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Inspecting tile tub/shower walls


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Do you have any tips or tricks for detecting damage in walls behind tiles?

The reason I ask is that I have seen rotted out wall assemblies from tiles leaking at windows but the tiles otherwise appeared to be adhering satisfactory on the field of the wall.

If you see tiles lipping or out of plane for example at the fixture end of the tub but they are otherwise regrouted satisfactory and appear to have good adherance is it logical to conclude that the wall substrate is damaged?

Where is the line between speculation and fact based on a visual inspection of tile wall deformities where otherwise the grouting and adhereance appears satisfactory?

Chris, Oregon

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Still though, the visual, tapping and flashlight methods fall way short of definitive. I know a guy in another state who got sued because there was a lot of muck behind an otherwise ordinary-looking wall in a bathroom. I'm a "knuckle rapper" myself, but often wind up telling clients "there may be water damage within the underlying substrate," to protect myself. Wimpy and mumbo-jumboish, I know. But I do it.

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Hi Bain, you could say that about the entire home inspection process. Very little is definitive. We can't see through stuff and we don't tear stuff apart.

We inspect HVAC, but the control board, compressor or fan could die the moment we leave.

There is likely no insulation in any of the walls of half the homes I inspect in Buffalo, and there may be the beginnings of muck behind any of them.

There may be a loose electrical connection somewhere that begins arcing and starts a fire the moment I leave - even though I check voltage drop wherever I can.

The corner of a house could drop because a loose underground drainage line finally took away enough soil so the house could no longer be supported.

...

This list is very long. Setting expectations is important. I avoid as much of the "mumbo-jumboish" language as I can in my report by indicating general limitations (and referencing the ASHI SoP, which are the law in NY.)

Originally posted by Bain

Still though, the visual, tapping and flashlight methods fall way short of definitive. I know a guy in another state who got sued because there was a lot of muck behind an otherwise ordinary-looking wall in a bathroom. I'm a "knuckle rapper" myself, but often wind up telling clients "there may be water damage within the underlying substrate," to protect myself. Wimpy and mumbo-jumboish, I know. But I do it.

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I've found the moisture meter to be even less definitive than tapping. Many tile glazes are pigmented with iron oxide and I've found that pigment causes false high moisture readings. I always start at a known dry area to get a baseline and then move into the suspected wet areas. Wire lath renders even this method usless because the meter is pegged even over the dry areas.

Fresh caulk and fresh grout make me nervous.

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I've done it. But I still can't see - in someone else's installation - if the right materials were used beneath the tile - e.g., drywall v. greenboard, proper moisture barrier, insulation of outside walls, or framing quality. I can only wonder what someone else did.

Originally posted by kurt

I suggest everyone that hasn't already done so, install a new tile surround in your own home.

All the stuff you're wondering will be answered w/practical experience.

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Originally posted by ozofprev

I've done it. But I still can't see - in someone else's installation - if the right materials were used beneath the tile - e.g., drywall v. greenboard, proper moisture barrier, insulation of outside walls, or framing quality. I can only wonder what someone else did.

Greenboard? Is that crap still being used as a shower substrate?

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Not in new stuff, thank God, but it's only been gone about 3 years, so I still see it in fairly recent renovations.[:-crazy]

New stuff is mostly cementboard with some Denshield (sp?) At least, it's supposed to be. My point is I can't see through the tile to confirm that this is the case...

Originally posted by Jerry Simon

Greenboard? Is that crap still being used as a shower substrate?

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I'll tap on the walls, paying special attention to the lower courses, using the end of my Surefire flaslight, but more usually my knuckles or the meaty part of my hand (making a fist).

If I don't hear anything funny and the grout is ok, I don't say a thing.

I have in my contract, (like I know all of you do) the "latent and concealed" defects clause. Damage behind a perfectly good looking tile surround is most definitely latent and concealed.

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Kurt's idea is a good one. I gutted and renovated a bathroom in my house last summer, and didn't caulk between the tiles and the tub 'cause I wanted the tub to be glazed first. Maybe five showers were taken in the uncaulked tub. What's the big deal, right, a little water seeping through an 1/8" gap? But I was in my basement one day, and saw anhydrous salts worming their way down a wall beneath the tub. I pulled back the insulation, which was damp and smelly, and saw that mold was already growing on the insulation and rim joist.

I'm talking five showers. What if a family of four had been taking daily showers and there was a gap someplace between the tiles? It wouldn't take long to create a whole lot of damage.

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I'll play heretic.....

I've seen greenboard work fine for 20+ years; if it's installed nicely & the caulk is maintained, it works OK for about as long as most folks seem to want to keep their bathrooms nowadays.

Personally, I'd never use it, but I've seen it work fine.

Windows? They're always a problem. No one will detail them. No one seems to know how.

If there's a window w/a sill, it should be well above the splash level for the showerhead. Anything less, and you know it's leaking.

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What's the big deal, right, a little water seeping through an 1/8" gap? But I was in my basement one day, and saw anhydrous salts worming their way down a wall beneath the tub. I pulled back the insulation, which was damp and smelly, and saw that mold was already growing on the insulation and rim joist.

How'd you get the water to defy gravity and go up over the tile lip on the tub?

I hate caulking the tub to tile juncture. It keeps the water in the wall.

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Our guest bath..No caulk, No leaks.

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Do you have any tips or tricks for detecting damage in walls behind tiles?
If you see tiles lipping or out of plane for example at the fixture end of the tub but they are otherwise regrouted satisfactory and appear to have good adherance is it logical to conclude that the wall substrate is damaged?

I just open the access panel and have a look (where possible).

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Chad,

I'm just laughing because toilet space was a topic here or at ASHI recently - don't remember which. I said then, I believe it's a feature for the reason you mention. BTW, what's it look like this emoticon is doing?[:-nonono]

Originally posted by Chad Fabry

It's the guest bath...36 inch wide stall. We don't have fat guests.

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