Masonry, Stone Setting, and Other Stone Work

SIC 1741

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category covers special trade contractors primarily engaged in masonry work, stone setting, and other stone work. Special trade contractors primarily engaged in concrete work are classified in SIC 1771: Concrete Work; those engaged in digging foundations are classified in SIC 1794: Excavation Work; and those engaged in the construction of streets, highways, and alleys are classified in SIC 1611: Highway and Street Construction, Except Elevated Highways.

Industry Snapshot

The masonry, stone setting, and other stone work industry includes the laying of cement blocks and bricks, chimney construction, and stone and marble work, both utilitarian and decorative. While some contractors use techniques in existence for centuries, others rely on the latest advances in method and machinery. For example, buildings of rough stone or brick remain dependent on construction techniques developed thousands of years ago, while the cutting and polishing of stone was accomplished in the early 2010s with highly accurate and sometimes electronically controlled machinery.

As a business, masonry remained a relatively small part of the construction specialty trades group. Masonry contractors often worked as subcontractors to general contractors on construction projects, but some also worked for the facility owners on repair and maintenance jobs, or on projects such as the installation of a new marble floor in an old building.

Organization and Structure

Masonry contracting establishments are considered offices managing work at one or more constructions sites. While some of the larger masonry contractors serve customers from several offices over a wide territory, most firms are relatively small, privately or family-owned businesses serving local customers. Most masonry work is performed by specialists, with only about 6percent contracted to firms primarily engaged in other construction specialties. Furthermore, some masonry specialists limit the scope of their business to specific materials such as brick, cement blocks, or stone. One of the largest masonry firms, Western Construction Group, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, works primarily in restoration and renovation projects. In 2010 the family-owned firm reported 10 years of annual revenues in excess of $100 million.

Masonry contract work is done on a variety of structures. According to the latest figures available from the U.S. Census Bureau, the industry is broken down by revenue as follows: single-family houses (26 percent), office buildings (12.5 percent), stores, restaurants, and gas stations (12.5 percent), industrial buildings (8.7 percent), schools (6.2 percent), apartment buildings (5.7 percent), houses (5.4 percent), hospitals (3.9 percent), other institutions (3.6 percent), warehouses (3.5 percent), heavy industrial facilities (2.2 percent), churches (2 percent), and other construction (7.8 percent). About 76 percent of total construction represented new construction, 24 percent represented additional alterations or reconstruction, and 10 percent represented maintenance and repair.

Masonry contracting companies performed the necessary business functions of marketing, estimating, planning, scheduling, purchasing, accounting, and training. Since most contracts were secured on the basis of competitive bids, estimation was one of the most important functions in the business, requiring special skills and experience. Bids that were too high resulted in losing contracts to competitors, while bids that were too low could result in losses for the contractor. Masonry was also subject to national, state, and city building codes, which required the full understanding and compliance of the masonry firm management and technicians.

Payroll represents the main cost of operating masonry contractor businesses, accounting for about one-third of total revenues. The cost of building materials represented another one-third, and work subcontracted to other firms represented less than 10 percent. The balance covered overhead and administrative costs.

Masonry contractors prospered during the mid-2000s as the residential housing sector swelled with new housing starts, reaching a record high of nearly 2.1 million units in 2005. However, economic pressures caused new housing starts to begin to spiral downward beginning in 2006, and, by 2009, the market had collapsed. Other construction sectors were also down during the late 2000s.

Background and Development

Masonry had its origins in Mesopotamia around 4000 B.C., when mud or clay bricks were used in construction. Around 2600 B.C. cut stone was introduced in the construction of religious facilities and monuments in Egypt. These early stone works exhibited remarkable engineering skills as they included stone pieces of several tons in size that fit in exactly in place. In the Americas, dry stone construction was also used by the early Aztec, Mayan, and Inca civilizations, primarily for religious edifices.

The Romans made several innovations to stone construction techniques. They used mortar extensively and designed vaults and domes in large structures that were buttressed to reinforce large buildings. These features were later incorporated into Gothic cathedrals, which represented an artistic achievement in masonry workmanship.

