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  440 SoundBarrier® by Homasote®: 
The High-Performance Sheathing Alternative to OSB and Plywood

A perfect storm of economic and geo- political factors has taken OSB (Oriented Strand Board) and plywood prices to new heights, moving these building products to price levels that builders and architects never dreamed possible, even in their worse nightmares. And relief still is not in sight.

As building materials suppliers scramble for OSB and plywood alternatives, a small New Jersey-based manufacturer, the Homasote Company, is popping up on homebuilders’ radar screens. The West Trenton-based manufacturer is an offshoot of the original Bermuda Trading Company. The first chairman of the Port of New York Authority, the giant NGO that controls airports, bridges and transportation into New York, founded the company in 1909, and it’s the fifth oldest show exhibitor in the National Association of Home Builders.

The 440 SoundBarrier® by Homasote® is a premium vertical sheathing that is competitively priced to OSB and plywood alternatives. In addition, Homasote Company products, some with as much as 98 percent postconsumer content, can help contribute to aggregate credits in several LEED™ categories.Every architect who has tacked up a college project or displayed a client’s plans in his office knows Homasote® as one of the most tackable materials made. In architectural and design firms across the country, from back rooms to boardrooms, Homasote® products, including its new sibling, PINnacle™, are tackboards of choice. (See Design Cost Data™ July/August 2003 page 6). But Homasote® isn’t just tackboard. It’s a oneof- a-kind structural panel.

At the company’s 750,000-square-foot facility close to 250 tons of curbside recycled newspaper is repulped each work day, molded under intense pressure into a panel that’s been used for sound control in floors and walls and a host of other architectural and packaging purposes. Today’s LEED™ architects have found many Homasote Company products, some with as much as 98 percent post-consumer content, can help contribute to aggregate credits in several LEED™ categories.

The structural strength of 440 allows it to achieve high shear values when used as a vertical sheathing without blocking and without corner bracing.Back before most of us were born, Homasote® board was a sheathing of choice for choosey builders. Now the company expects 440 SoundBarrier® to make major inroads with a new generation of builders and specifiers who will learn that “same old, same old,” when it comes to exterior sheathing, means a premium vertical sheathing that’s competitively priced – and in some cases less - than OSB and plywood.

Among factors that have come together to make OSB and plywood extremely pricey are mill closures, fire and flooding in timberland affecting raw products, the reduced value of the American vs. the Canadian dollar; tariffs on foreign forest products, a strong demand for new homes, low mortgage rates, and the federal government’s insatiable need for wood products as it rebuilds Iraq.

The relative contribution of each factor to the OSB/plywood crisis may be debated but there’s no disagreement that builders across the countries are starting to say, “ouch” at OSB and plywood prices as they search for acceptable, structural alternatives.

The technical properties of 440 SoundBarrier® have always been more valuable than today’s price parity. Now OSB and plywood’s growing scarcity is helping to showcase the intrinsic strengths of Homasote® board, showing it to be superior to the other two for vertical sheathing. It’s a fact that builders knew from the 20’s right through the 70’s before OSB first entered the building arena.

Housing sheathed with 440 SoundBarrier(R) as far back as the 1930's still exists in the U.S., in California, Alaska, New Jersey and other states.SoundBarrie~ allows it to achieve high shear values when used as a vertical sheathing without blocking and without corner bracing. Using ringshank nails in Homasote's recommended patterns, build- ers can get 309lbs/ft shear in the comers and 255 lbs in the field. Compare this independently tested data with OSB's 165 Ibs/ft and plywood's 175 Ibsjft.

Shear strength is a major reason why Homasote® was used for military barracks in World Wars I and II; why the product became the basis for the first manufactured housing company in the U.S.; and why it has been an exterior sheathing of choice across the country for decades. Housing sheathed with 440 SoundBarrier® as far back as the 30's still exists in the U.S., in California, Alaska, New Jersey and other states.

In regions of the U.S. where ground movement is a concern, builders erecting single or multi-family homes or small com- mercial structures should compare the shear strength of 440 SoundBarrier® vs. OSB and plywood, especially since Homasote® does not require blocking to achieve its shear strength. That means less time that carpenters and framers have to spend on vertical sheathing.

The explosion of concern over mold and mildew highlights another physical property that allows 440 SoundBarrier® to stand out from OSB, plywood and other vertical sheathing products. Permeance, i.e. the ability of moisture to travel through a wall cavity, is 17 times better in 440 SoundBarrier® than OSB and 24 times greater than plywood.

And Homasote® board also is natu- rally resistant to mold and mildew because it is comprised of materials not easily di- gested by fungi. Plus, fungicidal compo- nents are infused throughout the board during manufacturing to further increase its resistance to microorganisms.

Additional independently tested physi - cal factors that help to distinguish 440 SoundBarrier®.from other sheathing al- ternatives, include excellent combined nail pull, similar moisture content, thick- ness swelling four times less than OSB, and an R-value twice that of wood.

A few months ago when OSB and ply- wood were lower priced, builders wouldn't be looking at premium exterior vertical sheathing like 440 SoundBarrier® -even if they felt it were superior product, since in - side-the-structure components aren't seen by customers.

One additional advantage that 440 SoundBarrier® has over alternatives is the bonus reduction in ambient outside sound coming into a home that's achieved when that home is sheathed with Homasote®. 

On a interesting note, a famed American Antarctic explorer played an inter- esting bit part in Homasote® history.

Admiral Robert E. Byrd's use of Homasote® board for an Antarctic expedition proved the inherent strength and value of Homasote®. He used the board to move tons of material and equipment to the harsh climate at bottom of the globe and re-used the same panels for structures, including his weather observation booth. Years later, when a military expedition returned to the site of Byrd’s camp they were surprised to see that the Homasote structures, once the permafrost was removed, remained intact.

Thanks to OSB and plywood’s ever-higher prices, building materials distributors and lumberyards can beef up their inventories of 440 SoundBarrier® from Homasote Company to give customers a new look at a time-honored vertical sheathing alternative that is better, healthier, stronger and, most importantly to builders, now priced right. 

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