The Art of Hardscaping: Unveiling the Benefits of Polymeric Sand

polymeric sand

The Art of Hardscaping: Unveiling the Benefits of Polymeric Sand

Fill the Gaps with Polymeric Sand

Polymeric sand is to hardscaping what grout is to stone veneer. It fills the gaps between each stone, adding an attractive, durable border that protects the structural integrity of the mosaic.

Polymeric sand is what it sounds like: grains of sand mixed with polymers that bond together once mixed with water. While it is not the only type of material used for filling joints – standard fine sweeping sand is still more widely used by installers – it offers advantages that make its modestly higher price point worth it. 

Stop Weeds and Ants

Among them, joints filled with polymeric sand can stay intact for up to a decade. Unlike standard sand fill, they are resilient in the face of heavy rains, winds and freeze-thaw cycles, and can’t easily be picked apart by ants.

Patios and walkways sealed with polymeric sand are also less likely to suffer weed outbreaks. Because the grains are bonded tightly together like cement, vegetation can’t push through like they can with loose fill and seeds won’t have cracks to seep through. Once weeds get established, they can spread rapidly and become tough to control.

 “Every spring I would go out thinking I could knock the weeds out in one day, and then you realize just how many joints there are. And I’d say wow, I did not anticipate this being as hard as it is,” Instone Video Producer Ken Czechanski recalled of his old patio, which did not use polymeric sand. “It’s long and arduous to sit there on your knees scraping them out.”

Additional Benefits

In a recent episode of InBuilding Design, Czechanski welcomed the crew to his Chicago area backyard to chronicle the replacement of his cement paver patio with one made of Aura Natural Landscapes natural stone pavers. Another benefit he’s noticed to using polymeric sand is its ability to protect the base of the patio. As seen in the episode, his old patio had multiple loose pavers that presented a trip hazard and pooled water during storms. Just as potholes form when water freezes and melts beneath the roadway, excess water seeping through your joints in the winter can chip away at a patio’s stability. Czechanski immediately noticed that the polymeric sand was helping control stormwater more effectively.

“When it rains, as soon as it stops, you can see the stones begin drying immediately,” he said. “Polymeric sand is protecting the base and preventing the stones from shifting.”

Polymeric sand is available in a variety of color blends, giving contractors plenty of options to fulfill the desired look of the project. Czechanski considered three colors that could serve as an accent to his Aura Sandy Point granite stones – a gray, a tan, and a brown.

“We ended up going with the brown because it provided a nice contrast to the stones, which were lighter like the beach,” he said. “It also helped to highlight the pattern, which had brown speckles in it.”

Installing Polymeric Sand

Filling joints with polymeric sand is simple. As seen in the clip above, the first step is to pour the sand onto the patio and use a broom to sweep it into the gaps. Excess sand is carefully swept off the patio to ensure it won’t bond to the stone face later.

Once the joints are properly filled, the installers wet the patio down with a garden hose on a shower setting – strong enough to rinse off any residue, but light enough that it won’t blast out the sand. The water activates the polymeric sand and makes it bond together.

Try out Color Combinations

You can use the Instone Visualizer to help select a stone and polymeric sand combination that’s right for your project. The online tool enables you to upload photos of a property and instantly simulate what it would look like with Instone’s full range of products.

Although Instone doesn’t carry polymeric sand, the Visualizer does model several colors to give users a sense of how it would look with various stone types. Customers may purchase polymeric sand through their dealer or browse product choices at a local home improvement store.

From Patios to Pools: The Secret To Choosing The Right Stone

Aura Blue Sandstone
Aura Blue Sandstone

From Patios to Pools: The Secret To Choosing The Right Stone

When it comes to hardscaping choices, applications matter. A property owner may have their heart set on a stone color or finish, but there are times when the available options would be a poor match for the project.

“For a front walkway, you want something that complements the house and front steps, since it’s a focal point,” Instone Vice President of Natural Stone Products Justin Alicandro said. “For a patio, the homeowner can go with whatever they like best because you don’t typically have limitations. But for a pool, you are limited. It’s not as simple as picking a color you like and going with it.”

Alicandro offered some key guidelines that buyers and installers should keep in mind when choosing the right natural stone for their projects.

Budget First

A good first step for any project is for property owners to assemble as much information about the job site and their goals as possible to get the most accurate estimate. If installing a patio, they should measure the space, take pictures of the construction area, and provide it to the dealer. A professional can spot details like undulations in the turf that will require extra grading that impacts the cost.

With that done, the client will be better equipped to select a product that fits into their overall budget. Instone carries the largest selection of natural stone in the country, from fine, hard-to-find products available at the highest price point to similar-looking alternatives that cost much less. Alicandro estimates that there can be a 30 percent difference between the most and least expensive natural stone products. With patio projects often topping 1,000 square feet, the material choice can significantly affect the bottom line.

Pool Decking

When it comes to surrounding a pool, buyers should think with their feet. Since these areas will be enjoyed with no shoes on, it’s best to avoid finishes that are rough to the touch and stone types that will generate too much heat. Stones with natural finishes can be abrasive, become stubbing and trip hazards, and trigger accidents with children. It’s also best to avoid dark stones that attract the sun – think of the difference between walking on black asphalt and a white sidewalk in the summer. Light color stones like travertine and quartzite are beautiful and more practical.

Alicandro said homeowners often splurge on elaborate pools with top-of-the-line mechanical infrastructure but talk themselves into saving money by using concrete stamp decking. He urges them to resist the temptation to skimp at the end of the project.

“If you’ve already spent $150,000 on pool construction, spend the extra 10 percent or so and go with what you love, and that’s natural stone,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is what your family, friends and neighbors are going to see.”

Finishes

Customers should consider the pluses and minuses of the available stone finishes for their specific project.

Natural Cleft: Many would argue that natural cleft is the most beautiful, natural-looking finish on the market. That doesn’t mean it’s the right choice. For those living in cold northern climates, the bumpy, tough surface can make it difficult to shovel snow when used as a walkway stone. It is also rough on the feet as pool decking and its unevenness can cause furniture to wobble as a patio stone.

