Mastering Natural Stone Selection Despite Nearly Limitless Design Options

Natural stone selection options

Natural Stone Selection has long been regarded as the premier choice for durability, ease of maintenance, and timeless design. Now armed with cutting-edge technologies, natural stone suppliers offer numerous capabilities for achieving the design intent. For example, AutoCAD and 3D modeling software allow computer-generated transfer of images and precision. Other technologies include CNC laser etching and stencil, and film technology.

With these capabilities, manufacturers can transfer nearly anything from hand sketches to photos onto the stone’s surface. Photographs and other images can be transferred to natural stone with realistic detailing using sandblasting and carving techniques. Lettering can be carved and enhanced with a color element, and the precise replication of ornate elements such as column caps can be created.

With nearly limitless design options, selecting the right natural stone for a project can seem daunting. However, by considering the material types, physical properties of each, and procurement sourcing, the selection process can be easily mastered.

Choosing the Right Material

When considering a stone for a project, consider the aesthetics of each stone. Look at its movement as well as its color, characteristics, and performance properties. Remember, when working with Mother Nature rather than a man-made product, great beauty abounds in the unique appearance provided by nature’s fingerprint.

Once a good understanding of the project and design is established, the material selection process involves discussing and reviewing factors starting with the types of natural stone.

Choosing the Right Material
  • Granite. An igneous rock, granite, forms when magma cools slowly beneath the earth’s surface, forming large, easily visible crystals of quartz, feldspar, and mica. The granite quarried in North America comes mainly from the eastern and upper Midwest United States.
  • Limestone. Limestone, commonly quarried across North America (particularly in the Midwest), is a sedimentary rock composed of calcium carbonate, plus calcium and/or magnesium. It is formed when layers of minerals, fine sediment, and the skeletons and shells of marine organisms. Limestone formed by mineral deposits from natural springs is known as travertine.
  • Sandstone. Sandstone is a sedimentary rock formed when layers of eroded sediment are compressed and cemented with minerals. Composed mainly of sand-sized grains, or clasts, of quartz cemented with silica, calcium carbonate, or iron oxide, sandstone is quarried widely across North America, particularly in the West, Midwest, and Northeast.
  • Marble. Formed when limestone is subjected to intense heat, pressure, and chemical solutions, marble is a metamorphic stone. When formed from very pure limestone, marble is white. But the presence of other minerals and clay, silt, and sand can give it richly varied coloration. Marble is found in the mountainous regions of most countries, but relatively few quarries exist in the United States.
  • Slate. Slate is a metamorphic deposit that evolves from sedimentary rock consisting of clay or volcanic ash. The predominant mineral found in slate quartz and muscovite or illite, although it is typically composed of many minerals. The slate quarried in North America comes mainly from the eastern regions of North America.

Each natural stone possesses unique characteristics and can be used for a wide range of applications. The applications and the materials commonly used for each are:

  • Cladding (interior and exterior)—Granite, limestone, sandstone, marble, and slate
  • Landscaping—Granite, limestone, sandstone, marble, and slate
  • Statuary—Granite, limestone, sandstone, and marble
  • Flooring—Granite, limestone, marble, and slate
  • Paving—Granite, limestone, sandstone, and slate
  • Coping—Limestone, sandstone, and slate
  • Molding—Granite, and marble
  • Aggregate—Granite and limestone
  • Countertops—Granite and marble
  • Roofing—Slate
  • Flagging—Sandstone
  • Curbing, monuments, and Rip-Rap—Granite
  • Lime and mulch—Limestone

Getting Started

From owner and contractor to designer and architect, all involved in the process must be able to provide the stone supplier with a full understanding of the project and design concept. By asking the right questions, the stone supplier will have the full picture and will ensure the right stone can be chosen for the project. Questions to ask include:

