Stone, brick veneers easier to put up now that they've slimmed down

Remodeling an outdated fireplace with natural stone used to be a hassle.

For starters, it meant cutting through floor joists and building a new support system to hold up the additional weight of thick, also called full, veneer — about 50 pounds per square foot. That led to nearly rebuilding the entire fireplace.

But now thin natural stone and brick veneers that weigh only 15 pounds per square foot are available for interior face-lifts. This means simply covering what already exists.

Kimberly Robinett is using thin limestone in the 60-year-old Westwood, Kan., home she and her husband, Trent, are overhauling. Rough stones arranged in a low arch frame the cooktop in the kitchen. The veneer also covers the face of the fireplace in the family room.

"It can be manipulated like real rock and cut for size," says Robinett, an electrical engineer. "You can't do that with manmade stone."

The Robinetts plan to use thin brick for the wine bar they're building near the kitchen. The thin products are attractive and, even though they are expensive, will save the cost of foundation work, she says.

Thin stone and brick come in the same colors and patterns of full-scale building materials because they are slimmer versions of the natural products.

Special diamond-blade saws cut stones about three-fourths-inch thick (wall stone is typically 8 inches) and bricks half an inch (brick is usually 4 inches), says Terry LeSage, spokesman for Sturgis Materials, a Kansas City stone-supply business that recently started carrying thin veneers.

Companies such as Robinson Brick of Colorado and Buechel Stone of Wisconsin are expanding production of the thin natural products.

"There's a lot of growth and interest," says Scott Watson, manager of Midwest Block & Brick in Shawnee, Kan. "I think a lot of people gravitate to the stone more than the brick."

Bill and Cathy Hughes of Lake Quivira, Kan., recently spent about $2,400 on thin stone to cover the wall of white-painted bricks that surrounds the fireplace in their family room.

"We didn't have to tear out a thing," Bill Hughes says. "It was dated before, but now it cozies up the room."

Thin veneers also are used to enhance facades, chimneys and outdoor kitchens. So far, people haven't had any problems with the exterior use of thin products, except sandstone, LeSage says. The porous material absorbs water, popping out pieces after a freeze-thaw cycle.

Masons like working with the thin product and are using it more often in new construction.

"When you're up on scaffolding a few stories high, you would rather have the lighter product," says Dan Brotherton, owner of Brotherton Masonry in Oak Grove, Mo. "And you'd rather use it than manufactured stone — I don't like laying fake."

Lorie and Bill Endsley sought real stone for the facade of the house they were building last year in Overland Park, Kan. To them, manmade stone looked too smooth — and fake.

"I love the fossil imprints on the natural stone," Lorie says. "It's more expensive, but it's worth it."


Buechel Stone:

Masonary Magazine:

Natural Stone Veneers:

Robinson Brick:

Sturgis Materials:

Comparing stone veneers

Thin natural stone veneer

Thickness: 3/4 inch

Advantages: Light enough so that it can be installed without a foundation like a thick stone veneer. Can be custom-cut to specifications. Installation is less than thick stone veneer.

Disadvantages: Thin sandstone, because it absorbs lots of water, might pop out in freeze/thaw cycle if used externally. Costs more than thick natural stone and manufactured stone veneers.

Manufactured stone veneer

Thickness: 1 inches

Advantages: Cast concrete product looks similar to stone. Less-expensive material costs than thin natural stone veneer. Less-expensive installation costs than thick natural stone veneer.

Disadvantages: Shows white on edges when it chips or breaks because color is applied on surface. Texture and pattern don't vary like natural stone. Cannot be custom-cut to specifications.

Thick (full) natural stone veneer

Thickness: 4 inches

Advantages: Can be custom-cut to specifications. Gives a better insulating factor than a thin veneer.

Disadvantages: Not convenient for remodeling because of its thickness and heft. Installation costs more because of its weight.

Sources: Sturgis Materials, Buechel Stone Corp.