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As a kitchen and bath specialist, I meet with many homeowners looking to solve the problems created by a leaking tile shower. I’d like to address the most common tile shower failures and what solutions are available to solve them:
Water is the Enemy.
Every (yes, EVERY) tile shower has the same problem: tile and grout are porous.
A porous product in a wet area means that water and moisture will not stop passing through it. Ceramic, porcelain and natural stone tile are all porous to some degree, however, some types of tile allow more water than others. Not only does every tile shower have to deal with the issue of porous tile, but grout lines are even more porous. The larger the tile, the less grout lines you have (which helps) but they are still present. To give you an idea of grout line impact on a shower, let’s use a popular example of a 3’x5’x8’tall shower using 3”x6” subway tile on the walls. This shower will have approximately 528 linear feet of grout lines – not including the base! That’s a lot of area that water and moisture can penetrate and should be of utmost concern to every installer to ensure a quality product.
What Can Stop Water?
For a leak-proof shower, a waterproofing system must be installed prior to the tile. This is the most critical step for a tile shower and when this step is done incorrectly, failure will occur and the shower will leak. There are many products designed to waterproof the shower, the shower floor being the most critical.
Two Methods of Waterproofing:
The first method is a dry mud bed. This method has been used for decades and consists of a tile setter installing a metal pan or rubber liner and dumping mortar on top to create the base and slope needed to direct water to the drain. This method doesn’t address the fact that mud bed is also porous. Much of the surface water will be directed to the drain, but there will always be some water/moisture that passes through the mud bed until it reaches the pan or liner. When water reaches this point, it sits until it dries out. Depending on how often the shower is used, it may never dry out completely. This is where most showers fail. If there is even the slightest issue with the pan or liner: a small hole, the liner doesn’t extend up high enough, or if the drain is not sealed to the liner properly, the shower will leak. These leaks are typically small in nature and are not quickly discovered. This means that mold will begin to grow into rot and it could be years before it is revealed.The second method is the use of a waterproofing membrane system. Manufacturers like Schluter, Wedi, and Laticrete all offer solutions for waterproofing. These systems include waterproofing membranes, seam tape and backing materials. Any of these systems are far better than traditional methods because it stops water at its surface. Compared to the dry mud bed, the waterproofing system stops water from passing through the membrane completely and ensures that any water or moisture passing through the tile and grout is all directed to the drain.
The main failure points in these systems are a lack of training, blending of waterproofing methods, and partial use of a system. Since these systems are more costly than traditional methods, many tile setters choose to cut costs by not using them.
Tile showers are beautiful and functional. Installed correctly, a tile shower could (and should) last for decades. As with most things in life, quality products and professional installation matter in the long run. Building a tile shower the right way is not cheap – neither is redoing a failed shower due to poor installation.
Alternatives to Tile Showers
If not tile, what other options do I have for a shower?
The biggest complaint we hear from homeowners (besides leaks!) in regard to their tile showers is how difficult they are to clean and cracking grout lines. We have several options if a tile shower isn’t for you. At Ozark Kitchens & Baths, we offer custom acrylic and solid surface systems in addition to quartz and natural stone showers. Together, we can find an option that fits your style and needs.
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