Honed Finish: A high percentage of stones with honed finishes are used for pool decking since it’s comfortable to walk on. Stone with honed finishes are sensitive to exposure to snow salts, though, so they are not advisable for walkways. Since patios aren’t used often in the winter, these finishes can be a sensible choice.

Thermal Finish: The most popular finish of all, thermal has a natural, textured look and feel. It is practical in just about any application – it can be salted, it’s easy to clean, and has the fewest number of drawbacks.

Stairs Treads and Sills

Natural stone stair treads are typically placed on top of a veneer, so it should either complement or contrast well with the other material. Although buyers should consider how the stairs will be used when selecting a finish (e.g., will people walk it barefoot, will it need to be shoveled), the selection is less about the physical and more about what looks right with the stone or veneer used for its base.

The choice considerations are similar for natural stone windowsills. For example, Alicandro said a popular trend of late has been to go bold with a black sill over a gray veneer. Sills are all the same basic size and shape, he noted, so the choice is largely one of aesthetic preference.

Outdoor Kitchens, Fireplaces and Firepits

Choosing the right stone for outdoor kitchen, fireplace and firepit areas is similar to selecting stone for sills. Since these heated gathering places all typically sit on top of patios, the stone styles should complement one another. If an outdoor kitchen is added to an existing patio, veneers should be selected that work well with it. If they’re all being installed at the same time, the color choices should be coordinated in advance.

Careful consideration should be given to the stone used for an outdoor kitchen’s countertop, though. It is possible for oils and wines to stain stone, so a dark color is the safest bet. But if a lighter stone is desired, Alicandro recommends going with thermal and leathered finishes. The thermal treatment will give it a textured feel, while the leathering adds an antique look that makes it harder to stain.

Getting Started

Homeowners can consult their local stone dealer or supplier for recommendations on materials and top local installers. Dealers will have a list of businesses who they’ve worked with and received positive reviews from their customers. Contact Instone today to learn about dealers in your area or visit Instone’s Aura Natural Landscapes page for catalogs and videos featuring our wide variety of natural stone products. 

For more help with your dream exterior home project, visit our blog on the do’s and don’ts of planning a backyard makeover. 

Exterior Home Design Trends for 2024: Stone Edition

Exterior Home Design Trends for 2024: Stone Edition

Dark Is In For Exterior House Colors

Not all choices in life are black and white, but when it comes to stone veneer color choices, they increasingly are. As we gaze into the crystal ball of stone exterior home trends for 2024, Instone Northeast Territory Sales Manager Mike Kornele predicts that we can expect to see more veneers where black takes the leads, complemented by white or light gray highlights.

“It seems like over the last couple of years, everything has been trending to that more modern look – squared off, smooth facing, contemporary finish. Darker colors are definitely in,” he said.

While the timeless grays and earthtone veneers that sell well every year continue to hold their ground, the allure of dark stones is on the rise.  Homeowners looking to make their indoor and outdoor spaces stand out are opting for those bold alternatives. Kornele points to Pangaea Natural Stone’s Black Rundle and Cambrian color Ledgestones and Castlestones as prime examples and hot sellers.

Pangaea® Natural Stone Black Rundle
Pangaea® Natural Stone Black Rundle
Pangaea® Natural Stone Cambrian Ledgestone
Pangaea® Natural Stone Cambrian Ledgestone
Pangaea® Natural Stone Cambrian Fieldstone
Pangaea® Natural Stone Cambrian Fieldstone
Pangaea® Natural Stone Cambrian Fieldstone
Pangaea® Natural Stone Cambrian Fieldstone

In the world of manufactured stone veneers (MSV), Kornele envisions a continued embrace of stones that offer an “in and out” look to them – those with depth and interesting textures that draw the eye. With the market now offering an array of MSV colors and finishes, customer preferences have moved away from the flat planes that once dominated the industry.

However, it’s important to note that exterior home color trends can vary by region. Kornele observes that the modern veneer trend is thriving along the East Coast, while new inland areas are leaning towards stones that blend seamlessly with Colonial and farmhouse-style architecture.

The Color Palette for Outdoor Pavers and Hardscaping 

When it comes to outdoor pavers and hardscaping, shades of gray and blue have consistently dominated year in and year out, according to Instone Vice President of Natural Stone Products Justin Alicandro. Instone boasts one of the widest selections of blues and grays in the country, thanks to Aura Natural Landscapes, ensuring there’s a color to suit every design vibe.

For those leaning towards a darker tone, Blue Mist granite is a top contender. If you prefer a lighter touch, check out the Blue Ice Natural, Blue Ice Thermal, Imported Gray, or Silver Ridge granites. Alicandro notes that Misty Blue Marble and Silver Travertine are in high demand for pool pavers.

However, Alicandro has noticed a surge in stones for pool areas that are pure white or close to it, like Arctic Cloud marble. This white marble is loved for its subtle grey veins that flow through each stone. “This is extremely popular for pools because it stays cool, and the sandblast finish provides texture for a non-slip patio,” he said.

Alicandro also expects earth tones Oxford Buff, a light tan/cream-colored stone, to maintain its strong momentum from last year. Customers view it as a more durable, attractive, and budget-friendly alternative to Midwest limestones, he said.

Another intriguing trend Alicandro has seen is the use of natural stone accents to complement manufactured hardscaping materials. For example, contractors are pairing natural stone pool coping with concrete pavers; natural stone stair treads with concrete retaining walls; and natural stone widestock to cap concrete walls. This trend is gaining traction as natural stone pieces can be larger, providing a more appealing look. For example, concrete coping is typically produced only 18 inches long, while natural stone sections can extend up to 4 feet.

“It’s less jointing for the capping. It’s a more attractive look and a trend that’s happening more and more each year,” he said.