The development of steel and reinforced concrete for buildings in the nineteenth century made stone arches and vaulting obsolete except for design purposes and, along with the invention of the elevator, led to the creation of the skyscraper. In the twentieth century, the most common masonry applications used concrete blocks, which were economical as well as durable. Concrete blocks also provided excellent insulation against extreme temperatures and noise, were fire-resistant, stood up well in earthquakes, and needed little maintenance. In the United States, an industry standard developed in which concrete blocks, with mortar, measured 8 inches by 8 inches by 20 inches.

Much of the stone used in U.S. masonry projects, including granite, limestone, marble, sandstone, and slate, was purchased from foreign sources, and a lesser amount of stone quarried in the United States was sold overseas. In 1991, domestic stone production was valued at $197 million, with Georgia, Vermont, Minnesota, North Carolina, Texas, and Indiana being the leading producers. Stone imports for domestic use in 1991 were valued at $475 million, with Italy serving as the source of about half the worldwide stone production.

A booming U.S. construction industry revitalized the masonry industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Not only were homes being built at a rate unmatched in 25 years, but buyers were also demanding more upgrades that required tile, stone, and brick. The industry employed 165,000 workers in 2002, and employment was predicted to grow 17.4 percent between 2002 and 2012. Average hourly wages for stonemasons were $16.36 in 2002, and brick masons and block masons earned an average of $20.11.

The early 2000s were not trouble-free for masonry contractors or for other construction specialties. The U.S. economic slowdown caused high office vacancy rates, which resulted in slowed office construction. Simultaneously, a slowdown in manufacturing resulted in a slowdown for industrial and warehouse construction. However, analysts predicted that commercial and industrial construction would rebound as early as 2004 thanks in part to the passage of the TEA-21 Reauthorization Bill, which earmarked funding for masonry structures.

The masonry, stone setting, and other stone work industry faced challenges directly from the leading contractors, including the lack of "skilled masons," competition from other material choices, and the rising cost of supplies. The revenues of the 75 leading masonry, stone setting, and other stone work specialty contractors rose 15 percent, or $175 million, from 2005 to 2006. Commercial, industrial, and industrial projects accounted for 65.8 percent of total construction, while residential activity represented 20.2 percent. The remaining 14 percent of business was in the repair, renovation, and restoration markets according to Masonry Construction in January 2007.

Despite the slowdown in residential construction in the mid-2000s, non-residential construction had kept the masonry industry prosperous, but that changed in 2008. "Real construction activity is expected to decline 9 percent in 2008, and another 7 percent in 2009," according to Edward Sullivan, Portland Cement Association's chief economist in Masonry Construction in October 2008. Sullivan added that "The combination of high home inventories, weak economy-wide demand conditions, and poor state budget conditions will hit all sectors of construction--residential, non-residential, and public." A turnaround was not expected until 2010 when cement consumption, which directly affects the masonry industry, was projected to climb 2.7 percent from 2009.

Current Conditions

According to industry statistics, there were 26,845 masonry, stone setting, and other stone work firms valued at $15.13 billion with an industry-wide workforce of 183,898 specialty contractors in 2009. The masonry and other stonework segment was comprised of 21,161 firms, accounting for roughly 79 percent of market share, or $11.09 billion, making it the largest industry sector. Texas, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and New York were the largest employers in the industry. In terms of revenues generated, California, Texas, and New York led.

Within the industry, bricklaying contractors had sales of $685.1 million; stone masonry with $500.4 million; refractory or acid brick masonry with $360.5 million; and contractors specializing in foundation building with $403 million. In addition, tuckpointing or restoration reported $601.6 million in revenues; concrete block masonry laying had $372.4 million; retaining wall construction accounted for $289.9 million; foundation and retaining wall construction had $305.8 million; and chimney construction and maintenance had $197.8 million. There were 172 firms that worked in marble masonry (exterior construction), 69 firms engaged in drain tile installation, and 32 firms specializing in unit paver installation.

