Installing a backsplash in your kitchen can provide an easy way to add visual interest and protect your walls from splashes and spills. While some backsplash materials like metal or glass tiles can be applied directly to drywall, most backsplashes require an underlying layer of water-resistant material to prevent moisture damage. Backer board is one commonly used backsplash underlayment. But do you need to use backer board for a backsplash installation?
The short answer is: it depends. The need for backer board is determined by the type of backsplash material you choose and your wall construction. Backer board serves as a moisture barrier between the backsplash and wall, provides an even surface for tile adhesion, and adds strength and structure. For any backsplash material applied as tiles, natural stone, or mosaics, backer board is highly recommended.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore when you need backer board for a backsplash, what options are available, how to install it, and recommendations for the best backer boards for kitchen backsplashes. With the right information, you can decide if backer board is necessary for your upcoming backsplash project.
When Do You Need Backer Board for a Backsplash?
Backer board is specially designed as a substrate for wet areas like showers and bathtubs. Thewaterproof panels prevent moisture from seeping into the wall cavity and causing mildew, mold, and rot. Since the kitchen backsplash is prone to splashes, steam, and spills, backer board is an ideal choice.
Backer board is recommended for:
- Tile backsplashes – Ceramic, porcelain, glass, and natural stone tiles
- Mosaic backsplashes – Small tiles mounted to a mesh or paper backing
- Natural stone backsplashes – Marble, granite, slate, and travertine
- Concrete backsplashes
- Saltillo or terra cotta backsplashes
- Metal backsplashes – When used in moisture-prone areas above countertops
The key is that any porous, grouted, or jointed backsplash material needs the moisture-resistant strength of backer board.
You can often skip backer board if installing:
- Full slabs of natural stone – Their thickness provides built-in backing
- Stainless steel backsplashes – Durable metal requires no special backing
- Glass tile – Installed as sheets without joints between tiles
- Painted drywall – Paint provides moisture resistance
So in summary, if your backsplash contains grout lines or natural joints that are permeable to water, backer board should be used to prevent possible damage.
What Are the Backer Board Options for Backsplashes?
If you’ve determined backer board is recommended for your backsplash, you’ll need to choose the right product for your project. Here are the most common types of backer board used for kitchen backsplashes:
Cement board, often called by the brand name HardieBacker, is one of the most popular backer board options. Cement boards consist of a cement and fiberglass mesh composite reinforced by an outer layer of fiberglass fabric.
The cement makes it moisture-resistant while the fiberglass adds strength. Cement backer boards are lightweight yet extremely durable. They are designed to be cut easily to size. A 1⁄2 inch thickness is common.
Cement board offers these advantages:
- Waterproof and mold/mildew resistant
- Provides adequate support for tile and stone backsplashes
- Doesn’t easily crack, warp, or sag
- Cuts easily for custom fitting
- Nails and screws hold firmly
- Economical option for tile backing
Be sure to use polymer-modified mortar for installing tile over cement board. Unmodified mortar can react with cement board and fail.
Fiber-cement board shares a similar cement and fiberglass construction but with slightly different proportions and additives. Brands like HardieBacker and Durock are common fiber-cement backer board brands.
Besides use as backsplash backers, fiber-cement boards are also popular for exterior siding. Fiber-cement offers comparable performance to cement board but tends to be more resistant to cracking and deterioration. It’s a top choice for backsplashes.
Tile Backer Board
Backer boards promoted exclusively for use under backsplashes are readily available. Often called tile backer board or tile underlayment board, these provide moisture protection and an ideal surface for strong tile bonds.
Tile backer board consists of waterproof gypsum or cement board laminated with a water-resisting coating such as vinyl or acrylic. Examples include DensShield tile backer and FiberBacker board.
Tile backer is lighter weight than cement board and cuts easily with a utility knife. It may be more prone to damage if not handled carefully during installation.
Green board drywall has a water-resistant paper coating over gypsum core. While it holds up better to moisture than plain drywall, it is not designed as a tile backer board. Green board lacks the ruggedness and composition to be a substitute for cement, fiber-cement, or tile backer boards. It may seem like an easier option, but don’t use green board behind backsplashes.
Never use plain wood or plywood behind a backsplash. The porous material will swell and deteriorate when exposed to moisture. Instead, use a specialized exterior-grade, marine-grade plywood made with waterproof adhesive if you want a wood backer option. Even then, apply a moisture barrier membrane before attaching tile. Wood backer is rarely recommended for backsplashes.
For surfaces like painted drywall, plaster, or vinyl wallpaper, you may be able to install backsplash tile directly overtop if the surface is in excellent condition. Be sure to prep carefully and apply a waterproofing membrane before tiling.
Damaged, compromised, or questionable existing surfaces are better covered by new backer board. This provides the most trouble-free base for backsplash installation.
