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Coping with Water Damage in Your Shower

Common Causes of Shower Water Damage

Rain is pouring down from the ceiling below your bathroom shower... and you are not in the mood to embark into a complete bathroom makeover yet!  Why not troubleshoot the problem first? Here is a short list of potential culprits:

Plumbing

  • Faulty plumbing fixtures
  • Burst water supply
  • Damaged drain assembly
  • Leaking waste pipes

Shower Enclosure

  • Damaged or unfit vinyl strips
  • Loose hardware

Grout/Caulk/Tile 

  • Faulty caulking around fixtures/accessories penetration
  • Damaged/missing grout
  • Cracked tile

IMPORTANT: Contrary to popular belief, sealing the grout or replacing it with epoxy grout will never stop a shower from leaking.

Slope 

  • Near-horizontal surfaces less than 2% (1/4" per ft) sloped down towards drain

Failed Waterproof 

  • Missing waterproof membrane on every near-horizontal surface and at least six inches above 
  • Deteriorated membrane or seams
  • Punctured membrane caused by fasteners used to hold backer board in place

           

Protocol for Shower Replacement due to Water Damage

After troubleshooting, if we have a good reason to believe that there is a defective waterproofing membrane underneath, or if the damages are obviously extensive, we recommend the following protocol:

STEP ONE: Overview Inspection (1.5 hrs)

  • Sound test tiles for signs of hollowness in its bonding mortar or substrate
  • Survey relative humidify of tile assembly and surrounding areas
  • Measure slope of near-horizontal surfaces to ensure code compliance
  • Visually inspect grout/caulk/tile to rule out as leading cause of water damage
  • Visually inspect shower enclosure vinyl strips and hardware
  • Verify if plumbing can be ruled out as the leading cause of water damage
  • Recommend plumbing troubleshooting, shower enclosure adjustment, grout/caulk/tile maintenance; or proceed with Step Two.

STEP TWO: Pre-Discovery Preparation / Investigative Demolition (3~4 days)

  • Cover/protect floors and work area
  • Remove and save glass enclosure/drain cover/other fixtures affected by the repair
  • Provide positive airflow from house to bathroom to exterior through the duration of the work
  • Carefully remove tiles/jambs/bench tops/tub decks and their substrate
  • Visually inspect waterproof membrane; if in good shape, perform 24-hr water test
  • If damaged, remove waterproof membrane, sloped substrate, and plywood subfloor, visually inspecting, sound testing, moisture reading each layer, continuously assessing cause and extension of damages

STEP THREE: Water Damage Control (1~3 days)

  • If the presence of mold/mildew appears substantial, refer to an environmental cleaning service for inspection, testing and abatement
  • If required, coordinate with our independent master plumber for any plumbing repair needed
  • Carefully remove and dispose of water damaged construction elements, avoiding airborne contamination
  • Bleach and wire scrub mold-mildew areas
  • Let dehumidifier run overnight or until relative humidity lowers to an acceptable level
  • Reinforce or replace damaged structure

STEP FOUR: Rebuild Shower / Repair Drywall & Paint (2~3 weeks + lead time on stone fabrication and glass enclosure)

  • Rebuild new shower interior:
    • Repair/replace plumbing pipes or fixtures if/as needed
    • Install plywood subfloor, wall backerboard, sloped mudwork
    • Apply waterproofing 
    • Install new tiles
    • Reinstall or install new benches, shelves, niches, jambs and other fabricated parts
    • Grout, caulk, and seal surfaces
    • Reinstall or install new plumbing trims, accessories, and glass enclosure
  • Repair damages outside the shower:
    • Extend the reconstruction to any areas outside the shower where water damage was found
    • Repair damaged drywall, paint, or other surface finishes
    • Any other water damage related repair required
  • Final cleanup and construction set-down

Note: if damage is found outside of the shower, STEPS THREE and FOUR will be extended.

Practical Considerations

  • Partial versus Complete shower redo:
    • Tiles and substrates continuously expand, contract and shift, due to temperature/humidity variations and structural movement
    • If a partial shower redo is attempted, a seam through the tile/grout, thinset, waterproofing membrane, and backerboard/substrate is created between old and new
    • This seam becomes the new weak link of the tile assembly, prone to tile, grout, and waterproofing failure
    • Depending on the type of tile and age, it might not be possible to match new tiles to the existing, even more so on rooms a few years old or more
    • The above compounding factors often makes rebuilding the entire shower the only acceptable solution that can preserve the integrity, original quality, and value of the room
  • Shower glass enclosures:
    • Often, rebuild conditions and new tile thickness make it impractical or impossible to reuse pre-existing shower enclosures due to small changes in opening dimensions
    • Sometimes the glass hardware is still in operational condition, but do not sustain the demanding stress of removal and reinstallation
    • It is increasingly difficult to convince glass fabricators to reinstall, rather than replace shower glass enclosures
    • For the above reasons, it might not be practical to reuse the shower door unless it is a simple layout, relatively new, and without significant dimensional restrains 
  • Plumbing fixtures / accessories:
    • Trim connections and parts of fixtures otherwise in perfect operational condition might have cemented or rusted in place, and be damaged upon removal for tile replacement
    • When this happens, replacement might be necessary

An Opportunity to Improve / Invest

Why not to turn the water damage misfortune into an opportunity? Here are some possible areas to explore improvement:

  • Update the Room Design
    • examples: opening up the room with frameless shower enclosures, improving lighting, adding a floating bench
  • Add Universal Design Features
    • such as  curbless shower entry, seat/leg support, towel bars that are rated as grab bars, hand-held showerheads
  • Specify Ultra-Low Maintenance Materials
    • like selecting porcelain tiles, epoxy grout, mildew resistant caulk and factory-applied glass protection
  • Extend the Lifetime of the Materials
    • by replacing aged pipes and plumbing fixtures with less than half their expected lifetime left

Our Team

Together, our qualified team has many years of experience in shower repairs and rebuilding. With the skilled hands of our CTEF / CTaSC certified tile setters under the leadership of Davis Holland Leichsenring, we will watch over your best interest.

Conveniently call or contact us using the form below, to discuss your shower water damage repair needs!

Contact us
Call us on 1.800.215.0203 or locally 301.926.6788, use our online form or email us.
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