Tile shower leak / water retention issue [Archive] - Ceramic Tile Advice Forums - John Bridge Ceramic Tile


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05-27-2019, 08:10 PM
Puzzling tile shower leak / water retention issue currently ongoing in our master bath shower.

First noticed the issue from some wood warping and discoloration on the closet door frame and baseboard exterior to the master shower (backing onto one of the shower tile walls).




To be clear, there is no gap in the glass shower paneling where water is escaping. The pathway is interior somehow.
Stopped using the shower for five days but still seeing just as much moisture retention in the external closet doorframe and baseboard.



When looking in the shower itself, there are two areas on the far base of the shower floor near the edges (well away from the drain) where the tile grout is moist. Placing a paper towel over these damp grout areas draws up water making the entire paper towel sheet damp within 1-2 hours.





There is no grout or tile dampness near the shower drain itself (so I presume this means the shower drain weep holes are working as they should?).

On infrared, there appears to be a subtle horizontal moisture gradient about a foot up from the shower floor where there might be some moisture behind those tiles than elsewhere. Hard to tell though given the very subtle thermal differential.


Any ideas as to what part(s) of the shower system might be failing here? We’re not the original owners of this house, so I’ve no good indication of how this shower was originally built, what water resistant barrier(s) were installed or not installed, etc. Why is water emanating from these shower floor spots well away from the drain and so long after last shower use? Even if water is being retained at these spots, shouldn’t a shower pan liner or other WRB be preventing water from seeping externally?

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05-27-2019, 08:38 PM
Hi Charles, welcome. Looks like to me that either the weep holes are clogged or there is penetrations in the liner somewhere. Is there any thing below the shower? Like a basement or is it on grade?

05-27-2019, 08:38 PM
Could be a number of things. Hard to say. The bad news is that it is below the tile surface and a substantial wicking type of leak. Could be poorly constructed pan liner, nails through pan liner, embedded fiber cement board (like Hardie) wicking up moisture.
Most ceramic tile showers don't leak at the drain but around the curb, pony wall or the pan perimeter. What you see is typical construction (in a negative way). Wait for some more feedback on here but the way this presents, you will probably be in for a complete do-over if you want leak-free (i.e. proper) construction.
The good news is that a properly constructed tile shower should be trouble-free for decades, not just years.

How old is this shower? Any issues like bad smell or mold growth (indicative of a saturated pan)?

Tool Guy - Kg
05-27-2019, 08:43 PM
Welcome to the forum, Charles! :wave:

Can you take another two photos? I'd like to see the bottom metal channel in photo #7. I'd specifically like to see what the bottom track looks like, so an increase of exposure would be helpful. Also, a close-up of where that track meets the right wall would be helpful. It may give a subtle clue.


05-27-2019, 09:16 PM
Shower is on the second floor of the house. Haven't detected any water leaks or moisture via thermal imaging immediately below (which is a kitchen / living area).

I believe the shower is from 2007 when the house was first constructed. We moved in April 2018. There's a slight swampy odor from the drain
itself (even though there's a visible water seal) and mold/mildew tends to form along all the bottom edges /corners of the shower (it appears
relatively clean in the photos but had a thorough Tilex treatment just a couple weeks ago).

Two additional photos of the metal channel of the glass panel as requested:


The edge along the metal channel where it joins the tile was re-caulked and re-grouted where the track meets the right wall in mid-2018 as there were gaps allowing water to escape through the glass panel and adjacent areas. As I look at the photo, there's some strange discoloration of some of the grout (reddish) between a couple vertical tiles.

Query whether the 2018 grouting failures along the vertical tiles adjacent to the glass panel were already a symptom of ongoing water intrusion issues at the time causing deformation.

One other potential clue - some of the bathroom tile floor grouting exterior to the shower curb is showing some discoloration / "salting" (for lack of a better word) appearing whitish and granular. Not detecting any moisture via infrared or to the touch, but some cause-effect may be going on here from underneath:

05-28-2019, 12:00 AM
Can you see any screws in the track that might possibly penetrate the curb tile?

05-28-2019, 07:55 AM
No apparent screws from track that would be penetrating the curb. Screws only located along vertical segments.

05-28-2019, 06:50 PM
Is there any plumbing in that wall above the bedroom casing discolor? An upstairs bath? Toilet? Either from above or shower has a leaking water barrier. Maybe that is near the leak or low spot? Either way what it looks like behind that tile is going to be ugly. And it will get worse as time goes by.
I wonder what % of showers in the USA are built correctly?

Tool Guy - Kg
05-28-2019, 07:58 PM
Hi, Charles.

Thanks for posting the pics in post #5. I've got a theory that's proved to be true on some showers in the past. If you can confirm with a couple more photos, I'll explain.

This picture...
If you can give me two more close ups, please? One horizontal photo and one vertical. I've highlighted what I'm looking for. And if you can really increase the exposure so that it's easy to disseminate those different metal extrusions that make up that assembly, it may be the difference between being able to help...or just speculate.

