In this post, The Panel Man is traveling back in time to the basements of yesteryear…

First stop, the “groovy” wood paneling popular in the 1960s. I remember helping my father attach unsightly 4’x8’ panels to concrete blocks (no insulation); five years later the wood rotted thanks to moisture. Some can make peace with wood paneling, I can’t!

Fast forward to the 1980’s: Everyone wanted a slick, finished look and went for sheet rock or gypsum board. Even when sandwiched between water resistant laminates, the core rots with any water exposure. I learned this the hard way when putting a basement shower in using Green Board gypsum panels in the bathroom. (Note: gypsum [di-hydrous calcium sulfate] is actually 21% water by weight!)

In the nineties, contractors thought vinyl wallpaper or fabric over fiberglass was pretty “rad.” Downsides were mold growing in the fiberglass, tough-to-clean surfaces, and lack of durability (anyone with kids understands this).

Why the trip back in time? To compare these basement paneling solutions to today’s better option: MgO (magnesium oxide) sheathing. I wrote about MgO in my first post as a viable SIPs component in building. Now, I’m on my MgO soapbox again because I think it’s a great option for basement paneling. Here’s why:

  • MgO is naturally mold- and water-resistant (it’s used in hurricane-prone areas)
  • It’s exceptionally strong – it’s even used for commercial countertops! It’s impact resistant, too, which matters to anyone who’s poked a hole in drywall
  • MgO board is safe and “green” – it contains no organic solvents, heavy metals, asbestos, oils or other toxic ingredient
  • Magnesium oxide boards are fire proof (can’t say the same for wood panels, that’s for sure)
  • As for aesthetic concerns, you can hang pictures on MgO panel without having to find studs and it’s easy to paint

If I were a contractor looking for an innovative basement material, I’d consider an MgO SIPs panel bonded on both sides to 2” EPS foam. With 2” insulation, you do the numbers on the “R” value!


EPS Foam + MgO = Winning Combination


I like everything I have seen with magnesium oxide boards for basement application. So why hasn’t it taken off? Owens Corning has their own “Basement Finishing System” and Champion has one as well; but neither use MgO board. I pulled up some other companies, mostly regional that have similar systems: All use vinyl-covered panels. I could only find one laminator on the East Coast that is actually promoting MgO panels as part of their basement finishing system. I forgot to mention that there are also companies actually laminating concrete panels for the same application…heaaavy!  Also, it must be murder on the CNC sawing equipment in the plant.

Anyways, I think eventually you will see MgO board SIPs everywhere. In the meantime, is anyone out there on the same wavelength with me? If we can embrace new materials and change our thought process, we won’t stay stuck in a 1960s wood-paneled basement (oh, the horror!).

13 Responses to “MgO Board for Better Basements”

  1. Bernie Beeck says:

    Panel Man,

    Great info and I agree completly. I have been researching MgO board SIPS and I want these to finish my basement. Living in Minnesota I have not found any available except in New Jersey and then only to dealers. Any big box building suppliers going to carry these?


  2. The Panel Man says:


    I think I know the company you are referring to in NJ, that is a long way from you! One of the companies I represent is Prime Panels, a custom laminator located in Springfield, IL. We actually ship structural laminated panels for cleanroom application into Minneapolis, so we are a bit closer! We can laminate MgO-EPS panels to specification and produce our own foam. Do you have a contractor you are working with? Feel free to email me at if you want to speak further. And thanks for visiting my site!

  3. The Panel Man says:

    And at this rate, big box suppliers are a ways off from carrying MgO board…glad someone else out there feels my pain about the slow acceptance of MgO SIPs in the U.S.

  4. MegaManFun says:

    Hello Panel man. I have been looking into MgO panels for the last eigth months. I am taking my time just to see if I find more pros and cons. I have a 1900sq ft basement that needs finishing. I am not a handyman but I believe I can do some of the work myself. My question is can I install MgO panels myself without having to purchase expensive tools? In other words, can I install MgO panels with basic tools which I currently have.



