Hello Panelman Readers! A few weeks ago, I backpacked into the Pinckney State Recreation Area. It was the perfect fall hike, and I spent the night in a tiny tent which gave me just what I needed: shelter for the night. Nothing more, nothing less. It got me thinking about the tiny house trend.

Haven’t heard of the “tiny house”? It’s exactly what it sounds like…a very small house, the size of a larger shed. Most people who are big on small homes are into living greener, simpler, and more sustainability. It’s minimalism to the max. Some tiny houses are built right on a trailer bed that can be towed wherever the owner wants to go! The majority of tiny houses feature wood frame construction, or are like small log cabins.

But don’t think for a minute that these small houses skimp on style or design! Check out this great blog link :http://tinyhouseblog.com/ to see what I mean. Of course, my mind went directly to SIPs (structural insulated panels) and my friend Damian’s awesome SIPs kit concept. It’s literally a home in a box, which can be customized to your specific needs. The great thing about using SIPs for tiny house construction is that it provides unparalleled energy efficiency.

The SIPs that Damian uses are comprised of 3.5” EPS foam sandwiched between 7/16” OSB. So the 4×8 panels come pre-insulated thanks to the foam, and are ready to be assembled and finished. People love SIPs for homes because it creates an indoor environment that stays cooler in the summer, and warmer in the winter. The smallest SIPs kit floor plan is just 12×16 but yes, it has windows, a roof, doors, space for a hideaway bed, and you can wire in electricity and build out plumbing. The best part? This tiny SIPs house has a tiny price tag starting at just $8,500.

The 12x16 Tiniest Tiny House!

In some cases, Damian may be able to build SIPS with MgO skins, which are even more resistant to the elements. MgO (magnesium oxide) is naturally resistant to insects, fire, and moisture. It won’t grow mold or mildew. Contact me if you’re interested in talking tiny homes, and how a SIPs kit could work to build your dream (tiny) house!

It’s summer, ‘tis the season of renovations! I’ve gotten a lot of emails lately asking for tips on working with MgO board…here’s the latest:

Q: What should I use to fasten magnesium oxide boards to wood framing?

A: First, I will say to always contact the manufacturer to get their recommendations and best practices. But, here’s the general word on the street when working with MgO board: use screws. Technically you can use nails as well, but people report getting a better hold with screws. Self-embedding screws that ensure a flush finish are ideal.

One contractor even sent me a few pictures of this type of screw…it has “fins” that cut into the cement board so that the head of the screw is slightly recessed. Check out the pictures (thanks to reader Mike M. for sharing these!):

Embedded Fastener for Mgo Board

Embedded Fastener for Mgo Board

Screw with recessed head for MgO

Screw with Recessed Head Perfect for MgO Board!

I’ve heard that people love these Rock-On® Cement Board fasteners:


Some contractors have used staples for ¼” on the seam of MgO SIPS, but others have reported some breakage. Let me know what your “go to” fastener is when working with cement boards.

Ah spring! It hasn’t arrived weather-wise to the Midwest. BUT I see signs of spring around the neighborhood, as people start launching that next home improvement project. SO, it’s the perfect time to talk about just that with Michael Macek of Elite Remodeling Group out of the Chicago Land area. (For all of you outside of Chicago, “Chicago Land” is just the insider term for the suburbs of Chicago.)

Anyways, I talked with Michael last fall about his company’s new eSIP Basement Finishing System. I checked back in with him this week and found out it’s really taking off.  Due to demand for SIPs basement finishing in Peoria, Champaign, and Springfield, Elite Remodeling Group is opening a location in Peoria! Ok, enough from me, here’s what Michael had to say:

waterproof basement system

Proof that a waterproof basement can be stunning!

The Panelman: So is this new location an eSIP showroom?
Michael: No, our consultants actually prefer to take the “showroom” to our customers. We’ve found we can provide more accurate estimates for our customers if we can see their home, and find out what they truly need. It’s a time saver for the customer.