Oh, and one last question: Do those panels go up about 7' in height and are all tied together with some neo-angle extruded metal framing....or do they go all the way to the ceiling?

Thanks :)

05-28-2019, 08:47 PM
No plumbing or showers/toilets from the floor above.

Close-ups as requested:





Shower frame doesn't go up to the ceiling. I'd peg the height at 7.5-8 feet (ceilings are 10'). Shown here:


Tool Guy - Kg
05-29-2019, 12:31 AM
Thanks for the pics. :tup2:

Okay, let's talk shop and get all philosophical for a minute:

Water can get into the insides of those wall and curb-mounted shower tracks 3 different ways:
1) At the joints where one extruded "C" channel track meets its mating shower door metal frame if it isn't caulked (I'm not referring to where the track meets the tile, but where the two pieces of metal come together to form one)...
2) Under the joint where a simple form-fitting rubber molding retains the glass into a metal frame...and...
3) In through the weep holes that are meant to allow water out, not in.

Okay...water getting inside these shower tracks isn't bad. It's bound to happen. But you need a system of some sort to manage it. You need to give moisture a path to safely get out. That means that you need to install the shower door tracks in a certain order and properly caulk the proper gaps at the proper times while keeping the weep holes open. As with any waterproofing endevour, you want to make it easier for water to get-the-heck-out of a place it's not supposed to be in......than it is for it to get in there in the first place.

Based on what I see,
1) I percieve a problem that the vertical extrusion-to-extrusion joints are not caulked. Contacting this manufacturer would reveal a difinitive answer, but I think it needs caulk.
2) I think I see a form-fitting rubber piece that's retaining the glass panel. That's usually water resistant, but not waterproof. Under that is oftentimes a gap that allows moisture to pass through and into the bottom track on its safe path out. So, this is a prime area for moisture infiltration.
3) I also see at least a single weep hole that appears to be clogged or caulked or.....not sure...but it doesn't look open. That's preventing water from getting the heck out from inside the bottom track.
4) Based on seeing what appears to be at least some efflorescence, that there's a lack of 100% mortar coverage under those tiles. And where there isn't 100% mortar coverage, there was likely an installer that either took short cuts or didn't fully understand/appreciate the ramifications of not paying strict attention to detail. And where there isn't detail, there is typically waterproofing that is substandard in some regard. One very common location of waterproofing substandardness (might be a new word I invented) is in the corner where the curb meets the wall.
4) And, finally, notice how the caulk in that horizontal corner doesn't seem to run under the metal track. Therefore, I think the curb-to-wall caulk joint was caulked AFTER the shower door was installed. Not before. This wouldn't necessarily manifest itself as a problem if the shower was properly waterproofed, but we're estimating a deficiency in that department. And a lack of caulk might mean all the difference in leaking vs. not leaking in this particular shower.

Here goes my grand unified H2O theory (oh, it's getting deep in here, isn't it? :D )
So, with the corner joint not only not being waterproofed properly, but not caulked, either.....along with moisture getting into the tracks via the mating joints....and at least some weep holes appearing to be clogged, I think there is a shallow standing pool of water within/under the bottom track. It is wetting the corner grout joint....where capillary action takes it into the walls with no caulk or waterproofing layer to stop it.

I have diagnosed and corrected shower leaking problems like this before and the solution was to grab a bucket of patience, remove the shower door, painstakingly remove all the silicone (using a combination of a sharp scraper and mineral spirits and a non-scrating scrubby), clean the weep holes, caulk the curb-tile-to-wall-tile corner, re-install the shower door properly and caulk at the proper intervals along the way, then caulk all the proper joints on the INSIDE of the shower door. I have succeded in finding the source of leaks on existing shower other people have installed and where multiple others have failed to fix it. I'm not mentioning this to inflate my head. But to give weight to my solution as being plausible to your situation. I realize that my solution isn't easy or quick. And I may be missing something. So, while I think it's good advice, I advise you to consider it carefully before proceeding.

If you do proceed with removing the shower door, the first thing I'd be looking for during the shower door removal would be missing caulk in the curb-to-wall grout joint....(and perhaps missing grout almost anywhere near there). If I found that, I'd be thinking that I have found, well....not the smoking gun...but that I found one weakness that I could correct without having to remove any tiles and correct the problem well enough to move on with life. It wouldn't be fixed technically correct because the waterproofing layer would still be missing...but I think you're willing to settle for "Hey, it works without major surgery".


05-29-2019, 05:35 AM
Bubba makes some good points that should be checked before removing any tiles. Most showers I tear out seem to start leaking in the curb. Cement board nailed on the curb is a common problem along with the lack of glue on shower pan dam corners.

