Using MgO Products in High Performance Buildings for Protection in a Changing Climate

Scott Lidberg Aug 17, 2022 mgO

Better Preparing for What Is Now in Front of Us 

As the author of 1984 and Animal Farm, George Orwell focused on how the future could become a dark place based on how current trends play themselves out. And as he once quipped: “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” 

With regard to the accelerating costs of climate change, the last few years have made it harder and harder to ignore what we’re witnessing. Current trends are pointing to a more violent, disaster-prone world. The construction industry is one of many sectors that will have to incorporate this new reality into its decision-making.  

Light bulb for key takeaway

Key Takeaway

Climate change will continue to drive innovations in building strategies, materials, and products. Using materials that are both environmentally friendly and designed to withstand the effects of natural disasters has never been more critical. MgO products are the clear alternative to traditional gypsum, plywood, and Portland-cement-based materials for all high-performance building projects  


An Innovative Solution to Combat Climate Change Impact 

One high-performance building material that will be part of a more robust and sustainable construction methodology will be MgO products. They incorporate a wide range of magnesium oxide board and MgO structural insulated panels (SIPs) that are used as structural sheathing, subflooring, siding, ceilings, decking, trim, and interior walls. Manufactured far more energy efficiently than the products they can replace such as concrete, MgO materials are an eco-friendly choice moving forward. 

The reality is that buildings will have to be designed and constructed to withstand what’s on the horizon, which the recent past has made clear such as:  

  • The seven hottest years humans have experienced1 have all occurred since 2015.  
  • Eight of the ten largest wildfires in California history2 have happened in the last five years.  
  • The three costliest years for weather-related disasters3, adjusted for inflation, have all occurred since 2000. 

Whether it’s record-breaking weather events — such as derechos becoming more common4 and tearing across the U.S. Midwest and eastern Canada, or wildfires spreading into new areas due to drought and extreme heat along the entire west coast of North America — buildings are facing more extreme stressors that demand better construction strategies. Building for natural disasters — and using more eco-friendly and energy-efficient ways in order to mitigate climate change impacts — is an industry trend5 coming to the forefront of investment and resource allocation decisions. 

There are several ways that MgO products provide excellent solutions when it comes to adapting to a changing climate and increases in extreme weather events. 

MgO Has a Smaller Environmental Footprint 

One of the best features of MgO products is that they are radically more environmentally friendly during production. Since they are created primarily via chemical reactions, as opposed to extreme heating, they start out of the gate far ahead6 of gypsum drywall and Portland-cement products, which involve significant energy consumption and the use of hazardous chemicals such as ammonia, asbestos, and benzene. 

This initial eco-friendly aspect of MgO high-performance building products raises the life-cycle carbon emission assessment7 (LCCO2A) score of projects using such materials. 

But that’s just one aspect of the environmental benefits of using MgO as part of a sustainable construction matrix. The fact is that MgO Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) provide high R-values that will make buildings far more energy efficient. And due to its rugged nature, projects incorporating a significant amount of MgO high-performance building materials will also enjoy a longer life, cutting down on replacement costs and the materials needed over the long term. 

Finally, since MgO materials do not contain toxic materials, they are easily recyclable and, when they do require disposal, they are landfill friendly and will not leach toxins into the environment. They are a greener alternative before, during, and after their installation in a building. 

MgO is Able to Withstand Extremes 

As noted, an important sustainable-construction asset of MgO building materials is their inherent tensile strength8. This makes them the perfect building material to better withstand extreme weather events and stress damage from earthquakes. 

Wind is the most common direct threat when building for natural disasters. Not only does magnesium oxide board increase the overall strength of buildings experiencing high wind stress, but it’s also more impact resistant than other materials, meaning collisions with flying debris during storms can result in less damage. With extreme wind becoming more common in the United States — both seasonally (as tornado season expands into the winter months9) and geographically — MgO boards and SIPs can be one aspect of better preparing structures for the new normal. 

And obviously, these characteristics serve the same purpose in meeting or exceeding earthquake building codes. 

MgO is Water and Mold Resistant  

Another important aspect of the sustainable construction attributes of MgO high-performance building products is that they are water, mold, mildew, and fungus resistant. Unlike gypsum drywall, magnesium oxide board can take a quick immersion in water and not immediately break down. So, if flood waters rise and fall quickly, there is a good chance that MgO walls (and floors) will not be totaled.  

Though not fully waterproof, MgO building materials do not easily delaminate, swell, or warp. In many, if not most, flood events this could mean tens of thousands of dollars less in repair expenses for individual homeowners. 

Likewise, MgO materials don’t offer anything of interest to living organisms that can be such misery for residents. Mold and fungi can be a problem in any home, but especially can become rampant after flooding or extreme rain events. With some areas getting much wetter due to climate change, controlling mold problems will become a more pressing issue in a broader geographic area. The same dynamic holds for insects, which also do not find anything remotely palatable about inorganic MgO materials. 

MgO is Fire Resistant  

As the range of wildfires expands10 due to climate change around the world, the greater fire resistance of MgO materials is also an asset. MgO has some of the highest fire-safety ratings of any commonly available building material. MgO board, trim, and especially exterior sheathing can help create structural firewalls for buildings that may suddenly be in the path of fast-moving infernos, which are now more likely to engulf heavily populated areas, such as the Marshall Fire that tore through Boulder County, Colorado11, in a matter of hours in late 2021. 

MgO is the Best Choice Moving Forward 

To meet the challenges of high-performance building in the face of a changing and more damaging climate, MgO building products will be one of the most important tools available to the construction industry. Design and constructing residential and commercial buildings with natural disasters in mind will simply have to become the norm. MgO products are an eco-friendly, energy-efficient addition to the sustainable construction toolbox. 

We love chatting about all things MgO, so please feel free to reach out with any questions. 



1 2021 one of the seven warmest years on record, WMO consolidated data shows. 

2 Largest California wildfires 

3 Third-costliest year on record for weather disasters in 2021: $343 billion in damages 

4 Hints of a derecho-climate change link, ten years after 2012 storm 

5 Putting the construction sector at the core of the climate change debate 

6 MgO Boards: A Greener Alternative To Drywall 

7 Integrating climate change impact in new building design process: A review of building life cycle carbon emission assessment methodologies 

8 Comparative analysis of magnesium oxide boards properties 

9 National Weather Service 

10 Wildfires and Climate Change 

11Colorado fire destroys hundreds of structures 

Ready to learn more about NexGen Building Products?

Similar posts