The Panelman: Why do you think SIPs for basement finishing are really taking off in the Chicago Land area?
Michael: Well, that flooding that hit us in 2013 really tore up basements in Illinois and Indiana. Neighborhoods were devastated. And anyone who undergoes disaster repair will tell you: it’s a lengthy repair process. It’s something you don’t want to have to deal with again. As many families began to clean up and renovate their basements, they sought out a solution that would stand up to water should flooding happen again. People gravitated towards the eSIP basement finishing system because the panels are built with MgO, a material that – IF it comes into contact with water – will not become a breeding ground for mold and mildew. There’s a new level of awareness of the health effects of mold and mildew. People don’t want to worry about breathing in that nasty stuff! Ultimately, who wants a wet basement? This is the wet basement solution that actually works in the long term.

The Panelman: I think I know the answer, but drywall in basements…what is your latest advice on that for a homeowner – or a contractor thinking of putting drywall in a basement?

Michael: Lately I’ve been using the analogy that when you install drywall in a basement, it’s like you’re renting that product – you don’t own it. It has a shelf life, which will expire. You can count on there being water in your basement, whether it’s from condensation, flood water, backed up sewers, you name it. And water will destroy drywall, it’s only a matter of time. With the eSIP system, it’s like an investment. It will be there as long as the house is. In fact, if one of our customers asks our team to install drywall in a basement, our contractors simply won’t do it.

The Panelman: Besides mold and mildew resistance, what else do customers like about basement SIPs?

Michael: It’s a great way to feel like the basement is a livable room, not just extra space. It looks and feels like an upstairs room – most customers say the basement becomes the most comfortable room in the house.

The Panelman: I know the “secret” to a comfortable basement, but tell our readers in your own words!
Michael: Well it’s just one word: Neopor. The most comfortable room in the house is the most well insulated room in the house! Other SIPs out there are made with regular EPS foam. Our manufacturers have switched to Neopor, a product that contains graphite. The best way to describe what it does is that it reflects heat back to its source. That means if heat is coming IN in the summer, the Neopor reflects it back outside – keeping your basement cool and dry. If it’s winter, and your furnace is running, the Neopor reflects the heat back into the basement room – keeping it warm and cozy.

The Panelman: I know aesthetics are a big deal to homeowners, tell our readers how the eSIP system looks.
Michael: With some panel systems out there, you feel like you’re surrounded by office cubicles! That’s because these other basement panels just don’t connect properly. Instead, we have a specialized spline that connects our panels seamlessly AND permanently. With our proprietary panel system, we are not just butting panels up against each other, ours actually connect. That’s key. Houses naturally settle overtime, and some other panels will shift and the seams become even more “unseemly.”

The Panelman: So now that you’re expanding basement finishing into Peoria, Springfield and Champaign, what do you want to tell a homeowner who’s never heard of SIPs basement finishing?
Michael: I know a lot of folks are unsure when they haven’t heard of a product before. We understand that, but this technology is in use across the country. There’s even a group of dozens of other manufacturers and installers involved with SIPs technology, check out their website! The most important thing I’d say is that I think this system will become even more popular once the Energy Star requirements are revamped!

ThePanelman: Thanks Michael! For our readers, if you’re a homeowner in the Chicago Land area looking for a better basement solution, contact Elite! If you’re a general contractor, and interested in providing a waterproof basement finishing system with full factory and sales support, then contact me and I can help!

Hello Panelman Readers! It’s been awhile, but I’m back and ready to share some exciting news with you…You know I’m always on the look out for the brightest and best construction materials out there. And one that keeps grabbing my attention is JetBoard™. Through my business, Total Panel Source, I’m constantly asked: Where can I get MgO board? Who is a reliable supplier of magnesium oxide panels? And most often: Can I get MgO board made in America? I constantly connect these folks with JetBoard™. Now, here’s the big news: JetBoard™ was named the Most Innovative Building Material at the National Association of Home Builders show last month!

There were 1,700+ construction products and materials being showcased at the show, and guess who came out on top? Yup, a magnesium oxide based board. And JetBoard isn’t just any MgO board – they use nano technology to make sure the product is perfect, consistent, and stable from the molecular level on up. So it makes sense, if you’re an architect or engineer, why wouldn’t you specify using a fireproof panel that actually fights fire – instead of just resisting it? And why wouldn’t you use a board that’s naturally mold and mildew resistant? It’s a no brainer.

If you’re interested in sourcing JetBoard™, just contact me – and I can get you more details. They’re working on some exciting new products for specific industries, too. Like the marine construction and ballistics industries. More to come on that, soon!

