Chocolate colored brownstone is a type of limestone that was commonly utilized as siding material in the late 1800s in major cities throughout the United States. Amazingly, brownstone as a construction material has been enjoying a resurgence in recent years – amazing because extracting it from the Earth requires a labor intensive process used by quarrymen a century ago –splitting blocks with hammers and wedges and wrestling 20-ton blocks onto flatbed trucks.
First quarried in Connecticut from a source known as the Portland Formation, brownstone receives its distinctive tint from the ferric oxide that cemented the sand and mud together. Some of these horizontal layers, deposited about 200 million years ago, even show dinosaur footprints!
While beautiful, brownstone’s composition is also its most serious limitation. Brownstone, typically applied vertically in sheets, attracts rain and other moisture, which in turn can cause flaking, or spalling in brownstone that hadn’t been properly cured, or dried prior to construction.
Unfortunately, there are few methods to prevent this flaking and over the century since it was first used, many people have tried to paint and cement patch the problems away with mainly bad results. Paint and siding over brownstone actually accelerates spalling because they trap moisture. Consequently, restoration of old brownstone siding is best left to the experts.
Because of the huge cost involved in quarrying large pieces of brownstone, much of the stone being quarried today is utilized for replacement lintels, stair treads, sills and ashlar, or squared blocks for 2-inch pavers. Easily carved, brownstone is more often used for interesting interior features, such as an elaborately carved room divider.
Brownstone is a chocolate-colored limestone that became wildly popular in the 1800’s. While it is certainly a beautiful siding option, brownstone’s inability to repel moisture makes it hard to maintain and less durable than many homeowners would like. Here are the facts so you can decide if it’s right for your home.
Since extracting brownstone from quarries is a labor-intensive process, it’s certainly not the cheapest material on the market. Depending on where it’s quarried, however, the final price tag varies quite a bit. Ask a siding contractor in your area for specific cost estimates.
Brownstone is rich with history and brings the elegant, high-end appeal of authentic stone.
Brownstone attracts rain and other moisture.
If not cured or dried properly prior to construction, it can flake or spall.
Paint and siding over brownstone increases the flaking and spalling problem.
Historic records show that once it has been penetrated by moisture, brownstone tends to begin spalling 10 to 20 years after construction. However, if it is properly cared for before, during and after construction, it will last longer.
The biggest concern with brownstone siding is keeping it free from moisture. Speak to your contractor about the best way to care for brownstone in your particular climate.
Common Questions and Answers
Where does brownstone come from?
Brownstone comes from stone quarries in a wide range of places, like Connecticut, Massachusetts, eastern New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. However, the most easily quarried brownstone is the Portland Formation in Connecticut, where the brownstone i
Is brownstone still a common siding material?
No, due to the huge cost involved in quarrying large pieces of brownstone, much of the stone being quarried today is utilized for replacement lintels, stair treads, sills and ashlar, or otherwise squared blocks for 2-inch
HistoryChocolate-colored brownstone was commonly utilized as a siding material in the late 1800’s in major cities throughout the United States. Brownstone has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years, though it still remains out of reach for most homeowners.
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