Story at a glance:
- Modern stone homes often feature stone siding due to the high cost of materials and labor of solid stone walls.
- Stone homes are extremely durable, relatively easy to maintain, help regulate temperature, and last for generations.
- Artificial stone veneer can be a lighter and more cost effective alternative to natural stone siding, though it may not last as long.
Stone homes are among the oldest structures ever built by humans, and with good reason; stone is one of the most durable building materials there is, capable of weathering all sorts of climatic events.
We often associate stone homes with antiquity and the rural countryside or northern coastline, but the truth is—stone has remained popular throughout the course of history and is still a part of our contemporary world. It is this versatility, alongside stone’s durability, resilience, strength, and longevity, that allows stone homes to evolve and find its niche in any time period, as we’ll see below.
What is a Stone Home?
In the conventional sense, a stone home is any dwelling that primarily features stone in its construction. Traditionally stone homes were built using locally sourced stones, either in their natural shape or cut into blocks or slabs. These stones were then stacked and mortared in staggered rows atop a foundation to form solid, load-bearing walls capable of supporting what was usually a timber roof.
Today true stone homes aren’t built with the frequency they once were. Due to the high cost of materials and labor associated with stone construction, new solid-stone homes are typically only constructed by the wealthy—or by homesteaders who skirt the costs by gathering the stone and performing the construction themselves.
Most modern homes that incorporate stone do so via a layer of stone siding or natural stone panels rather than solid stone walls, but the possibilities are many. “In the past few years this building material [stone] experienced a renaissance,” Tolga Altug, product and sourcing manager at Materials Marketing, previously told gb&d. “The special feature of stone is its versatility, which makes every surface—be it a facade, roof, or floor—unique and offers architects and builders countless design options.”
Pros & Cons of Stone Homes
Like all houses, stone homes have their fair share of both advantages and disadvantages that can make or break the decision to buy or build one. Here are some of the pros and cons of designing or building a stone home.
Generally speaking, the benefits of stone homes significantly outweigh their disadvantages—something that should come as no surprise given their everlasting popularity.
First and foremost, stone homes—especially those with solid stone walls—are incredibly durable structures capable of lasting hundreds (and even thousands) of years. In its natural state, stone is fireproof, pest-resistant, rot-resistant, and is able to weather wind, rain, and snow with minimal wear.
High Thermal Mass
Unlike a material such as timber (which is highly insulative), stone has a high thermal mass. This means stone is capable of absorbing heat, storing it, and then releasing it over an extended period of time.
As long as a stone home is properly insulated and maintained, this high thermal mass will help keep interior temperatures cooler in the summer and allow the walls to retain heat in the winter, reducing the energy expenditure required for heating and cooling.
When it comes to construction materials, few are as versatile as stone. “Natural stone is very versatile. It offers a wider range of sizes and formats and a multitude of styles that concrete and other cast products can’t,” Hugo Vega, vice president of commercial and institutional sales for Polycor, previously told gb&d.
Available in a range of forms, shapes, and colors, natural stone has the potential for inclusion in just about any architectural project—and not just as structural support, but as intentional aesthetic enhancement or exterior protection.
Limestone, sandstone, quartzite, and granite are often used as large blocks or bricks to construct walls, though they can also be used as siding. Stones like marble or travertine may be used to construct pillars and columns or used as an accent material.
Stone can even be used in roofing. Slate is commonly used to tile roofs due to it’s high durability.
Despite their many benefits, stone homes aren’t without their flaws, either—fortunately, these cons can, for the most part, be easily avoided or are ultimately worth it in the long run.
Regardless of whether you’re building a home with solid stone walls or if you’re just installing natural stone siding, the upfront material and labor costs will be significantly higher than those associated with building a timber, wooden frame, adobe, brick, or even concrete home. One of the only ways to avoid these initial costs is to gather the stone yourself, either from the project site or neighboring areas, and performing the construction on your own.
Of course, the high upfront costs of stone homes are almost always justified by their incredible durability and extremely long lifespans.
There’s no two ways about it: Stone is heavy. And while the weight of stone helps make it durable, it can also pose a few challenges when it comes to constructing stone dwellings, as it necessitates increased labor, extends transportation times, and requires stronger reinforcement.
What’s more, the heavy weight of stone requires that a concrete foundation be poured first, which can add to the project’s total construction costs and carbon emissions.
Building with stone is an extremely time-consuming and labor-intensive activity that requires expert working knowledge of the material itself. As such, stone houses are typically built by highly skilled stonemasons rather than teams of contractors, which can drastically increase both the overall construction time and costs.
The Average Cost of Stone Homes in 2023
When it comes to building or buying a stone home in 2023, there are a number of factors—type of stone, wall vs. siding, dimensions, etc.— that go into determining the end cost, making it difficult to provide an average estimated range.
In any case, constructing a home with solid stone walls will always be the most expensive option. Depending on the type of stone used, materials cost between $25 and $80 per square foot and labor costs range between $15 and $30 per square foot of material. Generally speaking a structural stone home will cost well over $300,000 to build if materials are bought and installed by professional stonemasons.
Alternatively, if a property owner decides to build a stone house using gathered—that is, free—stone by themselves, without the aid of stonemasons, the total cost would decrease substantially.
