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!

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

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.

The Wait is Over! MgO SIPs in the Midwest and South!

In the two years since I’ve started this blog, I’ve had dozens of requests from homeowners looking for a reliable source of magnesium oxide panels. Most of you have been looking for basement panel systems although I’ve had requests for sunrooms, bathrooms, and kitchens, too.

Well, finally I have answers for those of you in the Midwest. Through my business, Total Panel Source, I’ve connected with local contractors who offer MgO SIPs in the following places (and surrounding suburbs):

1) For MgO SIPs in Naperville, Illinois (and the Chicago suburbs), I’m working with a great company that supplies the SIPs and can give MgO board installation support.

2) A contractor in the St. Louis area specializing in kitchens, bathrooms, basements in more now offers MgO SIPs. You can get just the SIPs, or full support for your home or business.

3) For SIPs in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs, I have a great associate I can connect you with! They specialize in MgO SIPs for basements…no more wet basements or ugly basement paneling.

4) There’s a great basement company that uses MgO SIPs in the Southern Tri-State area that includes Bowling Green, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; and Huntsville, Alabama. They do basement waterproofing with MgO panels plus foundation and crawl space repairs.

I’ve personally met with the contractors in these areas who have MgO SIPs for residential customers or SIPs for small businesses, and I think you’ll agree that they are knowledgeable, and really know magnesium oxide SIPs! Most importantly, these businesses can give you that local, hands-on support that really matters when you’re working with a new material.

Let me know if you live in or near one of these cities, and I’ll connect you right away. And let me know if you’re on the hunt for MgO SIPs in any other area – I’m working to get MgO SIPs into the hands of qualified contractors across the country!

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m really excited about 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 manufacturing MgO panels, and even fewer have discovered how to successfully bring it to the commercial and residential market. One of these companies is Tri-State Building Specialties. Read on for my interview with founder and owner David Card…

The Panel Man Asks:
How long have you been in business?
David Card Answers: I’m a third generation contractor so I grew up around roofing, home improvement – you name it. After college, I narrowed my focus to specialize in sunrooms and basements and in 1991, my brother and I founded Tri-State Building Specialties. I’ve always been intrigued by the latest building products, and how they can improve our everyday lives. For example, when it comes to basements, moisture is always an issue. That’s what led me to discover magnesium oxide board, as it’s naturally mold- and mildew-resistant. I also wanted a laminate that addressed three concerns: mold resistance, a great fire rating, and an easily paintable surface. I experimented with cement board but its weight made it cumbersome to work with, laminating it created an unsightly a double seem, and it didn’t have a paintable finish.

The Panel Man: Briefly describe your basement panel system.

David Card: Our panel has three elements: the MgO “skin,” the glue, and the polystyrene foam core (EPS) which comes in 3 5/8 or 4 1/2 thickness and 8, 9, and 10 foot heights. It delivers on the “big three” issues I just mentioned – mold/mildew resistance, fire rating, and finish. It’s amazing that a 1/4 skin on this panel has the same 0, Class A Fire Rating as 1/2 or 5/8 drywall! It’s also MUCH more durable than drywall; it can take high impacts and not crumble or crack. Like I said, cement board was so heavy to work with and it often cracks under its own weight when you start going beyond 5 or 6 foot long panels. And then when you join the panels, you have to use vinyl tape (the PVC in vinyl tape has dangerous off gasses) or divider strips. Not so with our panel. We’re able to keep the integrity of an entire wall without a seam!

The Panel Man: What are the primary benefits in residential applications?

David Card: Our mission was to make it easily adaptable to any type of installation and room configuration. We also wanted construction-savvy homeowners to be able to install the system themselves. We provide instruction manuals, and on-site guidance in some cases, but it’s largely a “do it yourself” basement panel system. Another benefit for homeowners is that installation requires just one inspection instead of three or four separate ones for insulation, electrical, and framing (it also saves on completion time). That’s because we built in wire chases for the electrical, both sides of the panel are finished, and no additional insulation is needed.

The Panel Man: What are some general comparisons to conventional building?

David Card: In my research, I’ve found that when a basement is done conventionally and to code, magnesium oxide panels for basements are about the same price. There is no need for dry lock and vapor barriers, insulation materials, and multiple inspections. An average system can be completed in a few days! We’ve even installed about 40 panels in ONE day. Homeowners will also see some significant energy savings and enjoy a more comfortable, even temperature in their basement.

The Panel Man:
What is the response from homeowners?
David Card: I’m pleasantly surprised by the amount of contacts we get direct from homeowners. But I’d like to see more contractors getting into the game. Like you, I know that education is key: There really are so many benefits to magnesium oxide-based panels. I like to remind folks that everything in construction has evolved to where it is today. Even our basic tools – the hammer, the nail – they evolved over time. We can’t stop evolving, especially when it comes to building products. Our panels really are greener, safer, and healthier – it’s the next phase in construction…in my opinion!

I’m excited to share with my panel of Panelman readers, that Walls and Ceilings magazine published an article I wrote in its October issue. Read it here! 

As you know, I’m trying to ignite dialogue about new and innovative panel and lamination materials. In the article, I talk about the challenges of getting a new product – like magnesium oxide board – to be accepted in the building and construction industry. I’d love to hear your feedback on the article, and on the topics I brought up!

What do the Great Wall of China and ancient Roman bathhouses have in common? Both were constructed with cement containing MgO. MgO stands for Magnesium Oxide, a naturally occurring mineral compound, found in metamorphic rock deposits.

Today, MgO is used to construct some of the toughest SIPs on the market. But don’t confuse MgO panels with standard gypsum drywall – it’s in a class by itself. It’s ok if you know zero about MgO; it’s just now gaining popularity in the U.S. after approval for construction use in 2003. European builders have been using magnesium oxide panels for years in walls, floors, exterior sheathing, and more (they’re ahead on everything, aren’t they?). MgO is an excellent substrate for SIPs because it is:

  • Fire resistant (UL-approved, ASTM-tested)
  • Moisture, mold, and mildew resistant
  • Extraordinarily durable (the Great Wall is still standing strong)
  • “Green” and eco-friendly plus no asbestos or silica
  • Easy to work with: Go ahead and cut, drill, and affix to other surfaces (it’s ideal for lamination)
  • Available in many sizes, colors, and laminations

What’s not to love? New York and New Jersey have caught on; they’re heavy users of MgO SIPs. The Sunshine State has deemed it hurricane-tested and -approved (the impact ratings combined with mold and mildew resistant make MgO SIPs ideal for coastal buildings). Now, I won’t lie to you: Magnesium oxide panels are slightly more expensive than conventional SIPs. However, MgO panels boast a lower life cycle cost because of their durability and longevity (again, think of the Great Wall).

In my work with custom lamination, I’ve seen excellent results when bonding MgO board to EPS (expanded polystyrene) using approved structural adhesives. Many established SIP manufacturers I work with have run lamination testing for their customers, and the magnesium oxide board performs perfectly.

The Panel Man wants to know, what has your experience been with MgO panels? If you want to learn more about magnesium oxide SIPs, contact me. I can recommend a few established suppliers I have personal experience with.

Varying thickness of MgO board.

Varying thickness of MgO board.

Dow XPS Foam Core and 1/2 inch MgO Board

Here, 1/2 inch MgO board covers Dow XPS foam - it's the perfect pairing!

Did You Know?

MgO SIPS were heavily used in constructing most of the 2008 World Olympics buildings in Beijing which totaled over $160 billion!