*Underlay Options for Ceramic and Stone Flooring

January 9, 2011

Ceramic tile and natural stone are great options for flooring and are starting to gain as much popularity as other flooring materials.  Ceramic and stone are durable but they are prone to chipping and cracks.  This is especially true if the subfloor is unstable, prone to getting wet and/or installation has not been done properly.  Nevertheless, there are underlay materials to compensate and make the subfloor  sturdier or even more resistant to moisture and liquid.

Traditionally, installation of ceramic floors are done by pouring mortar and setting the tiles on it.  Unfortunately, this type of installation is time-consuming.  New technology now makes it possible to obtain the same stability and moisture resistance with the use of cement backerboard sheets.

Cement backerboard is primarily made of portland cement which allows the subfloor to become stronger and capable of getting soaked in water.  It comes either as fibrous cement backerboard with fibers along its length or as mesh-reinforced cement backerboard with fiberglass mesh embedded around both sides.

Cement backerboard comes in two varieties, both made primarily of Portland cement, which retains its strength even when it is soaked with water. Fibrous cement backerboard has fibers running throughout its body and is smoother.

Mesh-reinforced cement backerboard is basically a slab of cement held together by an embedded fiberglass mesh wrapping around both sides; this board has one very rough side and one fairly smooth but pitted side. Both types are available in thicknesses ranging from 1/4 inch to 5/8 inch, and in sheets of various sizes. The cement backerboard is screwed to the floor surface before the ceramic tiles/stone are installed atop the boards.

A cheaper alternative to consider is plywood.  Plywood used as underlay for ceramic and stone tiles has criss-cross marks over its surface that assists in the installation.  However, plywood is less resistant to moisture and water than cement.  Though it can make for a stable surface for the installation, cement backerboards are still the better choice for areas vulnerable to water.

With a sturdy and flat surface, ceramic tiles and natural stone will be able to withstand more pressure and are less likely to crack.

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