Outdoor Kitchen Popularity Is Surging
Stone Veneer Adds The Distinctive Touch

For masonry professionals, get ready to shift your gears when it comes to veneer installations on outdoor kitchens. Modular outdoor kitchen materials, like those offered by Isokern Fireplaces & Chimneys, have significantly reduced installation time and complexity, making projects that were once the domain of only wealthy homeowners attainable for a broader audience. But homeowners are cladding these outdoor kitchens in stone veneer to give these modular structures a distinctive style.

“It seems now more and more Mrs. Smith wants a kitchen that’s going to be more unique than Mrs. Jones’s kitchen, so they’re getting into a lot more veneer work,” Kornele said. “Everybody is always going to be doing their water tables, foundations, entryways, stoops, and things like that, but outdoor kitchens are definitely on the rise. That’s a market that’s going to be pretty solid for the next couple of years.”

Isokern Fireplace
Pangaea Ledgestone

Of course, the right veneer style is just one part of the equation – homeowners also need to select pavers that harmonize with them. Kornele suggests most people prefer a healthy contrast in stones so that they stand out without being overly flashy

“When you’re choosing your colors, you want things that are going to complement each other, but you don’t want things that are exact, because you don’t want to step back from your project and see a blob of one color,” Kornele said. “You want the colors to stand out and be distinct, but you don’t want them to battle each other.”It’s a decision driven by personal preference, but it can be made simple by Instone’s Visualizer. The tool allows users to create instant digital overlays showing how stone products would look on photos of their home or property

“It is a very efficient tool,” Alicandro said. “In the old days, you had to get physical samples of stones and put them next to each other to see how they’d look together. Now you can look at multiple combinations in a matter of minutes.”

Elevate Your Home with Stone Veneer: 5 Perfect Places for Accent Walls

Pangaea Fieldstone
Pangaea accent wall

Elevate Your Home with Stone Veneer: 5 Perfect Places for Accent Walls

In the world of home construction and DIY, creating an accent wall isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s about making a bold statement. These accent walls, also known as feature walls, are where craftsmanship meets character, and they’re more than just a visual interest; they’re a game-changer for your project.

While paint and wallpaper have their place, they can’t match the enduring value and impact of stone veneers and architectural tile. Accent walls not only elevate the aesthetics but also add substantial value to a property, and it’s simple to maintain, ensuring your home interiors remain a source of awe for decades.

Choosing the right spot for an accent wall might seem challenging, but often, the room itself provides strong cues. Here, we delve into five strategic settings perfect for your stone veneer accent wall.

Artepiso Orchid
Artepiso Orchid

1. First Impressions Matter

Remember, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Stone veneer on a wall greets your guests and sets the tone for your entire space. It’s the introduction that demands attention and admiration.

The placement of the Artepiso Orchid wall tiles in the space above acts as a focal point for anyone who may walk through the front door. These playful tiles, like any framed art, are sure to get the conversation started and create a welcoming atmosphere as soon as guests enter the house.

Light and easy to install, Artepiso 3D architectural tile adheres to most surfaces with a simple and inexpensive installation. They can also be painted for an attention grabbing splash of color.

Beon Stone® Carbo Classic
Beon Stone® Carbo Classic
Pangaea Fieldstone Cambrian
Pangaea® Fieldstone Cambrian

2. Accentuate the Architecture

Craftsmen know that great rooms deserve great features. Stone veneer can turn ordinary walls into stunning showcases. Fireplaces, floating room dividers, and walls with architectural details become canvases for your creativity.

A masterful example of this approach can be achieved with Be.on Stone® Carbo Classic veneer panels. Rather than installing shelves in the cutout section of the kitchen shown above, a stone matching the style around the adjoining room was applied, with artwork placed over it. From this vantage point, it gives the appearance of a window that offers a peak at the stone wall continuing behind it.

Ready to accentuate your home walls with another quick renovation, then look no further than your dated fireplace. Building materials like thin stone veneer and Pangaea® Fieldstone Cambria, seen above, transform any drab fireplace wall or surround into the family’s room’s best feature. 
See more fireplace inspiration in our blog, 5 Interior Projects To Tackle This Winter with Stone Veneer.

Pangaea® New England Quarry Ledgestone
Artepiso Andes
Artepiso Andes

3. Chase the Light

Sometimes, all you need to find the perfect spot for your accent wall is to follow the light. Let the natural light be your guide, drawing visitors’ eyes to your masterpiece. However, be cautious with walls that get intense backlighting or the window views will overshadow the veneer.

When crafting the room with those captivating waterfront views in mind, practicality was key. The choice of Pangaea® New England Quarry Ledgestone veneer wasn’t just about aesthetics; it was a smart decision. It blends seamlessly with the elegant wood paneling on the ceiling, all while ensuring the natural light from those massive windows takes center stage.

For those of you who like to get creative with lighting, consider adding some excitement with Artepiso 3D architectural tiles, seen here in hexagonal Andes shapes. These tiles boast intricate grooves and peaks, creating a mesmerizing interplay of light and shadow. And if you want to kick it up a notch, apply a coat of vibrant, glossy paint to make them shine even brighter.

Cultured Stone Echo Ridge Country Ledgestone
Cultured Stone® Echo Ridge Country Ledgestone

4. Read the Room

Look at the room’s layout; it often reveals the ideal accent wall location. Is there a wall where all the furniture converges? Maybe one housing a fireplace or TV? That’s your focal point, and that’s where stone veneer shines.

Take a look at the arrangement of the above living room, featuring Cultured Stone’s® Echo Ridge Country Ledgestone veneer. Would a feature have made better sense anywhere else? Note how the veneer calls out to the stone visible through the window on the home’s exterior.

Winesburg Plank
Dutch Quality Winesburg Plank 4&6 

5. Beside Views

In the bedroom, the most impactful accent wall is typically the one behind the bed. It highlights the bed as the most important feature of the room (which it is), and with the right material choice, can look like an extension of the headboard itself. And when you’re laying in bed, the view of an accent wall straight ahead may not have the calming effect you need.

Take a look at the red and brown hues of the Cultured Stone® Winesburg Weathered Plank 4&6 veneer. This manufactured stone was molded to precisely replicate the grain and character of reclaimed barn wood; its artistry and craftsmanship are molded to replicate the warmth of reclaimed barn wood.

