Did you know that we here in the U.S. throw out 221.7 million tons of garbage – every DAY!!! A whopping 20% of that comes from the building and construction industry! So not surprisingly, when I find a product or a method that enables me to cut down on waste, I want to use it. For a while now, I’ve had my eye on a product called Green E-board, but I have yet to have a chance to use it. I tried, on this project, but because of the way it was sold – by pallets of 50 sheets each – it didn’t work out with the amounts we needed. The sheets are smaller than traditional drywall panels, but per our takeoffs, we still would have been left with a remnant of almost 50 sheets of it at the end – i.e. almost an entire pallet. This would have rendered this otherwise fairly cost-effective material far too expensive. This was a year ago, when the material was pretty new. Hopefully the product is more established now, and more flexible in terms of how much you need to procure at a time.
But, for the environmentally conscious builder, there are other potential snags too. The construction industry is extemely conservative, and really, who can blame them? The legal ramifications and liability risks are such that if something works, contractors tend to stick to it, even if it’s toxic. The most extreme project in terms of material restrictions I have ever had a hand in, was a Living Building Challenge. It was nearly impossible to find a contractor who would agree to take a chance on an alternative shower pan. None of the traditional ones would do, as they all contain ingredients featured on Living Future.org’s “Red List” – the list of toxic materials that absolutely can NOT be used in a Living Building project. But even for more conventional construction, people tend to play it safe. If you’ve done the same thing for 30 years, and have never had a complaint against you, why change and take the risk of material failure? There have been ample occurrences with faulty drywall from China sold between 2004-2007, where the gypsum had been diluted and contaminated with sulphur compounds. In climates with high humidity it chemically reacted and corroded the electrical and plumbing behind it. To avoid the lawsuits, Knauf (the German owner company) closed its American subsidiary. So, guess who got sued? No wonder contractors often are scared to try something new… In all honesty, my drywaller would have taken the plunge – he was very intrigued with Green E-board – but my tiler refused. But as I mentioned – in this case, the bulk packaging drove the costs up too high anyway, so in the end, it didn’t matter.
Green E-board has a high recycled content, and is recyclable. It contains neither gypsum or harmful silica and has no VOC compounds, so there is no off-gassing. The dust it generates is non-toxic, and it is 50% lighter in weight than traditional drywall. Instead of gypsum and Portland cement it’s composed with magnesium oxide (MgO) and magnesium chloride (MgCl), with additional natural mineral components such as perlite, and woven and non-woven strengthening fibers. It is varmint-, termite- and insect-proof, and completely non-nutrient to both mold and mildew – which makes it instantly ideal for wet area applications like showers and bath surrounds. This feature alone is very favorable and can gain you lower home insurance premiums, since mold and mildew are some of the biggest issues in insurance claims stemming from the construction industry. Regular drywall, on the other hand, has to have anti-fungal chemicals added.
Green E-board is a dream material for those suffering from MCS – multiple chemical sensitivities, or for those seeking a wall that breathes. It is green from an energy standpoint too. Comparatively it only takes half the energy to manufacture, and cuts CO2 emissions in half. According to one source, magnesium oxide actually removes CO2 from the air during the manufacturing process. And, of course, its light weight cuts down on transportation costs. It has an excellent thermal and fire rating, takes regular tools and fasteners – just score and snap!
Most other tile boards for walls, floors, etc. are made with Portland cement, gypsum or petroleum products, which adds to our global pollution problem. Magnesium is far more benevolent. Green E-board has a high Ph value, so here is the beautiful thing… Listen up, all gardeners! If you have any leftover after your project is finished, you can simply grind it up and use it for soil conditioner if you need to make your acidic soil more basic. How cool is that??? Here in Portland, this fine product is sold by T&A Supply, the name of which always makes me giggle. I mean, really…?
Finally, as I was researching this I found another great thing, especially interesting to garden designers and builders. Greenewall is a California-made post and wall panel system that incorporates Green E-board on the outside of the panels, for its moisture resistance. The 3’ x 8’ panels have a lightweight, paper-based, resin-impregnated honeycomb core inspired by aircraft wings, and are covered with stucco. Imagine that – you can have a stucco wall at about 1/4 of the cost of a conventional one! And, it can be used to build planters and furniture as well. The possibilities are endless…