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Unread 08-21-2016, 02:32 AM   #1
jpspo
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Contractor says moisture barrier was not installed or needed for tiled tub surround?

A contractor removed the existing (approx 1980-90 era) tile/sheetrock over a tub so we could install new subway tile. (1 exterior wall, 2 interior walls above the tub)

After he placed the 1/2" hardiboard and had started attaching the tile, I noticed he is not using any surface treatment such as Redguard and asked about a moisture barrier and he said he didn't install one.

When I asked why, he mentioned it is neither required by local code nor necessary in his experience because the combination of Hardiboard, thinset, tile, and grout would do the job.

He is correct that our local residential building code (which does for example require cementitious backer) does not require any kind of moisture barrier (I called the city inspector to confirm).

It appears that on this site (and, well, every other site I've seen) there is universal agreement that a moisture barrier is accepted practice (and required by code in California, for example).

So my questions are (a) how serious is the absence of a moisture barrier, and (b) what if anything can or should be done at this point in the install (not yet grouted or caulked)?

Thanks,
JP

PS #1 The contractor points out, correctly, that all three of the removed walls we demo'd were tile affixed to ordinary sheetrock and were in solid condition, no evident mold or water damage. We of course have no way of knowing how much that shower got used prior to my buying the home.

PS #2 I was planning to use Quartzlock2 for the grout.
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Unread 08-21-2016, 09:51 AM   #2
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If it's simply a tub, you might get away with it. If you have a showerhead, you should either have plastic or tar paper stapled to the studs or a surface membrane (Kerdi, Hydroban, Redguard, etc) over the Hardi.
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Unread 08-21-2016, 11:19 AM   #3
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The backerboard, tile, and grout manufacturers all agree about the need for a moisture barrier when their instructions say to install their products according to the latest TCNA guidelines.

Your local code may or may not require a moisture containment system, but I'd bet it does.

Either way in court a judge will ask what are the industry standards, which is to include a moisture barrier.
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Unread 08-21-2016, 11:38 AM   #4
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I forgot to mention yes there is a shower head.
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Unread 08-21-2016, 12:03 PM   #5
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Then I think you already know the answer. It's not right. It will fail. Is it worth a few hundred dollars to put that possibility into play?
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Unread 08-21-2016, 03:39 PM   #6
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Hi JP , welcome. It's fairly cheap insurance to add a moisture barrier behind your tiles. Over the years, we have seen tub/showers last 30 plus years even when installed incorrectly. But we have also seen them last 6 months.
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Unread 08-21-2016, 05:02 PM   #7
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Welcome to the forum, JP.

While it is most certainly industry standards to put up plastic or tarpaper behind cement board (in wet area wall tile assemblies lacking some form of surface waterproofing), the absence of this material does not guarantee failure. Like Davy said, most of us contractors have seen cases like this last a mere 6 months....while others have lasted many decades. It's a matter of physics. And it's very difficult to quantify and calculate all the stuff that's going on. So it's tough to say how long it'll last. Telling you that you need a barrier is just the safe bet. But is it mandatory?

Let's get simple. When you talk about waterproofing or damp proofing, the idea is to make it as difficult as possible for moisture to get into areas you don't want it, yet super easy for it to get out. Besides the physical configuration of the materials used in the tile assembly, the atmospheric conditions on both sides of the shower walls plays a huge role in possible moisture damage here. The "moisture drive" of warm, moist air and vapor is to the cooler, drier side. So, a damp shower area will drive moisture to the cooler drier sides of the bathroom...into the walls, into the adjoining bedrooms, etc. Now, if the gas vapor or liquid moisture drives into a wall cavity (and condenses in the case of vapor) and doesn't escape (via evaporation) at a rate at least equal to what's entering, then you've got trouble. That means moisture is building up. Sooner or later, there will be moisture damage to materials that deteriorate in the presence of moisture. The idea with a plastic barrier is to make it very difficult for moisture to pass; and also to physically keep the wooden studs dry. Absence of the barrier doesn't guarantee failure, but it sure stacks the deal in your favor for eliminating damage in the first place.

So, what should you do?

