How to Install Cement Board for Tile

by Drew Henry

Installing cement board is an integral part of any tiling job. It provides a strong, stable base on which to place your tiles, and if installed correctly, it can keep your tiles looking beautiful for years. However, installing cement board is not a task to take lightly. You'll need the right tools and materials and a sense of the proper steps to reach the finish line.

This guide will sufficiently prepare you for any cement-board-laying job.

Tools Required

  • Utility knife
  • Jigsaw
  • Stapler
  • Cordless Drill
  • Taping knife
  • Trowel

Materials Required

  • Cement board sheets
  • Thin-set mortar
  • Cement board screws
  • Cement board or fiberglass mesh tape
  • 2 x 4s

Installing Cement Board for Tile – A Step-by-Step Guide

Are you planning to install cement board for tile in your home? With the proper tools and materials, you can do the job yourself! Let's get into it below.

Buy Your Materials and Tools

Ensure you buy the proper tools and enough material for your project, including cement boards, thin-set mortar, proper knives, and mortar-spreading tools.

Cement board is your primary material, and it comes in a few different size options, but the standard size of 3 x 5ft and 1/2-inch thickness often works best and is easiest to find at building supply stores. If you know you require a different dimension of cement board, you may need to call around to find a supplier in your area or even order it to be shipped.

You'll also need screws to securely attach the board to its final spot, tape, and thin-set mortar to secure gaps and cracks.

Some projects will also require additional tools such as 2 x 4s for more security or a jigsaw to create custom or unique holes or shapes in your cement board.

Think big-picture first and take time to understand how to use any power tools you're new to to stay safe.

Prepare the Space

Before installing your cement board, ensure all surfaces are dry and clean. Any dust, dirt, grease, or grime can affect the bonding strength of the mortar when applied. Also, check for any gaps, cracks, or other irregularities in the surface that need to be filled before installation. Make sure anything that may have caused those gaps, such as pipes, is secure and won't be knocked loose with the cement board installation.

For instance, checking for bowed studs is necessary if you're preparing to install the boards onto a wall. You'll want a perfectly even and straight surface to hang your cement board, so it's worth the time it takes to get everything in ideal shape.

Make Any Interior Adjustments

If you're installing cement board over existing drywall (as in a bathroom renovation), remove any existing fixtures like sinks, toilets, or bathtubs that may interfere with the project. You may also want to add more insulation, install extra blocking to make it easier to screw in the edges of your cement board or replace any faucets or fixtures you plan on switching out with something new post-renovation.

Installation in a shower, for example, will vary based on where and how big your faucet, shower head, and drain are, so you won't want to be cutting holes and taking measurements on old fixtures that won't be relevant once the project is complete.

Waterproof If Needed

If installing cement board over existing drywall, waterproof the area before installation. This will help ensure that your tiles stay put and unaffected by any moisture that gets behind them. Depending on your room's set-up and the amount of water it might encounter (i.e., showers or tubs), you may want to use a waterproofing membrane such as a thin layer of plastic sheeting or sealant.

For a plastic sheet, use one piece if possible to minimize leaks and staple the sheet to the boards and studs along the surface, keeping it tightly tucked into corners to avoid tearing once the cement board is added.

Cut and Prepare the Cement Board

Once you've prepared your space, it's time to cut and prepare your cement board sheets for installation. This will be the last significant step of prep work. And luckily, cutting cement board isn't quite as tricky as cutting cement tiles.

Use a jigsaw to make any necessary custom cuts, such as along walls or around edges (like sinks or bathtubs). You may also want to pre-cut the board to size or make any extra custom holes, such as for a showerhead pipe.

Use a utility knife for precision work, and then sand down any remaining rough edges. Ensure all pieces are cut accurately and fit snugly so you won't have to do much patching up at the end.

Then, lay out your pieces to ensure everything is cut to your liking and aligned with your space.

Apply and Secure Cement Boards

Once your boards are cut to size, you can begin attaching them. If you're connecting them to the floor, start with mortar. If you're attaching them to a wall, you'll likely begin with screws.

For floor or flat application, apply thin-set mortar on the surface to which it's being attached with a trowel or a notched tiling sponge. Spread it evenly and ensure it's large enough to place at least one sheet at a time. Press the cement board into place until both surfaces make contact, and spread additional mortar over the edges of the sheet for extra security. 

Then, secure the backer board with screws along the edges and ensure the heads of the screws are just below the surface of the cement board sheet.

For walls, use a cordless drill with appropriate-sized screws to secure your sheets of cement board into place. Make sure your screws are not too long that they go through the board – they should only be flush with or just slightly below the surface to ensure a smooth finish afterward.

You'll also need to make sure the screws are evenly spaced out and at least 6 inches apart from each other. As you go, ensure everything is still aligned and adjust as needed.

Tape Up and Apply Mortar to the Seams

Once all your cement board sheets are in place, tape up any seams between two or more boards using fiberglass mesh tape and thin-set mortar.

Spread the mortar over the seams, using your taping knife to keep it even. Then, press the tape into place and spread more mortar over it with your tool of choice. This will ensure a strong bond between sheets that won't be easily disturbed by moisture and give your tiles a lasting base.

After the seams are taped, you can add tiles and grout them to perfection with durable and beautiful LiLi Tile tiles.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Tile Directly Onto Cement Board?

Yes, cement board is the perfect base for tiling, as it's waterproof and provides a smooth, even surface that won't be disturbed by moisture. It also prevents cracking when tiles are laid directly onto other bases like plywood.

What Goes Between Cement Board and Tile?

When installing your tile, you'll need to use a thin-set mortar to spread over the cement board and provide a secure base for your tiles. This additional layer will ensure your tiles don't crack, shift, or come loose once installed.

Need the Perfect Tiles for Cement Board? Shop LiLi Tile!

Installing cement board for tile is a project that requires precision, patience, and preparation. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you'll be well on your way to creating an attractive, durable surface that will stand the test of time. Remember that preparation is key!

Once this step is finished, you're ready to start your tiling project. Are you looking for beautiful, lasting tile options or interested in customizing tile for the project? Check out LiLi Tile!

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