Happy Halloween Panelman Readers! In the spirit of this spooky holiday, I thought I’d share a few scary ingredients in certain panels being used in home building these days. We’re talking stuff like arsenic and formaldehyde, truly frightening right? Who wants to be haunted by these chemicals in their own house? So whether you have chemical sensitivities or just want to ensure your home is free of the bad stuff, read on…if you dare.

What’s Green Isn’t Always Good
Everyone is so concerned about going green for the planet, they don’t always ensure that what’s good for the environment is also good for people. I try to work with companies who take BOTH into consideration, especially when it comes to home and office construction panels. After all, this is where people live and work everyday!

Think on the Fly!
Fly ash is the name of the substance that “flies” into the air as coal burns. It includes chemicals like silicon dioxide (including crystalline silica – I’ll get to that later). Fly ash may also contain arsenic, chrome 6, boron, bismuth, antimony…you get the picture. These are intense elements that you don’t want in your home. Prior to regulation, fly ash – and all these chemicals – literally flew up into the atmosphere. Then the U.S. required fly ash to be captured by machines that filter out the polluting particles. That left coal companies with tons of fly ash to either dispose of or recycle. Today, nearly half of the fly ash is recycled, which is good news for the planet…what about people?

In a recycled application, fly ash is often mixed into cement and asphalt, and used outdoors on roads and industrial structures – that’s just fine. However, it’s showing up in some cement board (like Portland cement) and being used in the home. All I’m saying is to think before you fly…Here’s a nice overview:

Heavy Metal Doesn’t Rock
The heavy metals that show up in fly ash really are hardcore, and have been linked to conditions like multiplesclorosis, birth defects, and cancer. Kidneys cannot process heavy metals so they build up in your system. Let’s go back to silicon dioxide. Now, amorphous silica is an irritant found in fiberglass, but it has not been shown to have long term side effects. On the other hand, crystalline silica – a main component of fly ash – is serious stuff and can lead to silicosis. In Australia and New Zealand, contractors are never allowed to cut cement board containing it, inside the home. So is this really a product you want in your walls, right next to you?

A Closer Look at Gypsum Board
Not to keep scaring you, but it’s also important to know about the risks with synthetic gypsum board, otherwise known as flue gas desulfurization (FGD) gypsum. Rough estimates suggest it’s showing up in a third of gypsum board out there today. It’s made from the sulfur dioxide left over after fire-powered coal plants “scrub” out the sulfur from the flue gases (but it’s not the same as fly ash). There are a few issues with FGD Gypsum. First, it’s not always pure sulfur dioxide…it depends on exactly what materials the coal plant is burning. For example, high mercury levels have been found in some boards because high mercury coal was being burned. Volatile sulfur compounds – which not only smell bad, but can be very dangerous – have also been shown to emit from some gypsum boards. Second, because gypsum is not naturally mold resistant, chemicals are often added into the board which can then off gas without proper ventilation. For further reading, click here http://www.buildinggreen.com/auth/article.cfm/2010/7/30/Synthetic-Gypsum/ and here http://greenspec.buildinggreen.com/blogs/gypsum-board-are-our-walls-leaching-toxins

Now…A Trip to Morgue
Keeping with our Halloween theme, let’s talk about another chemical that shows up in some panels. When you hear “formaldehyde,” you probably think creepy critters preserved in glasses in biology class or maybe, Six Feet Under. Well, it’s also present in some OSB, plywood, chip board, and other boards that involve sawdust glued together. Formaldehyde is a major irritant for those with chemical sensitivities and allergies. But it’s also been shown to lead to cancer with prolonged exposure. There is a ton of research out there, but why not start with the EPA? Here is a link: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/formaldehyde.html. I also want to mention that formaldehyde is highly flammable and when it burns, it releases seriously toxic fumes…

Now, I didn’t cover the dangers lurking in some of the panels on the market today to scare you! I’ll be following up with a post in the next week about why magnesium oxide board may be a great option for those with chemical sensitivities – or those of us who just want to breathe easier in our homes and offices! In the meantime, I just advise you to do your research and know what you’re building with! Have a Happy Halloween!

If you’ve been following my blog over the years, you may have noticed a trend: more and more contractors are recognizing the benefits of SIPs for basement remodeling (for a refresher of those benefits, check out my previous post right here). I connected with one of the top Chicago land remodelers, Elite Remodeling Group, to find out why they’re so excited about SIPs in a basement finishing application. Elite Remodeling Group is known for using innovative building technology, and were just featured in this article. Here’s what Elite Remodeling Group Managing Partner Michael Macek had to say:

The Panelman: I’d like to learn more about your remodeling business, but first, tell me how you see SIPs in comparison to other basement systems?