  • To ensure the stone will meet the design, function, and constructability goals for the project, what’s the intended application for the stone?
    • Exterior
    • Interior
    • Commercial
    • Memorial
    • Building (building façade, building base)
    • Landscape
    • Paving
    • Water features
    • Slabs
    • Blocks
  • Are there additional opportunities for stone to be incorporated into the project design? Consider areas that could incorporate a matching or complementing stone to unify or connect areas of a project.
  • What’s the intended installation system?
  • Hand-set
  • Precast
  • Panelized
  • Paving (mortar set, bituminous, pedestal, sand set)

Architectural drawings have become increasingly vague and less detailed in recent years. Installation details are often missed or loosely drawn, causing project teams to guess, manipulate or change the installation details completely. This can affect the overall design intent and leave owners and the entire project team with inferior product quality or increased costs. Asking these questions and working through the installation details early on sets everyone up for success.

  • Will the stone choice meet the project’s needs?
    • Monochromatic vs. variegated
    • Fine vs. large grain
    • Marking orientation

Designers can often overlook the natural characteristics of stone. A small sample may not provide the best representation of the stone that will be used for the project. Asking this question helps selection teams think about more than just color tones, but about the stone’s entire look and feel. Aesthetics are very important for most designers, so this question helps avoid surprises later in the process.

Other Considerations

Should the material be domestic or internationally sourced? Much will depend on the project’s schedule. Although the actual fabrication times for natural stone fabrication are similar for both domestic and international product sources, transportation from the factory to the project site can be significant with an international quarry or fabrication facility. With the current supply chain challenges impacting the industry, be sure to get a full understanding from your supplier – whether domestic or international – of the delivery timeline. You want to be sure the project specifies a product that is available and will meet the construction schedule.

In addition, other factors can influence domestic or international decisions. For example, if the project is a legacy project and the stone needs to match or complement existing buildings and nearby structures, a domestic stone will likely be the best source. Or, with veterans’ memorials and other iconic American projects, a domestic stone may be a high priority for stakeholders who wish to demonstrate patriotism.

Other Considerations

The stone’s physical properties should also be evaluated based on its intended use. For example, will the stone be used for water features, a building’s base course, or paving applications? Will the paving be for pedestrian or vehicular use? And is there physical test data available to help support the material considerations?

Lastly, manufacturers and quarries understand the deposits and whether the quarry can provide the block size and amounts needed for the project. It’s important to keep in mind that certain quarries can yield larger block sizes than others. Large blocks would lend themselves to applications such as feature pieces, large façade panel sizes, solid columns, and artwork. Therefore, size limitations (as well as slabs vs. blocks) should be taken into account when choosing the material.

Natural stone materials, even among their varieties and colors, have very different characteristics. Speaking with a stone supplier can help in the decision process to ensure the right stone is selected for the application.

Choosing a Stone Supplier

When evaluating a stone supplier, be sure to consider these important questions:

  • Does the supplier collaborate throughout the design process?
  • Does the supplier own the quarry? Important quality control measures may be lost if the supplier outsources the stone.
  • Does the supplier offer the latest in technology to enhance creative options?
  • Does the manufacturer offer the capability to add handcraftsmanship when needed? A skilled craftsperson can give an image depth or bring a truly artistic touch to the project. Manufacturers that can offer both craftsmanship and technology will be best able to meet the project’s needs.
  • Does the manufacturer offer quality control such as traceability? A numbering system from inception all the way to the job site allows manufacturers to locate exactly where the piece was obtained from, should a need for a replacement ever arise. Capable manufacturers should be able to trace each piece back to the quarry and the specific vein from which it came.
Choosing a Stone Supplier

Navigating the stone selection process doesn’t have to be difficult when you’ve partnered with a qualified supplier. By collaborating and employing the latest in stone fabrication technology, design teams will find a source for creative inspiration to produce results that stand the test of time.

Building A Company’s Culture

“Good employees want to work for good companies.” I can’t attribute this quote to myself or anyone. But, it is a statement of fact that is becoming clearer by the day.

