Can You Lay Tile Directly Over a Plywood Subfloor?

By: Danny Lipford

Using level to install tile on floor.

I’m tiling an upstairs bathroom. The floor is plywood, and I’m hesitant about using Hardie backer board because the height of the floor will be too high. Can you tile directly to plywood with thinset? -Chris

Hi Chris,

While you can lay tile directly over a concrete slab using thin-set adhesive, don’t make the mistake of applying tile directly to a plywood subfloor. No matter how firm the subfloor; the plywood will expand and contract at a different rate as the tile, causing cracks to develop in the grout lines or tiles over time.

On a plywood subfloor, you need either a layer of cement backer board or an underlayment membrane, like Schluter-Ditra, between the subfloor and tile for the thin-set adhesive to achieve a good bond.

While I prefer using 1/2” cement backer board over a plywood subfloor, you may be able to get by with 1/4” backer board instead. Even if you use a waterproof underlayment membrane, such as Ditra, the floor will still be either 1/4″ or 1/2” higher than the subfloor, plus the thickness of the tile and adhesive.

When applying cement backer board over a plywood subfloor, be sure to adhere the two surfaces together with thin-set adhesive; and screw the cement backer board down with special screws that countersink into the backer board, such as Backer-On screws available at The Home Depot.

Good luck with your project,


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22 Comments on “Can You Lay Tile Directly Over a Plywood Subfloor?”

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  • Jay Says:
    October 11th, 2017 at 11:21 am

    I am currently pulling up ceramic tile that I foolishly applied over plywood two years ago. DON’T DO IT! Use a Hardie board/cement backer no mater what the time/labor/cost/floor height. My shortcut really cost me.

  • peggy Says:
    August 28th, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    contractor laid tile on plywood floor board how can i fix. grout is cracking and tile loose. must i take up the whole floor

  • Joshua Reed Says:
    August 17th, 2017 at 7:54 am

    This information is completely wrong. Unfortunately the opinion of one person with a blog or website becomes gospel to all of those reading this. Do your homework before making these comments.

    Tile can be installed over a plywood substrate, and it is actually a fantastic way to make sure you don’t have deflection in your floor. Try laying tile over 1/2″ Durock or Hardie and see what happens when the joists are 19.2″ or 24″ on center. Hope you didn’t like your beautiful new tile floor! I have gone behind numerous tile setters to remedy their work when they thought (as many of the others that are commenting here) that using thinset under 1/2″ Durock (over 3/4″ OSB) provided a sturdy substrate. Wrong.

    There are tile companies that actually use 3/4″ exterior rated plywood as their standard substrate with a quality modified thinset. If you want to know why- it’s because it pretty much doesn’t matter what the subfloor is under that plywood. It ALWAYS works. You can have 5/8 OSB and 19.2″ OC joists and it still works. The obvious drawback is that the height of the floor gets to be pretty high at times and you have to watch the height of exterior doors, etc.

    Consult professionals with these questions. These blanket statements becoming gospel are ridiculous and they happen all too often.

  • Allison Says:
    July 22nd, 2017 at 11:52 am

    Please do not tile directly over plywood. A contractor did that in my kitchen some years ago, and resulted in very severe cracking of the tile and grout. It looks horrible. Don’t do it. Better to have it a little higher than deal with that kind of mess.

  • Joel Says:
    May 1st, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    The main reason for the cement underlayment is to have something for the tile to adhere to since will will not bond to wood. With that said, if there is no need to raise the area being redone in order to match up with an elevated surface in another part of the home, 1/4″ cement board is the best option. I prefer to use Hardiebacker Board for my floor projects because it is has the highest compressive and flexural strengths of any cement board in comparison to it’s weight and they offer 3’x5′ options as well as 4’x8′ options. I really like the 4’x8’x1/4″ option because I can knock out bigger square footage projects much faster and with less seams. I go right off TCNA guidelines.
    1: Trowel out bed of unmodified thinset over wooden subfloor.
    2: Place Hardiebacker in staggered pattern so no four corners meet.
    3: Fasten Hardiebacker 1/4″ board with corrosion resistant screws or galvanized roofing nails 8 inches apart.
    4: Tape joints with alkali resistant cement board tape. Apply thinset over tape and joints.
    5: Ready for tile.

  • Deville Livermore Says:
    August 26th, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    I live in a mobile home and it has carpet and would like to remove and put tile down. Can you use hardy board for a sub floor. When I walk a cross the floor in some areas the floor make noise. Have not done any thing yet . Going to leave some carpet what need to be done between the carpet and the tile. Thank you

  • Sheila Says:
    June 17th, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    I’m gonna put ceramic tile on a coffee table, I put 1/4 plywood on top of the table then putting the ceramic tile on top of that, so it should be ok

  • Voltin Says:
    March 13th, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    The tile industry has changed so much. I did it for 30 years over fir plywood. I still get calls for more work after being out of it for 10 years because my work held up. The nice thing about tiling over plywood is that, should you drop something and break a tile, you can remove it without disturbing the surrounding tiles. Try that with tile over cement board and see what happens. Adhering the cement board to plywood only works if the plywood is re-scuffed or sanded first with a 20 grit disc sandpaper and you use a minimum 3/8″ trowel for the thinset. To me, they ruined the industry with all the “latest and greatest” fad products. Glad I got out just when all of these new products came in. They suck to work with and common sense was never a factor in their designs.

