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!

House Built with MgO

A House Built with MagWall Panels.

Hello Panel Man readers, I hope you had a great Memorial Day Weekend! I just got back last week from a trip to Denver where I attended an open house for Rocky Mountain MagBoard. I’m more excited than ever about magnesium oxide SIPs’ potential in the U.S. market. My enthusiasm only increased after talking to Shane Vigil, of Phoenix Framing in Colorado, as he explained the advantages of MgO SIPs from a residential framer’s perspective….

The Panel Man Asks: Before discovering the benefits of MgO SIPs, what materials were you using in residential construction?

Shane Vigil: I’ve used SIPs in residential construction for years, usually an OSB exterior with a polyurethane interior. But six weeks ago, I just completed the foundation on a 2600 sq. ft. residence using MagWall SIPs from Rocky Mountain MagBoard. I can tell you, I am completely sold on the benefits, not just for framers but for the homeowner.

The Panel Man: Since this was your first time installing MagWall, did it prolong the foundation build out?

Shane Vigil: Not at all, in fact, it took less time! To construct a typical concrete foundation, it would take about a week. That 2,600 sq. ft. house? It took two days, and that was our first time doing it. I can see it taking a day and a half in the near future. As you can imagine, homeowners appreciate the time savings, too, as they’re anxious to get into their new house! Not to mention, it takes time off expensive construction loans!

The Panel Man: What are some of the key benefits of MagWall from a homeowner’s perspective?

Shane Vigil: Well, MagWall is a non-combustible material which would appeal to any homeowner. However, it’s especially important here in the Denver area as we’re prone to wild fires. MagWall is also water, mold, mildew, and insect resistant. It’s also really durable and the interior can be finished with virtually anything. You can cover it with sheet rock or treat the seams and finish it similar drywall. Or, on the exterior, you can do a direct stone veneer or stucco application. One of the primary benefits is the energy savings!

The Panel Man: What if the MagWall is just used in the foundation, will that still provide energy savings?

MagWall Panels in a Residential Basement Foundation

MagWall Panels Offer an Innovative Alternative to Cement in a Residential Basement.

Shane Vigil: In the residential foundation we just built out, we were happy to report to the homeowner that she could easily downsize her HVAC system by 30%! People forget, concrete isn’t like insulation. In fact, unfinished concrete basements steal heat from the home, which requires increased energy consumption. MagWall is a fully insulated system, with R Values ranging above 20 – it was actually R-36 for this foundation – so instead of sucking warm air, it contributes to even distribution of heat throughout the home.

The Panel Man: In comparison to working with other materials, how does MagWall measure up?

Shane Vigil: As I mentioned earlier, unlike OSB or stick frame sheathing, you can apply virtually any finish directly to the MagWall. For example, in a typical concrete foundation basement finish, you have to built out the wall about a total of 5 inches, then add in insulation, vapor barrier and cover with drywall which takes away interior space from the basement. With MagWall, you don’t lose any space. Or, let’s say a homeowner wants a stucco finish on the exterior of the home. With conventional framing, you’d need to apply tar paper, then lathe and then apply the stucco. In a MagWall frame, the lathing process is eliminated so you’re saving time, labor and an inspection, which means, you’re saving money. Also, with OSB, you need a house wrap and usually a vapor barrier depending on the climate. MagWall doesn’t require ether. Again, this results in saving time, labor, and money. By eradicating these extra layers, you’re also reducing opportunities for problems to occur. MagWall just makes it a streamlined, simplified process.

Rocky Mountain MagBoard On Site

Rocky Mountain MagBoard Provides On-Site Support.

The Panel Man:

How did the manufacturer, Rocky Mountain MagBoard, assist with your first MagWall installation?

Shane Vigil: The owners of Rocky Mountain MagBoard are builders themselves. Not only do they have a deep understanding of the MagWall product, but they have the expertise to ensure its proper application. In addition to the comprehensive installation manuals and instruction they provided, they were on site with me and my team the entire time. They wanted to ensure I was really educated on how to work with MagWall, explaining everything from installation of the trusses to connection details.


The Panel Man: Any final thoughts you want to share as a framer?

Shane Vigil: Just as you are, I’m excited about MagBoard and MagWall. It gives me a new product to offer customers and as you can tell from my experience using it for the first time, it really benefits both the framer and the homeowner.

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!).