The Uses of Thin Stone Veneer and Full Stone Veneer
By Steve Pirie, Sales Associate, Plymouth Quarries
Natural Stone Veneer is an exciting product! (I’m not just saying that because I’ve been in this business for nearly 40 years.) Building with natural stone can be like creating art. It’s unique and personal. The variety of shapes, colors and textures are never boring. And, unlike some other masonry products, in my opinion, stone adds life wherever it is used.
Hopefully, in this article, I can give you some insight to help you choose the right stone for your project. Whether you choose a thin veneer or a full veneer, your choices are many and the results will be exciting!
“Veneer” can be simply defined as an outer covering or facing used for decoration or protection over a main structure. That structure could be an interior or exterior wall, a living room fireplace, a chimney, a set of front steps…..the list goes on.
Most of us are familiar with the term “veneer” used in wood furniture where a less expensive wood (or wood composite) is covered with a thin layer of more expensive wood (or non-wood look-a-like). Many of us have seen a veneer of Cherry, Mahogany or Oak peeling off an old piece of furniture, so we think veneer equals thin. Not always. Look at the definition one more time.
No doubt you have seen the beauty of natural stone veneer on churches, commercial buildings and both inside and outside homes. Most of what you have seen (if the job was done more than 10 years ago) is what can be referred to as “full stone veneer.” That means the thickness can be 4” to 6” and is built up, one on top of another, with the weight supported by a proper footing or shelf. Plymouth Quarries has been selling this “full stone veneer” for over 80 years and currently stock over 30 varieties.
About 10 years ago Plymouth Quarries was introduced to another natural stone veneer product. Take a piece of thick, heavy stone, saw the back to a thickness averaging 1” (or select the thinner, flatter stones out of a mixed pile) and we have “thin stone veneer.”
So with the addition of “thin stone veneer” to our list of in stock natural stone veneers, you can now find over 60 varieties to suite any taste and any application. With all these choices, what should you consider before deciding to use either “thin” or “full stone veneer?” What are the ins and outs of each product?
The ins regarding “thin stone veneer” are many. Because it is thin and relatively light in weight, it is installed by adhering it to the vertical surface so it needs no footing for support – you can put it anywhere. Also, being thin, it’s easier to handle. Cutting, trimming and setting are easier and faster, so the basic installation cost should be less expensive than with full veneers. Most varieties are available with cut corners that make it look like a full veneer without the hassle. It is ideal for covering over unwanted brick on a fireplace, front steps, an existing chimney, a concrete retaining wall, etc. The material cost averages about the same as full veneer. The homeowner is more likely tackle a job using “thin stone veneer” rather than full veneer.
Why would you consider using anything else but “thin stone veneer” since it has so much going for it? What could possibly be the outs you should be aware of?
Using “thin stone veneer” on an exterior application is not the same as using it inside the home. Weather and moisture are factors that need to be considered, especially if the material is being installed over wood framing/wood sheathing and is directly exposed to the elements.
Water is a trouble-maker. Every precaution must be used to keep it from getting to the wood behind the veneer and possibly into the walls of the home where it could cause mold or structural damage. This is where being thin has some disadvantages. The joints (the areas between the stones filled with cement mortar) are only as deep as the stone itself. If the joints are not properly filled they can easily let in water which may reach behind and freeze, cracking the stone or find a path to the interior wall. Although, treating the stone and joints with a quality penetrating water repellent is highly recommended, this may not be enough. As with any exterior job, a moisture barrier such as Tyvek or tar paper must be used over the wood sheathing. (This is standard when sidings like vinyl and wood shingles are used.)
In the case of thin stone veneer, the most common practice is to attach galvanized wire lath over the moisture barrier, scratch coat the lath with a layer of cement/mortar and let it set. The thin stone veneer is then adhered over this cement surface. Later, a water repellent is applied.