Michael: It shocks me that remodelers out there will still sell a lumber and drywall finished basement. Because at some point, moisture will become a factor: it will rot the wood and fiberglass insulation and lead to mold growth. It’s not a question of “if” it’s “when” will a homeowner have to tear down moldy or rotting drywall? But our exclusive eSIP wall panel system is made of materials that won’t harbor mold or mildew. In fact, these panels naturally resist moisture and most importantly they’ll last for a lifetime, instead of just a few years. Not to mention, the insulation is also superior in R value to fiberglass. We guarantee what we install 100%. That’s how it should be! It’s just bad business to build a finished basement for someone, when you know it will need to be torn out and replaced. In fact, 30 to 40 percent of our jobs are replacing the work that someone else has done – and failed to do properly.

Finished basement by Elite Remodeling Group MgO SIPs

Finished basement by Elite Remodeling Group

The Panelman: What about “soft” basement panel systems? I know those resist moisture and you’ve had some success with those.

Michael: Yes, the good thing there is that these soft wall systems also are resistant to mold, mildew and insect damage. However, these panels are fabric-covered and not structural. They’re too flimsy to hang pictures on. Plus, the homeowner can’t update the look of their basement by painting over the fabric and they have unsightly seams. They look like panels! The nice thing about our eSIP basement system is that it looks and feels like a true room. The walls are solid and sturdy without seams: you can paint them, decorate, hang anything you want, etc. Homeowners always tell us they want to bring the feel of the upstairs, downstairs into their basement living area – and the e-SIP system accomplishes that.

The Panelman: So before we dive back into SIPs, I want to know more about your company. I did a little research and found out you have a great Better Business Bureau rating, tell me how you’ve become one of the best Chicago Land remodelers? How did you get started?

Michael: Elite Remodeling Group actually started in 1993 as a small window and siding company. But we grew the company because of our ability to “super serve” our customers and at the same time, improve our company’s profitability. For example we were listed in the Top 500 Remodeling Companies by Qualified Remodeler again this year, for the 5th consecutive year. I also want to mention that we started as Elite Windows and Siding, but soon changed our name to Elite Remodeling Group. To grow our business, we knew we had a choice: we could expand into other locations OR by offering more services. We chose the latter, and took our signature Elite approach to kitchen and bath remodeling, larger room renovations, and of course basement finishing.

The Panelman: So what is the Elite approach and how does it make you different from other remodelers?

Michael: Remodeling comes to down to two things: what you install, and how you install it. The problem is that many remodelers install sub-par materials to save on costs. Instead, our approach is truly elite; we hunt down the best products out there, do extensive research, test, and test again, until we are 100% sure we want to put our name on the product. If we don’t find a product we think is good enough? We’ll custom manufacture it…

The Panelman: Wow, that’s pretty involved. Can you give me an example?

Michael: Sure, there are thousands of Chicago area remodelers who install the same window systems. These window systems typically use a metal spacer to connect two window panes together to increase the insulation factor. However, we found that these spacers are prone to failure (rust, corrosion, and displacement) and cannot be repaired – but must be replaced. That’s not fair to the customer! We worked with Edgetech – an international innovator – to create a custom window for our customers that features a non-metallic, super spacer that adheres the glass together. We literally created airtight “Chicago windows” built for our infamous cold and windy winters.

More like an upstairs living room than a basement...

Elite Remodeling Group' s eSIP system creates the look and feel of an upstairs room in the basement.

The Panelman: So are your eSIPs custom built just for Elite Remodeling Group?

Michael: Yes they are! Chicago basements face some tough challenges: snow, rain, humidity, bitter cold, and temperatures that can change by 30 degrees in one day. Like our windows, our SIPs are custom designed. They core of each panel is comprised of BASF’s Neopor EPS (read more, here), a material that promotes healthy indoor air quality. Then, the SIPs are laminated with magnesium oxide board sourced from a reputable American company. Together, these two materials deliver a high R value which remains consistent unlike fiberglass, which as you know looses its R value over time due to moisture. Our eSIPS really deliver the best of both worlds: they offer the versatility and functionality of traditional materials like drywall while providing protection against the elements like fabric panel systems.