05-29-2019, 07:59 AM
Welcome, Charles. :)

I'm going to suggest either a leak in the plumbing to the shower head on that wall, or the lack of bonding mortar coverage on the back of the wall tiles, such as from spot-bonding or similar.

Neither would be as easy to repair as Bubba Goldstein's shower door frame theory, but nor do they take as long to describe, eh? :D And I don't believe Bubba's theory(ies) accounts for the moisture collected behind the bottom row of tiles or the weeping at the bottom of the wall on the opposite side from the shower door.

My opinion; worth price charged.

05-29-2019, 12:50 PM
This shower's been in use for 10 years now and only started showing symptoms in the past year with this acute issue over the past few months.

A repair was done mid last year as water was seeping through cracks in the curb grout and shower track caulking causing water to flow out onto the bathroom floor, which is when the caulk and grout repair was done. Bubba's theory about that repair potentially overzealously covering weep holes or other new conduits of moisture from the shower panel into an already compromised underlying system could certainly hold merit, but that wouldn't explain the weeping occurring in two opposite parts of the shower floor in areas that should be draining into the mud base and down the shower drain.

Could be that there are five or six things wrong with this shower, but the immediate issue is to at the very least solve (or band-aid over) whatever has very recently caused water to seep externally and wick up the closet doorframe.

05-30-2019, 07:34 AM
some caulk on a curb or a grout joint should never the point of failure and reliance against a soaked wall and rotten door frames. These should be simply aesthetic.

Are you considering removing the entire glass door/frame? Popping off tiles from the curb? Do you have any spare tiles or can you get more?

05-30-2019, 11:23 AM
Charles, that previous repair info should have been included in the initial post. However I don't think it matters. You need a new shower . I asked about plumbing in the wall. Surely water doesn't get to a shower head without plumbing.
A) I guess someone in your family takes super long showers.
B) maybe the shower head was changed and now leaks in the wall behind when it's on.
C) new shower. Get ready for 3-5 k$

05-30-2019, 01:35 PM
The 2018 re-caulking work was described in my second post.

Not sure I agree that it's a plumbing leak as I wasn't detecting any moisture directly behind the shower / shower head in the closet area. The only affected external area is the bottom of the closet doorframe and baseboard that abuts against the shower curb area as moisture wicks upward. My guess is that the failure is in the curb or where the curb meets the vertical portion. This is a second floor shower and the ceiling area directly below it is absolutely dry.

That said, long showers? yes. New shower? Likely yes. Agree that the system shouldn't rely on absolutely perfect grouting and caulking to not fail as the underlying flaws remain.

After non-use for six days, everything is finally dried out.

05-30-2019, 02:29 PM
No water floor below can be because there are no holes in subfloor in that area. It's dry on the outside but wood is rotting inside the wall.

05-30-2019, 02:40 PM
You can at least prove/disprove a plumbing leak by removing the shower head, and the hose from the wall elbow of the hand held, capping them, then turning the water on.

05-30-2019, 09:40 PM
Capping an a leak test is a good idea. But I'm still thinking there are problems with the waterproof drainage system.

So in the past water was going under the shower track? At several grout lines? Or Just the corner?

I still wonder what % of showers I the USA are leaking?

05-31-2019, 05:58 AM
I still wonder what % of showers I the USA are leaking?

17.41%. But that only includes the continental 48 states. I googled it. :)

05-31-2019, 08:12 AM
Sounds low to me, Jeff. :)

Anyway, how Google gonna know that? :scratch:

05-31-2019, 02:16 PM
I just made it up. Seemed appropriate for the way life is this day and age. I couldn’t resist letting my sarcastic side show through. :yeah:

Tool Guy - Kg
05-31-2019, 03:06 PM
Hi, Charles.

...Bubba's theory about that repair potentially overzealously covering weep holes or other new conduits of moisture from the shower panel into an already compromised underlying system could certainly hold merit, but that wouldn't explain the weeping occurring in two opposite parts of the shower floor in areas that should be draining into the mud base and down the shower drain.

Could be that there are five or six things wrong with this shower...

My theory was directed for the main leak getting into the wall. It wasn’t meant to address the other problems. They might be related. But I’m not assuming anything. Like you said, there could be multiple culprits.

For the wet grout joints: Water could be getting into the tile assembly via a pinhole in the grout somewhere above the wet grout. But I also see actual cracks in the floor grout joints an water may be going in....then slowly leeching back out after showers. Do you know any reasons for the cracks?

Something I meant to ask earlier, but forgot: What’s with the different tiles in the corners? It looks like a repair was done, judging on the color difference.


08-11-2019, 11:05 AM
Update: ripped out the shower floor and curb tile and had the shower rebuilt. Turns out the shower pan liner only covered about 3/4 of the shower floor and none of the curb whatsoever.

No clue how something like that passed inspection.

08-11-2019, 01:15 PM
Sad thing is that the guy who built this shower never heard about his failure so he is probably doing it the same way today.