NEW ORLEANS Call it the Faux Stone Age.
It is not an entirely new concept, but the trend toward products that look like stone and brick clearly has legs.
In a world with a shrinking number of willing and able masons, as well as shrinking bank accounts, building product firms are turning to alternative materials to make goods that will satisfy stone-starved consumers at prices they can handle.
In plastics, the first nonroofing product to get its name out there and make some noise was Columbus, Ohio-based Crane Group's BellaStone. The outdoor wall panels look like decorative stone and are made from molded polypropylene and stone aggregate. Sold as part of Exterior Portfolio by Crane, and made by an undisclosed third party, it remains the company's fastest-growing product line. What started as exterior cladding also is now being used for architectural columns.
Royal Group Inc. of Mississauga, Ontario, launched a competing stonelike architectural column, which it displayed at the Fencetech trade show, held Jan. 13-16 in New Orleans. Royal officials did not provide details about the product.
Vinyl siding manufacturers continue to try and develop a siding product that can pass as stone or brick. But BellaStone aside, the industry is not there.
If the emergence of fiber-cement siding in North America has not been an incentive for vinyl siding manufacturers to innovate, the faux brick and stone siding products made by Nichiha USA Inc. should be. The Norcross, Ga.-based company is a joint venture of Japan's Nichiha Corp of Nagoya and Sumitomo Corp. of Tokyo.
In Japan, most homeowners do not upgrade by moving into a larger residence, said Darrin Haugan, Nichiha USA's senior vice president of sales and marketing. Instead, they upgrade the exterior cladding, for more distinctive looks. Nichiha has been able to replicate stone and brick for many years, he said, and consumers are drawn to it because of comparatively low cost and ease of installation vs. the natural alternative.
Among the newer products at Fencetech that kept show-goers doing double takes, were columns and fence panels from Grove City, Ohio-based Faux Fence Co. Faux Fence, which supplies Crane with post caps for its BellaStone columns, makes its own columns as well as 4-foot wall panels and landscape ties, from a proprietary polyurethane molding process.
Faux Fence hires masons to build the columns and wall panels, and then the firm casts the molds using those originals. It is the ability to take the weight out of the product, yet create something durable, that gives the Faux Fence its edge.
``If this was free-rise polyurethane, my column would weigh 150 pounds,'' said Brady Rothgeb, vice president of sales and marketing, in an interview at Fencetech. ``My trick is I've eliminated all the weight in the product, yet increased the strength.''
It takes 12 minutes to cast a 4-foot wall panel that mimics a stacked limestone wall panel, which would take a mason an entire day to build using a ton of stone, he said.
Using a chemical agent, Faux Fence officials bring the product to 200° F in 45 seconds in the mold, Rothgeb said.
``There's nothing else out there like this,'' he said. ``I'm telling you none.''
Meanwhile, composite roofing tiles designed to mimic slate and clay barrel tiles which have been available for years are evolving in color and mold design.
Tamko Building Products Inc. and Da Vinci Roofscapes were among exhibitors displaying new roofing colors and designs at the recent International Builders' Show, held Jan. 20-23 in Las Vegas.