Most of us on the forum want you to keep pressing on. But it's tough when you don't have local codes to back you up. I'd call your inspector back. Now, remember that codes are minimum standards. They aren't best practices, but could be called "a dead minimum". Call that inspector back and ask, "Hey, I heard from y'all that a moisture barrier isn't required behind the tiled tub wall substrate. But isn't a moisture barrier required on the inside face of the studs of ALL my exterior walls? So, wouldn't it be required that, at minimum, that the one exterior (probably the 5' long wall) tub wall have plastic or tarpaper between the studs and tiling substrate?" And he/she is very likely to answer, "yep". (Most colder climates will require this barrier to keep the moisture drive from sending moisture into the insulated walls where it can condense and cause damage.) If so, it's a point of contention you can take up with the contractor. Getting a copy of the code that says that, if it's indeed a code, is usually very simple. The inspector will give you a code reference number. And they'll likely either give you a copy of that code page or tell you how you can go online to retrieve it yourself. And printed codes are powerful tools when discussing an issue like this.

If you wanna go the route of taking a chance, I'd encourage you to tell us more about your exact materials (they'll give us an idea of how porous or impervious they are). The ensuing discussion may bring some peace to your decision, or tangle up your guts that you're taking a bigger chance than you should. At any rate, if you decide to let this slide and take a chance, I'd get a signed sheet of paper from the installer stating that: "While local codes do not require a moisture barrier to be installed on the studs of the tiled tub surround that he's installed, industry standards do. And absence the moisture barrier that the installer doesn't feel is necessary, that he will extend the warranty specifically for moisture damage due to a lack of a moisture barrier for a period of 10 years".

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Unread 08-21-2016, 05:08 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bubba
While it is most certainly industry standards to put up plastic or tarpaper behind cement board (in wet area wall tile assemblies lacking some form of surface waterproofing), the absence of this material does not guarantee failure. Like Davy said, most of us contractors have seen cases like this last a mere 6 months....while others have lasted many decades. It's a matter of physics. And it's very difficult to quantify and calculate all the stuff that's going on. So it's tough to say how long it'll last. Telling you that you need a barrier is just the safe bet. But is it mandatory?

Let's get simple. When you talk about waterproofing or damp proofing, the idea is to make it as difficult as possible for moisture to get into areas you don't want it, yet super easy for it to get out. Besides the physical configuration of the materials used in the tile assembly, the atmospheric conditions on both sides of the shower walls plays a huge role in possible moisture damage here. The "moisture drive" of warm, moist air and vapor is to the cooler, drier side. So, a damp shower area will drive moisture to the cooler drier sides of the bathroom...into the walls, into the adjoining bedrooms, etc. Now, if the gas vapor or liquid moisture drives into a wall cavity (and condenses in the case of vapor) and doesn't escape (via evaporation) at a rate at least equal to what's entering, then you've got trouble. That means moisture is building up. Sooner or later, there will be moisture damage to materials that deteriorate in the presence of moisture. The idea with a plastic barrier is to make it very difficult for moisture to pass; and also to physically keep the wooden studs dry. Absence of the barrier doesn't guarantee failure, but it sure stacks the deal in your favor for eliminating damage in the first place.

So, what should you do?

Most of us on the forum want you to keep pressing on. But it's tough when you don't have local codes to back you up. I'd call your inspector back. Now, remember that codes are minimum standards. They aren't best practices, but could be called "a dead minimum". Call that inspector back and ask, "Hey, I heard from y'all that a moisture barrier isn't required behind the tiled tub wall substrate. But isn't a moisture barrier required on the inside face of the studs of ALL my exterior walls? So, wouldn't it be required that, at minimum, that the one exterior (probably the 5' long wall) tub wall have plastic or tarpaper between the studs and tiling substrate?" And he/she is very likely to answer, "yep". (Most colder climates will require this barrier to keep the moisture drive from sending moisture into the insulated walls where it can condense and cause damage.) If so, it's a point of contention you can take up with the contractor. Getting a copy of the code that says that, if it's indeed a code, is usually very simple. The inspector will give you a code reference number. And they'll likely either give you a copy of that code page or tell you how you can go online to retrieve it yourself. And printed codes are powerful tools when discussing an issue like this.

If you wanna go the route of taking a chance, I'd encourage you to tell us more about your exact materials (they'll give us an idea of how porous or impervious they are). The ensuing discussion may bring some peace to your decision, or tangle up your guts that you're taking a bigger chance than you should. At any rate, if you decide to let this slide and take a chance, I'd get a signed sheet of paper from the installer stating that: "While local codes do not require a moisture barrier to be installed on the studs of the tiled tub surround that he's installed, industry standards do. And absence the moisture barrier that the installer doesn't feel is necessary, that he will extend the warranty specifically for moisture damage due to a lack of a moisture barrier for a period of 10 years".
In other words, yes you need a moisture barrier.
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Unread 08-21-2016, 05:10 PM   #9
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So I get a little wordy sometimes.
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Unread 08-22-2016, 01:38 AM   #10
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What an awesome crew of folks on this forum! (Too bad my contractor doesn't read it.)

