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Unread 04-11-2022, 04:33 PM   #1
ashley6181
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Bad Install? What Next?

Hi! I used to do a lot of reading on these forums when we were planning a new build...plans changed, we ended up moving cross country and buying a house. I have a problem with our tiled shower, and hoping the folks here can help me get my thoughts in order so I know what to do next.

Our house was built in 2015, we purchased it in 2017 from the original owner. The tiled shower in the primary suite was installed when the home was built by the contractor (or his sub). We know that the original owner didn't really use this shower; she lived alone and preferred the other bathroom. At the time of purchase we had a home inspection completed. No signs of any problems at that time.

Fast forward to last night. My husband went down into the crawl space and yelled at me that it looked like we had a leak because there were puddles of water and some mold on the plastic sheeting lining the crawlspace.

After taking a look, it seems clear to me the leaking is coming from the shower. The joists and subfloor beneath the shower show clear signs of leaking. The joists seem intact, at least on the bottom. The subfloor is very spongy above the joists and still wet in places and will seep water when you poke it. The learning seems to be concentrated around the seams in the subfloor which are lined up on top of the joists. Drain seems to be draining correctly, no sign of plumbing leaks.

We have had issues with grout failure in the shower, which I initially wasn't super concerned about and planned to regrout and caulk where needed. However, I recently noticed a couple of tiles appeared to be bulging on the inside of the curb. After discovering the leaking, I went into the shower and was able to easily pop those tiles off the curb. Whatever was behind the tiles (backer board?) seems to have almost disintegrated or melted along the floor. It was very wet, although the shower hadn't been used since Saturday morning. Some of the leakage evidence on the subfloor relates to the area of these loose tiles. I haven't seen anything that looks like a membrane on the curb yet, but haven't really poked around too much. Possibly some tar paper but I need to take a better look.

My thought is that the shower probably wasn't waterproofed correctly, but I'm not a pro so I want to see if this does seem to be the correct conclusion or if there are other possible explanations. We haven't done anything to the shower. From a few calls, what I'm hearing is there's no way to know if the shower was installed correctly until someone rips it out. Which I understand, truly. But, if it was a defective installation, we still have some legal remedies available to us if we needed to go down that road. So I don't want to start ripping things out without following the proper protocols for potential legal recourse. I don't see any possible way to fix the situation without ripping out the shower and at minimum replacing the subfloor, although who knows what the walls and joists may look like once the can of worms is opened.

I know this is a long post, but I'm hoping to maybe get some opinions on whether a bad shower/tile install looks like the likely cause for this problem, or I need to be looking at other possible explanations. That would help me know where to head to next and what pros to bring in. Of course, finding pros is hard right now so having a good game plan is essential. Thanks so much for any advice! Happy to post more pictures and answer questions.

Pictures: 1- shows area around drain which seems OK (drain is in center of shower), evidence of leaking on joist to the right.
2-the screw coming through the subfloor are where the curb is located. Leaking on joist to the right (under shower, to the left of the drain)
3- Leaking on left side of shower, about in the middle.
4-Leaking under/around curb roughly relating to area of bulging tiles. Water visible in sub floor seam.
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Unread 04-11-2022, 04:38 PM   #2
ashley6181
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Picture of curb

One more picture- what it looked like behind the loose tile on the curb I popped off.
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Unread 04-11-2022, 04:57 PM   #3
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That last photo is difficult to tell what it is we're looking at.

It sounds like the shower is a leaker and probably has been since it was first built. If you have some legal recourse then you may want to pay a forensic tile consultant to come out and document what they see and write something up.

This happens more than you would think.
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Unread 04-11-2022, 05:43 PM   #4
ashley6181
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Thanks, James. The last photo is the shower curb, inside face, with the tile popped off. Whatever was behind the tile (some kind of backer board) has basically disintegrated along the floor (the wavy white edge).

Appreciate your advice. I've called around for a few expert witnesses and am waiting to hear from them on availability.
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Unread 04-11-2022, 06:27 PM   #5
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Is that just wood behind where you took off the tile on the curb?