Economic condition deteriorated during 2008 and 2009 within the industry as the residential housing market bubble burst. Far from the record high of nearly 2.1 million new housing starts in 2005, units built in 2008 and 2009 fell to just 905,000 and 554,000, respectively. Other construction sectors also fell off during 2009. For example, the value of office construction put in place dropped from $35.8 billion in 2008 to $25.5 billion in 2009. Commercial construction declined over the same period from $68.6 to $52,7 billion. Overall, the value of nonresidential construction dropped from $357.7 billion in 2008 to $253.6 billion.

As a result of these poor economic conditions, masonry and bricklayer contractors saw demand for their services decrease. However, certain segments were helped by the influx in 2009 and 2010 of fund from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a $787 billion stimulus package put in place by the federal government to jumpstart the economy. In particular, in 2009, public funding of schools increased in 2008 and 2009, relative to 2007.

Industry Leaders

The industry leaders in the late 2000s included family-owned McGee Brothers Co., based in Monroe, North Carolina, which posted $125.25 million in revenues in 2009, down from $197.5 million in 2007. Eighty percent of McGee Brothers' sales are residential. The firm employees more than 1,000.

St. Louis, Missouri-based Western Construction Group, a diversified specialty contractor in masonry and concrete restoration and preventive waterproofing, secured sales of in excess of $100 each year of the 2000s. Western employed 850 payroll workers and 200 salaried workers in 2010. The company operated more than 40 offices across the United States.

Other industry leaders included Sun Valley Masonry, in Phoenix, Arizona, with $46 million in sales and 260 employees in 2009; Dee Brown Inc. of Garland, Texas; Pompano Masonry in Pompano Beach, Florida; Pyramid Masonry Contractors of Decatur, Georgia; and Caretti Inc. of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.


Steeped in centuries of tradition, masonry work required specialized skills and often, artistry. The homes, cathedrals, and other buildings masons helped build prompted high esteem for the profession, and many masons derived considerable personal satisfaction from their creative efforts.

Formal apprenticeship and training programs for the industry were administered by the International Masonry Institute, which was formed jointly by contractors in the masonry industry and the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen. Less formal training was also available through on-the-job guidance by senior, experienced masonry craftspersons.

In the late 2000s, construction workers comprised the majority of the industry's work force, while about 10 percent of employees performed a broad range of business functions, including estimating, engineering, planning and scheduling, purchasing, material control, and accounting. Although some seasoned masons had a broad range of skills and experience, from laying cement blocks to carving or repairing stone ornamentation, most specialized in one skill. Considerable physical strength was required for laying cement blocks, and stone work was precise, requiring patience and an eye for detail.

Most masonry contractors' employees are members of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen. Others belong to the Laborers International Union. Both unions are affiliated with the AFL-CIO and membership remains particularly strong in urban areas.

America and the World

While some of the large masonry companies had branch operations throughout the United States, few were engaged in business on a global scale. U.S.-based general contractors that performed construction overseas generally subcontracted work to established local masonry firms or acquired foreign operations near the job site. Foreign general contracting companies performing construction work in the United States were more common.

Research and Technology

Several masonry methods and techniques led to changes in the industry. The development of modular stone wall panels for high-rise buildings, which consisted of steel frames, anchoring devices, and stone, glass, and other exterior materials, increased the speed of wall construction and made it economical. The modular process also enabled the use of thin stone panels, leading to lighter and less costly materials.

An injection system for applying epoxy to secure threaded rods to reinforced brick masonry walls helped equip walls to withstand the effects of an earthquake. In addition, aqueous silicon solutions were introduced to water repellents to help prevent damage to walls from the freezing and thawing of absorbed moisture. Improved durability in concrete was achieved by adding supplementary materials made from industrial by-products, conserving natural resources. Technological developments allowed the use of robots in the industry for excavating, pipe mapping, and building masonry walls and wall partitions.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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