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!

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.

Post 3 in a Series of 4

 

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 are the building code requirements for MgO SIPs and how do they compare with ICC codes?


Anuj Answers: Presently, most of the building codes in India are based on conventional construction techniques. Like aerated concrete, the new SIPs technology will have to find a place in the building codes eventually. But for that to happen, we need more local test reports. The international test reports, like ASTM and UL are also accepted in India.


I believe SIPs building – especially magnesium oxide board (MgO board) will really take off once basic testing certificates are also acquired from reputed local testing labs like CBRI Roorkee (http://www.cbri.res.in/). Their reports are well respected in our country and their costs are quite reasonable. Also, the SIPs technology can be used right away within the existing building codes for non-load-bearing applications and partitions which are a major part of new construction and remodeling. SIPs (and MgO board) technology could replace problem-prone gypsum board and fiberglass wool insulation that is currently being used. An awareness initiative and solid technical support from a SIPs company could help the Indian building community understand and use this already fully developed building technology in their projects.


Third Floor Addition in India

A Third Floor Addition Using Conventional Construction in India.

Anuj Says: “This picture I took demonstrates a great potential of SIPs use over existing flat concrete roof slabs. Where a third level is being added, the builders are using 9″ brick walls and a rebar roof. It is very cumbersome and time-consuming to build another level at this height with conventional heavy materials. You can see the shuttering work in progress. As for the roof, without SIPs use, this is going to be a very heavy structure which is going to absorb a lot of heat from all sides. A lighter, more energy-efficient building technology would help both the builder and the building owner.”
 








Anuj is interested in connecting with U.S. construction companies who want to be a part of the fast-growing alternative building movement in India. Contact me (Fred, aka the Panelman and I will get you in touch with Anuj! fmiller@totalpanelsource.com 

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



One of the benefits of blogging is connecting with a community of other folks interested in the latest innovations in structural panels. We’re engaging in conversation, sharing ideas, and creating new partnerships – and that engagement is happening on a global scale.


Through this blog, I’ve met Anuj Dayama in India, who’s just as excited about MgO panel applications as I am (good to know I’m not the only one in the world all worked up about magnesium oxide!). Through our conversations, Anuj has shed light on the current construction situation in India – and how the latest panel and building technology could solve some of their challenges. Over the next two weeks, I’ll share Anuj’s answers to questions I asked. He’s also taken some great photos, which I’ll post. So without further adieu, here’s question #1…


Post 1 in a Series of 4: Challenges in Indian Construction

The Panelman Man Asks: We have our fair share of new construction challenges here in America, what sorts of challenges does India face in new construction?


Anuj Answers: Most of our commercial and residential new construction utilizes full density concrete-rebar for structural work and concrete blocks or red clay brick masonry with Portland plaster for walls. These materials require a lot of curing at various stages. Now, one of the main problems we face in India is a steadily growing potable water shortage in a lot of areas. This makes the curing process very difficult, expensive, and not very energy efficient. Curing results in pollution and wastage of our precious potable water, which is at dangerously low levels or already depleted in some regions. The increasing salt levels in our decreasing underground water table deteriorate concrete and plaster mixes while accelerating rebar rust.


Another challenge we face in conventional new construction is that concrete and brick yield little or no insulation, so we are forced to increase energy use to stay cool in summer. We have rising annual temperatures, which makes this an urgent issue. It is a challenge to stay cool in un-electrified rural areas as well as urban centers, where frequent power cuts reduce access to air conditioning.


concrete rebar flat roofs in India, SIPs would work better

Pictured are flat rebar-concrete roofs in India. These roofs account for maximum solar gains and very hot top-floor temperatures. A 4" SIPs roof structure would work much better...

To make matters worse, conventional construction creates the “heat island effect” by absorbing heat all day and then releasing it at night. Remember, in India we have nearly six months of extreme heat, and three peak months with average peak temperatures between 105 and 120 Fahrenheit. New construction is also very time consuming. Unfortunately that time is often wasted when an earthquake occurs as most conventional structures are not very earthquake resistant. We can never forget the 2001 Gujarat earthquake that took thousands of lives of people who were living in such structures.


One of the greatest challenges is the weight of concrete building; it requires so much energy to work with Portland concrete – both in transportation and labor. Until a decade ago, the other challenge was getting the building community to open up to new materials, and invest in testing (I know that Fred faces this issue, too.) Lately, thanks to government encouragement of alternative building methods, this has changed considerably. New materials like aerated concrete blocks, steel framing with boards, SIPs panels, and PU sandwich metal skin structures are steadily gaining popularity. Tomorrow, I’ll answer Fred’s question about ways we might overcome our challenges…

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!



Dow_XPS_Foam_Bonded_to_MgO_Board

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!).