Commercial Stone

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If you purchase any of the commercially marketed natural stone, you can figure spending roughly up to twice the cost of brick by the time the stone is laid up into a wall. Here in Ohio , this is partially due to the easier availability of brick. A significant part of the cost of brick or stone is transportation. If you live near a marble quarry but far from a brickyard, the prices of both might be more equal. But generalities don’t always hold. Italian marble used to be cheaper than domestic marble because Italians earned less for their work than Americans. Now it’s because the Italians have perfected new machinery to quarry, cut, and polish marble more efficiently. These new technologies, says Robert Hund of the Marble Institute of America ( 33505 State Street , Farmington , MI 48024 ), are now being adopted in the United States and should mean lower prices for domestic marble in the future.

This is especially good news for low-maintenance housing, because hardly any material is at once more long lasting and beautiful. Because of its cost, we generally think of marble for interior use (more on that in section 11), but it's also used extensively for exteriors of commercial businesses, which have the money to spend. Owners of these buildings feel it’s worth the extra money up front; because there’s less maintenance over time, in the long run the cost is lower.

There are over 1,000 different types and varieties of marble, some denser than others, of many, many colors: Belgian Black, Cipollino Dorato, Craig Pink Tennessee, Golden Antique Travertine, Norwegian Rose, Nuvolato Apuano, Pakistani Onyx, Rose Aihambra, Rouge Royal Rose, Vermont Imperial Danby, White Italian.

Commercial stone can usually be bought either as cut stone or as rubble. Cut stone has square, flat sides and edges for easier laying, and the pieces come in varying sizes of squares and rectangles to make any number of wall patterns. Thickness is generally about 3 inches for veneer walls but can be ordered as much as 6 inches thick. Rubble refers to broken pieces of the stone, 3 to 6 inches wide, to be laid up with random mortar joints. Rubble gives a more natural stone appearance and is far prettier to me, but to each his own. Rubble, of course, takes more masonry skill to lay but is cheaper per square foot to buy.

Your best bet, however, especially when money is a chief concern, is to use whatever stone is available nearby, be it quarry stone, creek stone, or fieldstone. If you worry that the local stone is not durable enough, you can easily check with local builders or examine old buildings that used the stone or ask a geologist. Granite, marble, slate, schist, gneiss, sandstone, limestone, and even basalt, which is very hard to break, are the kinds of Stone most often used.

Durability

No general statement is possible concerning the durability of different kinds of stone. It is easy enough to say that limestone lacks durability in moist climates, and some books say just that, but it ain’t necessarily so. Indiana limestone is very durable, as all the old buildings at Indiana University demonstrate. The limestone from quarries in my neighborhood may or may not deteriorate. Some pieces in my retaining wall have broken up after exposure to the weather, especially those in contact with the soil, but other chunks don't . After awhile, you can tell the durable stuff from the not-so-durable. But in mortared walls and chimneys, both kinds seem to last quite well. I know of a building constructed of this limestone at least 50 years old that has not one crack or fractured stone in it.

Sandstone sometimes is not as durable as, say, granite or basalt. “It’ll only last a hundred years,” one builder says sarcastically. A silicone sealer may be advisable. It’s a good idea in this regard to talk to more than one source of information or more than one owner of such houses. The brick and masonry people argue a lot about whether or not their products need sealing.

Cutting Stone

Masonry saws with abrasive wheels or diamond blades will cut some kinds of stone, especially sandstone, another reason the latter is popular. Saws cost $300 and up. Mechanical stone splitters, from $200 to $600, work well on some stone, particularly paving stones, but a sledgehammer is a lot cheaper. Cutting and shaping stone takes skill. Every kind of stone is different. But there is a grain and also fracture planes in stone that enable one to learn to shape a stone for a particular place in the wall. More often than not, you can make a groove in the rock with a stone chisel, and then when you break the rock with a hammer, the fracture will follow the line of least resistance, which is the groove you made.

Facsimile Stone Made of Concrete

In an effort to utilize the beauty of stone while avoiding its weight, imaginative manufacturers are making stones out of concrete. They tint the concrete to resemble the color of the original stone and cast it in molds. Some from the L. B. Stone Company ( Box 276, Apple Creek, OH 44606) were used in the new library in our town and to me are very attractive. Years ago I went through the L. B. Stone Company’s fascinating little factory, which is owned and operated by Bob Bixier, quite a fascinating fellow himself. (When not making concrete rocks, he likes to run steam locomotives.)

Molding the concrete rocks is mostly a hand operation, which is why the fake stone costs more than the real stuff. But the method allows Bixler to duplicate any rock from anywhere. When he travels, he keeps his eyes open and has brought back specimens from all over the country. The exact texture of the rocks is imprinted on the molds, and then when the concrete is poured into them and dries, the hardened surface looks remark ably real, even though it's but the shell of the real rock, flat on the back for easy installation on the wall. Installed, the facsimiles weigh 8 to 12 pounds per square foot; in comparison, brick weighs 28 to 30 pounds. A favorite place to use them is in interior walls around a fireplace, where there is not sufficient foundation under the floor to support real brick or stone. Out side, they can be attached to a masonry or wood wall (same as for brick), where there is not enough solid footer to support stone or brick. There is also a stucco unit applied about the same way.

The salespeople at Northwestern Masonry, a leading distributor of all kinds of stone and masonry supplies in our area, advise caution in the concrete to resemble the color of the original stone and cast it in molds. Some from the L. B. Stone Company ( Box 276, Apple Creek, OH 44606) were used in the new library in our town and to me are very attractive. Years ago I went through the L. B. Stone Company’s fascinating little factory, which is owned and operated by Bob Bixier, quite a fascinating fellow himself. (When not making concrete rocks, he likes to run steam locomotives.)

Molding the concrete rocks is mostly a hand operation, which is why the fake stone costs more than the real stuff. But the method allows Bixler to duplicate any rock from anywhere. When he travels, he keeps his eyes open and has brought back specimens from all over the country. The exact texture of the rocks is imprinted on the molds, and then when the concrete is poured into them and dries, the hardened surface looks remark ably real, even though it's but the shell of the real rock, flat on the back for easy installation on the wall. Installed, the facsimiles weigh 8 to 12 pounds per square foot; in comparison, brick weighs 28 to 30 pounds. A favorite place to use them is in interior walls around a fireplace, where there is not sufficient foundation under the floor to support real brick or stone. Out side, they can be attached to a masonry or wood wall (same as for brick), where there is not enough solid footer to support stone or brick. There is also a stucco unit applied about the same way.


Builders of traditional adobe houses found a clever way to prevent rainwater from wetting the walls and thereby weakening the adobe walls. They hollowed out a few of the horizontal roof timbers so they could act as gutters, collecting roof water and dumping it out beyond the walls.

The salespeople at Northwestern Masonry, a leading distributor of all kinds of stone and masonry supplies in our area, advise caution in the exterior use of these concrete stone products. The fake stones are thinner than brick and moisture might penetrate them, say the salespeople. They like to see the concrete stones used under an extra large overhang and /or given a silicone sealing treatment.

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Updated: Thursday, March 5, 2009 18:16