Mysterious shower leak

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Jadnashua

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FWIW, in the tile industry, neither the tile nor grout (or caulking) is considered the waterproofing in a shower...on the shower pan, it's the liner. A shower should not leak even before the tile is installed. Except for the pan, a conventional shower constructions only has the pan (and up, over the curb) with waterproofing, the walls typically are not waterproofed, but not damaged by being wetted. There's a moisture barrier behind or on top of the wall that prevents direct moisture form attacking the studs, but gravity causes the vast majority to just flow down the surface, and any that might penetrate, if it is done properly, can dry out in between since there's no gravity to push it deeper. Some materials wick moisture, but when built right, it does not cause damage.

Once water gets to things like the wooden structure, that's an indication that there's a system failure. Often, while you can patch it, the repair doesn't last.

The Tile Council of NOrth America is the industry bible on how to tile things including showers. There are numerous methods described in that manual (you can buy a copy from them, if you wish, or the procedure for a single build type). When you select one, and perform it properly, the shower should last until you decide to remodel, not because it failed. They are not hard, but are VERY detail oriented. 70-80% of tiled showers in the USA are not done according to industry standards...all it takes is one little mistake, and eventually, it is highly likely to fail. How quickly depends on how often it is used and what error(s) occurred in the build...it could vary from months to many years.

Benches, liners, and curbs are the three biggest areas of failure to follow instructions, with curbs being the most common, since most all showers have one, while benches, when installed, are probably next. The industry and plumbing code says NO penetrations lower than 2" above the top of the curb...none IN the curb at all. It's not uncommon for an installer to use CBU on a curb, and attach it with screws...can't reliably be done. Second is to not use the curb corners to seal where the liner must be cut to then form over the curb. The only place you can penetrate the curb is low on the outside to help hold the liner in place - nothing on the top or inside.
 
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DannyDan

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The question is, if I do a rebuild, how do I ensure it's done correctly...I could just end up with another failure, especially if 80% of showers are built incorrectly that doesn't sound like very good odds...
Also, how much does a rebuild like this cost (very roughly)? And do you guys know anyone in Southern California you can recommend?
 

Jeff H Young

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6000 . Be a rough guess , I just do the plumbing so not totaly up on those costs. I know a good tile contractor 2 man company San Bernardino area dont think he would go into OC or LA County. what city you in?
 

DannyDan

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6000 . Be a rough guess , I just do the plumbing so not totaly up on those costs. I know a good tile contractor 2 man company San Bernardino area dont think he would go into OC or LA County. what city you in?

I'm in Orange County.
 

Jadnashua

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My go-to place for tiling things is www.johnbridge.com where they specialize in tile with many professionals that participate. If you join and go to the pro section, put up your location and ask. Not a guarantee you'll get a hit, but if you search a bit through that site, you'll see your issue is not unique.

Not everyone is willing or able to spend the time to build their own shower, but they have helped lots of people do it successfully, too. In the meantime, learn how one is supposed to be built so you can evaluate any prospective contractors proposals. One thing to be wary of is the phrase "I've been doing it like this for years, and never had a problem". Keep in mind, most offer a one-year warranty, and often, the problems don't show up until much later. Plus, with the reality that there are lots of them not built right, many people don't have very much confidence or high expectations...remember that while you do want a shower to look good, to work right, it needs the guts done right, too if it is going to last. IOW, it's the parts you can't see that really matter.
 

Jeff H Young

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I'm in Orange County.
Left OC 12 years ago but only stopped working there 1 1/2 years ago. Dont know anyone down there in tile trade.
Very much agree with Jadnashua the work beneath the tile is what matters the most. poor work goes undetected. I'm not an expert on the tile but know a few details when the tile guy is lathing etc I'm not even around. I never build the pan either .
Also agree that a bad practice like nails down low or improper shower pan can go un noticed for years
 

Tughillrzr

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Well glad you figured it out. Bad news you realize it isn’t an easy fix. Next step demo! Do demo your self, buy materials and hire a tile guy. Also as stated buy a pan. most likely was poor construction at seat. As all above have stated a very common problem area. Call a tile store and see if any recommendations on installers . Schluter makes some great products. Also as suggested use a pre built pan https://www.showerbase.com/products/tb-3660-r
 

wwhitney

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Update #3:
Sealed off the bench / seat area. No more leak...
Next steps?
Try cutting the bottom of the plastic to be just 1/2" below the bench. Repeat.

