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Loose Stones vs Stone Panel Systems – Which One is Right for Your Stacked Stone Project?

There’s a healthy debate about using individual loose stones vs stone panel systems for a stacked stone veneer installation, and for good reason! Each product and installation method comes with its own set of pros and cons. So let’s take a closer look at each of these product types and learn the good, bad, and ugly to help you decide what’s the right product for your next stacked stone veneer installation.

Traditional Hand Stacked Loose Stone on a pallet ready for installation

It makes sense to start off with loose individual stones because this method really is the original when it comes to stacked stone. Hand stacked stone has been around for centuries – just take a look at many forts, castles, city walls, etc and you’ll see examples of stonework that has been hand stacked and stood the test of time.

Traditional Hand Stacked Loose Stone on a garden wall with a bench in front of it

Some of the main advantages of using hand stacked loose stone are the breadth of stone options available to you. Pretty much any stone can be used, or modified to be used, to be stacked on a wall. Stone masons are adept at using rock hammers and chisels to strike larger stones at just the right point to break it into smaller pieces or into a certain shape to fit the installation. With the variety of stone available for an installation like this, it also opens us this category of stone veneer to almost every price point.

The drawbacks of hand stacked loose stone is that skilled, experienced labor is a must for a great looking installation. The installation process can often be tedious and slow, and some loose stone installations also will get “mortared in”, meaning masonry mortar is “pointed” into the gaps between each stone. The combination of a skilled installer plus a lengthy installation can make the cost of installation high.

Norstone White Rock Panel stone veneer panel system

Stone panel systems have been around for about the past 15 years or so, and are made possible by advances in stone processing equipment that allows the stone to be split and cut into thinner sections. These “thin” stones are then glued together, or sometimes mounted to a backer in a standard size.

The biggest advantages of a stone panel systems is in the relative easy and therefore lower labor cost to install stone panel systems as compared to hand stacked loose stone. The ideal installer for a stone panel system is a tile installer with some experience in setting natural stone tiles, but is also well within the range of most DIY homeowners as well. Because the product comes as a repeatable shape, it can be installed quickly and efficiently, sometimes 10x as fast as hand stacked loose stone.

Norstone White Rock Panel on a large foyer feature wall

The biggest disadvantages of stone panel systems are the relative cost of the product is much higher than unprocessed loose stone, but when factoring in the lower cost of installation many times stone panel systems actually end up costing less on an installed cost per square foot basis. Another disadvantage to stone panel systems is that there are seams in the installation – whether its vertical or horizontal, wherever two panels come together a seam is formed. The extent to which this is actually a disadvantage should be considered when evaluating a stone panel system. Are the ends staggered so vertical seams are minimized? Does the product have lots of “relief” or “dimensionality” to each panel that helps hide these seams? Take a look at the product installed, whether that’s in a showroom, on their website, or a local example installation and see for yourself if you see the seams in a stone panel installation.

While there’s no right answer for whether hand stacked loose stone or stone panel systems is the right type of product for your project, the data certainly suggests that stone panel systems are worth considering. There is more stone going up on walls now than ever before because of the advances in manufacturing that make what once might have been an ugly stucco wall a beautiful stacked stone wall. Norstone is a natural stone manufacturer at the leading edge of the stone panel system revolution, having made premium architectural grade stone panel systems for over 15 years. Check out our stone veneer products and project gallery for inspiration on your next stacked stone project today!

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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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