From the ancient Egyptian pyramids to modern buildings, genuine natural stone has long been a durable choice for any such project. Projects utilizing natural stone exist in every American city, in Canada and in every country in the world. In the United States, for example, many college campuses are made up of all natural stone buildings, generally selected because of its versatility, affordability, ease of shaping, proven durability and genuine beauty. Many government buildings (including the majority of state and federal buildings located throughout the country), religious facilities, museums, office buildings and many other types of projects are also constructed of natural stone. Why? Because of the reasons given above and because these buildings, like those on the college campuses, are expected to last through several generations. The natural stone industry can look back at these projects, some of which are 100 years old and more, and be proud of their contribution to architecture and the quality of life. Besides the projects noted above residential architecture has also benefited from the use of natural stone over the years. Recently more and more homeowners and contractors are turning to natural stone, not only for the exterior skin of their homes, but also for countertops, fireplaces (long a staple of the industry) and other interior treatments. In recent years many “cast”, “engineered”, and “manufactured” products have been introduced to the market under a variety of trade names, most containing the word “stone”. Through large numbers of producers and suppliers and equally large advertising budgets the market share for these materials has been on the increase.
Claims made for these products vary, but all have recurring themes. Chief among them are claims that their particular product is “just like” whatever natural stone they are trying to emulate. And the “just like” claims typically include not only the look of the product, but also the durability. Some even claim that their products are more durable because they are man-made, thus the manufacturing processes are more controlled. More controlled than what remains the question. Are they more controlled than, say, God’s processes when He made the natural stone?
That’s generally left to the imagination of the reader. However, the presence of the word “stone” in many of the trade names and ads for these products confuses many architects and owners alike into thinking that they are, in fact, using natural stone. Among the claims of the producers of these products, one that’s often voiced is that the manufactured products are less expensive than natural stone.
Producers point to buildings that used their materials and state that the owners saved 20% or more of the total cost of the building by using their product instead of the natural stone which, in some cases was used on all of the surrounding buildings. However, with current technology this is not always the case.
New computer-operated equipment introduced by various manufacturers has made the use of natural stone more economical than ever before. Further, the design of the building can also impact the cost factors. For example, if there are several different profiles on the project natural stone is often not only competitive but less expensive, as the cast producers may be unable to efficiently re-cycle their molds to effectively reduce their costs. Other factors might include current market conditions at the time the project is bid.With natural stones, there are no coloring agents to fade and no reinforcement rods to rust. Most of these products are virtually maintenance-free, requiring only periodic re-pointing of joints and, if necessary and desired, periodic cleaning as well. Further, natural stone for most projects comes to the job cut to fit and ready to set. Often the cast products are furnished in standard lengths and have to be cut on the job, thus adding labor expenses for the mason contractor/installer.Finally, there is the proven long-term beauty and durability of natural stone. As noted earlier in this article, the natural stone industry can boast of government, educational, religious and other types of projects, including residential, some of which are 100 years old and older. A look at these projects shows that the stone blends into a pleasing match with similar buildings nearby, and continues to maintain its natural beauty. While the cast industry can claim their products are durable, natural stone has history on its side.In conclusion, there are certain situations in which it may be necessary or desirable to use a cast product instead of natural stone. That being said architects, owners and others who want to use genuine natural stone should investigate whether or not this is possible, and not simply assume they can’t afford it. Check with potential suppliers, contractors and/or trade associations representing them. Seek help in detailing the project and above all, get budget numbers for using natural stone and, if desired, for using one of the cast products. Remember that the initial cost of the product is but one factor and think about whether you’d really rather have “cheaper” than “genuine”. Keep in mind potential extra maintenance and installation costs and remember the proven durability of natural stone. Then make an educated decision based on your research. In the end the life of your project, and its use and enjoyment by present and future generations, may depend on it.