Shower failures are almost as numerous as the number of stars in the sky on a clear night. While this is an exaggeration, it seems that they occur all too often. The sad part is that there is no reason for them except that some tile placers (not qualified to be called tile installers) use their own tricks rather than time-proven ANSI standards and TCNA Handbook details to build a shower that should stand the test of time. This shower installation, which was only one year old, went against almost every standard and best practice in the book. The leak occurred in the same place as do many shower failures, the curb.

The tile placer did not install the sloped fill (as required by the plumbing code and the Handbook) under the shower pan membrane which kept the water from flowing to the weep holes in the drain which were filled with sealant and would not allow any water to drain. Photo #1 shows the finger of the tile installer tearing out this disaster in approximately one inch of water, indicating that the entire mortar bed was saturated. The shower pan membrane extended up over just one flat 2” x 4” and cut short of the top edge as seen in photo # 2 which also shows that no membrane outside corners were installed at the wall. This allowed the water to freely flow into the wall cavity causing the wood to deteriorate.

The tile placer then installed two unprotected 2” x 4” plates on top of the shower pan membrane, nailing them through the membrane. The two studs were completely saturated and covered in mold. At this point, cementitious backer board was placed on the entire curb nailing through the pan liner and the top two 2 x 4’s.

The removal of the entire shower pan and the walls up to the shower head revealed no blocking between the studs to support the membrane (required in both ANSI and the Handbook), mold on the back of the drywall on the three walls of the adjacent rooms had grown up between two and three feet high, and the floor under the shower pan membrane was also saturated with water. The removed 4” marble hex tile suffered from less than 50% mortar coverage which in a wet are should have been 95%. And finally, the wall tile was back-notched with little to no key-in to the backer board which was not fastened or taped per the manufacture’s recommendations.

As stated at the outset, this type of tile disaster occurs entirely too often only because unsuspecting consumers many times make their decision based solely on the lowest bid. These uneducated and unqualified tile placers need to go away, allowing the installation to be completed by quality-oriented tile professionals who will do so the right way the first time at a fair price.

Oh, by the way, this homeowner called one of these tile professionals to come in and touch up a couple of issues left behind by the tile placer. During the exploratory investigation, Certified Tile Installer #1116 and CTI Evaluator, Tom Cravillion, determined that a total tear out was required.

Many times, the lowest bid turns out to be the most expensive price in the end. Think about it.