV rays without losing its beauty or structural integrity. Its non-porous surface resists moisture absorption, preventing cracks and erosion, ensuring long-term durability. Whether in scorching heat or freezing cold, stone veneer remains resilient, retaining its appearance and enhancing the longevity of any structure it adorns.

      Real stone boasts exceptional weather resistance. Its natural composition and density enable it to endure extreme climate conditions, from heavy rain to freezing temperatures. Unlike some other materials, it doesn’t degrade or weaken over time. (Hello, El Capitan and the Rock of Gilbralter!) Real stone structures retain their beauty and integrity for generations, showcasing nature’s resilience and timeless elegance.

      Project Timelines

      Considering that manufactured stone veneer is lighter weight, its installation timeline will be shorter than full stone applications. For an overview of what a DIY installation of stone veneer might involve, go here.

      Thermal Insulation

      Stone veneer offers limited thermal insulation due to its thin profile. While it can help moderate indoor temperatures slightly, it’s not a primary insulator. To enhance energy efficiency, combining stone veneer with proper insulation materials in wall construction is essential, ensuring better thermal performance and reducing heat transfer.

      “There are certain applications where this heat transfer, or thermal conductivity, of a natural stone becomes an important factor in selecting the best material and design. A stone surrounding a fireplace or cooktop, between the heat source and a flammable outer material, is an example where the conductivity of the stone should be carefully determined before selection,” according to the Natural Stone Institute. “Another common application is a heated pavement system, where the thermal conductivity of the stone becomes a factor in determining the system requirements to effectively melt snow and ice from the pavement surface. This bulletin provides the measured values of thermal conductivity (k-value) and thermal resistance (R-value) for the most common natural stone types used in building applications of common stone types.”

      Local Building Regulations

      Local building codes for building or renovating with stone and stone veneer vary by state and city, but any use of manufactured stone veneer or natural stone must follow local ordinances. For your area, see building codes by state. Also consult the manufacturer’s technical specifications for applications, such as this one from Evolve Stone on fire rating.


      Building and renovating with natural stone, whether full or veneer, and manufactured stone veneer has advantages, as well as challenges to using them. By understanding some of the pivotal points in your choice of materials, you can make the best decision for your space, wallet and climate.


      What is Stone Veneer?

      Stone veneer is a lightweight layer of stone-like material used for interior and exterior decoration, offering a stone-like appearance without the weight and cost of real stone.

      What are the two types of Stone Veneer?

      There are two types: natural stone veneer, cut from real stone, and manufactured stone veneer, which is a human-made product designed to replicate the look of real stone.

      How is Stone Veneer Installed?

      Both thin natural stone veneer and full stone veneer require mortar for installation, while some manufactured stone veneers are mortarless and easier for DIY installation.

      How does the Appearance Compare?

      Natural stone veneer has an authentic aesthetic, but modern manufactured stone veneers can realistically emulate the look of natural stone.

      What is the Cost Difference?

      Stone veneer costs range from $5.50 to $10.75 per square foot installed, while natural stone can cost up to $48 per square foot.

      Where Can Stone Veneer be Used?

      Stone veneer is versatile for both exterior and interior applications, including siding, accent walls, fireplaces, and more.

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