DensShield vs. Cement Board: Which to Choose?

DensShield vs. Cement Board: Which to Choose?

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Are you planning a tiling job for your bathroom, mudroom, or entryway? If so, then you are likely researching the various underlayment options available on the market today.

This article will discuss two such options–DensShield and cement board–along with the similarities and differences between the two.

DensShield and Cement Board: The Basics

Before comparing and contrasting the two materials, let’s first take a look at each. This section discusses what each board is made from, how it is made, and what sizes are available.

What Is DensShield?

DensShield is a waterproof tile backing product manufactured by Georgia-Pacific. It comprises a water-resistant gypsum core sandwiched between two thin fiberglass mats. The company offers three different thicknesses in specific sheet sizes:

  • ¼” thick sheet, 4 x 4’
  • ½” thick sheet, 4 x 5’
  • ⅝” thick sheet, 4 x 8’

A brand name option, DensShield is a unique product with no other direct competitor on the market.

What Is Cement Board?

Cement board is a composite material made of cement and fibers formed into sheets. A common method of production involves re-pulping cellulose fibers in water, mixing them with cement, silica, and other additives, and then vacuum-curing them on a wire substrate. Cement boards are used as moisture-resistant backing for tiling or for areas that need reinforcement.

The boards are available between ¼” to 1 ½” in thickness and a standard height and width of 3 x 5’. The standard sheet size for cement board is smaller than DensShield (and other gypsum-based products) due to its significant weight.

Cement board can be found under this generic name, as well as brand names like Durock and Hardie Board.

Similarities of DensShield and Cement Board

Now that we know what both of these materials are, let’s discuss their similarities.

Purpose

Both DensShield and cement board are used as moisture-resistant backing, typically for tile work. They can be installed on the floor, wall, ceiling, or even countertops (while tile countertops aren’t in fashion today, they may come back in style at some point). They are designed to withstand moisture, which is why they are both excellent options for tile underlayment.

Though they are designed as backing for tile work, in some cases these products may be installed as-is.

Installation Method

Similar to regular gypsum drywall, both cement board and DensShield are installed directly on top of the wall studs or floor joists using nails or screws. The sheet edges should butt up to the neighboring sheets with little to no gap in between. The joints in DensShield are typically taped with fiberglass tape and a special joint compound to ensure a waterproof application.

Cement board isn’t taped, as the even coat of thin set compound used to hold the tiles is sufficient to fill the gaps. You can expect the time spent on installation to be similar for each product, with only slightly more time spent on DensShield to account for the taping of the joints.

Differences Between DensShield and Cement Board

Despite their similarities, there are significant differences between these two materials. Below are brief points outlining important differences.

Price

Being a premium product, DensShield is typically about 20% more expensive than cement board. The bottom line can vary based on the desired thickness of the product purchased. Though it’s not entirely necessary, because cement board isn’t fully waterproof, some may choose to install a waterproof membrane prior to tiling. That may double the cost of the project, negating any cost savings from choosing this material.

Soundproofing

Densely packed with cement and cellulose fibers, cement board is a good choice for additional soundproofing over standard drywall. DensShield, being more akin to gypsum-based drywall products, also offers some insulation from sound, but not as much as cement board. Though each offers some sound insulation, they are not rated for soundproofing by themselves.

Moisture Resistance

The front and back-facing fiberglass panels of DensShield mean that, if sealed properly, this product is completely waterproof. A proper seal requires fiberglass tape over the joints, embedded in a skim coat of setting material, like Thinset compound.

Cement board, when exposed to moisture, is sturdy and won’t immediately fall apart. It isn’t designed for prolonged direct exposure to moisture, which will eventually compromise the integrity of the product. Cement board requires tile to be installed and grouted to be considered waterproof, while DensShield does not.

Weight

Weight is an important consideration when reviewing the differences between these two products. Cement board is double the weight of DensShield, at about 3 pounds per square inch for a ½” thick sheet. DensShield comes to about 1 ⅓ pounds per square inch for the same thickness. This means that those who are planning a solo installation are typically better off choosing DensShield to avoid fatigue or injury.

DensShield vs. Cement Board: Which Should You Use?

Typically, both options are used interchangeably, though some kinds of installations may heavily influence your choice.

Price

If price is a concern, cement board is a good budget choice if no additional underlayment is being used. Underlayment can be pricey and can double the cost of the installation. If additional moisture-proofing is desired through the use of an underlayment, then the higher upfront cost of DensShield is a better option.

One final note to mention on cement board pricing: if a special order is required, shipping cost shouldn’t be overlooked. As shipping is often determined by weight, a special order of cement board vs DensShield can be unexpectedly costly.

Water Exposure

As mentioned above, both cement board and DensShield are good for moisture resistance. In cases where the tile will be constantly exposed to moisture, such as a shower or entryway that tends to flood, DensShield offers more protection.

Installation Location

Where you install the backing board, such as the ceiling, is an important consideration. DensShield is a better option for ceiling installations and those that won’t bear significant weight. Cement board can be installed on the ceiling, though there are some safety concerns if improper screw size or spacing is used. For flooring or tiled structures that will bear weight, like a shower bench, cement board is the better option. Finally, in cases where sound transference is a concern, cement board is also a more efficient backing material.

Summary

By this time, you’ve reviewed the composition of cement board and DensShield respectively. Each of these products have been evaluated for similarities and differences, along with specific applications in which both would be most appropriate. You should now be able to choose which of these materials best suits your next project.

That said, you might also want to learn about other cement board alternatives.

How Does Cement Board Compare with Other Materials?

You might also be interested in seeing how cement board compares with: