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.