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Natural Stone Veneer: Contractor Grade vs Architectural Grade

If you’ve spent any amount of time around building supply yards, big box hardware stores, or flipped through a home and garden focused magazine you’ve undoubtedly come across products with the attributes “contractor grade” and “architectural grade” associated with them. In this week’s blog we’re going to dissect what these terms when it comes to stone veneer, how to determine what grade a particular stone veneer product is, and what’s important when it comes to contractor vs architectural grade and what isn’t.

“Contractor grade” is often synonymous with “builder grade” and is generally defined as lower cost products that are made with lower grade materials. In the world of stone veneer panels, contractor grade panels are often associated with panels that are extremely thin, have little to no dimensionality, and often aren’t associated with a reputable brand in the stone industry, coming in unbranded boxes or the manufacturer has no website, completed project photos, etc. Contractor grade products often use lower quality inputs as well. So in the stone veneer example, the stone used might be left overs from a different type of stone fabrication process, and the materials used to form the stone into the panels themselves might be a lower quality polyester based glue or sometimes you’ll even find contractor grade panels that are mounted to a sheet backer.

Side view of Contractor Grade Stone Veneer Panels shown to show relative thinness of these panels as compared to Architectural Grade Stone Veneer Panels

“Architectural Grade”, as you might have already guessed is basically the opposite of contractor grade, and generally represents products that are made with higher grade materials, higher quality fabrication methods, and as a result generally are more expensive as well. From a stone veneer standpoint, architectural grade panels are generally associated with manufacturers that have established brand identities in the marketplace and have a resume of high caliber projects and testimonials from a variety of projects. The products themselves tend to be more robust and made of more expensive natural stones like quartz and marble, as opposed to slate and sandstone, and are made with higher level manufacturing techniques, such as using high grade epoxy to glue the panels together and having accessories like hand fit finger jointed outside corners.

Architectural Grade Stone Veneer Panel showing relative thickness of panel creating dimensionality as compared to Contractor Grade Stone Veneer Panels

So the big question is, what’s really important when it comes to comparing contractor grade vs architectural grade stone veneer products? For the author, who has about 15 years experience in the natural stone industry, the most important aspect of a product like this is how it actually ends up looking when installed on your wall, followed closely by how easy the product is to install. A contractor grade natural stone veneer product will have less dimensionality on the wall and as a result the panels tend to be easier to pick out. An architectural grade product with more dimensionality will be able to “hide” the seams of the panel system since the texture of the product tends to draw the eye more than the seams.

Norstone Architectural Grade Ochre Blend Standard Series Rock Panels being installed at Rockport Concert Hall in Rockport, MA

Ease of installation is another important aspect of comparing architectural vs contractor grade. Architectural grade products should be more highly calibrated and come with accessories like outside corner units, natural ends, sills, etc that make an installation easier. Contractor grade products might require a little more “finesse” to get everything fitting tightly on the wall and even simple installations can eat up lots of time if the product doesn’t have accessories like outside corners, which would then require field units to be miter cut.

The one thing we don’t recommend is focusing solely on price and assuming everything else is the same between an architectural grade and contractor grade stone veneer. Architectural grade products might not be the right fit for every project, but in the world of building materials the old adage of “you get what you pay for” tends to ring true.

Norstone Architectural Grade Ochre Blend Standard Series Rock Panels at Rockport Concert Hall in Rockport, MA

Norstone is a manufacturer of premium architectural grade natural stone veneer products that we create in our factory in South East Asia. Created and overseen by an Australian operating group, Norstone products are known world wide for their beautiful designs, unique colors, and quality craftsmanship. Contact our stone professionals today to learn more about our amazing architectural grade natural stone veneer products.

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Norstone's New Dimensions in Natural Stone blog aims to discuss design themes, sources of inspiration, and how the world around us influences our creative interpretation and buying preferences.

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