Contractor is a neighbor who has shown me some very nice looking finished tile work he's done including an amazing walk-in shower with thousands of pcs of tile, large enough for a football team, in a rather large home. And in terms of tile placement for the 85% done so far on my shower he's done what looks like a nice job, nice level straight and symmetrical around the corners.

But it was a bone-headed assumption on my part that pretty pictures of completed work translated to knowing/caring how to build it right from the studs out.

Fortunately this shower stall job on this tiny bathroom was a first "interview" before I hired him to do considerably more work. So I now know with certainty to look elsewhere for the floor, the second bathroom (twice as large), and the kitchen (four times as large), e.g., to find someone more in tune to best practices. Ditto the roof job we've been discussing since I gotta have a guy who reads the manual (eg, step 4 on the Hardibacker official instructions that clearly says to TAPE joints. Sigh.)

Back on topic though... what to do about the tub surround...

My goal at this point is to mitigate (to the extent possible) any shortcomings of the existing construction (rather than tear out now), and if there is premature failure tear it out and redo then.

Mitigation Idea #1: is it worth considering on the OTHER side of all three walls to install 4"x10" cold air return vents between the studs that allow air from adjacent rooms to enter the wall cavity if that might mitigate moisture retention/buildup? Maybe one low in each cavity and one high in each cavity, to encourage circulation? (There is no cosmetic issue as the other side of all 3 walls is heated but not living space, like a linen closet.)

Mitigation Idea #2: have him paint a waterproof membrane on the inside of the shampoo niches, and as good as possible hit the edges, although as you can see from the photos the tile outside the niche is already set right up to the edge.

Mitigation Idea #3: Have a new 'real' tile pro do the grouting (when the new guy does the floor) using Quartzlock 2 Pro, which might give better waterproofing, and with luck a smidge of flexibility?

Any/all feedback on these three ideas is appreciated, as well as any other suggestions.

Here's what I observed about the work he did:
  • This tub has 1" tabs around edge (eg not self rimming tub)
  • No moisture barrier against studs
  • 1/2 inch Hardibacker screwed to studs using those special hardi screws
  • Hardibacker suspended about 1/4" above tub, with the 1" tabs on the tub sticking up behind it (eg, he did not make the mistake of resting the HB onto the tub, and the tabs are behind the HB so there is a drainage channel)
  • The two walls at the ends of the tub are each a single-piece of HB.
  • The middle wall is two sections, eg one horizontal seam a few feet above the tub.
  • All seams (vertical corners plus the horizontal seam in long wall filled with what looks like mortar but NO TAPE
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Unread 08-22-2016, 01:50 AM   #11
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Your choice to mitigate.

But the new info that seams of Hardibacker haven't been taped is a deal breaker for me. Hardibacker's warranty is voided. I wouldn't move forward with it. I'd insist on money back and all work removed.

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Unread 08-22-2016, 02:13 AM   #12
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Does that taping requirement apply to corners vis a vis the hardibacker warranty? (I have pictures of untaped corners; don't have pictures of the untaped horizontal seam along the 5' wall whcih is now covered in thinset and tile)
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Unread 08-22-2016, 05:16 AM   #13
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Whats gonna keep the water out of the wall cavity in the niche you have pictured there? Because him sloping the tile towards the tub won't do it. It's a tear out to do it right....Get your hands on a TCNA handbook it's all right there for both of you to view. You'll be doing the next person (hopefully) a great service as well. He, as the "pro" should already know these things. Not your place to compromise with his deficiency's
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Unread 08-22-2016, 06:20 AM   #14
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After seeing the niche picture - this is a complete re-do.
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Unread 08-22-2016, 07:04 AM   #15
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Your shower construction went from sketchy to completely wrong. Those niches will leak water like crazy. While code may not require a moisture barrier those niches absolutely have to be completely waterproof.

Additionally the lack of seam tape is another big problem. You can go to Hardibacker's site and view the installation instructions. Also the FAQ talks about mesh tape.
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