We Make It Easy!

Creating a statement with stone veneer has never been easier. six brands of natural and manufactured stone veneer products available in hundreds of colors, shapes and sizes, Instone is your partner in making your vision a reality. 

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A Step-by-Step Guide to Stone Veneer Fireplace Upgrades

Pangaea Fieldstone
Pangaea Fieldstone

A Step-by-Step Guide to Stone Veneer Fireplace Upgrades

Ready for a decorative fireplace makeover? If that old brick fireplace doesn’t quite match your home’s new vibe, there’s no need to fret. Think of it as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

Swapping out the dated look for a stylish stone veneer fireplace is simpler than you might think. And guess what? In most scenarios, you can leave those bricks right where they are.

Sure, red brick fireplaces have that quintessential American charm. But, if yours looks a bit weary after years of cozy fires, it might be time for a change. While some folks opt for a quick brick fireplace makeover with heat-resistant paint, nothing beats the elegance and value boost of a natural stone facade.

Wondering about the how-tos? Whether you’re thinking of adhering stone veneers directly onto the bricks or using nifty tools for an extra-sturdy bond, we’ve got the lowdown. Take a look at your options and tap into Instone’s treasure trove of resources to guide you every step of the way.

Prepping for Interior Stone Veneer

Before you dive into your fireplace transformation, it’s essential to set the stage for a smooth installation. Start by laying a tarp around the fireplace area. This step ensures that any stray mortar or debris doesn’t play havoc with your floors.

Next, give those bricks some TLC. It’s important to remove any dirt, dust, or loose materials that could compromise the adhesion of the stones. A vacuum with a brush attachment should do the trick for most of the cleaning. For stubborn spots, a gentle wipe with a damp sponge will work wonders. And if you come across areas of the brickwork that are crumbling or a bit unstable, consider giving them a light sanding to create an even surface.

Stone veneer prep

Choose Your Backing

Option 1: Metal Lath

Want to ensure that your stone veneer clings on like a champ? Enter the metal lath. This meshy marvel is not only strong but also flexible. Shape it around your fireplace, get it to hug those corners, and even trace out that fancy mantel.

After drilling or nailing the lath into the bricks, you’ll want to apply a scratch coat over its entire area. Fill all of the gaps with mortar, build about ½ inch layer on top of the lath, and comb over it with the trowel’s teeth to create grooves for the stones to grip to. Once the scratch coat dries, you can begin applying mortar to the back of the stones and attach them to the surface.

Option 2: Cement Board

Want a simpler DIY? Then cement board might be your best bet. It offers a clean slate, making your veneer application smooth and easy. After fastening the cement board to your fireplace, you’ll want to spread a scratch coat, groove it nicely, let it dry, and then give it time to dry.

Then you can apply mortar to your stones and install them with ease.

Option 3: Direct Application

Got a fireplace in tip-top condition? Why not skip the lath or cement board and go direct? Apply the veneer straight onto the brick, but make sure those bricks are ready for the spotlight — means no crumbling faces, loose bricks, unstable cracks, or other substances on the fireplace that could weaken the bonding.

 A tiny caveat: if your bricks have a paint job, it’s best to opt for either Option 1 or 2.

Get Your Materials Ready

Stone Veneer or Stone Veneer Panels?

Dutch Quality Industrial Grey Plank
Dutch Quality Industrial Grey Plank
Quail Grey Dutch Quality Veneer
Quail Grey Dutch Quality Veneer
Cultured Stone Echo Ridge Country Ledgestone Fireplace in Living Room
Cultured Stone Echo Ridge Country Ledge

Veneer Panels

In a bit of a hurry? Interloc natural stone veneer panels or Cultured Stone Pro-Fit faux stone panels might be your speed. These mechanically fastened panels simplify installation and reduce installation time.

Pangaea Fieldstone Cambrian
Pangaea Fieldstone Cambrian
Pangaea Grigio Ledgestone
Pangaea Grigio Ledgestone
Pangaea® Fieldstone Westcoast
Pangaea Fieldstone Westcoast

Stone Veneer

If you choose traditional stone veneer take the time to do a little prep. Before you begin, make sure your stones are clean and lay them out in your desired pattern.

Be sure that you have all the necessary materials at hand. Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for installing your chosen type of stone veneer. In most cases, you’ll need your trusty trowel, type S Mortar, and a masonry saw before getting started.

For more detailed instructions, check out these comprehensive guides for Cultured Stone and Pangaea.

If you’re seeking inspiration for your fireplace makeover, take a look at these inspiration pages.

And if the DIY route isn’t your cup of tea, you can find a certified installer near you by searching our database.

Let Instone Make it Easy

Navigating the world of stone veneer fireplaces can be overwhelming, but don’t sweat it! Instone’s network of suppliers is ready to guide you. They’ll help you pinpoint the perfect method and materials tailor-made for your project. Ready to rock that decorative fireplace transformation? Contact Instone today for a dealer in your area.

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Investing in Excellence: How the Certified Installer Program is Raising the Bar in the Masonry Industry

mortar layout
mortar layout

Investing in Excellence: How the Certified Installer Program is Raising the Bar in the Masonry Industry

For a homeowner getting started on a masonry project, finding a top-quality local contractor can feel like a virtual maze. Unless you have a family connection or a trusted source shares a positive testimonial, you’ll likely delve into the hit-or-miss world of crowdsourced websites. When sifting through the well of comments on Google, social media and home improvement sites, it can be hard to know what to believe. Was that five-star rating and glowing review submitted by the owner’s wife? Was there more to the story than the rant about a crew that wasn’t up to the job?

A new program initiated by the Concrete Masonry and Hardscapes Association (CMHA) is taking the guesswork out of the process by providing hard-earned endorsements from those who know the field best. Launched in January 2023, the Certified Installer Program grants certificates to those who undergo two days of testing and observation to demonstrate their skills and knowledge.

Cultured Stone Echo Ridge photo
Cultured Stone Echo Ridge Country Ledgestone

Nearly four years in the making, the program was developed by a consortium of manufactured stone producers, installers, vendors and respected industry experts. 

