Masonry Veneer Types: Pros and Cons
The ancient Egyptians recognized the benefits of masonry, including its resistance to fire and its ability to withstand wear for centuries. During the Roman Empire’s glory days, the Romans sought to beautify structures, such as the Coliseum, with stone, specifically marble veneer. Modern stone veneer was created in the late 19th Century from multiple types of stone, including marble and slate; it found its place attached to building interiors and in small applications on storefronts.
Once modern stone veneer moved to residential homes as natural stone siding in the 20th Century, it fastened its charm onto suburban neighborhoods and eventually to commercial buildings across the country. Although art historians may perceive stone veneer as a bourgeois affectation, it’s here to stay-along with the expanding wood veneer industry. Let’s take a deeper look at some specifics:
What is Masonry Veneer?
Masonry veneer is a type of building material used on the external walls of residential and commercial structures. Made from thin stone, brick, or other various materials, masonry veneer is a well-liked choice for stone siding, as it doesn’t have the weight and cost of solid brick masonry.
Traditional vs Mortarless Masonry Veneer
Most types of masonry veneer can be broken into two main categories: Adhered and Anchored. Traditionally, masonry veneer is applied to the surface using a mixture of cement and mortar.
The popularity of mortarless (anchored) veneer has grown recently, especially for DIY projects, because the veneer is applied to the surface using an anchoring system instead of traditional mortar. Because there’s no need for mortar, mortarless veneer installation is less labor-and time-intensive, which makes it a go-to solution for DIYers and professionals alike.
Traditional Masonry Veneer
Before we go into the different types, let’s agree that all three types of stone enhance the beauty of home interiors and exteriors and that well-applied mortar can add texture and detail.
Natural stone is as real as it gets. Extremely durable, UV resistant, and color-infused throughout, natural stone is the oldest-and in some respects the most enduring-type of masonry, as the Romans and Egyptians demonstrated with their long-lasting structures and monuments.
While some may prefer this type for authenticity and durability, natural stone can be installation intensive as its fixing and fitting require highly skilled labor and special tools. Natural stone’s installation process can be long, with multiple time-sensitive steps. Combined with its heavy weight, a natural stone masonry veneer project can be challenging and laborious.
Because it’s made from environmental material, natural stone is also affected by the outside elements. While able to perform well in most freezing/thawing conditions, natural stone is more likely to degrade when exposed to crystallized salt spray-or the persistence of time.
The structure that natural stone will be applied to must also be considered. Again, it’s heavy. The weight of natural stone means builders-whether DIY or pro-have factors to address, such as if it’s a new build or a renovation. They must consider if the structure has grade beams (a sill of structural steel or reinforced concrete over the foundation of a building and supporting a wall at or near ground level), lintels (horizontally placed beams that cross an opening or avoids supporting the infrastructure above it, such as a doorway), tiebacks, or if it’s a substrate structure.
Manufactured to mimic the look and feel of natural stone, manmade stone follows the traditional masonry method by using individual pieces that adhere to traditional mortar. Manmade stone is not moisture impermeable and can only take on 10% to 30% moisture, which may affect stability. Because of their composition, manmade stones are more likely to break – contributing to a higher waste factor during installation.
Another downside for manmade stone is that the stones do not maintain their color throughout – the aggregate material will be visible if the surface is cut or damaged. Like natural stone, this option does not perform well when exposed to crystallized salts. And it is more susceptible to freezing/thawing contraction and expansion.
Its weight is the most significant benefit of manmade stone. Manmade stone masonry veneer weighs much less than natural stone, weighing around 10lbs per sq. ft.
When it comes to installation, this type is slightly easier to work than natural stone, but requires the same skills. The modular nature of the individual stone requires more work, but it allows for more flexibility than the next alternative.
An alternative to using individual stones manmade stones are manmade masonry panels. They offer the convenience of faster installation but can still be time intensive to put in correctly.
The panels are comprised of either split-face stone or concrete. Split face stone has a natural face texture to its overall look, and the concrete looks less natural. Because of this, split face stone maintains its color throughout, but concrete does not, which can reveal the aggregate when damaged or cut.
Like individual manmade stone, the split face and concrete material are prone to breakage – causing a higher waste factor during installation. This requires the purchase of extra material to account for the material rendered unusable from breakage.
But split face stone is moisture impermeable. And concrete can only take 10% – 30% moisture before stability is affected, which is consistent with many other concrete materials. Both are UV resistant and perform well against wind, but neither performs well against freezing/thawing contractions/expansions and salt spray.
Mortarless Masonry Veneer
Mortarless, easy-to-install stone veneer comes in various options ranging from panelized systems to individual stone systems, featuring thermoplastics, specialty composites, and concrete while utilizing screws or nails as their attachment method (mechanical attachment). Both DIYers and professionals install these systems.
Thermoplastic masonry veneer can be made in different styles thanks to its composition and manufacturing process. At the same time, they are durable, depending on the technology used, and are both UV-resistant and moisture impermeable.
Thermoplastic excels in harsher environments (think Santa’s home office!), is able to withstand freezing/thawing, and does not degrade as much as its traditional counterparts when exposed to salt spray (think Santa’s summer beach house!).
The largest benefit of thermoplastic masonry veneer is its weight, coming in at only a few pounds per sq. ft. Paired with a panel form, this type is far easier to work with because it’s lighter to maneuver than traditional types, so it boasts a faster installation time.
Just like thermoplastics, concrete mortarless panels come in many different style options. They are UV stable and weigh substantially less than their traditional counterparts. Also, they do well under heavy wind loads, depending on the structure and fasteners used.
Concrete panels have several downsides when compared to thermoplastic. As we’ve established, concrete is not moisture impermeable. Concrete can break easily and does not perform well in freezing/thawing conditions or when exposed to salt spray. Concrete panels also weigh more than other mortarless materials, making installation more complicated than those but still more manageable to work with than traditional stone types. Installers also need special tools when working with concrete – adding another layer of complexity.
Composites combine the best of thermoplastic and concrete mortarless panels and are often the top choice for mortarless stone veneer projects. Composites come in shapes and styles of all types and offer durability and ease of installation without sacrificing style or function.
Composites are extremely durable, moisture impermeable, and UV resistant. They can withstand salt spray and freezing/thawing conditions easier than many other materials. This substance can also meet some of the strictest wind load requirements depending on the installation method. (Check your wind load guide or use this calculation tool.)
By far, the most significant advantage of composite panels is their weight and workability. This type is designed so that anyone with some standard tools can quickly and efficiently complete a project without needing to be highly skilled at masonry.
Evolve Stone is the Best of All Masonry Veneer Worlds
While all mortarless stone veneer types are designed for ease of installation, Evolve Stone has quite literally nailed it regarding masonry veneer. Instead of using anchors, Evolve Stone’s patented system allows for the use of a standard finish nailer with 304-grade stainless-steel finishing nails that disappear when each panel is nailed to the surface. The color-throughout stone veneer means cuts are nearly invisible. It’s a fraction of the weight of its competition. For those who fondly gaze upon ancient stone facades, the look and feel of Evolve Stone may surprise you. It looks-and feels-like the real deal.
When it comes time to choose how and what masonry veneer installation you should undertake, re-visit the pros and cons of each mentioned here, including natural stone, composites, manmade panels, and thermoplastic. We know what we prefer, all for good reasons, but you’ll be wiser about your choices when you know what they encompass.