Underlayments are the support materials that lay underneath your tile on a floor. They sit between your subfloor (usually plywood) and your tile. They provide a waterstable base, make the floor more rigid (less chance of cracked tiles), and are better suited for tile adhesion.
A well-set tile on a sturdy underlayment should never crack, and will last for decades.
Some products, such as cement board, are water stable. This means that they will not warp or fall apart if exposed to or submerged in water, much in the way that plywood or drywall would. But they are not waterproof: water will still work its way through cement board and get to plywood subfloors or wood support beams, and eventually cause mold growth.
Sturdy and waterstable, cement boards such as HardiBacker, Wonderboard, and JetBacker are among the least expensive of tile underlayment options.
We recommend Fiberock as an underlayment. This fiber-reinforced gypsum board is silica-free, as easy to cut as drywall, as strong as any other cement board and less expensive than other cementboards.
Lightweight and waterproof, Schluter Ditra is a waffle-patterned plastic underlayment that doubles as an uncoupling membrane. Perfect for absorbing movement and blocking moisture, Ditra is a great option for basement floors, concrete substrates, and outside spaces.
Ditra requires special thinset and is more expensive than cementboard, but is the perfect product for special situations where you need a thinner, more lightweight, waterproof product.
Visit our Ditra page for more information.
If you are tiling a wall in a dry area (such as a kitchen backsplash or a wainscoting), you can tile directly onto drywall that has a coating of a primer, such as Killz. If the drywall is already painted, we recommend lightly buffing it with sandpaper so that the thinset can bond to it.
Drywall is not recommended for walls in wet areas such as showers as it does not hold up to moisture. If you already have drywall around your shower and don't want to tear it down, use Schluter Kerdi to waterproof the wall wherever water might hit it.
Wedi building panels and HydroBlok panels are constructed from a high-density, waterproof foam and are available in the same sizes as standard cementboard with just as much durability. Simply affix the panels to your wall studs with the non-ferrous screws and washers, seal all punctures and seams with the polyurethane caulking, and you have a watertight shower surround that won't harbor mold or mildew.
The only time you need to use cementboard for a vertical installation is when your installation will be continuously exposed to water (primarily showers or bath tub surrounds). If you use cementboard in these areas, you'll need to waterproof them. We recommend the Schluter Kerdi system for waterproofing wallboards.
As with tiled floors, you'll want a cementboard bonded to the top of plywood for your new countertops. The water-stable nature of the cementboards insures that, in the event of leaky sinks or spilled liquids, your countertop will not warp or swell.
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Appointments recommended for one-on-one service and complimentary design consultations
1531 Central Ave S
Kent, WA 98032