The History Of Natural Stone In Construction


Using natural stone ties historic prestige to modern homeownership.

Because many areas of the planet had little wood for houses, homes were built with materials available or hollowed from cave systems. Natural stone has been used to construct buildings since the beginning of time, these are the structures that are uncovered in many archaeological dig sites today. 

A Durable & Energy Efficient Building Material 

Stone structures are durable and will last for centuries unless they are affected by war or natural disaster. While the interior wood walls or roofing may burn in a stone house, the stone itself is fireproof. Another reason the buildings survive is pests prefer wood buildings and cannot consume rock.

A nice feature is it retains the sun’s heat during the day and it also radiates it into the home during cooler evening hours, providing an energy-saving boost. In fact, many desert dwellings are made from adobe or brick. Stone houses built throughout cold climate countries needed additional insulation and heating to keep them warm through winter months. 

An early roman architect, Sergius Orata, invented under-floor rock vent work called ‘hypocausts‘ in 80 B.C. Connected to a wood or coal-burning blast furnace, the vents allowed the hot air to move under the floors and heat the buildings and water systems. Today’s buildings still have in-floor ducting systems, but they are powered conveniently by electric, propane, and natural gas furnaces.

Natural Stone Can Be Inexpensive, If It’s Readily Available

When natural stone is readily available in a building area, it can be an inexpensive way to build walls of a home. Many mountain homes use rock for wall systems. Another example is using fieldstone for pillar work, landscape projects or walls from stones that can be found in farmer’s fields, or lifted from the ground at construction sites. 

However, because rock takes so long to form, it is not a renewable resource. Using rare types of rock or importing unique rock materials from distant places became expensive. 

In ancient civilizations, it was a symbol of wealth and stature. If you were wealthy, you could import precious and impressive materials for buildings. Additionally, you could hire artisans to build structures like homes, businesses, and temples, somewhat like we do today. Modern mining, shipping, and fabrication of rock-like materials have decreased the costs for natural rock; however, it is still considered a desirable feature for any home. Natural rock exteriors are mostly maintenance-free if constructed and sealed correctly.

Endless Options Available 

There are many types of natural rock. Geology 101 explains that there are igneous rocks formed through volcanic processes. Sedentary stones are formed through layers of silted soil compressed for hundreds of years. There is also metamorphic rock, which is a rock changed through heat, pressure, or hot liquid processes. Examples of natural stone used in buildings are granite (igneous rock), sandstone, shale, and limestone (sedentary rock), quartzite, and marble (metamorphic rock). Some stones, like brick and tile, are made by mixing natural stone materials with binders and firing them in a heated kiln.  

How Natural Stone Is Mined

Mountain rock mines are sites where quarrymen blast the rock, without cracking it, and slice it into blocks, or pick boulders from the ground. Canada, Italy, India, China, and Brazil have granite and marble mines. For a video of marble mining in Italy see:

The mined natural rock blocks go to sawyers, who used diamond-tipped saws to slice it into slabs and polish the surfaces as required. It is exported or sent to shops where banker masons take orders from customers. They would then shape the stone to the size needed for building projects.

Working with stone is an art form. It requires detailed knowledge to know how to handle rock, cut or shape it, and fit it together with other rock pieces. This knowledge ensures the structures are stable, and the grouts and fixatives mix in the appropriate portions. 

Types Of Masons & Their Roles

There are different types of masons, specializing in various techniques. Rubble masons work with rough stone and mortar. Ashlar masons work with cut stone. Memorial masons do headstones, and Carver masons do rock carving. Veneer masons work with a stone less than 15 lbs. by 1-inch thickness, applying that stone to walls and surfaces. Fixer masons attach stones to buildings with lifts and using special fixings, mounts, grouts, and epoxies. Slip form masons build walls with forms, rebar, rock, mortar, and concrete. Bricklayers deal with bricks and tile applications.

In the middle ages, masons belonged to guild houses, whose members set up best practices, training, and pricing for rock work. Today masons belong to trade unions called the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC). 

If you are building with stone, it would be in your best interest to consult contractors certified in masonry work. They have the expertise to help you with construction needs to ensure the building project will be safe and durable.

Using Natural Stone On Modern Homes

Today, a home built totally of stone is not common, especially in Calgary. With the need to run utilities and piping, it can be a more expensive and challenging mode of construction for a complete home. Many homeowners are turning to natural stone veneers applied to the exterior and interior surfaces that lend the warmth of natural stone surfaces at a reduced cost. 

Faux stone veneer products are also available. Those can be a close substitute for natural stone veneer. Again, it is less expensive and lighter to use, however, patterns and colours will sometimes repeat. This is a noticeable detail on scrutiny. You might like to try and install a faux stone veneer yourself in a small DIY project.

Match The Stone To Your Home

Designers will suggest you match the natural stone for your project to the character of the home. For example, a mountain chalet may use shale, where a prairie cottage may use field stone to fit into the surrounding environment. Contemporary or modern designed homes often use stacked stone rather than using rock horizontally on the wall surface. There are many types and colours of natural stone that can complement your home. Many suppliers have samples that you can view and take home for matching, before purchase. For example, Ecostone Products have various types of stone you may ask your contractor to install. Contractors sometimes have a regular supplier who will offer consumer discounts for materials installed by that particular contractor.

Hiring A Professional Ensures A Look You’ll Love

You should hire a certified mason, or professional landscaper to deal with large natural stone building projects or landscaping natural stone walls and walkways. Real stone is heavy, and mixing and slugging cement is heavy. Landscapers and masonry staff use proper machinery and methods to finish natural stonework safely and quickly. Using the skills of a handyman, or friend who has no specialized knowledge may get the job done. Still, you might run into trouble because they were unaware of the codes surrounding the use of stone building projects and proper application methods. They also may not have set, cured, or sealed it correctly, leaving you with troubling maintenance, ongoing repairs, and no warranties. Your home is a long-term investment. You want to protect that equity and enjoy your beautifully crafted property worry-free. 

A.M. Stucco has provided certified masonry services to Calgarians for over 20 years. Our professional staff would love to hear about your ideas for incorporating natural stone for your home. Call us today to discuss your project and obtain a free estimate.