How To Choose the Right Tile Backer Board

by Drew Henry

Looking to find the right tile backer board for your purposes? There are several things to consider to ensure you select the right option for your project.

Here, we cover everything you need to know. 

What Is a Backer Board? 

Let's start with the basics. A backer board refers to the foundation you set your materials on – which, in this case, would be tile

Backer board can come in many forms depending on the manufacturer. We'll talk more about some different types shortly.

With so many choices, how are you supposed to know which is right for you? 

The main choice comes down to where it's being used, such as if it's a wet or dry area – like a bathroom or a hallway. 

Types of Backer Boards

Below, we'll cover some different types of backer boards that you might encounter. 

Cement Backer Board

Cement board is a substrate created from fiber and cement. You could get it in half-inch or quarter-inch thickness, and you can use it as an underlayment for wall tile. For floor installation, you'll need the total thickness of your substrate to be a minimum of 1 ¼” before setting tile, according to the Tile Council of North America. You can also use cement board on exterior applications. 

Fiber Cement Board

Fiber cement board refers to a thin layer of concrete that's been installed as a sturdy surface subfloor you can use for setting tiles. Backer board is made from a sheet of cement that's mixed with sand with a fiberglass mesh on each side of the board to make it more durable. This creates a solid surface that the thin-set mortar can adhere to, allowing for a solid bond between the floor and tile. Fiber cement board is water resistant and comes in 3 x 5-foot sheets in a range of thicknesses between ¼” inch to 5/16”. 

Glass Reinforced Cement Sheets (Mat Gypsum Board)

This option is created using water-resistant silicone-treated gypsum that's been reinforced on both sides by fiberglass mats. It’s a good option for areas like tub surrounds that may be more damp. One drawback to note is that it will soften if water makes its way behind the waterproof surface. This option for backer board is available in ½” and ¼” thick 4 x 5-foot sheets.

Styrofoam Base Backer Board

This backer board option is strong while being incredibly lightweight, vapor retardant, and waterproof as a tile base used in wet areas. It's also dust-free and easy to cut. 

What To Consider When Choosing a Tile Backer Board

Below, we'll cover things you need to keep in mind as you decide on the right option for your needs.

Backer Board Dimensions

It's common for backer board to be available in limited sizes, so you'll want to keep in mind what dimensions are available when selecting your ideal backer board. They're often 3 x 5 feet, and you can sometimes find options that are 4 x 8 feet. However, the larger backer boards can be quite heavy and have sharp edges, so use gloves or other necessary protective gear and get assistance from someone else. 

Backer Board Thickness

Pay attention to the thickness of your selection and opt for a thickness that's appropriate for your project. It's common to find half-inch thick options, but you also might find quarter-inch and 5/8-inch thick options. 

Remember that, to install tile, there are requirements for the total minimum thickness of the subfloor and underlayment. Make sure that your installation complies with the requirements for your specific project. 

The Location of Use

Make sure that the type of backer board you select works for the location you'll be using it in. If you're looking to install tile in a wet area, such as a bathroom, then you'll want to pay more attention to things like water resistance. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Type of Adhesive Should Be Used When Tiling Onto Backer Boards? 

When installing porcelain, natural stone, or ceramic tiles directly onto a backer board, you should choose a flexible adhesive. Some manufacturers of backer board produce flexible adhesives meant to be used with their products.

What Thickness Tile Backer Board Should I Use? 

The thickness of your tile backer board will depend on your project. Tile backer board comes in many different thickness options, with a half-inch being a common option. Ensure that your project complies with the requirements to install tile, including the total minimum thickness of the subfloor and underlayment.

Want the Perfect Tiles for a Backer Board? Shop LiLi Tile! 

If you want to refresh your space and you're looking for the ideal tiles to breathe new life into a room, we've got you covered at LiLi Tile! We have a wide selection of tiles to fit every project and taste. Browse what we have to offer today!

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