Can You Tile Over Cement Board in a Shower?

by Drew Henry

Tiling a shower involves a series of decisions, one of which is the selection of an appropriate backer board. The backer board is a crucial element that ensures your tiles adhere properly and remain durable over time. Cement board is one such option that has gained popularity due to its toughness and resistance to water. However, a common question is whether you can directly tile over cement board in a shower.

In this article, we'll provide a comprehensive answer to this question and practical tips for your bathroom renovation.

Are Cement Backer Boards the Best Option for Tiling Over In a Shower?

When it comes to tiling over a shower, cement backer boards are an excellent option. They are strong and provide outstanding, smooth adhesion for the tiles, making them ideal for wet environments like bathrooms. Furthermore, they come in lightweight versions that are easy to install.

However, one of the drawbacks of using this kind of board is that you typically must first seal it with a waterproofing membrane before laying the tiles because cement board isn't naturally moisture-resistant. It tends to absorb moisture quickly, and since we're talking about bathrooms (the room with the highest humidity in any house), that could be an issue if not dealt with before laying the tile. This additional step can add time and cost to the project, so factoring this into your budget and timeline before you begin the tile installation process is essential.

Types of Shower Backer Boards

Before laying your shower tile, you have several options for backer boards, including cement boards, fiber cement boards, glass mat gypsum boards, and foam backer boards. Each offers distinct benefits and may suit certain situations better than others. If you're unsure how to proceed with your tile project because you're overwhelmed with backer board options, this breakdown will help you understand which material best suits your situation.

Cement Board

Cement board is a popular backer board type that provides a solid surface for your tiles to adhere to. It's water-resistant and can be installed using thin-set mortar or other appropriate adhesive. It's lightweight and easy to cut, making for an efficient installation process. And, when coupled with cement tiles like ours from LiLi Tile, it gains even further durability.

One thing to remember about cement board is that it can be highly absorbent. Without any moisture-resistant properties, it may cause mold and fungal growth if not covered with a waterproof layer before adding tile – especially in areas of high moisture, such as bathrooms.

Fiber Cement Board

Fiber cement boards are similar to cement boards but include reinforcing cellulose fibers (plant extract) to help bind the material together. They're slightly more expensive than standard concrete boards but provide added strength and flexibility in wet conditions. They also come in different thicknesses that accommodate various tile sizes.

Fiber cement boards are resistant to compression, mold, and moisture, so you won't need to apply another waterproof layer on top if you opt for this route. While the boards may be more costly, removing the need for an additional layer may save you money in the long run.

Glass Mat Gypsum Board

Glass mat gypsum boards are also used in some shower installations. They come in layered compositions, provide excellent water resistance, and are more impact-resistant than other types of backer board, making them a good option for those who want extra protection against possible damage to the tiles.

Glass mat gypsum boards are only available in a thickness of 1/2 inch, so they won't be as structurally rigid as previous options. However, they can still work for shower applications if desired.

Foam Backer Board

Lastly, foam backer boards can be used in some cases. They're lightweight and easy to cut, made out of XPS foam. If you want something denser, you can typically find it, though tracking down may take more time and effort. Beyond the foam core, these boards usually have a reinforced layer of fabric or concrete on the surface to support the material.

If you're most focused on lightness, you'll enjoy an 80 percent lightness with foam boards compared to cement boards. Foam boards are also incredibly moisture-resistant, so there's no need for an additional waterproofing layer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Do You Have to Put Over Cement Board in a Shower?

It's wise to install a waterproof membrane if using cement board before laying tile in a shower. Since cement board is prone to water damage, this added layer (usually installed by stapling thin waterproof sheeting to the surface) will prevent water from seeping into the cracks of your tile and reaching the cement board. A layer of thin-set mortar can also be helpful.

Do You Have to Seal Cement Board in a Tile Shower?

It's wise to seal cement board with a layer of waterproof sheeting to prevent water from seeping through and into the boards, which could cause mold growth or compromise the integrity of the structure/wall. You may also seal the cement board with thin-set mortar.

Get Beautiful Tiles for Your Shower - Shop LiLi Tile!

After installing your cement board or other backer board in your shower area, you can begin your tile-laying process. Be sure to add an extra waterproof layer if needed, especially for materials like a cement board. Once that's done, choosing, cutting, installing, and grouting a durable, beautiful tile is the last step to completing the project.

Luckily, LiLi TIle offers several options that would look great in a shower and are safe to install over cement board – including cement tiles, glaze/porcelain tiles, and terracotta clay tile options. Glaze tiles work especially well for tile walls, and cement tiles are fantastic for bathroom floors and walls.

Need inspiration? Some of our best-sellers include Flora, Sky, Twinkle, Tiffany, Rise, and Marie. Explore our full collection and find the right tile for you.

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