Ten years ago, Paul Porco never would have considered using manufactured stone in the construction of his own dream home, a two-story, 7,000-square-foot English tudor in Cold Spring Harbor.
A second-generation custom-home builder, Porco had the same reservations as many of his fellow contractors when it came to using the man-made product, also called engineered stone or stone veneer. "For a long time, it never looked like the real thing," says Porco, owner of Rosewood Custom Builders in Centerport. In addition to many high-end builders, architects and designers also frowned on "faux stone."
But during the last decade, manufactured stone has worked to make a better impression. It's now the fastest-growing exterior siding in the construction industry, boasting increased use of 15 percent to 17 percent in each of the past five years.
People just seem to like it. From homeowners to builders to architects, more remodeling projects and new homes are featuring manufactured stone - which is made by pouring concrete and pigment into molds - as either exterior siding or interior accents.
Frame a fireplace. Draw a roving eye to a great-room wall. Or enclose the built-in outdoor grill. Manufactured stone delivers a combination of color, durability and style.
"There's a realistic look to the stone today," says Porco, while leaning against the exterior of a stone-clad turret to his formal living room. On the rear of his home, a stone fireplace chase climbs the two stories and extends to the rooftop, separating two small decks and doorways. Both the turret and chase are covered in the same manufactured stone as the front of the home and portions of the concrete porch.
Overall, Porco's new house features about 1,000 square feet of York Limestone, a manufactured line from Eldorado Stone, a California-based company. He's thinking about using more stone to highlight the main fireplace in the great room.
"I just think it looks great," Porco says. "There's a consistency in the color that you can't find in natural stone."
Appearance is the primary appeal, distributors and manufacturers of the product say. But there's more to it, says Brent Spann, Eldorado Stone's vice president of marketing. "The realistic look of the product is No. 1," Spann says. "But it's also half the cost of natural stone, and because it is lighter than natural stone, it's a lot easier to install."
Most manufactured stone companies warranty the product for 50 years. Because it's concrete, it stands up to pounding from the weather, from Arizona's desert heat to Florida's drenching rain. "When you consider the durability factor and the impact, it's not a huge investment," Spann says.
Installation, including materials, can range from $15 to $35 a square foot on Long Island, says Mike Sapio, a sales associate for Allied Building Products Corp., which has eight Long Island warehouse showrooms. That's about half the cost of natural stone and nearly double the price of the nation's most popular siding, vinyl. Once considered more of a low-end "specialty" product, manufactured stone is now readily available at masonry yards and building supply stores across the country.
Sapio entered the supply end of the construction business about 25 years ago, when manufactured stone was first making an impact. "Early on, there were a couple of companies making the stuff, and there were only one or two styles," he said. "Now, there are literally dozens of manufacturers and hundreds of styles.
"But the most significant improvement is how it looks. The stones and rocks look real. I've had manufactured stone and natural stone side by side and people can't tell the difference."
If the copy's as good as the original, it's largely because some of the leading companies - Eldorado Stone, Owens Corning's Cultured Stone, also from California, and Pennsylvania-based United Stone Veneer - have put more time and effort into the manufacturing process.