Leak in 1958 shower enclosure:

Discussion in 'Shower & bathtub Forum & Blog' started by oldberkeley, Oct 10, 2011.

  1. oldberkeley

    oldberkeley New Member

    Messages:
    45
    Location:
    Columbus, OH
    I have a custom built 1958 ranch with an unfinished basement, it's easy to work on the main floor plumbing. Everything in the house was built very solidly by great craftsmen; I've done plenty of updating but sometimes I realize that I can't duplicate the level of workmanship that was done, and I just leave it!

    The master bath has a beautifully tiled shower enclosure; bright yellow 50's look but once again, the work is so excellent that I just don't have the heart to replace it. The fixtures look newer, they must have been replaced sometime before I bought the house in 2003.

    Last week I noticed a slight water drip down the basement joists right under the shower. I removed all the old caulk where the walls meet the pan, caulked it, let it dry for 48 hours. It still leaked. I removed all the new caulk, this time made sure that everything was absolutely clean and dry, re-caulked very carefully with the best quality 100% silicone I could get, let it dry. It still leaks!

    Obviously, that's not the problem.

    Any ideas about my next step. TIA. -Gary
  2. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,802
    Location:
    New England
    People think that the tile and caulk in a shower are the waterproofing layer, but the real waterproofing is beneath the surface. A properly built shower should be waterproof even before the tile are installed. The leaks could be from the supply lines going to the valve, or the elbow or shower arm connection, or, it could be a bad shower pan, or a compromised curb, or other things. First thing I'd do is take the trim off the shower valve and see if it looks wet there, then if dry, you might then need to start looking elsewhere. Are there any areas outside of the shower in the bathroom that look wet?
  3. oldberkeley

    oldberkeley New Member

    Messages:
    45
    Location:
    Columbus, OH
    Jim- Thanks for the reply. I understand and agree with your point about a properly-built shower, which is why I stressed the overall excellence of the workmanship and materials in my house (IMHO the 50's were the heyday of American home building.)

    I read one of your replies to a similar problem in another thread and I'm going to try that. This morning I'm going to plug the floor drain, fill the pan up to the curb, and let it sit for awhile. If nothing leaks through underneath then at least I've eliminated that problem.

    I'll let you know, thanks again for your help. -Gary
  4. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Messages:
    8,997
    Location:
    San Diego
    good comments from jad...
    I agree that there is unlikelyto be any leak which would be fixed by caulking the wall/floor seam.
    The "usual suspect" is the drain. Your test today by putting a half inch of water in the shower will reveal that ( unless there is a pipe joint leak, below...NOT the usual suspect)

    Ultimately, if it is not related to the valve or shower arm joint, then you may have to open the ceiling below to inspect.
  5. oldberkeley

    oldberkeley New Member

    Messages:
    45
    Location:
    Columbus, OH
    I used a plastic test plug in the shower drain, got a very tight fit. Filled the pan with water over the wall/floor seam. Almost immediately started leaking down the floor joists.

    Obviously I was wrong in my first post, the problem is in this area.

    What's my next step? Again, Jad & Jimbo, thanks in advance. -Gary
  6. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,802
    Location:
    New England
    IF the shower is original, it's over 50-years old. If the pan was lead, it may be shot. Trying to match tile on a shower that old is nearly impossible, but if you can find some that would complement those left, you can tear out the pan and about at least a foot of the wall, you can repair/rebuild it with a new pan, but most people decide to just tear out the whole thing and start over. The new liner needs to come up at least a few inches above the top of the curb, so the whole pan and the wall up to that point needs to come out. While there are several good tiling sites, I prefer www.johnbridge.com. If starting over, consider one of the surface membrane construction techniques (Kerdi, Hydroban, etc.). This puts full waterproofing right beneath the tile which makes the whole thing nice and tight, and one that dries out really quickly.
  7. oldberkeley

    oldberkeley New Member

    Messages:
    45
    Location:
    Columbus, OH
    Jim- The pan is concrete with some very small "flecks" (?) of mica-like material on the surface. Very attractive, solid and thick, well-crafted, appears almost like new and I have trouble believing that the pan itself is leaking. Something is going on at the wall seam or the center drain.

    If it was the center drain, even though there is no water leaking down the drain pipe directly underneath and instead the water is leaking from a floor joist about 18" away, could the water be "migrating" over that far along the sub-floor and then dripping down? I know that often with a leaky roof it's difficult to pinpoint the actual exterior source of the leak. -Gary
  8. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,802
    Location:
    New England
    Ah, you have a pre-formed pan, not a tiled one. Water can easily flow a long way, so where you see it is just the path of least resistance. The trap or the pipe to it could have deteriorated and is now leaking. Can you see the trap from below? Can you take the strainer off the drain and carefully look things over?
  9. oldberkeley

    oldberkeley New Member

    Messages:
    45
    Location:
    Columbus, OH
    Jim- Full unfinished basement below, I can stand right under the entire bathroom and see the subfloor.

    The chrome trap and the pipe leading up from it to the drain are both relatively new, must be replacements, and appear solid. Absolutely no leaking there.

    The strainer easily lifts off. The 3" of original drain assembly from the top of the pan to the top of the replacement chrome drainpipe is very corroded, basically one cylinder of rust.

    If I determined that that was the source of the leak, I can remove the entire old assembly but I'm guessing that it's going to be quite a chore. Is there any chance that some type of "sleeve"- basically a new piece of chrome or plastic drain pipe-could be inserted into the old assembly, along with a liberal helping of silicone? -Gary
  10. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,802
    Location:
    New England
    No, if that pipe is shot, it needs to be replaced. But, without being there, there's no way to tell for sure where it is leaking.
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