Tile installation is sometimes hard to master even by the most eager do-it-yourselfers. One of the most crucial parts is choosing the right substrate.
Hardie® board and cement board are two of the most common contenders. But how do they compare?
Hardie® board and cement board can be one and the same. Hardie® Backer Board is the commercial name for a cement board type manufactured by James Hardie. However, while all Hardie® Backer Boards are cement boards, not all cement boards are Hardie®. Cement board is often an umbrella term used to refer to any brand of underlayment cement panels.
Disclosure: For comparison purposes, this article refers to Hardie® boards and cement boards intended to use as wall or floor substrates for tiles. It doesn’t refer to Hardie® board siding or fiber cement intended to use as finishing for exterior surfaces.
What Is The Difference Between Hardie® Board And Cement Board?
There is a blurred line between Hardie® and cement boards as far as definitions are concerned.
Hardie® is a brand name. James Hardie is one of the most popular worldwide manufacturers of house sidings and backer boards for tiles.
The company was established in 1888 in Melbourne, Australia, and it has since expanded to international markets.
Hardie® sidings and backer boards are found in most home improvement and construction stores all across the USA.
Cement board is an umbrella term.
Contractors use it to refer to whatever standard or fiber backer board brand they’re using. Home improvement stores also use this term to indicate any of the brands of cement backer boards they’re selling.
Due to specific formulations and material quality, cement boards can differ from one another in terms of performance and price.
What Makes Hardie® Board Different?
Hardie® Backer Board is different from other brands due to its composition.
While the brand doesn’t disclose the exact composition of its product, we know that it is made of 90% Portland cement and sand. The remaining 10% are undisclosed proprietary ingredients that don’t include any fillers or aggregates.
Comparatively, generic cement boards can contain up to 30% fillers, 10% cellulose, and 15% mica.
Fillers, cellulose, and mica can lower cement board costs. However, they are more likely to produce dust when cutting the sheets to size, and they are also more likely to crumble compared to a cement and sand mixture.
For these reasons, it is difficult to obtain well-defined edges when cutting the boards, which could be a problem during installation.
While Hardie® board’s edges aren’t perfectly straight either after cutting, they are undeniably more defined and allow for a more streamlined application.
Another difference between Hardie® boards and generic cement boards is that Hardie® boards are waterproof, whereas generic cement boards are only water resistant.
Thus, Hardie® boards are more suitable for wet applications, such as shower stall floors or walls. These panels can also be used outside – as long as you’re aware that outdoor installation could void the warranty.
Other Popular Cement Board Brands
Cement boards are manufactured by a variety of companies.
Some of the cheapest options may not bear a visible brand name at all. They can help you save upfront, but their performance can be questionable once installed.
If you want to know what valid competitors James Hardie has, check out the brands below.
Manufactured by the United States Gypsum Corporation (USG), Durock® is a cement board made of aggregated Portland cement slurry. A polymer-coated fiberglass mesh is applied on one side, clearly marking the back and front.
These boards also have encompassed edges that prevent spinout and crumbling.
Similar to Hardie®, Durock® is easy to cut and install and is suitable for floor and countertop tiling applications.
Different from other cement boards, Wedi boards consist of a foam core sandwiched between two thin cement boards.
The rigid polystyrene foam is lightweight, heat-insulating, and waterproof. First-time DIYers may find these panels easier to position and install, especially for vertical applications.
Wedi boards are manufactured in America.
A similar type of backer board, but that doesn’t contain cement, is the German-manufactured KERDI board. Both Wedi and KERDI are suitable for multifunctional applications as tiling substrates or building panels.
Preferred by contractors when installing tile over curved walls, WonderBoard® Lite is a fiberglass mesh-reinforced cement board that is, allegedly, 20% lighter compared to its competitors.
Whether that’s true or not, nothing takes away the fact that these panels are suitable for indoor and outdoor applications alike.
While WonderBoard® contains no fibers or gypsum, the material isn’t fully waterproof. However, it has excellent water resistance.
Bragging with one of the highest performance scores for mold resistance, DensShield® is another type of cement board ideal for residential applications.
This product was originally marketed as a subfloor protector due to its built-in moisture barrier.
It features a gypsum core and fiberglass mats on both outer sides, DensShield® is often easier to handle than a generic cement board. It can also be painted on, a feature that makes it a good choice for partially tiled walls.
Fiberock® tile backer board panels are similar to DensShield®; they also have a water-resistant gypsum core sandwiched between two thin panels of reinforced cement.
These backer boards can be used in all areas of the home, including wet and dry rooms. They are also suitable for a variety of finishing materials, including tile, vinyl, carpeting, hardwood, and laminate.
Fiberock® contains no resins, adhesives, or solvents that could stain the flooring materials mentioned above. Moreover, it is made of 97% recycled materials and is environmentally friendly.
Fiberock® boards are manufactured by USG, the same company that manufactures Durock®.
Hardie® boards are one of the most popular types of cement backer boards. They are engineered for easy installation and are fully waterproof – a feature that allows the use for outdoor applications as well.
Cement board is an umbrella term used to designate tile underlayment boards made of cement.
Contractors and retailers use this term when referring to generic backer boards manufactured by unknown companies or when referring to no backer board brands in particular.
Hardie® aside, other popular backer board options include Durock®, Fiberock®, DensShield®, WonderBoard®, and Wedi.