Thursday, June 16, 2011


100 years ago, a stone building would have had solid masonry walls. Today, this is seldom if ever done. Due to its high costs in both labor and materials, and to the increased demand for energy conservation, stone is laid as a veneer over a well insulated wood framed wall. Even used as a veneer, stone is a fireproof and low maintenance exterior material. Used inside on fireplaces and as an accent material, stone adds warmth and character. Different types of stone, many different colors and shapes, different patterns of laying the stone and different methods of finishing the mortar joints allow for an endless variety of looks.

With "true" stone, masons place individual rocks or stones, set in mortar, against a framed wall. The stone starts on a "brick ledge" formed in the foundation. The wall is sheathed with plywood or O.S.B. board covered in building paper or Tyvek to keep moisture away from the wood. As the stone rises, galvanized steel anchors are attached to the framed wall and extend into the mortar joints to keep the stone veneer attached to the framed wall. Using "true" or full sized stone as a veneer is a costly way to have a stone exterior on your home. The "brick ledge" requires a thicker and more costly foundation. The materials are expensive. The labor, utilizing skilled masons, adds to the costs. "True" stone is often used as a finish material on fireplaces.

Thin stone veneer is sold by some brick and stone yards. It is real stone, cut thin to about 1 1/2" thick. Flat and corner pieces are available. This material, which is real stone, is mortared onto what is similar to a stucco base. There is no "brick ledge". The lower weight than a "true" stone wall means there is seldom an engineering problem and a conventional foundation is used. This thin stone veneer is still laid by masons, but goes up faster than "true" stone, saving labor costs. Individual pieces can be chipped to fit, a broken edge shows only the stone selected. Corner pieces make columns and arches easy. Thin stone veneer adds a moderate cost to obtaining a stone exterior on your home.

Concrete stone, also known as synthetic stone, is cast from concrete with colors added. Different molds give a variety of shapes. Using shape, patterns and color, many types of stone construction can be replicated. Concrete stone is laid up similar to thin stone veneer, with no "brick ledge". Both material costs and labor are lower, making concrete stone veneer the lowest cost way to have a stone exterior on your home. Corner pieces are available. Concrete stone can not be chipped or broken without showing the uncolored concrete interior.

Basically, all stone veneers are laid like giant jigsaw puzzles. How good the stone looks, how much it resembles real, old fashioned masonry, depends on the skill of the masons. Even with the lower costs of stone veneers, tight budgets usually mean restricting the amount of stone veneer used. Since stucco and other sidings are less expensive, stone veneer is often used as an accent. Stone veneer, with its higher costs, is placed at entries and approaches, then not used at on the rear and unseen portions of the home. Trim, headers, door and window outlines can be done in any style. Rustic, traditional or contemporary designs can be built with stone veneer. All stone veneers help to seal the house against air infiltration making the home more energy conserving.   

Photos, in the order shown.
Carpenter residence, Tabernash, Colorado. "True" stone veneer. 
Schurr residence, Fraser, Colorado. "true" stone fireplace.
Wilson residence, Littleton, Colorado. Thin stone veneer.
Christensen residence, Larkspur, Colorado. Concrete stone veneer.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Buying a piece of land for a custom home is one of the largest purchases you will ever make. With such a large investment, it's best that you research the project and consider all the variables and your goals. Land may be sold as a large acreage in a rural area or as a small lot in a sub-division. There are many aspects to consider and we will discuss some of them here.
Generally, land in a sub-division, near a city, near a ski area, in a prime vacation area or with dramatic views will command a higher price. Land in remote areas, with poor access or with a north facing building site will sell for a lower price. Construction costs when you do build will be highest in ski areas and places with large numbers of vacation and second homes. Costs to build in semi-rural areas, on the edges of cities and in places where suburban builders work will be more reasonable. Surprisingly, construction costs in the remote and rural areas will not be much different.
Buying land adjacent to open space or government land has the advantages of feeling larger, being more privaye, but may cost more.
Some of the aspects to consider about land before you purchase depend on your planned use. Will the site be a future vacation home or a full time home? Will there be children? Are they school age and will they ride a bus to a local school? Is there convenient access to the things you like and need? Ski areas, restaurants, shops and airports?
Most rural or large acreage sites will use a well and septic system. Most sub-divisions will have sewer and water. There may be design covenants and a design review process. Are there restrictions on size, style and placement? Taxes need to be considered. On large acreage, an agricultural tax status may be obtained to lower property tax. On a 35 acre lot that may mean raising your own cattle. On very large acreage that often means letting a local rancher lease the grazing rights. A conservation easement could be considered. Heavily treed parcels may not stay heavily treed. In addition to some trees cut for construction, one site lost many of its trees to pine beetles.

Climate should be considered. What spots on the property recieve full sunlight? Good winter sun on the garage apron and driveway help clear snow. Are there trees to slow the wind? A well built house makes little noise in a strong wind, but what about being outside? What is the local zoning? Is a guest house desired? Is it allowed? Are there good views? One trick is to bring a step ladder to a site and check what the views will be from the main floor. They are often better than from the ground. Is there privacy from neighbors, existing and future.

David Elfring Architect will make a site visit to your property, newly bought or still being considered. He will visit a site in most parts of Colorado within about a four hour drive from Castle Rock, Colorado. He will discuss with you; potential house sites, access, utilities, budgets and your requirements. Stakes will be placed to allow for future soil tests and a contour survey. The Architect has made these consulting visits near Walsenburg, Canon City, Fairplay, Salida and other spots in Colorado. Consulting fees begin at $500.

Photos, in the order shown; 
Lyon cabin, Fox Adres Country Club, Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, before & after                        
Schurr residence, Fraser, Colorado, before & after.