Most likely the leak is just in the horizontal bench area. You could cut plastic to just cover the horizontal bench and repeat your test. The plastic won't necessarily stop all water from getting under it, since you can't tuck it under the sidewall tile. But it should significantly reduce it. So you'd expect no leak, or a much slower leak.

If you've isolated the leak to the horizontal bench, then it may be possible to repair without demoing the whole shower. Depends on what the shower waterproofing method is on the wall with the bench opening, and whether you can integrate your repair with it. Removing the block that Tughilrzr suggested might provide some info on the waterproofing method. Or you could drill a 4" inspection hole in the block, rather than removing it completely.

Cheers, Wayne
 

DannyDan

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Guys, if I end up hiring a professional to do a rebuild, is there a "checklist" of questions I should ask to make sure they are doing it correctly? I don't want to end up with a new shower that still isn't built correctly.
Maybe I can come back here and post their answers too so you guys can give me your opinion.

And btw if it isn't obvious, a huge thank you to every single one of you. It's so frustrating how difficult it is to come back professionals and good craftsmanship nowadays. I could share stories that would make you cry / laugh on just how many negative experiences I've had.
 

Jeff H Young

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so you "waterproof " the seat water wont leak at the seat but it goes somewhere. what it needs is to have uninterrupted protection down to the pan. of course should have plenty of slope. But I've never seen the latest plastic stuff you guys are talking about I do custom home fiberglass pans , and or hardibacker I only see one rarely on a bath remodel
 

Jadnashua

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I'd either borrow, or buy a copy of the TCNA handbook (maybe your library might have a copy?), then decide which method you want your shower built with. THen, ask prospective installers about that method. IF they express ignorance of the manual at all, find someone else! Then, I'd consider writing that into the specs and contract for the installer, something like:
"the shower shall be built according to the TCNA handbook, method xxx, following all manufacturer's instructions for the materials selected with a flood test performed for at least 12-hours to verify the pan."

There are times when a hybrid of that manual may be called for, but if your install calls for it, the installer should be able to point out why, and how it will be built that way rather than a straight use of the handbook's procedure. Keep in mind that a hybrid of the methods in the book means the installer is both the designer and certifier of the compatibility and proper build techniques, and as mentioned, there are a HUGE number of showers not built right. The problem is, the impact of those modifications don't often show up for awhile, long after the installer is around, and willing to honor any warranty.

I'd sign up on www.johnbridge.com and see if there's someone in your area they may recommend by asking the the pro hangout.

Personally, I"ve used Schluter's products (their shower stuff is called Kerdi). This is one method described in the TCNA handbook. Since the ENTIRE interior of the shower is or should be waterproof up above the height of the shower head, when done right, it's impossible to get a leak. MOst other methods have a waterproof pan, but the rest is water resistant...that works, too, but only when installed properly.
 

Jeff H Young

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I'd either borrow, or buy a copy of the TCNA handbook (maybe your library might have a copy?), then decide which method you want your shower built with. THen, ask prospective installers about that method. IF they express ignorance of the manual at all, find someone else! Then, I'd consider writing that into the specs and contract for the installer, something like:
"the shower shall be built according to the TCNA handbook, method xxx, following all manufacturer's instructions for the materials selected with a flood test performed for at least 12-hours to verify the pan."

There are times when a hybrid of that manual may be called for, but if your install calls for it, the installer should be able to point out why, and how it will be built that way rather than a straight use of the handbook's procedure. Keep in mind that a hybrid of the methods in the book means the installer is both the designer and certifier of the compatibility and proper build techniques, and as mentioned, there are a HUGE number of showers not built right. The problem is, the impact of those modifications don't often show up for awhile, long after the installer is around, and willing to honor any warranty.

I'd sign up on www.johnbridge.com and see if there's someone in your area they may recommend by asking the the pro hangout.

Personally, I've used Schluter's products (their shower stuff is called Kerdi). This is one method described in the TCNA handbook. Since the ENTIRE interior of the shower is or should be waterproof up above the height of the shower head, when done right, it's impossible to get a leak. Most other methods have a waterproof pan, but the rest is water resistant...that works, too, but only when installed properly.