More and more companies are complaining about the ability to find good workers. It is immediately followed by “These kids don’t want to work anymore,” or “People are getting lazier.” Are they just enlightened? They do not need to be treated like a rented mule for a lower-middle-class wage.

It always fascinated me growing up. How did our grandparents and parents stay employed at the same job for 30, 40, even 50 years? Better yet, why did they? What was so special about that job was that it kept them going back day after day without question. They were mostly happy. They went to work, came home, had time for the kids, made it to all the family functions, and generally seemed at peace with their life.

In today’s market, that loyalty to one employer is gone. The majority of the workforce under 35 job jump about every two years. They act more like an old west hired gun than a loyal employee. What has changed?

I believe that one of the largest changes, especially in the construction industry, is company culture. We no longer have companies that treat their employees like humans. Instead, we have been wired to treat them like a dispensable factor in performing the job.

The worst part is that the workforce knows it now. They talk more than ever and with a further reach thanks to social media. They have people to talk to about company conditions, pay scales, benefits, and overall employee happiness.

Now, what I just said is a general statement and by no means reflects on every individual company in our industry. The most successful companies over the last 20 years have had a good employee culture. You can’t scale above owner/operator without it. Our employees are the precious ingredient to our success. We need them more now than they ever needed us. So, what do we do?

We create a company culture that not only takes care of our existing employees but is so outstanding that it permeates through the hiring process and gets new employees to want to work for us. There are a few key ingredients to a company’s culture transformation. Let’s see a few.


Companies with good culture have excellent communication. They do not leave out details. They do not withhold information. They do not shy away from a conversation. Of all the companies I study, communication is a focal point in all the successful ones.

Communication must go both ways. I have been on too many sites and watched another contractor belittle and outright pummel an employee for a mistake. When we have a culture of irrational discipline, the employees do not want to bring up potential problems or solutions. They would rather slide through the shadows hoping that they go unnoticed. That is not an effective communication culture.


Good companies have structure. The employees know what is expected of them and what their rewards will be. They also know the penalty for not following protocol.

The structure just isn’t about who reports to who. Instead, it starts with accurate job descriptions, a chain of command, and written company policies ranging from a general handbook to safety standards.

Training, Advancement, and Raises:

These all go hand in hand. I always discuss them after communication and structure because, without those two, this one falls flat on its face. Good employees want to learn more. They want the room to advance. They want to know when and how much their next raise is. This is the type of structure that keeps good employees engaged with growth both personally and professionally.

Everyone buys in:

WARNING. This is the hardest step in building a successful company culture. This is the point where everyone needs to buy-in. This includes you as the owner and your entourage of untouchables. I am talking about your kids, your spouses, your employee friends, and anyone who thinks the new rules do not apply. The employees need and want a leader. They want an owner that has so much respect for the system that they abide by it as well.

Nothing harms company culture more than seeing someone act outside of it and get away with it.


Yes, I mentioned it again. It is that important. We can have good intentions all day, but if the systems we produce aren’t communicated or so complex that they can’t be communicated, it is all for naught. Write down everything — disciplinary procedures, what to do with extra materials on-site, what time is considered late, all of it. Document it, communicate it, live by it.

Now that we have got through some aspects of company culture, how do we begin building one? The first step seems easy, but it is a lost art in the “me” generation.

Change a few words in your daily dialogue and company memos. Stop using direct words such as I and you. Instead, replace them with “we” when discussing a collective effort, and insert the person’s name when discussing a specific task responsibility. This may seem like farfetched psychological hogwash, but it works.

By changing “I” to “we,” we establish a collective mindset. We cannot do this alone. By including everyone in the conversation, employees will feel like they belong, and better yet, have some responsibility for the outcome. We need to hire 10 laborers. We need to get the hot jobs bid. We need to trim our material waste. It is a game-changer.