The Panelman: Ok, I have to ask: Are your SIPs basement systems really expensive?

Michael: That’s a good question, actually. For a drywall and fiberglass basement, the customer will pay 40-50% less than our system. But they will have to tear it out at some point, could be 5 years later or as soon as 2 or 3 years. Our question is always: Why go through the hassle of redoing your basement twice? Do it right the first time with a product that is truly made for a Chicago basement! Our basement finishing system is proven, tested, and will be with your home for a lifetime. Plus, the customer will enjoy greater energy savings which will offset paying slightly more for a SIPs basement.

The Panelman: What about those who want to install SIPs themselves?

Michael: Do it yourself home improvement is a good thing; however, let’s just say our team of highly skilled contractors did not learn to work with SIPs overnight. People usually “do it yourself” in order to save money, but SIPs are more expensive than drywall or cement board. Any mistakes will be costly. Plus, Chicago home improvement codes specify that electrical wiring be hard lined into the panel – so now you’re throwing THAT into the mix, too. Our recommendation is to work with a contractor skilled and certified in working with SIPs…

The Panelman: So why do you think SIPs for basements are in higher demand today? What do homeowners really like about them?

Chicago basements comfortable in all four seasons

Usable, livable, and comfortable in all four seasons - that's the benefit of basements finished with SIPs.

Michael: People are looking for something that is truly green: they want their basement to look good, work hard, and be green. SIPs really are a greener option. First, the homeowner isn’t going to waste actual tons of construction debris when they have to tear our their drywall basement in a few years. Plus, our Elite eSIP system is highly energy efficient, and homeowners will use less energy to heat or cool their basement. People also really like the fact that our panels address mold: that’s the #1 cause of household sickness AND the #2 most expensive issue to address. Mold remediation in the Chicago area is not cheap! It’s best to prevent mold altogether by taking a preventative approach – and that’s what the Elite eSIP system offers.

The Panelman: I understand that even tough your goal is to bring the best, most innovative remodeling to the Chicago area, you are also a bit old fashioned?

Michael: (laughs) That’s true, we are known for having someone answer the phone from 9am till 9pm, every day except Sunday. There’s no recorded message, cheesy jingle, or anything. We want to make sure that if our customers need us, we’re there.

The Panelman: If you’d like to learn more about a better, waterproof basement solution, then contact me today and I can connect you with a basement finishing company like Elite!

I get MANY emails from homeowners asking where they can get MgO board for their basements. While some requests are from DIY pros, others are from homeowners frustrated by the lack of local contractors forward-thinking enough to offer MgO-based basement systems. But the good news is that things are changing: More contractors are working with magnesium oxide board because they know it’s the best option for the homeowner (click here to learn why MgO is better than gypsum, cement board, etc.).

Over the next month, I’ll be interviewing contractors across the country who currently offer MgO basement systems for homeowners. We’ll start with Finished Basements Plus in Southeastern Michigan, a great basement finishing company that has completed over 500 basements and is now offering MgO board. I talked with owner and founder Steve Iverson about his decision to integrate MgO board into his basement finishing system.

The Panelman: What is the background of Finished Basements Plus?

Steve: I’ve been in construction for many years, starting as a general contractor. Around 2002, we decided to focus solely on basement finishing for two reasons. First, we realized that there weren’t enough companies out there who knew how to correctly finish a basement. And second, we liked the fact that we could handle the project in house: from initial design through construction and finishing. It’s very satisfying to control the outcome of the project and most importantly…the satisfaction of our customers. I would estimate that we’ve completed about 500 basements – and we made sure each of those 500 customers were happy with the work we did!

The Panelman: Before we get into MgO board, I’d like to know more about your basement systems as a whole. You have a reputation in the industry for having a great “system” for finishing basements.

Steve: I’m glad you mentioned the word “system” because that’s the key to a long-lasting, dry, and comfortable finished basement. We take great care in selecting the structural components that go into our basements, always keeping in mind that we’re building basements – not just your average room. Too often, contractors and even other basement finishers just use standard construction materials. The problem is, that most of these materials aren’t well suited to the basement environment and deteriorate quickly. They’ll use dry wall, wood trim, and other products that might actually encourage mold growth! Finished Basements Plus has the reputation that we do because our basements last. We have sought out materials such as mold-resistant post wraps, cellular PVC, plastic molding and door casings, mold inhibitors in the carpet padding and ceiling tiles, and more. These are basement materials that we seek out – we don’t just stop into Lowes and grab basic materials.