No matter what product you choose, be sure to select backer board thickness suitable for providing an even surface for your tile or stone thickness. Follow manufacturer instructions for proper selection and installation.
How Do You Install Backer Board for a Backsplash?
Installing backer board isn’t difficult, but proper techniques are required for strength and water resistance. Here is an overview of the backer board installation process:
Step 1: Prep the Work Area
Remove existing backsplash materials, wallpaper, or other coverings down to bare wall. Fill any holes or irregularities with drywall joint compound. The surface should be as smooth and even as possible. Cover countertops, appliances, and floors to protect from dust and debris during installation.
Step 2: Plan Layout
Measure the backsplash area and cut cement, fiber-cement, or tile backer to required sizes using a straightedge and utility knife or backer board shears. Plan the layout so joints between boards don’t align with grout joints in the finished backsplash. Offsetting the seams enhances strength and water resistance. Account for corners and outlets.
Step 3: Cut and Fit Backer Board Pieces
Double check measurements and make any final cuts for accurate fit. The backer boards should fit snug to edges and openings. Gap spacing around outlets for cover plates. Make cutouts for receptacles using a drywall saw or rotary tool.
Step 4: Attach Backer Board
Apply thinset mortar to the wall area using a notched trowel. Press backer boards into place with seams spaced slightly apart. Use backer board screws driven into studs to attach boards every 8 inches across the surface. Cover all screw heads with thinset. Tape seams with fiberglass mesh tape set into thinset.
Step 5: Seal and Waterproof
Cover backer board with waterproofing membrane using thinset mortar. RedGard, AquaDefense, and Laticrete HYDRO BAN are common membrane options. Apply continuous coverage without gaps according to product specifications to create a waterproof barrier.
Step 6: Attach Tile
After the thinset and membranes have fully cured, you can apply your tile, stone, or mosaic backsplash using polymer-modified mortar suitable for the material. Grout and seal the backsplash after the mortar has cured.
With the right backer board and proper installation, you can gain peace of mind knowing moisture will not compromise the integrity of your backsplash. Consult manufacturer guidelines for full installation details.
What is the Best Backer Board for Kitchen Backsplashes?
We recommend these top-quality backer board products for reliably protecting your backsplash:
- Durock Next Gen Cement Board – Has an edge in mold resistance and endurance over time.
- James Hardie HardieBacker Cement Board – The original cement board remains a top choice for backsplashes.
- USG Durock Tile Membrane – Combines tile backer board with a built-in waterproofing layer.
- Schluter Ditra XL Tile Underlayment – polyethylene membrane helps decouple tile from subfloor movement.
- Wedi Building Panels – Extremely waterproof yet lightweight extruded polystyrene foam board.
Talk with knowledgeable sales staff at your local home improvement store for assistance in selecting the ideal backer board for your specific backsplash design. They can help match board attributes like thickness, rigidity, and moisture protection capability to your tile material and layout.
Frequently Asked Questions About Backer Board for Backsplashes
Many homeowners have additional questions about using backer board behind a kitchen backsplash. Here are answers to some of the most common inquiries:
Do you put backer board over drywall for a backsplash?
Yes, backer board gets applied directly over drywall or any existing wall surface that will support it. The boards may be screwed into wall studs or adhered with mortar depending on type. The backer board then provides the ideal substrate for attaching the backsplash tile.
Should backsplash go all the way to ceiling?
Not necessarily. Typical backsplashes extend 4-6 inches above countertops. A full-height backsplash is also an option if you want a more seamless look between wall and backsplash. But it isn’t mandatory for functionality. A standard height backsplash will sufficiently protect the wall from everyday spills and splashes.
Can you put backsplash tile directly on drywall?
It’s generally not recommended, especially for stone, porcelain, or glass backsplashes where sealing grout lines is vital for preventing moisture issues. Backer board or another reinforcing material should be applied over the drywall first to create a suitable surface for tile bonding and provide water resistance.
How thick should backer board be for backsplash?
1/4-inch and 1/2-inch are common backer board thicknesses for backsplashes. Use a thinner 1/4-inch backer for thinner tile like subway tile. For heavier tile, stone, or large format tiles, a 1/2-inch backer helps prevent cracking or sagging problems.
Do you have to seal backer board before tiling?
Always apply a waterproofing membrane or sealant like RedGard to cement or tile backer boards before setting tiles. This seals pores and provides added moisture protection at joints, corners, and seams that may be compromised during handling. Allow sealers to fully cure before tiling per manufacturer directions.
Does backsplash need backer board? In most cases, the answer is yes for long-lasting water resistance and reliable tile bonding. Be sure to select the appropriate backer board for your planned backsplash material and layout. With proper installation of quality backer board and membranes, you can gain peace of mind knowing your beautiful backsplash will maintain its beauty for years to come. Carefully follow all manufacturer instructions and check local building codes for any requirements. Soon you can enjoy an eye-catching, protected focal point in your kitchen.