Jeff Tew Headshot

“The Program offers professionals an opportunity to separate themselves from the pack of less skilled and experienced competitors in their market”

Jeff Tew, Westlake’s Director of Technical and Training

“As long as I’ve been doing this, I’ve had architects, homeowners and builders ask, ‘How do I know if I’ve got a good installer,’ or, ‘Do you have a list of certified installers?’ We couldn’t do that on our own as a company, but as an industry we could take that up and deliver a robust certification program,” Tew said. “It’s a great way to now point those folks in the direction of the best-quality contractors.”

Once certified, installers are listed on the CMHA and Westlake Royal Stone Solutions websites (click here to scan the current roster). Tew said interest from customers has been high already.

“The people who are joining are interested in seeing the industry become better, stronger and more code-compliant,” Tew said. “The early adopters joining the program now are the ones who will see the most and fastest results. Beginning next year, a lot more information from the CMHA will be pushed out to architects and builders encouraging them to use those certified contractors.”

brush application to veneer

Making the Grade

Those who seek certification will go through a course administered either by the CMHA or regional partners (including Westlake) that have undergone “train the trainer” programs.

Day one is primarily conducted in the classroom. Participants complete a series of modules covering each step from installation to completion, including code requirements, materials, and terminology definitions. Trainers provide instruction on key topics like how to assess a wall’s suitability for installations; the proper use of grouting and mortar, and when materials should be discarded; and working in varying temperatures. Participants must pass a 50-question multiple choice test at the end of the day.

Day two is more hands-on and challenges installers to demonstrate their ability under close observation. Participants must install manufactured stone veneer on a 10-square-foot wall, demonstrating proper techniques and following any special instructions in the product’s guide. They are also shown a completed wall that has 12 mistakes and asked to identify them.

The certification lasts three years. To renew it the first time, participants can retake the 50-question written test online to extend their certification by three years. For second renewals, the applicants must retake the full course in person. (The course designers determined that after six years, enough conditions in the industry will have changed to warrant a reexamination.)

Cultured Stone White Oak ledgstone
Cultured Stone White Oak Country Ledgestone

An Investment in the Future

Westlake produces several manufactured stone veneer brands, including Cultured Stone, which is carried by Instone. Cultured Stone’s leadership team was integral in developing the certification program and Westlake has dedicated significant resources into making it successful, Tew said.

The company views its contributions as an important investment in an industry that is still growing up, he said. Actions like the creation of the Certified Installer Program and the establishment of the ASTM 1670 standard for manufactured stone veneer products are helping build credibility and will improve the industry’s reputation going forward.

“It’s another important step, and the CMHA taking leadership and developing this program is one way we can show that we care about the contractors out there,” Tew said. “We’re not just trying to sell them stone. We’re also trying to help them succeed with their businesses.”

To view a schedule of upcoming certification session dates and locations in your region, click here.

For additional questions about the program or manufactured stone veneer, contact Instone today.

5 Interior Home Projects To Tackle This Winter with Stone Veneer

Panagaea indoor fireplace
Panagaea indoor fireplace

5 Interior Home Projects To Tackle This Winter with Stone Veneer

Stone can set the tone for your interior home makeovers. Whether you need a mancave makeover to host late-night card games, an elegant dining room redo to impress guests, or an elevated entertaining space to lift spirits during holiday gatherings, stone veneer is your MVP. Adding a touch of stone to your home bar, fireplace, or feature wall can take your home entertaining spaces to the next level.

Ready for some heavy-duty inspiration? Scroll down and let’s start planning out your ultimate sanctuary with these 5 home improvement projects with stone veneer.

Pangaea® Fieldstone Cambrian
Pangaea® Fieldstone Cambrian
Pangaea® Fieldstone Cambrian
Pangaea® Fieldstone Cambrian
Pangaea®Fieldstone Westcoast
Pangaea® Fieldstone Westcoast
Pangaea® Fieldstone Westcoast
Pangaea® Fieldstone Westcoast

1. Fireplace Makeovers Add The Drama 

Ramp up your fireplace game. Interior stone veneer doesn’t just add charm; it transforms a space. Imagine a floor-to-ceiling stack of stone veneer, framing a fireplace and capturing the feel of a time-honored estate.

The examples above feature Pangaea® Natural Stone products, offering a contrast in fireplace design styles thanks to a variety of available colors and patterns. For a bold look that makes the fireplace the star of the room, the last two images above feature Pangaea®’s Fieldstone Westcoast veneer. For a softer look, muted grays deliver a sophisticated, but understated impact, with Pangaea® Fieldstone Cambrian. No matter your home’s style, Pangaea has a look for you.  

Dutch Quality Winter Point
Dutch Quality Winter Point Drystack

2. Basement Renovations Rule On Game Day

When a home begins to feel crowded, the basement becomes the go-to space for entertaining. But hard choices await: which boxes to junk, what old gear to retire, and most crucially, which stone finish to choose.

Take this Illinois mancave makeover, where the homeowner transformed a standard basement into the ultimate entertainment hub for watching the games. The striking Dutch Quality Winter Point Dry Stack veneer sets the scene, perfectly framing the tv screen and inviting indoor fireplace. And that support beam, it integrates into the room design nicely thanks to the faux stone veneer, which mimics a natural stone pillar.

Cultured Stone® Arcadia Pro-Fit® Terrain™ Ledgestone. Interior Stone Veneer Accent Wall.
Cultured Stone® Arcadia Pro-Fit® Terrain™ Ledgestone

3. Game Rooms That Bring Big Fun 

With a ping pong table, dartboard, and a flat-screen mounted over Cultured Stone®’s Arcadia Pro-Fit Terrain Ledgestone, we give this home points for having the coolest game room in town. The Pro-Fit Terrain stone veneer has staggered depths and alternating rough/smooth finishes to add depth and balance and to show this isn’t just a game room; it’s where legends are made. 

