Home & Garden

Rock your world

Ron and Jamie Matthew enjoy their Tacoma home more than ever now, and it’s all because of rocks.

A facade of manufactured stone that looks like river rock adorns the lower half of the exterior walls of their house. More stones cover what had been a brick fireplace in the living room and enclose a lamp post near the front walk.

All were do-it-yourself projects.

More and more homeowners like the Matthews are looking to manufactured stone to dress up the exterior of their homes.

Many companies make individually cast stones molded from real rocks, but they vary in quality and price. All cost a quarter to half of what genuine stone would, cut easier, and weigh less, expanding the range of possible applications.

Homeowners even can buy simulated stone panels made of polyurethane or fiber cement, for the easiest installation. Warranties on products range from 15-50 years.

As the Matthews sit outdoors on a nice evening, the backdrop of river rock in varied shades of caramel, tan and toasted almond exudes warmth and the look of a wilderness lodge. The stones create an ambience plain siding can’t.

“It just changed the whole attitude of the house,” says Jamie Matthew. “It feels cozy and homey to me now.”

“It’s much more enjoyable to look at,” added her husband. The Matthews used Eldorado Stone, a man-made product that is inspired by nature. High-quality molds, made from real rocks, reproduce the finest textural details in stones cast from a mixture of Portland cement and lightweight aggregate.

“Believability. That’s what we’re about,” says Abel Becho, Regional Architectural Sales Representative for Eldorado Stone. They replicate nature’s colors. The rocks are finished by hand with natural mineral oxides, and offer several choices of hues in more than 30 styles.


Tackling the job on your own requires education and time, but the Matthews proved it’s doable, if you’re careful. It helped that their son, Steve Matthew, already had installed a manufactured stone veneer on his own house, aided by a friend, a professional mason. Anyone can get good installation instructions, although that’s no guarantee of a pleasing outcome.

Becho says, “It just depends on who’s doing it. A homeowner who is handy and uses our instructional materials could do a fine job. There’s a great video on our Web site that shows exactly how it’s done.”

Ron Matthew loved his son’s results, but still had reservations when the younger Matthew suggested they do his house, too: “The hard part was wondering, ‘Is this really going to get done or are we going to get halfway through it and then the whole thing will fall apart?’ I was nervous that it would look amateurish. That’s why I chose the river rock. It’s random. You can’t do it wrong. We would scatter two or three boxes out at a time to get choices.”

Every box contains a variety of sizes.

Quality of workmanship determines if the change will enhance your home’s value, or hurt it. Realtor Bruce Larson, with Coldwell Banker Bain, says: “The key is doing it well. In today’s market buyers are picky. They have choices. But if done well it could certainly increase curb appeal.”


Installation procedures vary with the surface being covered, product characteristics, and the desired effect. The Matthews chose a wainscot look, working right over the original board and batten siding. First they established the top edge, cut off the batten board trim below that point, and tucked a wide wood beam underneath the cut edge, instead of using a stone wainscot sill. That saved money. “All your extras, the corners and trim pieces, are what get expensive,” Ron Matthews points out.

After removing the trim, father and son applied two layers of tar paper, followed by aluminum mesh, a foundation of mortar, then the stones, attached one at a time and then grouted. The final step was a sealer.

So how much does it cost?

Many factors affect the price. Jacek “Jack” Sobolewski, owner of Kampol Construction and a stone artist who has worked on higher-end homes in Sumner and Gig Harbor, said of the costs to have the work done, “The cost is determined by numerous variables: size of the job, type of job, location, quantity, prep work performed, etc. Costs run from the low $20s and up per square foot, including materials and labor.”

Eldorado Stone River Rock retails for about $7.50 per square foot. Add to that the cost of tar paper, mesh, and mortar. The Matthews saved money by doing the project on their own, but the men had to fit the work into their schedules. But they feel rewarded. “I just provided food and water,” says Jamie Matthew, “but it was fun to watch the process and see it grow. And I love the fireplace.”

Any regrets? No way. Ron Matthew leans back in his lawn chair and smiles as he admires the walls. “If we moved tomorrow to a house that didn’t have stone, I’d do it again in a minute.”

Where to buy

Eldorado Stone (1-800-925-1491; www.eldoradostone.com)

 • Evergreen Building Products: Tacoma, 1-800-927-8438

 • I-XL Masonry Supplies Inc.: Auburn, 253-804-0252

 • Allied Building Products: Tacoma, 253-588-6604 or Tumwater, 360-352-7180

Owens Corning Cultured Stone (www.culturedstone.com)

 • Mutual Materials: 1-888-688-8250 Tacoma and Tumwater; sales@mutualmaterials.com

Veneerstone (www.veneerstoneretail.com)

 • Carried by Home Depot, www.homedepot.com

Coronado Stone (www.coronadostone.com)

 • Available at Lowe’s, www.lowes.com

DIY tips from Ron Matthew

 • “Be sure you buy enough in the beginning to complete your project.”

 • “Always work from the top down so the mortar doesn’t drip on the rocks below.”

 • Chuck Dehnert, Sales Representative, I-XL Masonry Supplies suggests: “There are so many choices. The first thing I tell customers is to visit the showroom and focus on the shape of the stone, the profile types. Then you can choose a color in that category.”