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!

Don’t miss a chance to check out magnesium oxide SIPs in person – tomorrow! Contact me if you’d like more info…

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!

Post 2 in a Series of 4: Ideas for Overcoming Challenges in Conventional Indian Building


Q&A Session with Anuj Dayama, who lives in Jaipur, India. Anuj works in the natural stone industry in India and is exploring advanced, “greener” building products and technology in hopes that he can introduce safer, cost-effective, and energy-efficient solutions to the Indian building community.


The Panelman Asks: What do you believe are some of the solutions to overcoming the challenges that conventional building methods present in India?

Anuj Answers: The green building movement is really gaining momentum here in India. (Check out the list of upcoming tradeshows below for an idea of just how much industry buzz is going on!). Many of us in the construction industry are exploring lightweight materials that can still hold strong in an earthquake, are resistant to corrosion and water damage, and that require less labor and energy to implement.

I attended the Metal  & Steel Building Systems Expo this past June here in India, and was amazed at all of the new building concepts coming to market that address our challenges. Magnesium Oxide (MgO) board in a SIPs application are most compatible with steel structures due to their low weight and very high fire resistance. A good approach for developing the market for MgO boards and  SIPs construction technology here can be through derivation of initial cost difference compared to other building systems, energy savings, and affordability in this highly cost-sensitive market. Good sourcing of raw materials, a cost effective marketing approach and maximum near site assembly of panels to save on transportation can result in lower labor and manufacturing costs. A huge potential still remains looking at the small number & variety of alternate building products currently available compared to India’s market size, growing needs and our great appetite for better, greener building products and technology.

Typical residential highrise in Mumbai, India

Pictured is a typical high-rise residential structure in Mumbai. High-rise building has fueled India's interest in greener, altnernative techniques like MgO SIPs.

Like Fred, I believe that MgO SIPs are an ideal solution to the challenges I have outlined. MgO SIPs could deliver the same load bearing and security that our standard 9” thick exterior brick/ concrete envelope walls provide for compatible roof systems – with much less material. In a modular application, MgO SIPs would reduce labor costs as pre-fabricated components could be assembled on site. The water damage issue would also be solved as magnesium oxide is naturally resistant to corrosion and mold/mildew growth. I believe that MgO boards could replace gypsum, fiber cement, calcium silicate, plywood, and other problem-prone building materials here in India. Just like in the U.S., we need to work together to promote these advantages to the public – and the entire building community.




Green Building Organizations and Websites to Reference

www.igbc.in   An organization established by USGBC in India

www.grihaindia.org  This organization also certifies green buildings, like IGBC

www.bee-india.nic.in  Bureau oF Energy Efficiency that rates buildings according to energy use

Fall 2010 Green Building Events in India

  • Green Building Congress 2010, October 6-9 2010 at Chennai Trade Centre, Chennai
  • ZAK: Innovative, Lightweight, Faster, & Sustainable Building Construction Technology Expo Sep 30.  Oct. 3, Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai
  • ET ACETECH Chennai Trade Centre, November 26-18

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!).

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!