New wall panels designed to ease basement projects -

New wall panels designed to ease basement projects -

New wall panels designed to ease basement projects

By Jean Murphy

There is no more economical way to add living space to your home than by finishing your basement.

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When finishing a basement you just need to construct the walls and ceiling, run the electrical and figure out how you want to finish the floor. Anything else you do, like adding a bathroom or bar/kitchen, is a luxury.

But homeowners wisely worry about the danger of water seepage and flooding when they spend a lot of money on a subterranean haven. News coverage of flooded basements strikes terror in the heart of anyone who has invested lots of time and money in their lower level.

But two different basement finishing systems, which are specifically designed to survive submersion in water and are not subject to mold and rot, are now relieving the minds of homeowners around the Chicago area, where basement family rooms, exercise rooms and offices are a long-standing tradition.

Owens Corning ( has offered a water and mold-resistant basement finishing system made of polyolefins since 2001. Similar to a rigid fiberglass board, the polyolefin board has a cover that feels like linen wallpaper, according to Steven Brooks, president of Owens Corning Basement Finishing System’s largest franchise, which has offices in Lisle and Joliet.

Water easily drains from the wall panels after a flooding event and panels can then be easily cleaned with a soft white bristle brush. The homeowner simply needs to remove the baseboards temporarily to facilitate the draining and drying process.

Its biggest local competitor is the Matrix Basement Finishing System (, on the market since 2008, which offers nontoxic panels the company says are totally impervious to water and mold because they are made of polystyrene foam laminated between wafer thin sheets of magnesium oxide.

«Our panels can stay submerged for a week and still not be damaged,» said Nick Richmond, president of Matrix Basement Finishing, based in Arlington Heights. «If a basement floods, the homeowner just needs to remove the trim and let the walls dry out. Then we recommend power washing the walls and priming and repainting them.»

Customers of both systems seem pleased with their results.

Youpa and Pota Siong of Round Lake Beach hired Matrix to turn the unfinished basement in their 15-year-old home into a play area for their young children and a television viewing area for themselves. The comprehensive job, which included wall construction, electrical, lighting and closet construction, took less than two weeks and was completed in July.

«We are very pleased with the results. We wanted the walls in there to look like every other room in our house and it does. It is very cozy,» Youpa said.

Mike and Loni Kogol had Owens Corning finish the basement of their 5-year-old Plano home last fall. An office, recreation room and crafts area were all constructed in a 1000-square-foot area of their huge basement.

«We had a very experienced installer who anticipated lots of problems and corrected them during the installation,» Mike said. «For instance, he knew that we hadn’t planned enough lights down there, so we were able to add more during the construction. I don’t know anything about construction. Someone likes me needs someone to guide them and our installer did that.»

And the resulting rooms are everything the Kogols had hoped for and more. They, too, feel like they are in an above-grade space, not a basement, they said.

Unlike traditional wood studs and drywall, which tend to warp, rot and allow mold in high-moisture areas like basements, both the Matrix and the Owens Corning basement systems resist such pitfalls.

«Ours is a soft-wall system but even so, you can bump it pretty hard and it will bounce back and not dent,» said Al Rizo, Basement Business Manager for Owens Corning. «And it is fire rated and offers 95 percent sound deadening. It also stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer and prevents the musty smell that you so often get in a basement.»

The surface should not be painted. Instead, a variety of colors are offered and the one chosen by each homeowner is integrated right into the panel.

The Matrix system feels more like drywall to the touch, according to Richmond. It, too, stands up to lots of punishment and does not dent or break. And it also prevents the musty basement odor. But Matrix walls do need to be primed and painted.

The installation techniques of the two systems are similar.

Owens Corning uses metal studs that attach to the foundation walls. Then there are PVC tracks at both the floor and ceiling which allow the polyolefin panels to slide into place. The bottom track, according to Rizo, also acts as a raceway for surround sound and similar wiring which a homeowner may choose to include.

Thin PVC strips connect the panels and the baseboards are also made of PVC.

New wall panels designed to ease basement projects -

Matrix, on the other hand, installs a single metal track one inch off the floor, onto which the panels snap like children’s plastic interlocking blocks. Then there are metal spines which slide between the panels. Metal L-brackets are then installed at the tops of the walls, every four inches to keep everything in place.

«The end result is a wall that is so rigid and plumb that it actually looks cleaner than drywall does and is really easy to paint,» Richmond said. «And we use wood trim because it is cheap to replace, if necessary, and makes the room look more like the rest of the house.»

Both companies tout the fact that access to ductwork, pipes and other residential systems generally hidden in the basement are accessible with their products. Homeowners are easily able to snap out whole panels with the Owens Corning system, access the area that needs work and then replace the panel, Rizo said.

Those who choose a Matrix basement, Richmond said, can easily cut through the Matrix wall and remove whatever size area needs to be accessed. The area removed will come out smoothly as an intact cube which can later be glued back into place with a special epoxy and no one is ever able to see the repair.

When it comes to hanging pictures, televisions and cabinets, Richmond said that the Matrix walls can hold up to 350 pounds per panel and items are hung on it just like on drywall. Owens Corning, on the other hand, offers special hanging kits that allow you to hang up to 30 pounds. Anything heavier must be installed by them and attached directly to the studs, Rizo explained.

Both use acoustic tile-style floating ceilings which insulate the rest of the house from any noise in the basement. Meanwhile, Owens Corning recommends the use of carpet, which is relatively cheap to replace in the event of a flood. Matrix suggests no-glue carpet squares that are also easy to replace.

Owens Corning fully backs their product with a warranty and their systems may only be purchased from official franchisees who use certified installers. Matrix offers their product and full instructions to independent contractors and do-it-yourselfers who choose to handle the installation themselves.

Richmond has seen his business at Matrix grow quite a bit during this economic downturn.

«We have been doing 25 to 30 jobs per month this summer and I think that is because with this economy, people are stuck where they are and finishing their basement is an economical way to enlarge and improve their living space,» Richmond said. «We also offer financing.»

The average cost for a Matrix basement is $20 to $25 per square foot for work that includes finishing walls and ceilings and all of the necessary electrical work and lighting. Plumbing costs extra. His average job this summer has been approximately $15,000, Richmond said.

Brooks, Owens Corning’s Lisle and Joliet-based franchisee, said that his jobs range from $10,000 to $100,000, depending up the «bump-outs and bells and whistles the customer wants. We have 2,500 different components on our list.»

People like that the company offers a quick installation that won’t disrupt their life for more than a week or two, Brooks said. «And we find they are coming to us because they want to pay once and have it done the right way and they know their basement will be backed by a Fortune 200 company. But we are still fighting for people’s discretionary income in a tough economy.»

Matrix Basement Systems can be viewed at 545 E. Algonquin Road, Suite B, Arlington Heights. Owens Corning will be showcasing its systems at numerous area home shows and festivals including the Southern DuPage Fall Home Show in Darien on Sept. 18-19; the Long Grove Apple Festival on Oct. 1-2; and the Fox Valley Fall Home Show in St. Charles, Oct. 9-10.

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