How to Choose Stone Veneer for a Fireplace

Transform an outdated or dull fireplace facade into a striking architectural centerpiece when you dress it up in stone veneer. Here's a rundown on what's available so you can make a smart choice.

Natural or Not?

Not all stone veneers are alike. At first glance, they might look the same, but a closer inspection reveals that some veneers are authentic natural stone while others are manufactured to mimic the real thing. Either one can enhance your fireplace but there are differences worth noting.

Natural stone veneers are slices of real stone that measure about 1-1/4 inches thick or so. The slices have a flat back and they weigh less than an unsliced stone, so they're considered easier to install, which typically means reduced labor costs.

Cast stone veneers are even lighter weight than real stone veneers and typically measure less than 2 inches thick. They do a good job of mimicking real stone because they're made from concrete poured into molds that were cast from the faces of real stone. The result is textures and shapes that look authentic. Colors applied to the molded concrete veneers closely resemble the variations of light and dark that you would find on the face of real stone. Some people immediately spot the ruse, but most can't tell the difference between the cast products and real stone veneer.

DIY Fireplace Surround

Weighing In

Although natural stone veneers weigh less than uncut stone, they still might require footings or additional fasteners or support, depending on the height and total weight of the installation. When seeking bids from masons to reface a fireplace, find out how costs might vary between natural stone or cast stone veneers.

Manufactured stone adheres to metal lath applied over an existing surface, such as a brick fireplace facade and won't require additional support or fasteners, so they're a good option for do-it-yourselfers. And while the look could never be 100-percent authentic, it can be convincing and some designers prefer the more consistent colors of manufactured stone. When shopping for a manufactured stone veneer, study the samples both at a distance and up close to find the most convincing options.

Lasting Tribute

Both natural stone and manufactured stone veneers are durable. Before you opt for either one, however, check the manufacturers' warranties.

Details to Know

Both manufactured and real stone veneers come in thin slices with flat backs to fit across the front of your fireplace, with joints staggered. Other pieces are L shape, cut or formed to 90-degrees, so they fit around fireplace corners for a finished look.

You'll find real stone veneer in every variety of rock. Manufactured stone keeps pace with similar looks to mimic nearly every stone option, including crisp cut limestone, rustic fieldstone, and charming, smooth river rock.

Always follow the manufacturer suggestions for adhering the veneers -- real or manufactured -- to the fireplace surface, using such suggested supplies as metal lath and mortar.

Cost Considerations

Don't just compare costs of real stone versus manufactured stone up front, but weigh labor expenses, as well. You'll typically find that the cost to purchase manufactured stone is about half the cost of real stone veneer. Keep in mind, too, that real stone veneers produce more waste during installation, so you'll need to order more to account for waste.

Also, real stone typically calls for professional installation because an expert mason knows how to balance the sizes and colors of the stones for the best look while ensuring that the stones adhere properly. Alternatively, you can generally install a manufactured stone veneer on a fireplace yourself.

See how this stuck-in-the-past fireplace became an up-to-date show-stopper with a few smart updates.

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