Tileboard: Fast-Install Substitute For Real Ceramic Tile

Lowe's FashionWall Tileboard
Lowe's FashionWall Tileboard. Lowe's

Unless you have bought an older house that needs remodeling, you may have never seen tileboard.  Tileboard is rapidly becoming an endangered species, but in limited amounts, it may have a place in your home.

Should you remodel your kitchen or bathroom with tileboard? If you have a tileboard room, is it worth keeping the material--or just ripping it out?  As with many other quick-fix home remodel materials, tileboard is something you should thoroughly consider from all angles before you make the purchase.

What Is It?

Tileboard is not real ceramic or porcelain tile.  It is medium density fiberboard (MDF) pressed board with a hard melamine layer on top.

Tileboard should not be confused with tile backer, also known as cement board.  Tile backer is a 100% mineral product and can safely come in contact with large amounts of water, such as found in showers or bathtubs.

The melamine top is grooved to give the appearance of tile's grout lines. One popular brand of tileboard is Georgia Pacific's Lionite® Tileboard.

Who Should Use It?  Where?

Tileboard is used by landlords and builders as a cheap way to give the appearance of tile, without incurring high costs associated with actual tile work.  Homeowners rarely use tileboard in master bathrooms or kitchens, preferring to use it less visible places, like downstairs baths, powder rooms, kitchenettes, etc.

How Cost-Effective?

Tileboard is quite cost effective.

 Even if you were just to consider the raw material cost--for example, $25 for a 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of Lowe's FashionWall Tile Board--tileboard is comparable to the cost of low-end ceramic tile (about $1 to $2 per square foot).

But real tile has other associated costs--labor (if not self-installed), thinset, grout, cement backer board, grout sealer--which drive up the total project cost.

How Water Resistant?

Because of the melamine top, tileboard is largely water-resistant, but correct installation is critical.

Only the front resists water; the back does not. Also, tileboard's sides can readily suck up water and ruin it. So you have to make sure that your tileboard's edges are covered.

Tileboard belongs more in the decorative wall panel family than in anything even approaching tile. Decorative wall paneling is the industry's newest term for that type of thin wood paneling found in basements and mancaves.

That said, tileboard manufacturers do indicate that the product can be used for shower and bathtub surrounds, as long as it it is properly sealed.

Decorative, Not Structural

Tileboard is a very thin material--ranging from 1/8" to 3/16". As a result, it has nearly zero structural value.

If you are installing tileboard over loose or cracking plaster, it can hold in some--but not much--of the plaster.

Tileboard can be a good way to cover up minor drywall imperfections. In any case, this product must be installed over a flat, finish surface; it should never be installed over studs or furring strips. Doing so will result in ugly lines showing through the thin material over time.

Installing Tileboard

The best thing about tileboard is ease of installation. Essentially, it glues down over a flat surface and the edges are sealed with silicone caulk or edging materials:

  1. Condition the tileboard in the room where you intend to install them for 48 hours.
  2. Ensure that you have solid, nearly flat gypsum drywall walls. Due to moisture-wicking, you cannot install tileboard straight onto any kind of masonry wall--cinderblock, brick, etc. For masonry, first install furring strips, then drywall, then the tileboard.
  3. Note the tileboard spacing. To avoid buckling of tileboard panels, leave 3/16" gap between panels and 1/16" between panel edge and any outer edge (wall, floor, molding).
  4. Adhere the tileboard to the walls with adhesive, not nails.
  5. Cover seams and edges with silicone caulk.

How Green Is It?

Tileboard, being MDF, may contain many chemicals, including phenol, phenol resorcinol, melamine formaldehyde-based, or polyvinyl acetate.

It is important to balance this out with ceramic tile's environmental costs, as well, such as the massive amount of energy expended to heat the kilns.  Not only that, the materials to create tile are mined from the earth.