4. A Historic Case for Stone in Wine Cellar

Archaeologists have found caves in Europe and Asia used by winemakers over 5,000 years ago. The ancient vintners knew that dark, subterranean confines were ideal for avoiding temperature swings that could ruin the fermentation process. The practice endured and gave rise to the temperature-controlled cellars that are still used to make and store wine today.

Instone honors this legacy with interior stone veneer that shout Old World gravitas. The above Beon Stone® Element Collection Carbo (left) panels and Cultured Stone® Palermo de Mare (right) veneer could be the right detail to add some traditional appeal.

Artepiso Cedar Wine on the bar
Artepiso Cedar Wine on the bar
Pangaea® Sierra Ridge Roman Castlestone
Pangaea® Sierra Ridge Roman Castlestone
Dutch Quality Sienna Drystack
Dutch Quality Sienna Drystack
Dutch Quality Sagewood Ledgestone
Dutch Quality Sagewood Ledgestone

5. Home Bars That Have It All 

What kind of vibe do you want for your personal bar? If you’re thinking bold and daring —  and maybe even a little funky — take a peek at the incomparable shapes and textures of Artepiso 3D architectural tiles, like the Artepiso’s Cedar pattern tiles shown on this wine bar. The light and ultra-customizable concrete tiles can be painted any color and adhere to most surfaces with a simple and inexpensive installation. 

Looking for a less modern material choice? Instone offers many material options for bars and wine cellars. The photos above showcase the multiple looks of stone veneer to create the perfect ambiance for entertaining. 

Stone Veneer At The Ready for Your Indoor Renovation Projects

Got a renovation on your mind? From igniting the spark of an idea to laying down the groundwork, we’re here to help you with fresh ideas, material options, or cost estimates for your entertaining space makeover. 

Instone carries six natural and manufactured stone veneer brands that offer hundreds of options for colors, shapes, sizes, and styles. Whatever your style – rustic, modern, or unique – we’ve got the goods. Hunting for something custom-made? Instone’s Fabrication and Design Services professionals are on standby, ready to assist.

Whether you’re a mason, contractor,  or DIY weekend warrior, let us connect you with an Instone products dealer in your area. Contact us today!

Looking for more interior inspiration, follow us on Pinterest and Instagram.

Choosing Manufactured Stone Veneer: A Quick Guide to Colors, Factors, and Brands

Echo Ridge Country Ledgestone
Cultured Stone Veneer

Choosing Manufactured Stone Veneer: A Quick Guide to Colors, Factors, and Brands

The Mason’s Pallet

Just as every artist has their palette of paints, every mason has their pallet of stones. 

No decision in an indoor or outdoor stone veneer project makes an artistic statement like the choice of material colors. Materials like stone have the power to set a tone, make a bold first impression, and pay tribute to the personality of a homeowner.

Manufactured stone veneer (MSV) aka stone siding provides masonry professionals a full spectrum of color options. While natural stone is colored through ancient geologic processes that are beyond human control, there’s an artistry to the creation of MSV that allows for personalization in both shape and shade depending on demand.

Cultured Stone Aspen Country Ledgestone
Cultured Stone Aspen Country Ledgestone

Unmatched Color Schemes

Cultured Stone, the first-ever MSV manufacturer and industry leader,, offers over 75 stone colors in two dozen textures and styles. They are also the producers of various brick veneer profiles and colors, including Tenley Brick, hailed by Azure Magazine as “structural as well as decorative … and [introducing] a contemporary spin to old-world character.” Dutch Quality Stone, on the other hand, is available in 36 colors and is a great cost-conscious alternative produced by Westlake Royal Stone Solutions, Cultured Stone’s parent company.

These collections pay meticulous attention to detail and boast an extensive range of colors. Incorporating a stone profile that harmonizes with your exterior color palette or compliments the interior with an accent wall is a great way to elevate the look and feel of a space. This is precisely why they stand as the preferred selection for architects, masons, and discerning homeowners alike.

Cultured Stone’s color palettes are inspired by nature and align with the latest design trends and styles, ensuring its array of veneer ensures its veneer colors look vivid and compelling. Iron oxide pigments are applied by hand to each mold before the concrete and aggregate mix is poured, ensuring the color seeps thoroughly into the stone’s face and all the way around its edges.

“The coloring line is the most detailed and sought-after job in the plant,” Joe Marxkors, Sales Area Manager at Westlake Royal Stone Solutions said in an episode of Instone’s “InBuilding Design” exploring the benefits of MSV. “It takes 10-15 years to get there. You could have up to 10 different colors on one stone.”

As a result that craftsmanship, Cultured Stone has created some of the most realistic looking manufactured stone on the market. Marxkors sometimes carries a briefcase with a block of natural stone and a similar MSV version and challenges viewers to guess which one is real. Even the most seasoned masonry professionals often get it wrong.

“Cultured Stone the brand looks like the most natural stone product in the industry,” Instone CEO Kevin Grotke observes in this discussion on the differences between natural stone and MSV. “They are the founder and leader of the industry. They go to a great extent to capture the texture and the coloring of the stone.”

Manufactured Stone Veneer Color Considerations

Several factors may determine the veneer color a mason chooses for a home. Its appearance must complement the overall home design, enhance its curb appeal, and harmonize with the surrounding environment. Here are some key factors that masons tell us influence their color choices: 

  • Architectural style plays a significant role in color selection. A traditional or rustic-style home may benefit from earthy tones like brown, beige or gray, while a modern or contemporary-style home will look sleek with vibrant colors like black, white, or shades of blue.
  • Existing exterior elements such as the colors of the roof, siding and trim should be taken into account to create a cohesive and balanced appearance.
  • Surrounding landscapes are often considered to ensure the home blends with its environment. For example, a material like Cultured Stone’s white Fossil Reef Coral Stone is a natural pick for a home in a coastal community, while the rugged and earthy Bucks County Dressed Fieldstone is a great match for a home on a wooded property.
  • Neighborhood character should also be taken into account. Whether to use a veneer that blends with the surrounding homes or a bold color that makes it stand out from the crowd is an important design choice.
  • The climate and natural lighting in the area are factors to consider. In regions with intense sunlight, lighter colors may be preferred to reflect heat and keep energy costs down. 
  • Last but not least, homeowner preferences are of course crucial in the decision-making process. Masonry professionals should guide their clients’ choices to ensure they fulfill the vision for their home.
Stone Veneer Buyer's Guide: Colors, Factors, Brands: Dutch Quality Tuscan Ridge
Dutch Quality Elkwood Tuscan Ridge

