Whether you are building new construction or remodeling, the addition of natural stone adds a timeless look. Let’s assume you have narrowed your stone selection down to the last two or three choices. What is my next step? Choosing a masonry contractor can be a daunting task. Questions that homeowners generally have are: who will do the best job, how long will it take to complete, and how much will it cost? We believe that simply taking your general contractor’s recommendation on which mason to use for the stone installation is a terrible idea. You may be thinking, but I trust my contractor and he is the expert. It is important to do some research and homework on the selection of which masonry contractor to use, because there are huge differences in skill sets. The extra work you put into this will be well worth your time. There are services available like Angie’s List and Homeadvisor that will help point you in the right direction. However, a more hands on approach is always the best option. We recommend getting at least three quotes and asking to see projects that your perspective masonry contractor has completed. Selecting your masonry contractor is a matter of personal preference but three things to consider as you make your choice include: price, workmanship and lead time.
Unfortunately, this is usually the first thing people look at. We regularly get questions from homeowners asking us how much it will cost to install the stone? There are many variables that go into answering this question and they cannot all be answered over the phone. For instance: what type of installation is it (how much prep work is involved), what type of stone (rectangular shapes, irregular shapes or ledgestones), and where are you located? The previous blog post “Installing Natural Stone Veneer” details the installation process and explains how some applications will be more labor intensive. The type of stone also makes a considerable difference in the price, large uniform pieces go up the fastest while the installation process slows as the stones get smaller and/or irregular. Ultimately, you should be given a quote based on a per square foot price that can vary by a factor of three based on the skill and experience of the mason.
Masonry is truly artwork and the masons who have the best reputations will also be the most expensive. The most important question to ask the mason is: “have you worked with this type of stone before and can you tell me where I can see your previous work?” Most masons have a style they like working with best and on the flip side will also have one they tend to avoid. If you are looking at Appalachian Ledge and your mason has a dozen ledgestone fireplaces to show you, this is probably a great fit. If you want that old world irregular look of Chateau, but he typically only does ashlar patterns this is a mason to avoid. Lastly, if your mason says they do a lot of commercial work this is a big red flag. The masons who do commercial work do not consider the job artwork. For commercial masons, art goes out the window and laying the stone is simply a matter of how fast they can get the job done, which usually leads to sloppy workmanship.
Being from the Midwest, it seems everyone wants to start their natural stone installation projects the second spring hits or they push to get them done before winter comes. Good masons can be booked out months in advance and are very busy in the spring and fall. This is important to keep mind when planning your project and can affect the installation price.
Regardless of who you choose, MAKE SURE you have a contract that specifies the work AND the specific stone veneer being installed. The specified stone choice is very important as we recently had a job where the mason quoted the homeowner a low square foot price for “any” stone. The homeowner then chose a ledgestone and was told ,”sorry if you want that stone, I need to charge more.” A firm contract will avoid this “creeping bid” and that awkward conversation that comes with it. Any mason who says I will start working and just bill you by the hour is also one to shy away from. A true professional will know how many hours it will take to complete. Although some parts of this post may come off as negative, this is by no means the intention. Truly, the goal is to educate homeowners and avoid the few pitfalls we have seen over the years. Ultimately, most masons are dedicated, down to earth hard working guys who are more than willing to help make your dream a reality.