Do you need backer board for tile backsplash?

Installing a tile backsplash can transform the look and feel of your kitchen. But before you start tiling, an important question to ask is – do you need backer board for a tile backsplash? The answer is, in most cases, yes. Here’s a detailed look at when and why backer board is recommended for tile backsplashes.

What is Backer Board?

Backer board, also known as cement board, is a stiff, dense material made of concrete and fiberglass mesh. It is used as an underlayment for tile and stone installations. Backer board is designed to provide a stable, water-resistant surface for tiling.

Some key advantages of backer board include:

  • Prevents cracks – The cement material resists cracking and warping better than drywall or plywood. This provides a more stable base for tile.
  • Water resistant – Backer board is highly water resistant and won’t degrade or swell when exposed to moisture over time. This is essential for kitchen backsplashes which see a lot of splashing, condensation, and cleaning.
  • Thin profile – At around 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick, backer board adds only a minimal thickness compared to plywood or multiple layers of drywall.
  • Easy to install – Backer board cuts easily with carbide blades and can be mounted directly onto studs or over existing surfaces.

When to Use Backer Board for Backsplashes

Backer board is recommended in most cases when tiling a backsplash, including:

  • Tiling directly over drywall – Drywall alone does not provide enough stability or water resistance for tile. Backer board creates a more reliable surface.
  • Applying tile over painted drywall – The paint may appear firmly bonded, but it can delaminate over time leading to failed tile adhesion. Backer board is more dependable.
  • Tiling areas exposed to significant moisture – Around sinks, dishwashers, and stoves see regular water exposure. Backer board withstands this better.
  • When installing heavy natural stone tiles – Heavier tiles like marble or granite may sag or detach from drywall over time. Backer board provides better long term support.
  • If there are concerns about mold or mildew – Backer board resists moisture accumulation better than paper-based drywall.
  • For large format tiles – Larger tiles are more prone to cracking or slipping. Backer board gives them a stable foundation.
  • In high traffic areas – Around stoves and sinks backsplashes take abuse. Cement board holds up better than drywall alone.
  • Where tiles extend to the ceiling – Building codes often require non-combustible surfaces within a certain height from cooktops. Cement board qualifies.
  • For DIY installations – Backer board helps compensate for imperfect framing or uneven existing surfaces.

When Backer Board May Not Be Necessary

In some limited cases, backer board may not be required:

  • Over water-resistant drywall like purple board – Special moisture-resistant drywall types may provide adequate stability.
  • For small mosaics – Tiny tiles have very little weight and may adhere fine to painted drywall.
  • In very low moisture areas – Like above a backslash or non-functional decorative niches.
  • Over veneer plaster – Multiple coats create a rigid surface similar to backer board.

Even in these situations, backer board is still a good idea for added peace of mind and reliability. Many pros still recommend it.

How to Install Backer Board for Backsplashes

Installing backer board takes a few simple steps:

  • Measure and cut boards to size using a straight edge and utility knife or backer board shears.
  • Screw boards to wall studs or furring strips using backer board screws. Space screws 8″ to 12″ apart.
  • Stagger joints so no seams align with underlying joints. Leave a 1/8″ gap between boards.
  • Fill gaps with thinset or mesh tape embedded in mortar. Avoid acrylic or adhesive tapes.
  • Make sure boards are flat and even. Scrape or sand down high spots.
  • Prime surface before tiling, usually with a acrylic primer or thinset mortar.

With the backer board properly installed, you can then apply your selected tile according to manufacturer instructions.


For most kitchen backsplash projects, installing backer board as an underlayment provides a stable, water-resistant surface for successful tiling. It prevents cracking, sagging, and adhesion failures over time. Backer board does add modest cost compared to drywall alone, but helps ensure your beautiful new backsplash remains beautiful for years to come.

With just a few simple installation steps, the added reliability and performance of backer board is worthwhile for all but the simplest backsplash projects. Consult building codes and tile manufacturer recommendations, but in general prepare for quality tiling by starting right with proper backer board installation.