CULTURED STONE TOP 5 COLORS OF 2023

FLIP CARDS TO REVEAL COLORS

Echo Ridge Dressed Fieldstone

Grays with blues and browns

Bucks County European Castle Stone

Cream with Brown & Red Features

Chardonnay Alpine Pro-Fit

Khaki with Charcoal & Reds

Gray Southern Ledgestone

Varying Gray Shades

Aspen Dressed Fieldstone

Dark Beige with Brown & Gray Highlights

DUTCH QUALITY TOP 5 COLORS OF 2023

FLIP CARDS TO REVEAL COLORS

Prestige Weather Ledge

Prestige

Cream with a mix of greys and orange

Winter point

Winter Point

Light gray with darker tones

Elkwood

Blend of grays and ruddy colors

Sienna

Reddish-brown with gray features

Quail Grey

Mid-tone gray with dark and lighter elements

Stone Siding Home Exterior Color Trends

Even with the endless variety of MSV colors available, there are a few timeless styles that are always in demand. MSV is made to mimic the appearance of natural stone, so veneers that have gray or beige bases like granites, limestones andsandstones maintain their appeal over the years, even as design trends change. The top five regionally-based est-selling Cultured Stone and Dutch Quality veneer colors of 2023 are a reflection of that.

Your Trusted Stone Supplier for Manufactured Stone Veneer

Instone carries manufactured stone and brick veneer brands in hundreds of color options for both interior and exterior home renovation projects. Contact our team today to discuss the perfect material, color and finish for your project today.

Upgrade Your Stone Veneer Siding Game: Get Quick & Stunning Results

Be.on stone photo
Be.on stone photo

Upgrade Your Stone Veneer Siding Game: Get Quick & Stunning Results

Fast-track Your Masonry Projects with Instone’s Solutions

Whether you’re a contractor or a weekend warrior do-it-yourselfer, you feel the need … The need for speed.

Installing a veneer one stone at a time is meticulous work that takes time. Time that could be spent on a family outing, crossing tasks off the to-do list, or doing the things you love. Or in the case of a masonry professional, time that holds you back from moving on to the next job.

Instone offers two high quality solutions that are easy to install and help you cruise through stone veneer siding installations. Interloc Natural Stone Panels and Be.on® Stone are three to eight times faster to install. And they work well on interior and exterior applications.

Both stone siding brands have their own unique features but share a common approach in producing panels made of multiple stones. The professionally designed panels can cover plenty of ground in a hurry. The veneer panels fit together seamlessly and are designed for stress-free installation, making projects simple enough for any moderately handy do-it-yourselfer to take on.

Using Interloc or Be.on Stone, a wall that looks like it’s clad with thousands stones will only actually require a few dozen stone veneer panels. Chris Camosse, general manager for Massachusetts-based Camosse Masonry Supply, said these creative products have been hot sellers and given his company an edge.

“With the proprietary products that Instone finds, it allows us to have something that our competitors in the area don’t have – for example, the Interloc interlocking panel systems,” Camosse said. “These have become a huge success not only with homeowners but with contractors. Everyone sees the value of the product and the time it saves.”

Interloc gif
Interloc Natural Stone Veneer Panels – Real Stone 8x Faster

A Loc on Quality

Interloc panels feature thin natural stone pieces that are set into mortar and shaped to fit tightly together, hiding joints and giving the appearance of a stacked stone masonry wall. With Interloc, the hard work of selecting and arranging individual stones is already handled at the factory. Adding to the ease of installation, Interloc stone veneer panels have rough grooves on their backs that aid bonding.

Camosse first began carrying Interloc products about three years ago. Since then, he has held short how-to courses for contractors to introduce the product. During the courses, he demonstrates the panels’ consistency, time savings, and helps them become familiar with the product.

“The product we got on day one was the same quality as the product we got a year in, so that proved a lot to us as well.”

Chris Camosse, general manager for Massachusetts-based Camosse Masonry Supply

Interloc is available in two styles: New England, which features a blend of grey and warm, earthy colored stones, and Berkshire, a more consistent grey stone with sandy highlights. Use our online savings calculator to compare costs of Interloc vs. standard stone veneer siding.

Interloc Natural Stone Veneer Panels In Two Colors - Berkshire and New England
Be.on Stone Veneer Panels Showcase Carousel
Be.On Stone Veneer Panels – Mechanically Fastened

Above and Be.on for Simplicity

Instone President and CEO Kevin Grotke recently took on a DIY project of his own, adding wainscoting around the outside of a cottage he bought for family getaways. After giving some thought to his options, he determined Be.on Stone mortarless stone veneer siding was the ideal choice.

“We’re only here on the weekends so I’ve only got a day and a half to get this done, which is why I decided to go with this rather than a mortar and a lath application.”

Kevin Grotke, Instone president and CEO

Be.on Stone, also known as “screw-on stone veneer” or “stone veneer siding,” requires no mortar. It requires few tools – if you have a screw gun, a tile saw, a level and a tape measure, you’re off to the races.

As Grotke demonstrates in this video, the key is applying a starter strip along the base of the wall at the beginning of the job and making sure it’s level.

Once you’ve screwed in the initial row of veneer panels, you can run the rest of your panels above them quickly and perfectly level. Whether you have a standard OSB or plywood wall, you only need two or three fasteners per panel and don’t need to hit a stud.

Best of all, you won’t need a confusing assortment of panels to form your corners. As explained in our InBuilding Design series, the same pieces are used for inside and outside corners.

“You don’t need to order inside corners, you don’t need outside corners. One panel does it all,” Hortigan said. “All you have to do is figure out what your square footage is.”

