Shower/tub leaks to basement

Discussion in 'Shower & Bathtub Forum & Blog' started by dablieve, May 22, 2007.

  1. dablieve

    dablieve New Member

    May 22, 2007
    I have a early 50's installation of a Price Pfister tub/shower with a three handle valve system (middle stem is the diverter). I get a drip in the basement (unfinished fortunately) that has left me puzzled as to origin. The leak only occurs during showers and begins dripping immediately after the shower is turned on. It does not drip when the diverter sends the water to the tub, nor when everything is turned off. I've tested it with no one in the shower so the water is not bouncing off the shower wall or any openings in my judgment. Since it does not occur with the hot and cold turned on and water diverted to the tub, I conclude it is not a leak along those valves. It only drips in the basement (and drips immediately) when the diverter directs the water to the shower head.

    I have observed no water behind the fixtures through the access panel, nor looking up from the basement into the enclosure of the tub from below. From the access panel I've checked for any moisture coming down off the shower riser and there is none from behind the wall. Feeling and looking around for moisture in the access panel and behind the tub is all negative for moisture, even while the shower is running and dripping in the basement.

    I've concluded the leak therefore must be between the backing material and the 4 inch ceramic tile on the bathroom wall side. As best I can determine the water runs down to the lip of the tub that the tile is installed against, then runs over to the front edge of the tub where it runs down the outside edge of the tub (still behind tile) and exits to the floor beneath in the basement. Note that I'm sure it's not water outside the wall running off the tub because it will drip like I've described immediately with no one in the shower an me watching the process with the shower directed away from any near wall contact for splashover.

    Here's what I've done so far to try and check for leaks in the plumbing in addition to the visual observation described above. I've removed all three stem valves and replaced faucet washers. I took the stem valves setups to a local reputable plumbing shop and asked them to look them over and rebuild as necessary. They replaced the packing on one of the stems at my request but concluded it was not necessary on the other two. I've re-installed them and observed them for leaks with the escutcheons off so I could see if any water was coming out.

    Since the problem occurs only with diversion to the shower head, I removed the escutcheon from the shower head arm for observation thinking the water must be coming off the joint where the arm comes out of the riser. The area was plastered (not drywalled) tight, so I took a knife and widened a gap around the shower head arm so I could shin a light around it to check for moisture. The plaster, to my eyes anyway, appeared to show no evidence of water. Since the shower head arm would now be a bit loose from my widening the hole around the arm, I took a piece of approximately 1 mm thick plastic cut from the side of a Metamucil fiber supplement bottle, formed it into a half pipe, inserted it under the shower head arm far back as it would go up against the union. It served two purposes. I figured if there was a leak around the shower head arm it would channel the water out to where I could see it. There was none. It also filled the gap I had just created and re-stabilized the shower head arm. I used the same plastic material to form another half pipe and inserted it under and around the middle diverter stem to observe if any water would channel off it. Again, negative.

    Some additional facts that might be helpful are as follows. I checked for the leak with the shower on and each valve opened independently. It seems to drip most heavily when the cold water is on alone as compared to just the hot water, although it does drip when either or both are on. Also, back in the 80's I tried to replace all three stem valves and a plumbing shop sold me what appeared to be a correct match. When I got home, the hot and cold valves installed okay but the center diverter valve body had threads in the wrong location to properly divert, so I ended up re-installing the original 50's valve. When I recently took it into the plumbing shop for a rebuild as described above, the counter man observed it and concluded it was missing the diverter washer that he observed on similar Price Pfhister units he compared it to in his store. Since I re-installed it with this diverter washer installed we have had some weird showers where the hot and cold water mix is unstable and in fact on occasion we will have the mix set the way we want it and there will be a sudden thunk sound and the water completely stops coming out of the shower head. Turning the hot water on a bit further re-establishes the shower, but it may take several adjustments to get the shower to run the way we want it. It seems like the hot water adjustment is no longer "linear" in other words, as in each turn of the hot water handle doesn't increase the temp or hot water flow as we would expect. This problem appears to relate to the new installation of the diverter washer.

    I know this is a long message, but I'm trying to give as much detail as I've observed. At this point, would we be better off looking at a shower/tub upgrade and open the wall and replace the manifold and shower riser, etc? The ceramic tile is still is good shape for a 50's home but the tub is getting dull looking so we are considering a bathroom remodel. I've spent a lot of time with little results. Can you help?
  2. Verdeboy

    Verdeboy In the Trades

    Jun 12, 2006

    Sounds like you've narrowed it down as well as anyone could. It's either coming from the diverter, riser pipe, shower arm or shower head. You just need to actually see the source of the leak to pinpoint it exactly. That may mean tearing out a portion of the wall behind the shower.
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