A big misconception is that tile and grout make a shower waterproof...this is NOT the case. A shower shouldn't leak prior to the installation of the tile. The tile is just a decorative, wear surface. Also note, cement board isn't waterproof, either, but it should not be damaged by being wetted.

There are numerous ways defined in the industry tile bible (the TCNA handbook, updated annually) that will produce a long-lasting, leak proof shower. They aren't hard, but are VERY detail oriented. Miss one detail, and things can go south, sometimes, quickly.

If there's a home warranty, looks like you may be needing it. If a home inspection was done, that may offer some help if they had insurance, if nothing else, you may be able to get your money back for that (un)service.

It sounds like the ultimate end solution will be a full tear-out and rebuild.

Do some research to see what the industry standard ways to make a reliable shower are so you can recognize them, and choose a contractor that doesn't try to pull the wool over your eyes. There's more than one way to make a quality shower, but some people literally don't know one of them.
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Unread 04-12-2022, 09:23 AM   #6
ashley6181
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Hi Jim:

I'm not sure what that is behind the tile, other than to say it's some kind of board. It's not regular drywall, but it's not concrete board either. No evidence of any kind of membrane. I suspect this board is on top of some wood used to build the curb.
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Unread 04-12-2022, 10:16 AM   #7
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Welcome, Ashley.

Can you back up and give us a photo with some perspective on that one of your curb? I can't tell what the apparent hole might be that appears to be on top of the curb.

And the backing material on the inside of the curb sure looks to me like gypsum drywall that's been wet for an extended period. How are you certain that it's not?

With what appears to be a complete lack of waterproofing for the shower receptor, I'm surprised that shower lasted as long as it did. I would expect that one to leak even if never used!

My opinion; worth price charged.
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Unread 04-12-2022, 11:30 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by James
you may want to pay a forensic tile consultant to come out and document what they see and write something up.
While I don't necessarily disagree with Jim, be warned, one trip from a consultant might be half of what a replacement would cost, roughly speaking. Consultants charge upwards of $300 an hour these days. As far as I know the tile setters altho busy in Montana, are making similar to what they are in Florida (not much) so wouldn't be all too profitable. It sounds like the shower's been done for a while so you might want to just find someone who can properly replace the shower, which is what it looks like needs to be done, to me anyway. And, the consultants here are top notch and free.
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Unread 04-12-2022, 12:11 PM   #9
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To have a professional consultant come out and write up a report can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000. Once all that is done you still have to find someone to collect from. If they don't give up willingly your cost to resolve it doubles at a minimum from there with attorneys.
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Unread 04-12-2022, 06:20 PM   #10
ashley6181
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Thanks CX, Jerry, and Dave. Full disclosure, I'm a lawyer myself, although I don't practice in construction defects. So, while my mind naturally considers legal options, I'm also attuned to the fact that just because you could sue somebody, that doesn't mean it's always going to be worth it or make sense big picture.

The contractor assured me the shower was properly waterproofed, had a membrane, was built up layer by layer, and was put in by "one of the best" tile setters. He offered to come take a look but disclaimed any responsibility. He suggested it was likely a plumbing issue and the water was traveling.

I'm not sure legal options are worth my time, but I'm a curious person by nature and like understanding the hows and whys of things, so I still would like to understand the specifics of how this went bad.

I went ahead and popped some more tiles off, since the shower is dead to me at this point anyway, to take a look at construction in an area that was easier to access and less deteriorated. I think there may actually be a membrane that ran just to just under the top edge of the curb, but did not extend over the top. It looks like it may run under the tile which is why I was thinking it could be a membrane, although I originally discounted it as the backer material of the fiber board. The curb construction is like this- from the inside of the shower, it goes tile, thinset, some type of fiber board looking material, possibly the membrane, drywall (or something like it). The top of the curb is tile, thinset, drywall. Inside the drywall is wood.

Took a few more pictures to try to show the situation. My suspicion is that even if that is a membrane on the side of the curb, water was entering from the top of the curb, soaking into the drywall and wood behind the membrane, and into the floor from there. Does that sound plausible? Does that look like a membrane? It's sort of light green, feels a bit like dried latex paint ...kind of flexible but brittle at the same time. Could it be Green Barrier, maybe?

