Selecting a Tile Backer Board

How to choose the backing that best fits your tiling needs

Tile needs to be installed on a backer board to keep the assembly stiff, otherwise the assembly will flex at the grout joints, allowing water to seep behind the tile and rot the substructure. Here's how to choose the best tile backer board for your project.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Cement board

Strengths:

  • Doesn't deteriorate when wet.
  • Stiff and strong.
  • Some types can be used outside (check brand specifications).
  • Ideal tile-setting surface for thin-set mortars.

Drawbacks:

  • Heavy to handle.
  • Needs at least 1-1/4 in. of edge support for proper fastening.
  • Should be backed with a plastic or other waterproof membrane to protect wood framing, because it isn't waterproof.

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Fiber cement board

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Glass mat gypsum board

Strengths:

  • Waterproof skin; doesn't need an additional moisture barrier.
  • Lighter in weight than cement board.
  • Easier to cut and fasten than cement board.

Drawbacks:

  • Will soften if water seeps through joints or gets behind the waterproof surface.
  • Can't support all types of floor tile (see product specification sheet).
  • Fiberglass mats irritate bare skin. Wear long sleeves, gloves, goggles and a dust mask when cutting and handling them.

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Water-resistant drywall

Strengths:

  • A good base for paint, wallpaper and tile in occasionally damp areas like kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Inexpensive—about a fifth the price of the other types of tile backer board.

Drawbacks:

  • Not suitable as a tile backer around tubs and showers.

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