Finished Basements Plus offers design services: they even created this bookshelf to hide a storage room. Their design won a Houzz Award. Pretty cool!

The Panelman: So how does MgO board fit into the system? We know there are other basement finishing wall boards out there like gypsum board, fabric fiberglass, and cement board. What made you choose MgO?

Steve: As with any of the products we install in basements, we are constantly searching for products on the market that will function best in the basement environment. As you know, even if your basement looks dry, the relative humidity is much higher than the rest of your home and we don’t want to risk the chance that mold can grow on any of the material we install in basement finishing. That’s why we’ve switched to the MOXY Panel System for our walls. These panels are constructed of 3” EPS foam sandwiched between magnesium oxide board. Not only do these panels provide up to 50% better insulation than standard fiberglass, they offer amazing benefits that you just don’t get from drywall. For example, magnesium oxide is naturally resistant to mold, mildew, pests, water, and even fire. This means your walls won’t crumble in a few years like drywall – in fact, we offer a Life Time Warranty on our basements, and we can only afford to offer the best products for our customers.

The Panelman: What do you tell customers who want to use gypsum board in their basement?

Steve: It’s cheap and it’s not designed for basement finishing. Regular drywall is not designed for areas of your home with high humidity levels…like your basement. Mold can and will grow on drywall and it is a real concern for the health of your home AND the health of your family! The bottom line is if, or should I say when, you have to remove the drywall because of mold.

The Panelman: What growth do you think the basement finishing market could realize in the next several years?

Steve: I think there is great potential for companies that use products designed specifically for the basement environment, that really put customer comfort first. Take HVAC for example, we’ve found success by offering an innovative air system that includes a dual air filter and dehumidifier with Energy Star ratings. Not only are customers seeing savings on their energy bills, they’re enjoying a comfortable, dry basement. The market for finished basements will increase once customers understand that there are companies out there that can truly make basements look and feel like any other room in the home. And again, I think MgO-based panels are key in creating that comfortable atmosphere in the basement.

The Panelman: Are there other companies out there in Southeastern Michigan who do what you do? What makes you different?

Steve: No one else in our area offers truly complete basement solutions. The system we have developed takes into consideration all aspects of basement finishing! As for what makes us different, we have five unique benefits for customers.

1) Complete Basement Solution: Like I mentioned earlier, we look at the whole picture of basement health: walls, ceilings, floors, trim, air systems and more
2) Design: We are a full service company! We offer expert design services and work with our customers to make sure their vision becomes reality: we do rendering, floor planning, professional grade drawings, and more. Again, because we specialize in basements, we know how to make basements look more like a lower level of a home instead of an average finished basement….
3) Processes: Our system is streamlined, and we complete all work on time and in an organized, optimized way that is less intrusive on the homeowner.
4) Life Time Warranty: No more worrying that mold will grow in your basement drywall and you’ll lose your investment in a new basement! Our warranty gives customers the peace of mind they deserve to protect their investment.
5) Customer Care: We really strive to take care of each customer from start to finish, we’ve even
become friends with some customers! Ultimately, we want them to feel 100% satisfied with our work. The fact that most of our jobs come from referrals speaks volumes to the quality of work that we do.

The Panelman: If you are a contractor like Finished Basements Plus and are interested in offering your customers a basement waterproofing system that actually lasts (ahem, unlike drywall), then contact me and I can help connect you with a few manufacturers who offer finished basement systems that use MgO board. Just drop me a line!

Happy Spring, Panelman readers! It’s the prime season for home improvement and home building, and also the time that most people will be reaching for the same old boards to complete their projects. I’ve been getting quite a few emails lately from folks asking where they can get MgO (magnesium oxide) board: for both residential and commercial applications. And that’s a great sign, because MgO board is truly superior when you compare it side by side to other materials out there. This is especially true for SIPs (structural insulated panels): MgO is a better material for lamination and the proof is in the numbers! Below is a chart supplied by JetBoard that compares it to Portland Cement Board, Gypsum Wallboard, Gypsum Drywall, Plywood and OSB. In every variable from fire rating to vapor permeability, JetBoard comes out on top. Check it out and see what happens when all the boards meet for comparison… (Click on the image to view the chart in full size.)