Really, really appreciate everyone's input. I like to learn things, even though these are not necessarily the circumstances I'd like to learn them in.
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Unread 04-12-2022, 07:09 PM   #11
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Quote:
"one of the best"
his is far from that. Screws in the curb is a no-no.
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Unread 04-12-2022, 08:46 PM   #12
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Ashley, there are two basic methods of waterproofing a tile shower receptor. One is with a pre-sloped floor, then a thick (40mils or so) PVC or CPE membrane, then another thick mortar bed on top of that, to which the tiles are bonded. With that method, you must use metal lath and a different mortar over the curb with no mechanical fasteners penetrating the waterproof liner.

The other method uses a sloped mortar bed, then a direct bonded waterproofing membrane covering that sloped floor and the curb and the walls and the tiles are bonded directly to the waterproof membrane.

I cannot identify for sure what you've got. It might appear that you have the direct bonded membrane type, but I've never seen such a membrane disintegrate like what we see in your photos, and certainly not in five years and even more certainly not in a shower little used in some of those years.

More demolition and more research is going to be necessary. And if you intend to pursue any legal action (perhaps DIY action?), you'll want lots and lots of photos. Finding a local tile guy, preferably an old guy who is likely to be familiar with both receptor construction methods, would certainly help identify some products and would be less expensive than a forensic expert.

You can easily eliminate your contractor's contention that it's a plumbing problem by removing the shower head, replacing it with a 1/2" iron pipe cap, turning the shower on, and leaving it that way for a day to see if any moisture appears anywhere in the area. If not, plumbing is not your issue, but I think everyone other than your contractor recognizes that.

My opinion; worth price charged.
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Unread 04-12-2022, 09:35 PM   #13
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Nothing, literally nothing, is correct about this shower curb. I'm not a pro, just a DIY'er and I can tell you from that perspective, on top of what pros are weighing in on, this is not even close to a proper shower, in any way.

What you identify as a "possible" membrane is not a membrane, Waterproof membranes do not disintegrate; they are waterproof - meaning, water does not penetrate said membrane, let alone, deteriorate it.

Whomever built this shower has no idea how to build a shower and should not be building showers. Your tiles swelled and you were able to pop them off because the wood in the curb swelled from water.
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Unread 04-21-2022, 05:21 PM   #14
ashley6181
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Shower Niche on Outside Wall?

Hi all! Our bathroom is mostly gutted now, and it was truly amazing how wet and also rotten the subfloor was under the shower. Anyway, onwards, and we're planning the new shower. The prior shower had a corner shelf and a corner bench, which I didn't love. I'd like to incorporate a niche or two in the new design. The issue is the shower is located on an outside wall. It's a rectangle and one long wall (the natural spot for the niche) is an outside wall, the other long wall is the glass /door, one short wall is an outside wall, and the other short wall has the valve and plumbing.

From reading it looks like placing a niche on an outside wall is generally discouraged due to potential condensation and loss of insulation. But, other sources seem to indicate that on a 2x6 framed wall (which we have), using a pre-formed foam niche and placing additional foam board insulation directly behind the niche can make it workable. The current insulation is batts and we do live in a cold climate (NW Montana).

What do you think? After ripping out my entire bathroom I'm not eager to have any condensation issues in the future!
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Unread 04-21-2022, 06:03 PM   #15
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Ashley, it'll help if you'll keep all your project questions on one thread so folks can see what you're working on and what's been previously asked and answered. A moderator can give it a more generic title any time you'd like to suggest one.

In your part of the world, even with 2x6 wall framing, I'd avoid putting a shower niche on the exterior wall. Could you do that? Sure. Is it a good idea? I don't think so.

If you do elect to do that, I would recommend you at least fill the gap behind the niche (you do plan to have a gap?) with a foam insulation for maximum protection. Even at that, you should plan to enjoy cold shampoo in the winter up there. Y'all are only a few miles south of the Arctic Circle, right?

My opinion; worth price charged.
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