A completed renovation typically showcases beautiful tile and stunning new flooring, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Tile varies in weight but can be quite heavy, especially in larger flooring sizes. Thinset mortar helps adhere tile to the wall but typically requires something much more substantial than drywall.
Homeowners also don’t usually stick tile directly to the particleboard subfloor due to the flexible nature of plywood and cracking over time.
The backer board material underneath the tile is crucial to optimal installation and long-lasting results.
Backer boards were developed to help reduce cracking, repel moisture and provide a more robust surface for wall tiling or flooring installations.
However, there are several different choices when it comes to backer boards, and each offers strengths as well as weaknesses.
Each backer board is composed of different materials that make it a unique choice for tile projects, from cement to synthetic gypsum and even a layered gypsum core.
Depending upon several factors, homeowners or contractors may opt for Durock, Fiberock, or DensShield, among others, for their tile backing material. How do you know which choice is right for you with so many options?
In this article we will discuss and compare Durock vs Fiberock vs Densshield backer boards so let’s get started.
What is Durock
One of the most popular choices for tile projects is Durock cement board with Edgeguard.
Durock is a brand of backer board made from USG and contains mostly cement and glass-fiber mesh. There is a textured side and a smooth side, each designed for different types of projects.
If you’re planning on using mastic adhesive application, the smooth side of Durock is ideal for excellent bonding and project results. However, the textured side provides an outstanding surface for thinset mortar tile.
Durock can be used both outdoors and indoors.
Below is a great video about installing Durock Cement board:
What is Fiberock
Another fantastic choice for backer board material is Fiberock which is another specific brand from USG.
Fiberock has an interesting composition that includes synthetic gypsum and cellulose fibers (fiber-reinforced) to form a water-resistant underlayment.
It is categorized as Fiber Cement Board like the popular Hardiebacker brand.
This material is also relatively uncomplicated to cut and requires scoring with a utility knife to snap apart sections for an ideal fit.
However, eye protection and dust masks are recommended when performing cuts due to the fibers embedded into the gypsum.
Fiberock can be used indoors only.
What is DensShield
Georgia-Pacific is a company that developed the unique DensShield backer board which is classified as “Glass Mat Gypsum Board” comprised of water-resistant treated core that is covered front and back with fiberglass mats.
According to the manufacturer, DensShield is the first backer board with built-in moisture barrier.
With DensShield, no specialized screws are required for installation; the material is very lightweight and doesn’t need additional water-proofing application during installation.
Cutting DenShield is similar to drywall and can be performed with an essential utility knife for a straightforward score and snap process.
DensShield can be used only for indoor projects.
Here is a video by the manufacturer about DensShield installation:
Comparison of Durock vs. Fiberock
There are several categories to consider when comparing Durock and Fiberock, such as ease of cutting, weight, availability, and moisture protection.
Durock is heavy, and while this may not seem like an issue at the start of a project, arm fatigue can plague your project as you move forward.
Fiberock, on the other hand, is lighter and may provide an easier install, especially while hanging larger pieces to the wall.
Durock can be more challenging to cut than Fiberock during installation as the cement doesn’t score as quickly.
In addition, Durock panels tend to crumble at the corners or edges, making minor cuts incredibly cumbersome.
Fiberock, conversely, requires much less effort to score and snap than Durock. Although, cutting a sheet in half is much easier than taking off a few inches from the edge.
Durock gets the edge as the material refuses to absorb much moisture in terms of water-proofing. Durock can also be used both outdoors and indoors while Fiberock is only for indoor projects.
Moisture can wreak havoc on a home, with mold and wood rot running rampant behind the tile.
Fiberock still holds up well against water but does absorb more moisture than Durock.
Regardless, both backer board materials should either have a vapor barrier behind or a water-proofing membrane applied to the surface to prevent leaks.
Both Durock and Fiberock require specialized screws and mesh tape for the seams and are available at most big box hardware stores.
Both Durock and Fiberock are fine choices for tile projects, with Durock being more moisture resistant while Fiberock is easier to cut and lighter.
Comparison of Durock vs. DensShield
When comparing Durock against DensShield, some stark differences may influence which material you choose for your next tile or flooring project.
One of the advantages of DensShield is its lightweight makeup makes installation much less challenging.
If you’ve ever worked with a heavy material, you’ll understand that fatigue sets in quickly as the project wanes on, slowing overall progress.
One of the requirements for Durock is specialized cement board screws that are uniquely adept at properly securing the cement backer board.
While easy to find at any local hardware store, these cement board screws only have one application and can’t be used for other types of projects should you have leftover screws.
DensShield, on the other hand, only asks for rust-resistant drywall screws for installation.
Another difference between Durock and DensShield is moisture prevention. While Durock performs exceptionally well when exposed to water and doesn’t get affected by moisture, it still requires a separate moisture barrier.
You can either opt for a vapor barrier that separates the wood framing from the Durock sheet or install Durock and then apply a membrane barrier over the outside.
DensShield already has an acrylic exterior coating that acts as moisture protection, and additional barriers aren’t required.
Working with DensShield is also less challenging in terms of making cuts. The only necessary tool for cutting DensShield is a utility knife that you can use to score and snap pieces apart.
Due to the layers and exterior acrylic coating, DensShield doesn’t have issues with crumbling edges or corners like Durock.
Overall, while DensShield is lighter, easier to cut, and provides a built-in moisture barrier, many homeowners and contractors still prefer the durability and longevity of Durock cement board (especially older tile handymen).
DensShield is covered front and back with fiberglass mats, while Durock is composed of cement and glass-fiber mesh.
Durock is considered a more robust material (although heavier) with a greater track record for continued performance. However, many professionals vouch for DensShield and have been using this option for many years without any problems.
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