Plus, with Be.on Stone’s patented D.Rain water management system, any rain that makes it behind the stone veneer drains automatically to the bottom of the wall, preventing mold and other damage to the structure. The product also has a 50-year warranty.

Be.on stone veneer siding drain system

Be.on Stone comes in four styles, ranging from the Element collection, with its old European flavor, to the more contemporary Horizon. Each has its own variety of color options. Try our Virtual Designer for an instant glimpse at what a Be.on Stone veneer would look like on your home.

Be.on color skews

We Make it Easy!

Contact Instone today to learn more about why Interloc and Be.on Stone products are the fast, easy solutions for your next stone veneer job or DIY home exterior and siding project.

Natural Stone vs. Concrete Pavers: The Ultimate Patio Material Showdown

Aura Patio design
Aura Patio design

Natural Stone vs. Concrete Pavers: The Ultimate Patio Material Showdown

So you’re weighing the pros and cons of natural stone vs. concrete pavers for your patio. As you move ahead with your research, allow us to share a few data points for consideration.

  • The Parthenon was built in 447 with marble.
  • Stonehenge was built around 2,500 BC with bluestone and sarsen (a sandstone).
  • The Sphinx was built around 2,500 BC of limestone.
natural stone examples
The Parthenon; Stonehenge; The Sphinx

These breathtaking structures, still standing strong after thousands of years, were all made of natural stone – some of the same varieties of stone we use for patios, pool decks, and walkways. Look at pictures of these wonders. The stone radiates atmosphere, history, and mystery. Can a concrete stamp do the same?

“When you have natural stone, you have a story behind it,” Instone Territory Sales Manager for New England Jake Alicandro said in a recent episode of InBuilding Design.

“You have a stone that’s coming from the earth, that’s been here thousands of years, vs. a paver that’s manufactured, that’s only a few months old or so.”

Don’t Oversimplify Patio Paver Cost

Too often, the choice of natural or artificial hardscaping comes down to cost  and the notion that concrete products will save you money. Sometimes that’s not even true. There are manufactured pavers that cost more than natural products, so buyers should compare the specific products they’re considering. 

Overall, the gap between the initial costs of concrete pavers and natural stone pavers like those produced by Aura Natural Landscapes have been narrowing. But when comparing prices, it’s important to factor in the costs of upkeep and the expected life of the product. The greater durability of natural stone can save money in the long run on repairs, maintenance, and the need to replace materials vs. concrete pavers, which are prone to suffer chipping, cracks and deterioration. 

And then there are the intangibles. Getting beyond the initial material purchase, here are a few reasons why purchasing natural stone products is money better spent.

Natural Stone Pavers Retain Their Natural Beauty

aura oxford buff sandstone patio
Aura Oxford Buff Sandstone

Mother Nature is a talented designer. Natural stone is full of the speckles, swirls, tints and other details that give each piece its own unique character. There’s a reason why many manufactured stone varieties are created to look as much like natural stone as possible.

“The great part of natural stone is the creativity you see within it,” Alicandro said. “You have stones that have a lot of movement in them, and there are stones that are very uniform and linear. The possibilities are endless when it comes to natural stone.”

You can amplify those qualities by laying out your stones in irregular patterns. Irregular pavers are pieces of stone that are not uniform in shape and size, like squares or rectangles, but can be arranged together to create attractive mosaics that call other patterns in nature to mind. Aura Natural Landscapes irregular pavers come in consistent cuts designed to fit together like a puzzle, making them 10 times faster to install than other irregular flagging products.

Aura irregular pattern patio
Aura Silver Ridge Irregular Pattern

Eliminate the Vulnerability of Concrete Pavers

Manufactured pavers have come a long way, but even the best of them can’t match the shelf life of natural stone. They are far stronger structurally.

According to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), an independent organization that develops standards for construction materials, typical granites can withstand 16,000-25,000 pounds per square inch (PSI) of pressure; sandstones upwards of 15,000 PSI; and limestones in the range of 8,000 PSI. The regular concrete used for projects like patios and sidewalks support in the neighborhood of 2,500 PSI.

Even if your stones or concrete won’t be used for a project that will bear the brunt of heavy weights on a regular basis, the elements will deal plenty of abuse over time. The harsh freeze-thaw cycles of the Northeast and the extreme heat waves of the South expand and contract your material, causing a gradual degradation. Concrete pavers are more vulnerable to these swings. .

The fresh appearance of concrete pavers also won’t hold up like a high-quality natural stone. Concrete paver colors are made with pigments and dyes that eventually fade from exposure to sun and the elements, while standard white concrete tends to stain. Take a look at the sidewalks and curbs around your town – are they pretty to look at? And while trends in paver colors and patterns come and go, a classic natural stone never goes out of style.

Aura commercial paver project
Aura Italian Bluestone Sandstone

 The Eco-Friendly Choice

The concrete manufacturing process is energy intensive and can rely on chemicals, rocks, cement, and other ingredients being shipped from far and wide. The Natural Stone Institute notes, “From an overall sustainability perspective, natural stone has a lower environmental footprint than precast concrete. This is due to the minimal resources used to quarry, fabricate, finish, and transport natural stone. … Every step in the precast concrete manufacturing process requires the use of a lot of energy, which contributes to their total global warming potential.”

No environmental harm comes from the disposal of stone. In fact, the waste materials from quarrying and preparing natural stone flagging can be recycled for a range of uses, including gravel, artificial reefs, the foundations of construction sites, the bedding beneath patios, and even as ingredients of concrete.

For these reasons, using natural stone can help a project earn points to attain a U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

See the patio where Aura sandy point pavers replaced concrete pavers
Aura Sandy Point

Go Natural

To learn more about the possibilities for a property you own or are working on with natural stone products, visit our Aura Natural Landscapes page . There you can browse its online catalog of granites, sandstones, marbles and other natural stone varieties in a range of colors and patterns, all competitively priced. You can also count on Aura’s design services team to collaborate with your architects, consultants, and other professionals through each project phase.

Contact Instone today to get the conversation started!