Backer Board and Ceramic Floor Tile

When to use Backer Board for Ceramic Floor Tile Projects

By Mark J. Donovan

Question: I am in the process of getting ready to tile my bathroom and kitchen floors. I have read differing information on the need for installing backer board over the subfloor, prior to setting the ceramic tile. Can you comment on when one should use backer board on the subfloor when installing ceramic floor tiles?

Answer: Depending the level of expected foot traffic you may or may not need to install backer board over the subfloor. It also depends to some extent upon the quality of the existing subfloor. If the ceramic floor tile is targeted for a commercial or industrial operation where there is a great deal of heavy foot traffic, then backer board should absolutely be used.

For light residential use, however, you can probably get away without it, as long as the subfloor is constructed properly.

I have installed ceramic floor tile in a number of residential applications where the foot traffic is considered relatively light, such as kitchens, foyers, and bathrooms. In all cases I did not use backer board on the floors, and I have never experienced a loose tile or cracked grout lines. And this is after 19 years of living in one of the homes.

I chose not to use backer board, because I believed the subfloor was of the appropriate quality to be rigid enough to support ceramic floor tile. The floor joists were less than or equal to 16” OC and there was ¾” tongue and groove plywood installed as a base.

In addition, I always installed ½” exterior grade plywood on top of the 3/4th inch tongue and groove subfloor to help further minimize any floor deflection. When applying the ½” exterior grade plywood I applied deck screws every 6” on center to prevent floor deflections and squeaks.

If you still have concerns on whether or not you should use a backer board, check directly with the ceramic floor tile manufacturer, and not the local tile reseller.


The ceramic floor tile manufacturer will know best about the appropriate subfloor preparation, and will more than likely give you the most accurate answer for your specific ceramic floor tile.

For information on installing a shower pan membrane liner for a ceramic tile shower, see the Shower Pan Membrane Liner Installation Ebook from  The Shower Pan Membrane Liner EBook will quickly teach you the step-by-step process for installing the shower pan membrane liner correctly. It includes instructions on framing the shower stall, pouring the pre-slope and shower base mortar, and installing the shower pan membrane liner.

See’s Ceramic Tile Calculator

See my “How to Tile a Custom Ceramic Tile Shower” Ebook to learn how to tile your own shower:  For a detailed set of instructions on tiling a shower floor and walls, including pictures for every step in the process, see my “How to Tile Custom Ceramic Tile Shower Ebook”.

Related Information

Additional Ceramic Tile Resources from


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