Very good points Jadnashua, no product works correctly if installed improperly. and not all showers leak that have inferior work that doesn't agree with the book. So those 80 percent might only have 1 in 20 that are leaking. like a copper joint that doesn't get reamed doesn't mean your entire plumbing system is bad or going to fail prematurely.
But it means you don't quite meet minimum standards in one regard which no customer wants.
One problem within the tile and construction industry and even a well meaning Contractor can have is even on a job like this. if a customer say calls a plumber out because of leak I could spend hours of time finding it as could a tile contractor, its pretty hard to do an investigation and who pays for all this time? It could be plumbers fault, Tile guy, sometimes the walls are lathed and scratched by the stucco guy so improper nailing or black paper could be cause, or a bad shower pan which almost never is done by plumber or Tile guy on new homes here. so their is at least 4 possibilities of responsible party for a leak in shower area.
Sorry for the problem you are having dannydan, being on ground floor there may be some repair but it wouldn't likely follow that book and no idea who would do it
 

DannyDan

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If anyone is curious how the mystery unravelled, here are some answers:
20210420_133735.jpg


20210420_133738.jpg


What do you think the construction error here was? And what is the fix?
 

Tughillrzr

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Wow that’s bad!
Like mentioned above, if one part is bad and incorrectly installed your better to start over. It’s not worth the chance later To get another leak. It will leak!
No one will guarantee it not to leak.
Do the hard work then let tile man come in and prep and tile.
 

Jeff H Young

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just so happens my wifes cousin just showed us pics of a poor installation 10 yearold so ca house on a slab. he has shower pan leak he intends to rebuild shower pan already has the tile. He is quite skilled but not at this work but he is planning to do it all hiself.
Dannydan, I see ways to repair this kind of hard to articulate , but the right guy it could be repairable but not be technicaly proper and a tremendous liability. So you may not want to throw the towl in if you have matching tile or something close enough. BTW that should have solid blocking where the hot mop blew out some how (perhaps during demo) It could also be where seat transitions from horizontal to verticle or along sidewall, seat should be sloping as well.
 

Jeff H Young

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where that hole in the paper is should have wood behind it there shouldnt be any space between the studs so normaly between studs a block is nailed in flat
 
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WorthFlorida

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DannyDan:
Here is my bathroom done by a kitchen and bath company. A mud base was placed on the floor and the walls and seat covered with a concrete board, then a coating of RedGuard. This was inspected by the county and no curb was needed. It's a step down and it's on concrete. As of now the wife doesn't use the seat other than to do her legs, but in the future we have blocking in the walls for any grab bars that might be needed. After every shower the walls and glass are squeegeed, especially the seat, water will lay there.

For your shower I would raise the bottom of the recess since it is not possible to use it as a seat. Also, most of the water would hit the wall below the shelf.

bath1.jpg BAth2.jpg
 

Jeff H Young

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DannyDan:
Here is my bathroom done by a kitchen and bath company. A mud base was placed on the floor and the walls and seat covered with a concrete board, then a coating of RedGuard. This was inspected by the county and no curb was needed. It's a step down and it's on concrete. As of now the wife doesn't use the seat other than to do her legs, but in the future we have blocking in the walls for any grab bars that might be needed. After every shower the walls and glass are squeegeed, especially the seat, water will lay there.

For your shower I would raise the bottom of the recess since it is not possible to use it as a seat. Also, most of the water would hit the wall below the shelf.

View attachment 73203 View attachment 73204
Worth florida does it use a single piece of vinyl from the pan all the way to top of seat? I havent seen much vinyl and never have built one personaly. looks good , what about the niche does that have anything beside cement board and red guard?
 

wwhitney

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A mud base was placed on the floor and the walls and seat covered with a concrete board, then a coating of RedGuard.
Your photo shows a PVC liner that goes up over the bench (does the base have the proper preslope over it?). So putting concrete board over that is not the best practice, the screws will puncture the PVC liner and render it useless. I think it would be OK to just omit the PVC liner on the bench (which should be sloped to drain rather than hold standing water) and rely on the concrete board and RedGuard. Or if you prefer the liner on the horizontal bench, then the bench and wall below it should get a mud job, just like a giant curb (assuming that would work).

Cheers, Wayne
 
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