Using a person’s name in place of you creates a sense of worth inside the employee. We are addressing them personally and have a better connection with them. If you can stomach it, change your direct orders to a question. For example: “John, will you check on the status of our material delivery?” By addressing John by name first, he is eased into the task we need to be done, and he is happy to do it. By asking for a person to take responsibility for a task, they feel compelled to deliver results in that task.

Be honest, the guys that are only there for a paycheck are never your good guys anyway. Today’s workforce wants more than a paycheck. They want to belong to a fun, productive, and fulfilling company that is going places. Our companies cannot fit that mold without a structured company culture.

The only true path to building a company culture is through top-down leadership. We have to change the way we look at our workforce. Treat them like the valuable asset they are, or your competition will.


Designing An Adhered Masonry Veneer

Walls today offer better technology and water protection than in years past. Adhered masonry veneers are better designed and perform more efficiently when the entire wall system is considered before and during installations. Here is a simple primer that includes materials we work with on a daily basis.

Many of the design changes in recent times are a result of economic changes in materials, improvements based on testing, higher performance by design, and installation improvements. We will look at some of the more prevalent products commonly found in adhered masonry sections and how they individually can affect your thin veneer walls.

Adhered Masonry Veneers

Today’s adhered masonry veneers offer a wider range of aesthetics than in previous years. Pre-made, slip and fit patterns, more color choices, and overall quality of the products have increased, bringing big improvements from years past. Increased durability and overall performance of an adhered masonry veneer can be achieved when the design begins with the substrate and works to the face of the veneer.

We will look at the differences between a cavity wall and an adhered masonry veneer. Our discussion will cover basic materials used in residential and light commercial construction of a stud constructed structural substrate.

Parts and Pieces of the Adhered Veneer Wall

Available thin veneers can be thin natural stone, thin brick, thin cultured stone, or synthetic veneer systems. Thin veneers can range from 3 to 25 pounds per square foot (PSF) when applied to the wall, a wide range that must be considered when sizing the dimensional framing members. I mention this because I once had a job where the designer changed the veneer and framing had to be increased to handle the eccentric load of the veneer.

This was a big change order that could have been avoided for the owner of the designer would have held to original material choices. The weight of the veneer can usually be obtained from the material supplier so the design professional can properly size structural wall components early on in the design process. When the designer requires an adhered veneer and rigid insulation, this can be accomplished when section details are considered at the early stages of the project and should be an easy part of the wall design.

Unlike a cavity wall masonry veneer, where loading is placed on a brick shelf or a supporting lintel, the adhered masonry veneers are supported by attachment between the lath system and the structural substrate and the bond to the thin veneer material to either the concrete masonry back up or the attached lath. Adhered masonry veneers do not place the load on a foundation or weep screed.

Starting At The Structural Substrate Wall And Working Outward

The system begins with the selected metal wire lath fully attached to the substrate using anchors to support the lath system to the structural support studs of the wall assembly. To properly design the system, the designer must know the weight of the thin veneer. As mentioned earlier, the veneer creates an eccentric load based on three to five inches extending from the substrate exterior face of the wall, in pounds per square foot. The components of the eccentric load are the sheathing, weather-resistant barrier, insulation, metal lath, insulation, and the adhered material based on a metal or wood stud wall construction.

Proper screw anchor or fastening pin diameter and length together with the use of galvanized lath washers and plastic insulation washers will all be keys to successfully holding the veneer in place. Screw anchor sizing can be obtained from engineered charts distributed by many of the anchor suppliers. This will allow you to purchase pre-engineered anchors off the shelf for insulation thicknesses over ½ inch.

Comparing the Function of a Cavity Wall Veneer to an Adhered Masonry Veneer

Cavity wall construction in residential construction has made many big advances in the last 40 years, but it has also held tight to a few strong traditions that need to be evaluated.