Does Backsplash Need Backer Board?
Installing a beautiful new backsplash can upgrade the look of any kitchen. From gleaming subway tile to intricate mosaics, backsplash options are practically endless for adding a stylish focal point in your cooking space.
But before you set those beautiful tiles, it’s important to make sure you have a proper base for installation. Does backsplash need backer board or can you apply tile directly to drywall? We’ll explore the purpose of backer board and help you determine if it should be part of your backsplash plans.
What is Backer Board?
Backer board, also called tile backer board or cement board, is a moisture-resistant and rigid panel used as a base layer for installing tile and stone. The most common backer board material is cement board, made of cement and fiberglass mesh.
Backer board is designed specifically as an underlayment for wet settings like showers and backsplashes. It provides:
- Water resistance – prevents moisture from seeping into walls
- Strength – rigid surface won’t easily crack or sag
- Bonding surface – textured face enables tile mortar adhesion
Backer board gives you a stable, waterproof layer for applying tile. It comes in sheets or boards that are nailed or adhered to surfaces like drywall before tiling.
When is Backer Board Needed for Backsplashes?
Backer board is strongly recommended any time you are installing a backsplash with tile, stone, or mosaics that have grout lines. The permeable grout and natural cracks between pieces can allow moisture to penetrate. Backer board helps protect walls from damage.
Common backsplash materials that benefit from backer board include:
- Ceramic, porcelain or glass tile
- Natural stone such as marble, travertine or slate
- Pebble mosaics
- Metal or foil backsplashes with grout
You can often skip backer board if installing:
- Stainless steel, copper, or other solid metal sheets
- Glass tile mounted as sheets without grout lines
- Large slabs of granite or other natural stones
Use your judgement based on how the material allows water to pass through. When in doubt, add the extra protection of backer board.
How to Install Backer Board for Backsplashes
Installing backer board takes a bit more time and effort than simply tiling over drywall but provides more strength. Here’s an overview:
1. Prepare the surface – Remove any existing backsplash and eliminate bumps or texture.
2. Cut backer board to size – Measure area and cut sheets to fit using a utility knife.
3. Apply mortar – Spread thinset mortar generously on the wall and backer board with a notched trowel.
4. Fasten boards – Press in place and screw cement boards every 8 inches into studs. Offset seams.
5. Tape seams – Cover seams between boards with fiberglass mesh tape and mortar.
6. Seal surface – Spread waterproofing membrane over entire surface. Allow to fully cure.
7. Install tile – Apply tile mortar and set tile pieces per directions. Let cure before grouting.
Be sure to follow all manufacturer instructions for proper installation and waterproofing.
Best Backer Board Options
Here are top backer board products for backsplash installations:
- Durock Cement Board – The original cement board, provides enduring performance.
- HardieBacker Cement Board – Another fiber-cement option trusted for backsplashes.
- Schluter Ditra Underlayment – Orange polyethylene membrane helps uncouple tile.
- USG Tile Backer Boards – Designed specifically as tile underlayment.
Discuss options with knowledgeable sales staff to choose the right backer board for your backsplash material and layout.
For most backsplash projects involving tile, stone or mosaics, backer board is recommended prior to installation. Cement-based backer boards provide water resistance and a stable surface designed specifically for adhesion of tile mortars. Take the time to properly prepare and install quality backer board prior to applying your beautiful new backsplash. Your walls will stay protected even with daily exposure to moisture, splashes and spills.
Does Backsplash Need Backer Board?
Installing a backsplash can instantly upgrade the style and functionality of any kitchen. But before setting those eye-catching tiles or shimmering glass mosaics, it’s important to start with the right underlying surface. Should you install backer board before applying a backsplash? Here’s a look at when backer board is needed and how to install it.
What is Backer Board?
Backer board, also called cement board or tile backer board, provides a water-resistant, stable layer to attach tile or stone. The most common type is cement backer board, made from cement reinforced with fiberglass mesh.
Benefits of backer board include:
- Waterproofing properties to resist moisture damage
- Rigid surface that won’t easily crack, warp or sag
- Texture to improve adhesion of tile mortars
- Ability to cut boards to fit the space
Backer board is applied directly to wall studs or over existing surfaces like drywall. It becomes the new base for applying backsplash materials.
When Do You Need Backer Board?
Backer board is strongly recommended for backsplash installations involving:
- Ceramic, porcelain or glass tile
- Natural stone tile including marble, granite, travertine
- Mosaic sheets where grout is used between pieces
- Metal tile backsplashes with permeable grout
You can often skip backer board for:
- Stainless steel backsplashes
- Glass tile mounted in sheets without grout
- Solid surfaces like quartz or granite slabs
Essentially, any backsplash material with natural joints or grout lines that allow moisture to penetrate should be installed over backer board. It provides critical protection.
How to Install Backer Board
Attaching backer board takes more effort than tiling directly on drywall but adds strength