Shower Repair (Cowboy Style)

A story about grout restoration “experts”, plumbing “professionals”, leak healing gurus and the death of a perfectly innocent shower cubicle.

destroyed shower base

Here is an example of a shower repair job that has zero commercial value to an honest restorer. The owner of the house discovered a slight movement of a tile in a shower base. Also, there was a buildup of water under the tile. A plumber was called to check a leak. The Plumber blamed it on waterproofing (it’s almost like a custom). So, the troubled owner hired a tiler to fix the leak.

The ‘fixing process’ is visible on the tiles in the form of disfigured silicone joints and a coat of something mysterious on top of grout lines (probably a paper-thin layer of silicone). The leak actually stopped for a short while. Before long, the poor chap was on the phone looking for more skilled ‘professionals’.

It appears he found one! The “wise man” came and banged out two and a half tiles from a shower base (in search of a leak, I presume, LOL). The illusive leak was not there. The owner finally found my website and called me.
After the examination, I saw nothing that would indicate a leak anywhere! A leak can be clearly visible in the form of water stains on a carpet, skirting boards and gib-board. I told the man the sad truth.

‘If you rang me at the very beginning, you would pay just under $500 and you would have this shower operational for the next 10 years. As of now, the only reasonable thing you can do is to rip it apart and install a plastic cubicle.”

It never crossed my mind to give him a quote for some BS patch up. Since the rest of the bathroom was tiled, the only reasonable solution was a plastic cubicle. This job was 12-15 years old. Thus, getting a matching tile on the market was sheer science fiction.

Now a free shower repair lesson:

1/ A moving tile in the shower base is not unusual. Yes, it’s definitely not healthy and should never happen. However, it calls for an investigation rather than demolition. Rubberized adhesives are commonly used to install tiles on waterproofing membranes. The products actually contain rubber particles and are quite spongy. The construction of a shower base begins with the installation of thick sand/cement screed with appropriate slopes towards the drain. If the screed was less than ideal, the slopes must be corrected by packing up tiles with more adhesive. A tile sitting on 300 mm of rubber glue will bounce like a ping pong ball the moment anyone steps on it. But the most important thing is, that water accumulation under a tiled surface is NOT an indication of a leak. The grout is basically a sponge and lets water through. Only a LEAK is an indication of a leak!

As for fixing this particular sickness (I hate to say, but) silicone is your only friend… I personally don’t like to see silicone installed in any other places than wall corners or shower base perimeter, but. If that’s the only option, that’s the only option!

In the event that a tile does not stick properly, when you knock on it you will hear a drummy noise. That’s a slightly worse scenario but might prove manageable. The tiles can be reattached without uplifting via epoxy injection. It’s pretty difficult in constantly wet shower bases but definitely worth a try. You might be forced to stop using a shower for several weeks as water accumulated under the tiles has to dry out. Still, it’s worth the wait as you will be paying hundreds instead of thousands for a shower repair.

2/ Removal of a single tile from a shower area means the end of this shower. Once a tile has been removed, the waterproofing membrane can no longer be trusted. There is no respectable tiler who would give a 5 minute guarantee on waterproofing if he cannot replace the whole membrane (on walls and floor).

3/There is ALWAYS water under the tiles in the shower area. Grout is no water barrier. It absolutely does not make any difference if your grout is in one piece or has holes like Swiss cheese. Grout is a ‘sponge’ absorbing water.

4/ Let’s talk sponges. Just because your shower has glass walls it means nothing to the physical forces at play – capillary suction. Grout on one side of the glass wall is not another country. It is the same continuous line of grout that extends into the shower area. If the grout inside the shower gets wet, the grout outside the shower can suck the water past the ‘mighty glass barrier’. You do not notice that so much just because most of the water slides down not sideways thanks to gravitation. Water will always sink inside the tiling adhesive rather than slide on top of the tiled surface (unless it’s really a leak and a half..).

5/ That leads us to another danger – an inspector who is trying to appear smart and important. Time and time again, I heard from my clients that they were forced to tear down showers and rebuild them because the inspectors were not happy with the numbers their toys were showing them. Such a genius might cost you several thousands of dollars spend for no reason whatsoever. Moisture content does not indicate anything as the tile adhesive layer and the grout, AND some porous tiles HAVE TO BE moist! If there is no trace of a decent leak, there is no leak!

6/ Size DOES matter. If you see water stains on the ceiling in the room below OR water stains in an adjacent room, that’s a leak. If you see a small seepage of water on the floor beside the shower cubicle, don’t panic. It might be classified as a leak, but a leak of this “magnitude” can be stopped within a few hours and without destroying a shower cubicle. All you need to do is call ME. Again, for hearing loud and clear – ME. I will exorcise the demons before you know it and the dent in your bank account will be minimal. Even if your leak seems serious, I might be able to save you from a total annihilation of your shower (just like this company over there). Just keep the gurus, specialists and experts at a safe distance before I arrive.

7/I almost forgot about my all time favourite – silicone on top of grout. Silicone is one of the best adhesives I know. In my bathroom I had a heavy mirror installed just on a couple of blobs of silicone. Silicone will stick like hell to a NON POROUS surface (like glass or glazed tile). The same silicone is ABSOLUTELY USELESS if a surface is porous. There is no way that a silicone can stick to unsealed stone, terracotta, unglazed edges of tiles and G R O U T. Only a complete cowboy can expect a coat of silicone to bond permanently with old grout in a shower cubicle (from all places!!!).