Should You Consider Gypsum For A Tile Backer?


Better Boards: Alternatives for Cement

CertainTeed for Construction Pro Tips

By Julian Ketchum, Technical Marketing Manager at CertainTeed Gypsum

When specifying products for a new build or remodel, it’s important to choose products best suited for the task at hand. However, there are often available alternatives that work just as well, if not better, and help make the process easier for building professionals.

A great example of this is the use of gypsum boards instead of cement boards. Cement boards are heavyweight boards that are a combination of cement, sand and fiberglass, making them resistant to decomposition. They contain no organic compounds, and don’t retain moisture, minimizing mold. This is important in areas like bathrooms, basements and kitchens, where cement boards are typically used as backers for tile and stone, and as underlayment for flooring or countertops.

While cement boards are commonly used, they have their limitations, and gypsum boards may be better suited for these situations a variety of reasons:

  • Weight. Because of their makeup, cement boards are heavier than comparable options and often require more manpower, with two or more people needed to hang and apply them, making it less than ideal for quick remodels. Gypsum boards are much lighter than cement boards, weighing up to 50% less, which also leads to lower installation cost. These boards also come in varying lengths and can be moved and hung by one person.
  • Convenience. Due to a cement board’s density, professionals have to use power tools, like saw blades, when drilling and cutting the board, whereas gypsum is often preferred because it can be manually cut using a standard utility knife.
  • Safety. Commercial buildings codes set by OSHA also require that these cement boards be cut outdoors, because the lack of indoor ventilation leads to dust and particles harming the skin and respiratory system. Cutting these boards outdoors then transporting them indoors can be a time-consuming hassle.
  • Durability. While cement boards are valued for their longevity, modern-day gypsum board cores are designed to resist moisture intrusion and mold buildup with equal or greater effectiveness. They also have glass mats embedded directly into the board for a more durable, dimensionally-stable panel.
  • Cost. Cement boards tend to cost more than gypsum boards when compared foot-for-foot.

While cement boards have stood the test of time, there are gypsum-based products that can be used as a tile substrate performing just as well as cement boards but are manufactured with the professional in mind.

Products like CertainTeed Gypsum’s Diamondback® Tile Backer have a built-in moisture barrier that stops moisture at the surface, thereby eliminating the need for an additional barrier or moisture retarder that other gypsum products sometimes require. As an added benefit, it’s also fire-resistant.

Before beginning your next bathroom or kitchen remodel, consider the time, strain and costs associated with cement boards, and consider investing in an effective alternative like gypsum

About the Author: 

Julian Ketchum

Julian Ketchum is a Technical Marketing Manager for CertainTeed, a North American manufacturer of building products headquartered in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Julian has been with CertainTeed for 21 years, and in his role, he provides product-based expertise on gypsum boards and finishing products and their practical applications in commercial and residential projects. Julian is also a certified LEED® Green Associate™.

About CertainTeed

Through the responsible development of innovative and sustainable building products, CertainTeed, headquartered in Malvern, Pennsylvania, has helped shape the building products industry for 115 years. Today, CertainTeed is a leading North American brand of interior and exterior building products, ideal for every application, whether commercial or residential. Click here to see our previous article on Choosing the Right Drywall and stay tuned for more content from CertainTeed.