Cultured Stone vs. Natural Stone Veneer

Did you buy your wife a cubic zirconia or a real diamond? Okay, so that is not a perfect analogy as a diamond is much more expensive but this is the first thing that comes to mind when we get asked this question.

Cultured Stone (faux stone, man-made stone, manufactured stone) is concrete poured into a mold then colored to look like real stone. It was introduced decades ago as an alternative to the heavier natural four-inch thick building stone (prior to the introduction of the natural sawn thin stone veneer). The lighter cultured stone made for easier installation causing the product to grow in popularity. This pushed the natural stone market to come up with a sawing process to produce a lighter similar product. Hence, began the age of natural stone veneer. When considering whether to use the thin cut natural stone veneer or cultured stone one must take into account raw material cost, installation cost, finished look and longevity.

Material Cost

Many people are still under the impression that cultured stone is cheaper than its natural counterpart. There is some truth to this and if it is all about price then yes, a cheap cultured stone is your best option. The old adage of you get what you pay for will definitely be true in this case with the product having a “cheap look”. Higher end cultured stones more closely resemble natural stone and there is little difference in the price points of the raw product.

Installation Cost

Installation procedures and costs are roughly the same for both natural stone veneer and cultured stone. The installation costs are much more dependent on the style of stone (large blocky pieces as opposed to low height ledgestones). If you have ever seen a mason work with natural stone, they regularly cut and chip the stones to make them fit into a desired pattern. Cutting and chipping cannot be done with cultured stone as it is only painted on the outside and doing so will expose the inner concrete.

Finished Look

Again we are back to the diamond vs. cubic zirconia debate, from a distance it’s hard to tell but upon closer inspection there is no comparison. Natural stone has an undeniable beauty with each stone being unique in both appearance and texture. Cultured stone is made from a variety of molds, if you look closely you can usually find the same piece twice! Cultured stone is marketed as “believable”, believable yes but an imitation! Lastly, the inability to cut cultured stone means you must use the pieces as is and this is why you see gaps in the finished product.

Longevity

Assuming proper installation, natural stone veneer will bring a lifetime of beauty with nothing to worry about. The natural stone veneer will also make for a seamless transition should you wish to landscape your home with natural stone. Natural stone veneer will retain its colors whereas the colors of cultured stone are just painted on so fading after a few years is a common problem.  Our natural thin stone veneers have a lifetime warranty.

Closing Thoughts

Having just discussed this topic with a professional masonry contractor he said “the only time I use cultured stone is when a home already has it and we need to match it”. Every home is unique and of course we are biased towards the natural stone but given the information it’s a no-brainer.