WHERE IS THAT LEAK COMING FROM?

Water stains begin to appear on the walls around a shower or water starts to drip from the ceiling, below your upstairs bathroom. You want to find where the leak is coming from before it gets out of hand. You call a plumber and they want to cut open your walls to find the leak. You call a handyman who, with barely a look, tells you it’s the shower pan or bad grout. None of it feels right…and it might not be.

If there is a water leak from a shower there are 4 potential causes. Some of these you can test easily yourself and without causing unnecessary damage. Here we will describe each of these causes, how they are inspected and what to expect to repair them.

Shower leaking

Can the leak be coming from the shower pan? Unless you have a crack in a fiberglass or acrylic pan, probably not. I have often heard the shower pan declared as the cause of a leak but rarely seen this actually be the case. You will probably notice a crack in your pan before signs of a leak appear and will likely already be looking to replace it. Tile shower pans have a bladder under them that contains any moisture and directs it to the drain. If the shower pan was built correctly this is almost never the cause of the leak, even if the grout has eroded between the tiles.

If you want to check to be sure there isn’t a leak in your tile shower floor, follow these simple steps.

  1. Plug the drain and fill the pan with water.
  2. Allow the water to settle for a minute or two, so there is little movement.
  3. Place drops of food coloring in the water in 5-8 spread out locations.
  4. Observe to see if the food coloring moves toward a point other than the drain. [Plugging a shower drain isn’t a perfect process and some water may still be seeping down the drain.] If water is leaking through another part of the pan the water will pull the food coloring there with it. 

If you have a leaking pan, repairing the grout will not fix it. The shower pan will need to be replaced. The shower walls are built over part of the pan. You can expect this repair to have some impact on the shower walls as well. Whether they can be reinstalled, repaired or have to be replaced will depend on the materials. A contractor like Valley Remodeling can help you identify the best option for your situation.

ARE THE SHOWER WALLS LEAKING?

Could the water be leaking through the shower walls? No matter what condition your grout is in, it is unlikely that the walls are the cause of the leak. If water does get through the wall it runs down the opposite side of the wall and into the shower pan. The possibility of a wall leak will be more likely to occur from a crack in molded or flat surface shower walls than with tile. As with the pan you will likely see these cracks before signs of a leak appear. If the wall is damaged, replacing the walls is usually the best option. In some cases the shower floor can remain in place.

IS THE LEAK COMING FROM THE WATER SUPPLY?

The copper pipe and pex tubing that supplies the water to your shower valve and shower head have connections that can corrode or break over time. A leak from these supply lines can be identified through a visual inspection. This requires looking inside the wall and fortunately there is a way to see inside the wall, without cutting it open. The metal plate on the wall behind your shower handle is called an escutcheon. The escutcheon is covering and sealing a hole that is big enough for limited access.

If you are comfortable doing so and have the tools for this inspection you may be able to do it yourself. If not, a plumber or other professional will be able to inspect this for you. The process involves removing the handle and escutcheon and using an inspection camera to look into the space in the wall. The camera is used to inspect the pipe above and below the valve. It is possible to locate corrosion on the copper, and signs of leaks along the supply lines.

If a leak is detected it will be necessary to cut open the wall to make the repairs. In most cases a plumber can cut an opening in the wall from the opposite side, so the shower walls are not damaged. Through this opening the repairs can be made. It will be necessary to repair the drywall after the work is complete.

COULD THE DRAIN BE LEAKING?

water leak from pipes

If the drain or drain pipes are the possible source of the leak, these can be the hardest to inspect. If your shower is on the first floor, the drain is going under the foundation. If there is a leak in the drain pipe it will not show in the walls of the house. It is more likely to show through floor damage or a bad smell. This will require specialized equipment and expertise for slab leak detection and repair. This inspection will require a professional. The repairs can become extensive and may include repairs to the shower floor and walls, the foundation slab and the bathroom floors.

In some homes, especially older homes, supply lines also run under the foundation and can corrode and leak over time. This will require the same professional assistance and will appear in a similar fashion.

Fortunately, inspecting for drain leaks on a second floor shower is much easier and results in less extensive repairs. To inspect the drains on a second floor shower will require cutting an opening in the drywall on the ceiling below shower. From underneath you may see signs of the water’s path. Run the shower and watch for the water to drip through the leak. The drain can be repaired from below and the drywall repair will follow.

Conducting this inspection is simple. Some homeowners who have the necessary tools and are comfortable cutting drywall and observing the pipes while the shower runs may choose to do the inspection themselves.

Once the leak has been detected the repair process can begin. Once the leak is fixed you may only have to repair a couple of holes in the wall or you may have extensive repairs to your shower or bathroom. This is never planned. The inconvenience comes with stress and frustration. It can; however, be an opportunity to make improvements on your existing shower. Being able to make the most of a bad situation will lessen the stress by giving yourself some home beautification to look forward to. We want to help you turn things around. Contact us at Valley Remodeling to tell us about your leak and the repairs needed to restore your home. With our help you can turn this unplanned incident into a better shower.

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