  5. The Panel Man says:

    Thanks for your comment. Glad to hear you’re considering MgO. As to your question about installing MgO panels, no special tools are required outside of tools you’d use for drywall finishing. You actually don’t need the tape that drywall requires. Most people caulk where the seam is between panels, and then smooth the seam with a putty knife and light sanding. The great thing about MgO is that you can paint over it just like drywall. Please contact me if you have any more questions at

    Also, where are you located? I could potentially get you in touch with a contractor who could distribute magnesium oxide panels to you. Whoever you decide to work with, be sure that they laminate both sides of the foam/EPS core to prevent warping or bowing. Hope to hear from you soon!

  6. Newell Rambo says:

    Mr. Miller,
    I am an Architect and Interior Designer in Texas living by the hurricane-prone Gulf of Mexico my whole life and this is the first time I have ever heard of this product? You say, “MgO is naturally mold- and water-resistant (it’s used in hurricane-prone areas)”? If this is true where can I buy it? Also as an Architect can I buy it for my personal use?

    I have a second question: I am looking into attaching Structural Insulated Panels (SIP’s) to a Timber Frame Structure as the exterior shell. The finish for the exterior can be what ever; a Cavity Brick wall, Stucco on metal lath, EIFS, Siding, ect.
    However on the interior, if I use Magnesium Oxide Board (MgO) with caulked joints I could just paint it and be done, correct? This would eliminate adding an addition interior finish, which would be great.

    I have a third and final question: Why is the inner insulation core substrate of all SIP panels always Expanded Polystyrene (EPS)? I have for years been asking all manufactures at conventions and trade shows why couldn’t I get Extruded Polystyrene (XPS) as the Insulation Core Substrate with OSB as the surface layers? I have always wanted to use Extruded Polystyrene (XPS) core but have not been able to find a manufacture that would make it? Do you know why? If you know of a manufacture who would make such a panel please let me know.

    I see the advantage of using Magnesium Oxide (MgO) Board for both surface layers in all SIP’s, because of the naturally mold- and water-resistant properties. The only problem I have with this configuration would be with the strength of the MgO board? You say it can be used for commercial countertops and it’s impact resistant, but has it been used as part of a building envelope? My use would need the structure to withstand a minimum of 110 mph 3-second gust design wind speed up to a maximum of 140 mph 3-second gust design wind speed at Seaward of Intracoastal Canal.

  7. The Panel Man says:

    Hello Newell, thanks for checking out the blog. You ask some great questions. I will do my best to answer your questions here on the blog, but if you’d like to email me directly at we can talk in more detail.

    One of the firms I represent is a custom laminator. They manufacture their own EPS foam, but MgO SIPs can be laminated with XPS (OC or Dow brand) as well. I source MgO board from several sources for lamination of SIPS panels. The MgO we use has been thoroughly tested by the manufacturers of the board.

    Yes, you can caulk the joints and then sand.

    There are MgO manufacturers out there that offer fire rated wall systems for room additions specifically, and can be used in place of typical stick built construction. Many people are using these panels in place of aluminum or PVC SIPs for patio rooms or enclosures.

    Hope to hear from you soon!

  8. JerseyGirl says:

    Where can I find the MgO board in New Jersey, near the Brick/Toms River area?

  9. The Panel Man says:

    Hello JerseyGirl, thanks for checking out the Panelman blog! Please contact me at and I will do my best to get you in touch with a supplier.

  10. CharlieMan says:

    Hi PanelMan, which is the lifetime of the MgO panel]?

  11. The Panel Man says:

    Hi Charlie, MgO as a sheathing material is resistant to water, mold, fungus, and fire and overall has a longer “lifetime” than other materials. When laminated to cores like XPS, extruded polystyrene (Dow),
    it offers a very durable structural panel for wall systems in extreme
    environments. You can go to the MgO manufacturers for extensive
    technical data on MgO board (for more specific life cycle data). Check out the Dow Chemical website for technical information on XPS. I represent a MgO producer of sheathing and can connect you if you want. Shoot me an email at”

  12. Gurnee Man says:

    I live in northern IL and would like to finish my basement. Where can one purchase the MgO board? I am plaining to complete most the project myself. What would I expect to pay perboard.

  13. [...] the benefits of magnesium oxide board for the construction industry. It’s been almost two years since I first wrote about it and I’m still surprised it hasn’t gone mainstream. Only a handful of businesses are [...]

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