Natural stone has been used for centuries as a construction material because of its durability and strength. As you drive through a neighborhood of houses built during early 20th century you will see many houses with natural stone foundations as well as natural stone used to create fireplaces, chimneys and as exterior accent features. As with a lot of building methods of that time many materials and applications became too expensive or time consuming for modern construction practices, and as concrete foundations became more common other materials became more fashionable, natural stone became more of a luxury than a commodity. By the middle of the 20th century insightful entrepreneurs saw there was a place in the market for a more adaptable version of stone, creating the basics of what has become the manufactured stone industry we see today.
Manufactured stone, manufactured veneer, veneer stone, cultured stone, fake stone, faux stone, lick and stick stone; whatever term you choose, the basics of manufactured stone are the same. It is made of a concrete mix that is molded and colored to simulate the color and texture of natural stone. The unique feature of the concrete mix used in making manufactured stone comes from the use of lightweight aggregates. These unique lightweight aggregates are used in place of the rocks you would see in a concrete mix that is used for driveways, sidewalks, or structural applications. The weight savings created by these aggregates causes manufactured stone to be much lighter than a traditional natural stone or full brick. The lightweight and flat back nature of manufactured stone allows for an installation process similar to that of stucco and eliminates the need for extra foundations, ledges, wall ties or lintels.
Eliminating the need for weight supports leads to cost savings, but also allows much more flexibility during construction and design. For example, using manufactured stone means you can now have a fireplace or stone accent wall on an upper floor with an open room right below it since the structure of the building is carrying the weight rather than a foundation that needs to be carried all the way into the ground. This flexibility also means remodeling with manufactured stone is much easier than with natural stone because there is no need create new foundations to carry the weight of added products.
As stated earlier, the most accepted application of manufactured stone is akin to the application of stucco and can be used in both interior and exterior applications. The installation processes are similar, but exterior applications require the additional step of applying a weather resistant barrier to the building (the type of weather resistant barrier may change based on manufacturer recommendation or local code). Wire mesh is the first step, followed by a scratch coat of mortar, then the stones have mortar applied onto their backs and they are placed to the wall. Grout may or may not be needed based on the style of stone being used or for aesthetic reasons. Grouting, if required, is applied using a grout bag (think really large cake decorating bag) which is squeezed into the gaps between the stone and then finished after the grout has partially dried. This is an overly simplified explanation of the manufactured stone installation process, but it gives you a pretty good idea of what is involved. Complete installation instructions can be found here.
There are many professionals out there who can install manufactured stone beyond the masons who are usually hired for this type of job.
Some of the building professionals who are qualified to install manufactured stone include:
This is also a job that is not beyond the capabilities of do-it-yourselfers. There are many resources available to help guide DIYers through the process and the tools needed are quite common.