Facing a foundation with stone veneer hides a lot of boring concrete

Scott Gibson

I want to place river rock on the bottom portion of my home, below the wood siding. I don't want the rocks to have straight edges, and I want to be sure it's watertight. Any suggestions?

Concrete makes a great foundation but it's not much to look at. Hiding that bland surface behind a facade of veneer stone would be a nice finishing touch. The worn surfaces and rounded contours of river rock have a great look. They remind me of a cabin in the woods or an old Adirondack lodge.

But natural stone is heavy, and when it's applied as veneer it usually rests on a step or ledge built into the concrete foundation. Unless you planned that from the beginning, you have to find some way of supporting the extra weight on the face of the foundation wall.

Something else to consider: natural rock isn't uniform in thickness. Unless the river rocks are very small in size, they may be too thick for this application, sticking out beyond the siding and creating a place for water to collect. You don't want that. Your salvation may be in manufactured stone. It's actually lightweight concrete that's formed in molds along with various colorants to make it look like natural stone.

Fake stone is available from a number of manufacturers (Owens Corning, Eldorado, and Coronado are three of them) in a variety of styles that mimic different kinds of rock. I went to the Owens Corning website (www.culturedstone.com) and found a river rock look-alike in six different colors. The pieces are between 2 inches and 14 inches in size and only a few inches thick. Both of the other companies also offer river rock. It may be concrete, but it's amazingly true to life.

When we built our house a few years ago, we wanted a stone fireplace. Not the most energy efficient thing to do, I realize, but my wife and I are suckers for a warm fire on a cold winter's night. Inside, around the hearth, we wanted the real deal and the mason used field stone. But outside on the chimney, he switched to fake rock because it was a lot less expensive.

We've had people stand in the yard and admire the stone chimney. They're amazed when we tell them it's concrete. The stone is set in a mortar bed, but first you have to apply a base over the foundation to keep everything from falling off. Metal lathe, anchored to the concrete with powder-actuated fasteners (super hard nails driven into the concrete with a small powder charge and a special gun) should do the trick.

If you want a closer look at the stone and how it's applied, try manufacturers' websites or see if you can get your hands on the January 2008 issue of Fine Homebuilding magazine. It features an article written by Brendan Mostecki, a mason in Leominster, Mass., who specializes in this technique. Brendan also has his own website that might help, www.culturedmasonry.com.







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