Masonry veneer cavity wall sections in a majority of the country’s residential and light commercial structures included, from the inside out sheetrock, polyethylene plastic, and fiberglass batt insulation placed in between studs. One of several choices of sheathing, bituminous board sheathing, plywood, gypsum board, or more recently Oriented Strand Board (OSB).

A thin layer of rigid insulation, an air space; and a brick veneer. The wall section described functioned well in most geographical locations within North America in part due to the air space or cavity between the veneer and the structural wall.

The air space in a masonry cavity wall serves many functions, the most important of which is that it allows air, water, and water vapor to collect within the cavity, creating an opportunity for air movement, evaporation, and the passage of water to the exterior of the veneer through weeps placed at flashing levels and vents placed at the soffits. Other functional benefits of the cavity include restricting the ability of moisture to pass from the veneer to the substrate by direct contact.

Adhered masonry veneer wall designs can benefit from the lessons learned from cavity wall designs by adding a drainage plane to the sectional detail of adhered masonry veneers. The drainage plane is not typically as large as in a masonry veneer cavity, but it still allows drainage and air movement between the substrate and the exterior wall veneer system while maintaining properly anchored cladding.

The air space is created by using a structural strand, entangled strand, or high-loft non-woven fabric typically made of polyester or polypropylene. The function of the drainage plane does not interfere with the installation of the adhered veneer because it is typically between ¼ inch in the United States of America to a 10-millimeter standard in Canada.

Drainage Planes

Building science and code officials have determined that the design of a drainage plane in an adhered masonry wall has many positive effects on the performance of the veneer over the life of the building. Drainage planes are typically either constructed from a polymer-based mesh material made in several different configurations and attached to the building using the veneer anchoring, or they can be constructed using furring strips attached directly to the stud support system of the substrate.

The use of polymer-based three-dimensional mesh allows the contractor and designer to eliminate one layer of weather-resistant barrier (WRB). This step can allow monies saved to be used for the drainage plane labor and installation. The polymer-based three-dimensional drainage mats allow liquid water to drain to the weep screed, and air to move between the WRB on the substrate and the interior face of the mortar scratch coat to promote rapid and complete drying of mortar in the adhered veneer system. This rapid drainage and drying of the veneer are key to creating a healthy, long-lasting performance in all types of adhered veneers.

LathNet, by Mortar Net Solutions, is a new product on the market that has been successful as a labor-saving alternative to the usual way we install the second layer of weather-resistant barrier and an extruded metal lath occur in two individual steps.

Drainage Planes

LathNet combines the two products into one easy-to-install product that overlaps and shingles as it is applied up the wall with code-approved overlaps to ensure proper installation. LathNet can also be successfully installed over rigid insulation with taped joints to offer a code-compliant system.

Wire Lath

Lath is offered in three different weights, 1.75 pounds per square yard for interior applications (this is a product that you should just stay away from), 2.5 lath is for typical applications and 3.4 pounds per square yard is for applications where the stud spacing is greater than 18 inches and the weight per square foot is over 13 pounds per square foot. 2.5 and 3.4 laths are for exterior applications.

Lath is typically placed horizontally, and the vertical laps of the lath are staggered from one layer to the next. Proper placement of the metal lath is stated in the trade as “cups up, smooth down,” meaning when you slide your hand up the lath from the bottom the lath will feel rough, and when you run your hand down from the top of the lath it will be much smoother to the hand.

Fiberglass laths do not necessarily fit into the previous description for placement. Self-furring lath includes dimples that hold the lath roughly ¼ inch out from the substrate to allow for full mortar encapsulation of the base coat. Typical metal lath for use in exterior applications is rated as “G-60 galvanized”, which will hold up under North American climate conditions. Stainless steel extruded metal lath is available for natatoriums and coastal applications.


One response to “Mastering Natural Stone Selection Despite Nearly Limitless Design Options”

Leave a Reply
Your email address will not be published.

© 2022 Atlas group. All rights reserved.
go to top