If, on the other hand, you’re only planning on installing natural stone siding, you can expect to pay a much lower price. On average stone siding costs between $30 and $48 per square foot to install, which means you can expect to pay anywhere from $57,000 to $72,000 to side the entire exterior of an average-sized house in stone.
What is Artificial Stone Veneer?
There is, however, another way to enjoy the aesthetics of stone without having to spend an exorbitant amount on materials and labor: You could opt for architectural stone veneer instead.
Depending on the manufacturer, architectural stone veneer can be molded out of foam or concrete—both of which are lighter than natural stone—which allows for greater versatility and makes for easier installation.
“As a manufactured product, architectural stone veneer opens up a world of almost unlimited product variety, and adding stone elements remains one of the top architectural trends for both exterior and interior applications,” Sarah Lograsso, director of marketing and product design for Cultured Stone, told gb&d in a previous interview.
Due to its lightweight nature and use of manufactured materials, architectural stone veneer is significantly cheaper than stone and doesn’t require highly skilled laborers to install.
Natural Stone vs. Architectural Stone Veneer
Aside from the differences in materials and cost, how does natural stone compare to architectural stone veneer? For starters, natural stone can be used to construct stairs, flooring, chimneys, and solid, load bearing walls due to its high compression strength and overall durability. When used as a cladding material, natural stone offers excellent protection against the elements—due to its weight, however, it also requires increased reinforcement.
Pros of Stone
- High thermal mass
- Low maintenance
Cons of Stone
- Requires skilled stonemasons
- Lengthy construction process
Architectural stone veneer, on the other hand, is a manufactured product designed to mimic the look and texture of natural stone and is used almost exclusively as an exterior cladding. Architectural stone veneer is significantly cheaper and lighter than natural stone, making it possible to install even on non-structural features, but it has nowhere near the same durability and typically only has a lifespan of 50 years.
Pros of Architectural Stone Veneer
- Easy to install
- Lower upfront costs
Cons of Architectural Stone Veneer
- Susceptible to moisture damage
- Shorter lifespan
- May not be sustainable
Stone Home Designs & Inspiration
While stone traditionally invokes a sense of almost rural antiquity, one associated with, say, the English or Scottish countryside, it needn’t be limited to the architectural styles of the past.
Today’s stone homes reflect both contemporary and antique design elements, proving once more how versatile stone can be. We’ve included some of the most inspiring designs below.
While they aren’t as popular as they used to be, Tudor-style homes—which typically feature a stone, brick, and timber exterior—are nevertheless a testament to the beauty of natural stone.
Originally used to describe the types of houses built during the Tudor era of 17th- and 18th-century England, the Tudor style of architecture is characterized by the use of hand-hewn timber, thick stone-and-brick walls, and steep gable roofs. Thanks to excellent craftsmanship and the combination of natural thermal insulators (wood) and materials with high thermal mass (stone), these original Tudors were capable of keeping interiors warm during cold English winters.
In the early decades of the 1900s, Tudor style houses saw a wave of resurgence in the United States—but seeing as the materials used in their construction were expensive, Tudor homes were largely restricted to the upper echelons of American society.
Today there are many renovated Tudor homes for sale throughout the Northeastern portion of the United States.
Contemporary Stone Houses
While they aren’t necessarily a specific style of home but rather a broad category, contemporary stone homes offer insight on how stone may be adapted to suit modern design preferences.
Designed by ZDA and VGZ Arquitectos, the Punta House in Mexico City, for example, blends volcanic stone and marble with wood, concrete, and stucco, mixing traditional and contemporary style preferences to create a sustainable homestead embedded in the natural world.
Marble is used as an accent feature throughout the house, its stately, refined look contrasting nicely with the warm, inviting oak that defines and unifies the interior styling.
Outside, volcanic stone covers the service area and clads the foundation, giving the appearance that the house itself is rising out of an ancient lava flow.
Stone & Concrete
Constructed by NOMO Studio, the appropriately-named Stone House in Minorca, Spain once again showcases how stone can be combined with other materials—in this case, concrete—to blend old and new architectural styles together.
Designed to emulate the ancient walls and fences found across the island, the Stone House utilizes local limestone collected from the project site to clad its exterior. Light-colored plaster lines the edges of the house’s roof and walls, creating an intermingled patchwork effect with the limestone that hearkens back to traditional Minorcan customs.
Inside, the Stone House uses sand-colored concrete to compliment the exterior limestone, pairing it with white-veiled wooden beams, pine carpentry, and whitewashed walls to create a light, airy, and inviting atmosphere.
Stone Home Lifespan
Well-built stone homes typically last upwards of 100 years, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. There are, however, certain environmental factors that can prematurely reduce the structural integrity of stone houses, especially if the masonry isn’t properly maintained.
Unsealed stone and deteriorating mortar, for example, can allow water to enter the stone or seep behind it—should this water freeze, it can cause the stone to crack or even shift position. If left unchecked, this can lead to breakage or allow the stone to fall out the wall itself.
Maintenance tips for stone houses include:
- Use a mild detergent to clean stone masonry at least once each year.
- Remove climbing plants like ivy and moisture-retaining mosses from the surface of exterior stone walls to keep the mortar in good condition.
- Unclog weep holes and repair damaged mortar regularly to minimize the chance of debilitating moisture damage.
In general, it’s recommended that homeowners inspect their stone homes annually to mitigate the need for expensive repairs down the line.