  • Tony Says:
    January 24th, 2016 at 9:36 am

    Hi, can one lay ceramic tiles over Parquet flooring, and if so, what preparation is required to do?

  • suzanne lucas Says:
    January 12th, 2016 at 10:44 am

    i removed 1/4 inch tile it was cemented to plywood. can i now use 1/2 tile or will it no be level by doorway to the adjacent floor? HELP

  • mike Says:
    December 6th, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    I am getting ready to tile (ceramic 12″x 12″ tiles) on a wood floor using backer board. My question is: how does putting a pattern in the design affect the strength/durability of the finished floor? Is there a pro or con in adding different size tiles?

  • Sandy Says:
    November 14th, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    Hi. We are redoing 230 square feet of tile in our front hallway. We are using 12×24″ tile. Should we use plywood and cement board or can we just use plywood for the subfloor? I know the subfloor must be really sturdy but because of the size of the tile I’m worried that overtime they may break? If we do use cement board and plywood I’m guessing we’ll have to use a thinset in between the two and then screw the cement board with a countersink. Can you please provide advice? Thanks!

  • Roger Says:
    August 21st, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    Hey it is generally not a good idea to put tile directly onto your subfloor… Because most old homes only use 1/2 plywood or OSB. It is a good idea to put half inch plywood underlay to strengthen the floor before using modified thin set to put the tile directly on wood. If the subfloor is 5/8 or 3/4 you can probably apply tile directly to it with no problem.

  • Richard Says:
    May 27th, 2015 at 7:44 am

    We have our large kitchen and hallway that was originally covered by 12 X 12 ceramic tiles on top of 3/8th inch plywood. Thin set was used instead of glue or adhesive. the floor tiles became loose, cracked and ugly looking over about 2 decades of use. Now the entire flooring of ceramic tiles needs to be torn out and replaced. we are thinking about having the 3/8th inch plywood torn out and replaced by 1/4 inch concrete board before the new tiles are installed.
    any thoughts??

  • lenny Says:
    May 20th, 2015 at 8:19 pm

    I’m not a pro but I’ve done about six different bathroom and kitchen floors as a fussy DIY-er. I’ve had good results with tile set in thin set on plywood as long as I get two things taken care of.

    One – the subfloor needs to be stiff and solid. When in doubt add blocking in the joists (if you can get at them) and more screws in the subfloor to make sure.

    Two – paint the plywood with some waterproofing / crack isolation membrane. It’s not necessary to make it fully waterproof just resistant enough so that moisture that gets through the grout joints mostly dries out back through the grout instead of through the wood.

    My oldest floor is 15 yrs old and still looks great. Unless the floor gets really wet on a daily basis this should last indefinitely.

  • Joshua Says:
    April 24th, 2015 at 1:03 am

    I am tiling bathroom floor that is roughly 60inches by 60 inches. Is backer board really necessary?

  • Russell Rivera Says:
    April 20th, 2015 at 8:49 am

    I have laid tile directly over plywood and it will work in small areas but when you have big areas of tile I would use some kind of backer board

  • scott Says:
    March 31st, 2015 at 11:06 am

    I too, just removed original tile from a mid 70’s house that was directly on plywood subfloor….no crack and grout was perfect, however, they did not use thinset to adhere the tile, looked like a standard construction adhesive. Any thoughts?

  • Mike Says:
    February 24th, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    I just removed the hideous pink tile floor from my master bath. It was layed directly onto the plywood subfloor – 25 years ago. *Zero* cracked tiles, *zero* cracks in the grout. It was in perfect condition and that bathroom was used daily for 25 years.

    So why are people recommending backer board or some other membrane?

  • Shaun Says:
    February 11th, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    I will be installing tile on my brothers new home. This is the first time i will be using the underlayment rather than the backerboard and was wondering if I should be putting down like an 1/8 sheet of plywood just in case they plan on removing this floor in the future instead of bonding it right to the permanent subfloor? What is your suggestions?

  • chonia Says:
    May 10th, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    I had carpet down on a concrete slab floor and I was wanting to put tile down but I was wanting to find a cheap and easy way to put the tile down quickly.

  • Peter Says:
    December 7th, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    I’ve discovered an area of rot in my plywood subfloor between my bath tub and toilet. To my surprise, the marble tiles were laid directly on top of this plywood without cementboard (probably because the toilet drain calls for a rear flush model, and cementboard would have disrupted where the toilet and drain met).
    If I had the time to be meticulous, I’d open pandora’s box and do the whole thing right- But I dont.
    My question is whether or not I can replace the rotted subfloor with a thinner plywood and then cementboard to meet the current subfloor height, or am I in over my head with this fix?

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Can You Lay Tile Directly Over a Plywood Subfloor?