Magnesium Oxide Board

Why MgO is a Better Board

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so I’m rewarding all you loyal Panelman readers with a post featuring an exciting company that is making moves in the panel industry, especially in the MgO board arena. I spent some time talking with Jim Wambaugh, President of JetProducts. I was impressed by his commitment to designing and manufacturing magnesium oxide board here in the U.S., no one else out there is doing that right now! Check out what Jim had to say about why MgO board truly is a superior building product, and what makes their JetBoard unique…

The Panelman: I’m always interested in what draws people to MgO board, what is your story?

Jim: I spent 22 years in various roles at Shell Oil, so I’m sure you’re wondering, “what’s an oil guy doing in the panel business?” It was a natural transition, actually, because I specialized in oxide chemistry at Shell as a Chemical Engineer. Now, I’m taking an equally scientific approach to MgO board and implementing rigorous testing to ensure that the boards we’re producing at JetProducts are both structurally and chemically sound.

The Panelman: What about JetProducts, how did the company get into magnesium oxide board?

Jim: The founders of the company are in the home building market, and were importing a wide range of products from around the world. In 2005, they started seeing MgO board emerge as a popular building material in China. Intrigued, they began investigating this promising material that was everywhere in Asia but nowhere in America. As you can imagine, they quickly learned that all roads led back to China, where the board was being manufactured. They started importing Chinese MgO board for use as trim and backer (as a James Hardie replacement product) in 2005. Then, from 2006 to 2009, the founders tried to get a higher quality MgO product from the Chinese. They tried everything: from owning parts of Chinese manufacturing plants to improving quality control systems and having US employees on the ground. The critical question that emerged was: “Are we going to fix Chinese manufacturing?” You can guess what the answer was…The realization was that we could get China to “good” – but not “great.” And our customers deserve “great.” The logical next step was moving production to the U.S., where we also had a better opportunity to receive ICC code listing. The JetBoard U.S. manufacturing process began in 2010, with research and development, along with our own structural and chemical testing process. We also began planning for a commercial scale demo plant that is in operation today in Houston, and made the switch to using American-sourced raw material.

The Panelman: So, what exactly was the problem with Chinese MgO manufacturing? And how are you rectifying the situation in your own JetBoard plant?

Jim: First, the quality testing was random and unpredictable. Now, we test every batch, every time. Second, the tests themselves were not thorough enough at all. Here at JetProducts, we’ve developed proprietary chemical AND physical testing protocol which we perform in our on-site certified lab. What many people – even MgO board manufacturers themselves – don’t understand is that MgO cement is not inherently stable. It’s a reversible reaction, meaning that its chemical and physical properties can change based on the conditions it is manufactured in AND the conditions it is used in. How the MgO is obtained from the mined raw materials also comes into play. Size, reactivity, handling and purity all effect the quality and stability of the concrete phase. If not managed properly, a carbon dioxide reaction can occur that converts the MgO cement back to magnesium carbonate (the raw form) that affects the board density. This can cause the board to constrict on one side and become brittle like glass. Another disheartening fact about most Chinese-manufactured MgO board is that it is not water resistant, and actually soaks up water and can change forms as it does so! Most companies producing MgO board today just aren’t taking these chemical “quirks” of MgO into consideration; we are.


JetBoard MgO SIPs

In 2011, we tested over 400 MgO formulations to fully understand and solve the stability issue and define the full range of products that were options with American sourced raw materials. This know-how has been applied to new US made products and into making a stable Chinese sourced board.

The Panelman: What about the JetBoard manufacturing process, how does that differ from what you saw in China?

Jim: You can’t ensure a consistently high-quality product without a repeatable and proven manufacturing process. We took a fastidious approach to getting our process right in our demo plant. In fact, we have just received certification on our process from an outside testing agency in addition to our internal quality audits. From a business growth standpoint, perfecting our manufacturing process is just as essential to our success as production. Yes, we sell MgO board, but ultimately, we are planning to license our process to manufacturers who can then produce their own board.

The Panelman: Tell me about JetBoard, what makes it unique?