Vinyl siding and wood shingles are, by design and proper installation methods, made to shed water easily. But, high-quality vinyl and wood siding are not inexpensive and both have their drawbacks. Vinyl is made to look like wood. If it is realistic and resists curling and fading, it is no bargain. Wood, of course, needs to be maintained by periodic treating or painting…and eventually it will need replacement. Besides, if you have your heart set on stone, vinyl or wood just aren’t going to make it.
Natural stone is your best choice for beauty that lasts. So, it makes sense, whether you have a stone mason install it or you do the work yourself, that everything be done to ensure that you will be satisfied with your choice years down the road. It’s worth considering one additional step:
In the section on full stone veneer (below), you will note the need for a space behind the stone that allows for drainage in the unlikely event that water gets through. There is a special backing material which aids in this spacing. A similar rigid backing/spacing material, made especially for thin veneer, is also available. It is put on over the moisture barrier, before the lath is installed. The space behind the veneer not only allows for drainage, but serves as a “thermal break,” enhancing insulation. We strongly recommend their use as a “best insulation practice.”
Where “thin stone veneer” has its challenges when used for certain exterior applications, “full stone veneer” may be right at home. The very thickness of the stone (4” to 6”) has its advantages. If installed correctly, moisture is less likely to penetrate a “full stone veneer” or its mortar joint. In addition to its sheer mass, an unrestricted space behind the veneer is mandatory when facing a wood framed/wood sheathed structure. This allows for proper ventilation and drainage which is so important in the fight against moisture damage and mold. A product called CavClear will aid in spacing the stone out from the wall and keeping the space open.
The face size of the stone may be a consideration, depending on the area in which it is going.
A larger size stone may be better suited for a large area of wall. A “full stone veneer” will usually offer a better range of larger size pieces. (The thinner veneer usually comes in a size range that runs smaller in order to hold down breakage in handling and fabricating, and to accommodate boxes where applicable.)
As mentioned earlier, “full stone veneer” can only be used where its thickness and weight are addressed. This generally means a proper footing or shelf or special strengthening of a floor. For this reason, it is better suited for new construction where support for its weight can be planned. As such, “full stone veneer” is not commonly used to cover over an existing, unwanted facing. The original facing would usually need to be torn down before the thicker veneer could be built up to replace it. More time, more mess, more money.
By its very nature “full stone veneer” is harder to handle and work. With the trimming and sorting required to make pieces fit, it becomes more time-consuming. Also, there is a limit to the height that can be safely constructed in one work session. If a mason were to install the “full stone veneer” without stopping to give the setting mortar time to strengthen, the facing could collapse under the wait. (With a thin veneer, where each piece is adhered to the wall without the support of the one beneath it, there is no limit to the height that can be installed in a single time period.)
If you are dealing with a contractor who sends you to look at “veneer” stone, make sure you ask whether its “full” or “thin.” Some contractors may prefer to work with only one or the other. Or, the structure may only be set up to accept a thin veneer.
Assuming that your job could use either “full” or “thin stone veneer,” you should first get quotes on both material and labor to find out if one type will save you money. Any contractor that you are considering should be a stone mason who has experience in working with either type. Ask for references and pictures of their work or actual jobs you can look at. You want to be confident that the contractor you use will be able to do the job you expect, cover all the bases and get any permits if necessary.
Any homeowner who is planning a “do-it-yourself” job with either “full” or “thin stone veneer” needs to be confident that they can do the job and handle every aspect of the job, especially if it involves an exterior wood framed/wood sheathed application as noted earlier.
Working inside or outside over an existing masonry structure such as a fireplace, a foundation or retaining wall is less of a problem and a better place to hone your skills. Plymouth Quarries offers free classes on The Basics of Working with Thin Stone Veneer. Please call for information and scheduling.
We know that all jobs begin with your ideas. If you are planning on incorporating the beauty of natural stone veneer in or around your home, please come and visit our showroom which is filled with ideas which can help make your ideas a reality.