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!

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!

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!

Hello Panelman readers! You might think I’d be tired of writing about panels by now; after all, it’s been two years since my first post! But I feel more energized than ever about the amazing advances in panel technology for both residential and commercial applications, especially when it comes to SIPs (structural insulated panels for any newbies to this blog). There are so many resources out there if you’re new to SIPS, but one of the best places to start (besides this blog, haha) is over at SIPA.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with the current owner of FischerSIPS, LLC, one of the founding members of SIPA, Damian Pataluna who shared his insider tips on why building with SIPs is a great choice! I’ve known Damian for a long time: He bought his structural adhesives from me when I was at Rohm and Haas. Today, he’s the owner of FischerSIPS, a leading SIPs manufacturer out of Louisville with dealers in 11 states and the capability to supply panels worldwide. I caught up with Damian and here’s what he had to say…

The Panelman Asks: How long have you been in business?

Damian Answers: FischerSIPS was founded 1986 by Fred Fischer. I came to work with Fred in April 1993 as a sales representative. Some of our early work was with panelized and modular homes built out of SIPs that were being constructed in the inner city of Louisville. One of the main benefits I immediately noticed was that SIPs provided housing that people could not only afford, but could afford to live in; it was really rewarding. Having that early, hands-on experience working with SIPs has been crucial in my ability to support contractors and builders today. In 2004, I became a part owner; in 2006, I became THE owner of FischerSIPs. That was around the time we started manufacturing in our new SIPs plant: everything from OSB to magnesium oxide panels, cement skin SIPs to dry wall SIPs. In fact, my current 20,000SF plant is made with 4 ½” SIP Walls and 6 ½” SIP Roofs. My energy bills here are HALF of my 10,000 SF steel building just down the street.

The Panelman: What about SIPA? How long have you been involved?

Damian: I was elected to the board of directors of SIPA in 1993 and served as President from 2003-2006. I have remained on the board as a Past President and Treasurer since then.

The Panelman: What is the Fischer niche in the SIPS market place?

Damian: Part of what I like about SIPs is that they’re truly a versatile product and offer benefits for both the builders – and the people who will be using the structure. If I had to choose a niche, I’d say we specialize in small to mid-size builders.
We are a custom-oriented shop where we will bend over backwards to work with and try new products to try and help our builders and developers. We excel at custom-fabrication. Some larger manufacturers, they don’t like to try running new panels through their lines. They just look at the immediate numbers – not the long-term potential. Yes, opportunity has its costs, but I believe it’s worth it. I’d also say that RTA (ready to assemble) is another one of our niches. We’ll actually install lumber into the panels according to the builder’s specs. When the panels come to the job site, they are ready to go which saves on labor costs and reduces errors.

The Panelman: Where do you see SIPS construction going in the next ten years?

Damian: More towards complete fabrication and installation of RTA, definitely. Every builder deals with labor and time shortages at some point. And at first they may be resistant to spending just a bit more to have a RTA solution, but then when they do the math and realize that they’ll save more time and labor on the job site – it makes sense. As for new products, I think we’ll see more interest developing in new products like magnesium oxide board – I know that’s something you’ve been following closely. Already, we’re seeing more interest from overseas.

The Panelman: What is your experience with MgO board and laminating with it?

Damian: MgO board has tremendous potential in non-load bearing applications because it’s naturally resistant to the elements that builders (and homeowners) struggle with: water, mold, mildew, insects, fire, you name it! However, there is still testing that needs to be completed for structural uses. I’ve seen success stories when MgO is used for basement paneling. MgO board laminated to EPS is a fast way to finish an interior – and really, it stands up to just about anything. You’ll also get great R values from MgOSIPs, they are a tremendous insulator.

The Panelman: So back to SIPs in general, what are the benefits of SIPs in commercial and residential construction?

Damian: I could write an entire book on this! But to summarize the top five benefits, I’d say:
1) Higher R values
2) Better IAQ (Indoor Air Quality)
3) Stronger, more durable structures
4) Faster, more efficient construction
5) Less job site waste

The Panelman: Ok, so what are the negatives?

Damian: You’re going to pay a small amount more up front, but you’ll start saving right away. For example, let’s say a couple is working with a builder to build their dream home. On average, I’d say building with SIPs would add about 5% more to their total construction costs. However, their energy bill will be reduced by about 40-50% – and that’s a benefit they’ll see in the first month. That couple would pay a $2,000/month mortgage and a $400/month energy bill with a conventionally built home. With a SIPs home, they’d pay $2,100/month mortgage and $200/month in utilities. So that’s a savings that they can take advantage of right away.

The Panelman: What are builder reactions to SIPs? Why are they switching?

Damian: Like I mentioned earlier, a primary benefit of building with SIPs is the time and labor savings. But many builders also like the fact that their homes are being pre-fabricated in a factory setting. So much can go wrong on a job site, even to the best builders. But in a factory-controlled setting, we can catch any mistakes before they are made. That’s because we use 3D modeling to ensure the builder’s dimensions add up before we start custom-manufacturing their SIPs. It’s like a built-in quality control measure. It’s better if we catch a mistake in the modeling, than if a builder makes a mistake on the job site. Yes, you can make on-site modifications to SIPs panels, but it’s always better to catch any errors before they reach a job site.