Jim: What sets our board apart is the fact that we have the capacity to customize its chemical configuration based upon a specific customer’s needs. This is a U.S.-patented chemistry/process and involves dialing up or dialing down certain properties such as flexibility, porosity, or density. We primarily operate on a business-to-business basis, so if we’re working with a developer who is building a hotel, we might tweak the MgO board configuration to be highly fire resistant. If they were using the board as a backer in the bathroom, we’d ensure the board could withstand intense moisture. As most of your readers already know, MgO is inherently moisture- and fire-resistant, however, by chemically adjusting the board and optimizing it for a specific use, we can emphasize certain qualities. And yes, we do have “standard” configurations for general use as customizing the board is not cost-effective for all applications.

The Panelman: What about structural applications? How is MgO board superior to other similar products?

Jim: The structural applications for MgO board are structural insulated panels or SIPs, structural sheathing, and OSB substrates for coatings such as stucco. In structural applications, MgO definitely stands out from other panels and boards. Take Portland Cement, which folks were getting excited about for a while until they realized how heavy it is and difficult to work with! Plus, it’s not water resistant and leaves a very large carbon footprint during the manufacturing process. You might say that when gypsum board (sheet rock) is produced using fly ash it’s very environmentally friendly, which is true, but fly ash poses health risks to people. We like to point out the fact that our JetBoard is people, planet, and performance friendly. You cannot say the same for ANY other product on the market today! For example, JetBoard is people safe. While OSB can release toxins like formaldehyde, and many Portland cement based fiber cement boards release silica dust when cut, JetBoard releases…nothing! It’s completely non-toxic, making it an ideal building product for those with chemical sensitivities and allergies. Plus, you just can’t top the fire rating of JetBoard, which has 8 times better fire protection than standard sheet rock. That means 8 times more protection for homeowners, and 8 times longer to get out of a burning room. In fact, due to our manufacturing process, JetBoard actually stops the fire, literally releasing hydrated water on the fire through a chemical process as it heats up

The Panelman: What about JetBoard being “planet-safe”? Can you share with our readers how manufacturing MgO board is an eco-friendly process?

Jim: MgO production has significantly lower CO2 emissions and NO industrial processing! The mixing of materials occurs at a very low temperature, and the effuse is actually good for the environment and the chemicals and minerals can be readily consumed by humans, animals, or plants. We liked to say our plant is like a bakery – it’s that’s safe, and that easy on our environment. MgO is also recyclable due to its neutral PH and carbonaceous form, with similar chemical components as a corn husk.

The Panelman: As you know, I’m baffled as to why magnesium oxide board and MgO SIPs just haven’t taken off here in America…what have been the roadblocks?

Jim: I believe there are 3 main roadblocks. There isn’t sufficient intellectual property protection in China, where almost all of the MgO board is being manufactured. So, there’s no incentive to innovate as a company, because any investment into R&D isn’t protected overseas. Second, as I mentioned earlier is the chemistry. If not manufactured properly, MgO board can crumble, break, or become warped. What’s really unfortunate is that this poorly produced MgO board has been used by builders and developers, who then believe that the problem is the material itself – NOT faulty manufacturing. The final roadblock is what I talked about earlier with the inconsistency and lack of quality control of the Chinese product. This also hindered anyone from getting ICC listings and forced the product into non-structural, non-mainstream applications.

JetBoard Ready to Ship

JetBoard...Ready to Ship!

The Panelman: So I guess my last question is, what is the future of MgO board in as seen through JetProducts’ eyes?

Jim: Well, we cut our teeth on using MgO in a backer board application, so we have close to a decade of experience working with this product. It’s not new to us by any means! I believe MgO board will be the innovator in the SIPs market, it has the potential to “own” the modular building industry along with low income housing both domestically and abroad. We also expect to continue working with forward-thinking architects and engineers who are inciting change in their respective industries by embracing advanced materials, like JetBoard. To us, the future looks bright.

If you’re interested in getting in touch with Jim and the JetProducts Team, just click to send me an email!

MgO SIPs Sheds

A shed made of MgO SIPs, now available at Lowes.

Wow, MgO has gone mainstream. I just saw that Lowes now carries sheds comprised of Mgo SIPs! At least magnesium oxide board and SIPs are becoming more accessible. Now, if only the average homeowner can begin to see the advantages of MgO SIPs in their homes – not just out in their backyards!
Check out the sheds, here.