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China artificial stone is light, cheap and popular

2010/08/19 hits:

China artificial stone is light, cheap and popular

The Plumbs began by exploring the cost of custom stonework, but soon stumbled upon an intriguing alternative. Artifical stone is manufactured in a factory by mixing together pumice, paint pigments and crushed rock, then molding and pressing the result to look like natural stone. The factory-made stone comes in panels no thicker than a paperback book — meaning it's less than half the thickness of natural stone and far, far lighter. Yet many artificial stone products are nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. After looking at several samples, the Plumbs decided to install it along the bottom metre of their home.

The Plumbs have lots of company, according to Mike Orpen, owner of Stonewood Construction in Mississauga. These days, he's installing 50% more artificial stone than he did two years ago and using it for everything from home exteriors to indoor fireplaces to outdoor kitchen islands and garden walls. Fake stones, he says, have come a long way toward looking like the real thing. Applied tastefully, they can turn a standard fireplace or dormer into a monumental showpiece.
Recent converts include Joe and Beth O'Hanlon of Pickering, Ont. This fall, the couple used artificial stone panels from OldSTONES Canada around a dormer window above the garage attached to their eight-year-old Tudor-style home. Joe loves the results and is considering putting some around a back entrance next spring. "There was cheap pine around the windows when we bought our house," he says. "The artificial stone dressed it up and gave it good insulation. You can't tell the difference between it and real stone. It's great stuff."
Purists may disagree. For the ultimate in looks and custom fitting, it's still hard to beat real stone. But the biggest drawback of stone is its enormous weight of 25 lb or more per square foot, which makes it difficult to use on anything but the strongest of concrete foundations. Many homes don't have such foundations and installing one can add several thousand dollars to the cost of a stone project. Then, too, you have to count on the cost of a skilled craftsman to build a sill and painstakingly fit and mortar together the stone.
Artificial stone, on the other hand, isn't nearly so fussy. Only a few centimetres thick and less than half as heavy as real stone, it can often be installed with a little mortar applied to wire mesh. Rarely does it require special foundation work.
Do-it-yourselfers should check out the array of artificial stone panels offered by Concord, Ont.-based OldSTONES. "You can buy it by the sheet and install it like drywall," says OldSTONES owner Ivan Rapa. Cost? About $10.80 a square foot if you install it yourself; $14 a square foot and up if you get a professional to do it.
The favorite of many professional installers is the artificial stone made by Owens Corning of Toledo, Ohio (CulturedStone.com and OwensCorning.com). It's available at more than 150 masonry outlets in Canada and comes in a slew of varieties, spanning 19 textures and more than 80 colors. Made of volcanic ash, crushed rock and various pigments, it does a remarkable job of mimicking real stone.
Which is why the Plumbs were drawn to it. "It was a lot less disruptive and quicker to install than real stone," says Dave. "We put $8,500 into it. It has changed the whole look of the house for the better."
The Plumbs liked the price tag, too. They hired a professional installer who charged them $20 a square foot for materials plus installation. Dave figures that real stone would have cost them at least $25 a square foot for materials and installation, plus thousands of dollars more to strengthen their home's foundation. All told, installing artificial stone was probably half to two-thirds the cost of the real stuff, yet the Plumbs say they can't tell it apart from genuine stone.
If you're thinking of installing artificial stone, spend a few days considering the color and shape of the stone that's right for your house. Look at your home's exterior, including the color of the roof, shutters and front door, and search for stone that incorporates some of those existing tones. If in doubt, go for a more neutral or understated alternative — the goal is to add texture to your house, not blast onlookers' eyeballs.
Most masonry supply showrooms will let you take samples out of the store in exchange for a refundable $10 to $20 deposit. Hold the samples up against the front of your house in different types of light to see how the stone will look on overcast and sunny days. As well, pay attention to the color of the grout. It can make a world of difference in the final look. In general, a lighter grout color is more pleasing than a darker one.
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The right choice can be not only esthetically pleasing, but financially rewarding as well. "Today's home buyers love stone," says Tom Chung, a sales rep for Royal LePage in Vancouver. "Upscale home buyers especially like the exterior of a home to look modern and new. So depending on how good the job is, it can add $10,000 or more to the selling price." The stones may be artificial, but the gains are real.

Dave and Yvonne Plumb spent this spring taking Sunday drives through some of Toronto's leafiest neighborhoods, looking for ideas. The couple had just bought a 40-year-old home on an older Mississauga, Ont., street. They loved everything about it. Everything, that is, except its drab, beige stucco facade. "There are a lot of older homes with stone fronts on our street and we wanted our house to meet the quality image of the neighborhood," says Dave. "To fit in, we really needed to reface our home."

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