But what about a trend that started over the past decade and still seems to be becoming popular? I’m talking about mortarless stone veneer. You might think this is new technology, but it’s not. Not in a long shot. The Egyptians used mortar -free masonry at Giza, home of the Great Pyramids. The pyramids have a smooth veneer of giant slabs of stone fitted with no mortar.
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The same thing was done thousands of years ago at Machu Picchu, at the height of the Andes Mountains. Moreover, it was made by the people who built it without power tools, diamond wet saws or dry-cut abrasive blades attached to a handheld saw.
These two civilizations are not alone. There are many examples of stone walls, buildings and arches built without mortar. Instead, master stonemasons took the time to combine stones similar to the pieces of a high-quality jigsaw puzzle. The good news is you can buy stone veneer for your home and follow in the footsteps of master builders of old.
Recently, a woman listening to my live stream on my Ask the Builder YouTube channel shared how she uses thin pieces of adjoining natural stone as a surround for her new fireplace. The old fireplace had a crack in the firebox and had to be replaced. What is interesting is that the hearth and the wall above the fireplace are covered with large pieces of multicolored slate that have not been replaced. The new stone veneer around the fireplace is really well combined with the current slate. Don’t be afraid to mix different stones, textures and sizes.
A few months ago, a close friend of mine inherited an oceanfront condominium in Southern California that was built over 40 years ago. The interior fireplace has dated tiles surrounding, and it’s time to replace the tile. He and his wife chose to use thin mortarless stone veneer, which he laid. The color is incredible, and the 1½-inch tall stone pieces are the perfect size to match both the room and fireplace. He told me after work how easy it was to work with stone.
Note that this material can be used outdoors with great success, as long as you install it correctly. Just a few miles from my home, a new building uses a mortar-free mortar approximately 1½ inch thick. Pieces of natural granite have a random texture that is exposed to the weather.
Although the size of the stone pieces seems random, it is not. Different sizes are saw cut in a factory to specific sizes, so you can stack the stones at random and never worry about a gap. This is very similar to an ashlar pattern on slate flooring.
There are different ways to install these stone veneers. Some come as panels that you glue to the wall. Others are individual pieces that you glue to an interior or exterior wall with Portland-cement-based thinset or traditional brick mortar applied to the back of each piece. If you are using traditional mortar, add hydrated lime. I have a formula for this in AsktheBuilder.com.
The aggregate weight of the stone veneer is large. Most natural stone weighs approximately 150 pounds per cubic foot. The stone surrounding the two fireplaces I previously discussed could easily weigh about 600 pounds. This means that, as you install the stone, the first course needs to be solid and able to support the weight of the stones as you stack them.
When using mortarless stone veneer outdoors to hide an inexpensive concrete foundation wall, it’s worth having a small shelf or ledge cast in concrete. Craftspeople who build cast or pour concrete walls can do this with minimal effort. All the weight of the stone will be transferred to the footing, and there is little risk of damaging the veneer in the future.
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Make sure your architect allows the face of your exterior frame walls covered with sheathing to be flush with the overall face of the stone veneer. This is easily achieved using a wider bottom plate. If your exterior siding is wood, vinyl, fiber cement or other similar product, it can overlap with stone veneer just like the shingle overlaps on the roof in the bottom row. This is important in ensuring that no water gets into the wood framing that may form on your exterior walls.
As with every product, make sure you read the installation instructions. Don’t expect the job to be done correctly. The instructions are easy to understand. Meet with the contractor or stonemason before they begin this stage of work and review the instructions. Remember: You should only rely on things you have no control over, such as weather. You can control how the work is done in your home.
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