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Should You Remodel with Tileboard?

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Tileboard on Top vs. Real Ceramic Tile on Bottom

Copyright Lee Wallender; Licensed to About.com
If you've never bought an older house that needs remodeling, you've probably never even seen tileboard. You find tileboard often in houses with DIY-remodeled kitchens and bathrooms that were done quickly and cheaply.

Should you remodel your kitchen or bathroom with tileboard? If you've got a tileboard room, is it worth keeping the material--or just ripping it out?

Tileboard: Not Tile

Tileboard is nothing more than MDF pressed board with a hard melamine layer on top. Pressed board is similar to the material used in pegboard. The melamine top is grooved to give the appearance of tile's grout lines. One popular tileboard is Georgia Pacific's Lionite® Tileboard.

Because of the melamine top, tileboard is largely water-resistant. Note that 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.

In fact, you'll find that tileboard is 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.

Decorative, Not Structural

Tileboard is a very thin material--ranging from 1⁄8" to 3⁄16". So, it has practically zero structural value.

If you are installing tileboard over loose or cracking plaster, it can hold in some--but not much--of the plaster. It's also a good way to cover up minor drywall imperfections. In any case, tileboard 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.

Is Tileboard Green?

No. Tileboard, being MDF, may contain many chemicals, including phenol, phenol resorcinol, melamine formaldehyde-based, or polyvinyl acetate.
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