The Panelman: What testing has been done on SIPs?

Damian: There has been extensive testing and approval on SIPs. They’re approved for walls according to ICC codes, and approval is in process for roofs. That’s why organizations like SIPA are important: we require all member manufacturers to have a complete code report and approval and an engineered line.

The Panelman: How does a builder know where to buy SIPs from?

Damian: It really depends on the end application. There are SIPs manufacturers that specialize in commercial structures, others – like Fischer SIPs – that focus on small- to mid-size builders. Ultimately, you want to choose a manufacturer that has the technology and flexibility to work with your end use. There are dozens of manufacturers listed at SIPA.

The Panelman: Thanks for your insights, Damian! Panelman readers: check back in a few weeks because Damian will review the new 2012 Model Energy Codes from the IECC (International Energy Code Council) and suggest ways you meet the new requirements through SIPs!

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!

Happy New Year, Panelman readers! To start off 2011, I’d like to share exciting news about magnesium oxide board (MgO) in a structural insulated panel (SIP) application. I think this year, MgO SIPs may gain serious ground as a mainstream building material. If you’d like to learn more about MgO SIPs, check out my earlier post, here.

I talked with MagBoard and MagWall founder and owner, Gordon Ritchie, to learn more about his company and how his panel systems are the result of his search for a superior building product. In my next blog post (look for it next week), I talk with Roger Goodhue who will be manufacturing and distributing MagBoard-based SIPS out of his Colorado facility. Let’s get started…

The Panelman Asks: What is the story of the MagBoard company?

Gordon Answers: I’ve been in the advanced building materials industry for over 20 years, with much of that time spent focusing on SIPs through the start up of several manufacturing plants. Like anyone involved in building materials science, I was constantly looking for improved products. Magnesium oxide board caught my attention in a structural sheathing application because it’s naturally resistant to hazards – moisture, mold, insects, and fire – and MgO is extremely strong. Magnesium oxide seemed an answer to the weaknesses that plague other building materials. OSB and plywood are no match for fire and moisture. Cement products are brittle and unhealthy, and “exotic” fiberglass and composite materials aren’t cost-effective. So, for about two years I investigated MgO boards for use in SIPS , and eventually invested in it by starting my own company and manufacturing MagBoard. We have gone on to produce MagWall SIPS using MagBoard with great results.

MagBoard Manufacturing Facility

The MagBoard Factory, QC Certified by Intertek.

The Panelman Asks: Why did you start your own company when there are other magnesium oxide SIPs manufacturers?

Gordon Answers: In one word: Quality. During my early years in investigating MgO, I was disappointed by the performance of many of the products we tested. MgO itself is an outstanding material, but the manner in which it is made into building materials varies greatly. We tested over 34 boards in house and with third parties and none met the requirements for the North American market. They were either too brittle and broke, or they did not have the structural strength to meet the building codes in the US and Canada. In the end, we decided to invest the time and money to develop our own formulations, processes and equipment to get a product we can stand behind.  


The Panelman Asks: How does MagBoard differ from other MgO companies?

Gordon Answers: First and foremost, we are a manufacturer – not a broker. This empowers us to ensure quality and product integrity from initial fabrication of raw materials through final testing and distribution. We have invested in the latest manufacturing equipment and designed a production process that allows for consistency and repeatability. Our MagBoard factory participates in third-party QC certification programs through Intertek, and we’re audited by them every 90 days. The other thing is the depth of testing we have done. MagBoard is a listed product with Intertek and we have done extensive product and assembly testing using MagBoard for wood and steel framing. We have taken this same approach for SIPs where we have full testing with NTA for our MagWall panels and have developed our own specialized manufacturing equipment for MagWall to control quality and consistency.

The Panelman Asks: For someone new to MgO SIPs, what would be the most similar material out there today, and why switch to MgO?

Gordon Answers: Everyone in the SIP business pretty well understands the pluses and minuses of OSB. MagBoard’s resistance to fire, water, insects and mold allows our customers to apply finishes directly to magnesium oxide panels and eliminates the need for expensive EFIS systems or drywall that only add costs for builders who use OSB SIPs. Fire codes are also driving force, so there is an advantage for a rated noncombustible material as the sheathing. Many people, including us, have looked at cement board SIPs but it just doesn’t work well. We have all the testing and have been making and selling MgO SIPs for the last four years. We are seeing rapid growth because our customers have a better product with a lower installed cost.

The Panelman Asks: What about the cost of MgO SIPs, is it comparable to other products like OSB panels?

Gordon Answers: There are really two parts to the question. MagWall SIPs sell for about the same price as traditional OSB SIPs. Of course, each process that goes into protecting the OSB from rot or fire adds another layer of cost, not to mention another inspection from the building department. So our panels’ lower finishing costs can save customers a lot of time and money in the end. Then there is the issue of lifetime costs. Because MgO panels are water, mold, termite resistant the long term life cycle costs are lower that for conventional OSB SIPs.

Another MagWall Installation Project.

Another MagWall Installation Project.

The Panelman Says: Thanks Gordon, for sharing the exciting developments in MgO panel technology! Panelman readers, stay tuned, next week I speak with Roger Goodhue. With over 32 years in the building industry, Roger is fully embracing MgO structural panels and he talks about their applications in everything from a residences in Colorados to the construction of his own manufacturing facility.