Trained Eye

 
 
 

Leaking Shower

Question:

Good afternoon Ari.

I usually read your article in the Free Press and have come to appreciate your knowledge and insight into the various problems out there.

I have a question. This is becoming an issue of frustration. We moved from Regina into our present home in July 03. I have an en-suite shower stall that has recently developed a small leak. The problem is I can't tell where it’s coming from.

Here are the symptoms: The shower used to have a slight leak and during showering a small puddle, the size of toonie, would pool on the vinyl floor, at the bottom, on the outside of the stall. I fixed that problem by "re-caulking" the whole door, frame and slide track. Now during showering, a small trickle of water runs down from the showerhead pipe. Pulling away the metal retaining ring that surrounds the pipe, I find that the drywall is a bit moist, but not wet. The drywall directly below the pipe is also a bit moist along the length of the vinyl shower wall where it meets the dry wall.

What could be causing this? Is this a job for a professional plumber, or would re caulking solve the problem?

Thanks for you help.

Answer:

Small leaks from shower stalls with doors are common, and are sometimes due to poor design or more often deteriorated weatherstripping or caulking. You have likely located the source of the problem, in this case, and done the appropriate repair but it will not be permanent.

Silicone caulking is an excellent compound used for sealing plumbing fixtures like this, but has a limited lifespan in very wet areas, like your shower stall. Over time, it will deteriorate and pull away from the shower door and vinyl shower wall. It may even become covered with mildew or mould long before that occurs. In either case, it should be removed with a utility knife, and cleaned as well as possible before reinstallation. This will be a regular maintenance item and will prevent damage to the flooring outside the shower and the drywall behind the shower surround.

The water leaking down the shower supply piping has a completely different cause than the door leak, but may have similar damaging effects, if left unattended. The most likely cause of the leak and first place to check is the showerhead, itself. Many showerheads are inexpensive units that are made mostly of plastic. The plastic may develop small cracks that are difficult to see, but may leak enough water to cause the situation that you are experiencing. If the showerhead is a higher quality brass unit, this is much less likely.

Once in the shower, you should take a very close look at the showerhead while opening and closing the diverter, several times in a row. Watch and see if you can locate the source of the leak. It should originate from the open end of the showerhead, the ball-joint, or the threading at the pipe itself. If the water is leaking from any other location, then the showerhead is damaged and should be replaced. If the leak is from the ball-joint, where the showerhead swivels, the unit may also be beyond repair. If the leak is from the threaded section at the bottom or the open end, then repair may be possible.

If the drips are coming from the open end of the showerhead and dripping down the pipe there may be worn out seals or other parts inside. The unit can be removed and dismantled and the appropriate parts purchased at the local home centre, replaced and the showerhead reinstalled. Just as likely as the first scenario is a leak at the threaded section at the base of the showerhead. This joint should always have pipe compound or Teflon tape around the threads to seal the connection. If this is not present or is deteriorated, over time, the repair may be very simple. The showerhead should be removed and new Teflon tape installed around the threaded pipe before reinstallation. The showerhead must be tightly secured and the problem will go away.

You should be able to handle these simple repairs yourself, if you were able to do the caulking repairs. Most plumbing parts are inexpensive and the only tools required may be an appropriately sized wrench, to remove the showerhead, and screwdrivers to take it apart. This should be done before the drywall gets damaged beyond repair.

The real concern is the damp drywall behind the metal ring on the shower pipe. This ring is often left loose to allow inspection or replacement of the pipe that sticks though the drywall, which is normally threaded into a fitting just behind the wall. If this drywall is damp, it will start to absorb the moisture from the leak and will eventually fall apart. The other issue is the possible presence of mould as the drywall becomes wet. Visual inspection for mildew and mould or deteriorated drywall should be done, and removal of the damaged material may be required, if present. If the leak has only slightly dampened the drywall, it should dry out eventually, once the dripping is stopped. Pulling the metal ring away from the wall when the shower is not in use may help this area dry more quickly.

 

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