Selecting Ceramic Tile Underlayment

The type of ceramic tile underlayment you choose can make the difference between a successful project and one that literally falls to pieces a few months or years after completion. Not providing the correct type of foundation when installing ceramic tiles can ruin the entire job – no matter how expensive or beautiful a tile you’ve chosen to use.

A ceramic tile underlayment consists of a material that withstands heat and moisture. Wood or gypsum board, two common choices mistakenly used by homeowners, allow moisture to permeate them through the porosity of the grout used in installing ceramic tile. After swelling, warping, and eventually rotting, the bond between the grout (mortar) and the tile becomes compromised and the tile loosens and falls off.

  • One excellent ceramic tile underlayment, Hardibacker, comes from James Hardie Building Products. Endorsed by Builder magazine as the best-quality backerboard for laying ceramic tile, it withstands swelling, cracking, and even holds up under severe conditions such as flooding. As one 20-year veteran of the tile industry attests, “Hardibacker makes an ideal ceramic tile underlayment even under extreme circumstances.”
  • Georgia-Pacific makes another good ceramic tile underlayment, DensShield Tile backer. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) declares DensShield to be nearly half again faster to install than other types of backerboard with waste savings of up to more than 20 percent.

Whether you select Hardibacker, DensShield, or some other type of ceramic tile underlayment, make sure it features several characteristics critical for use in damp, hot, humid situations. It should withstand water, first and foremost. Its ease of use comes next as a major criterion: It should be relatively lightweight and easy to cut and fit onto a wall, counter, or floor. If it offers other features such as snapping and locking into place, that only adds greater value as far as saving time and installation headaches.

 Finally, homeowners should always take a look at the warranty of whatever ceramic tile underlayment they’re considering before purchasing it. By following these tips and getting the right ceramic tile underlayment, your finished project should not only be significantly easier to install, but give you a lifetime of dependable and attractive usability.

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