Building a Breathing Wall: The Why & How

Breathing Wall Blog Image.jpg

I recently had the honor of speaking with George Swanson, a Consultant for natural home and commercial building, design, and construction. He is also a building biologist and advocates passionately for magnesium oxide wallboards, which is an alternative to gypsum-based drywall. These magnesium oxide boards, also known as MgO boards, allow walls to breathe.

You may be asking yourself: 'How can a wall breathe?' Well, I've asked myself the same thing, so after speaking with George I thought I would share my findings.

According to him, a “breathing” wall is not the wall’s ability to pass air through it, but the ability to pass water vapor. This is an especially important distinction when talking about insulation, because if your wall passes air through, you lose heat in the winter. In the summer months, the reverse happens - that hot, muggy air can pass through into your air-conditioned home. Walls must breathe to let the moisture out, or else that moisture becomes trapped. This makes your A.C. system work harder to dry out the insulation.

By building homes with MgO boards, you’re able to avoid these kinds of issues. Here are some more benefits of a breathing wall:

1. It has the highest mold and fire-resistance rating

The MgO board is non-combustible, a Class A building material, and virtually impervious to fire. It actually has the highest fire standard in the world, without any added chemicals or substances. It is also mold, fungus, and bug free because it is ‘non-nutritious’ to insects, fungus, and mold. Mold is simply not able to grow on it due to its salt content.

2. It’s non-toxic

It is free from asbestos, formaldehyde, and does not emit volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), such as lead and cadmium. These chemicals are toxic to human health and have short or long-term adverse health effects. Plus, some chemicals such as VOC’s even contribute to indoor air pollution. Many other insulations are generally free from formaldehyde, but often contain carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) and require a hazardous materials suit to be worn for installation.

Well, guess what? No hazmat suit is needed for MgO board installation due to its natural, chemical-free properties.

3. It’s versatile

Just like gypsum and cement sheathings (other construction materials), MgO boards are highly versatile. However, MgO boards can be used in many damp places because they can absorb water without reducing performance. Therefore, it can be used indoors and outdoors in areas such as ceilings, firewalls, partitions, shower stall tile backer board, and structural sheathing for metal or wood boards. Although it is not as flexible as drywall, it is more flexible than cement boards and has a high impact resistance.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has registered more than 80,000 toxic chemicals for use in construction, and 16,000 of those chemicals have been identified as chemicals of concern. That’s A LOT of chemicals! MgO boards are classified as a mineral and have a low carbon footprint, making them highly energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Introducing MgO boards into your home also introduces a cleaner breathing space.

For more info on breathing walls, Check out George’s book here.