Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What's Behind that Crooked Tile in the Shower?

When the Drywall is Anything But Dry

You've bought a new-to-you old house and some parts are just gross. Like the moldy caulk that is peeling in the kids' shower. You go to take a closer look and realize that some of the tiles look a little crooked, like a six-year-old about to lose his first tooth. Not worrying too much about it, you go back to what you came for--peeling off the offensive caulk so you can apply some fresh, beautiful white latex in its place. Except when you pull on that string of caulk, it comes off easily--too easily, in fact--but also, unexpectedly, so does the tile behind it. That's when you know you're in for some trouble.

A note of warning, some of these pictures are gross and disturbing, and I'm almost embarrassed to post them, except they were like this when we bought the house--I promise--so it's not my fault!

Ew, Gross! Time to Fix This

Moldy caulk, crooked tiles, ugly mismatched grout. Time to go!

Obviously, seeing this in the shower completely grossed me out. So I decided to take the time to pull out the dirty and ineffective caulk. Not only did I want to improve the look, but as you can see, the caulk had receded so far (see right side of photo), that I doubted it was very effective. Instead of trying to clean it, I decided to pull it out and replace it with a nice, clean, even line of fresh caulk.

Is there anything more beautiful than a bead of fresh caulk? (If it isn't gobbed on, that is.)

So I pulled out my trusty utility knife, grabbed a trash can to drop the old stuff in, and figured in half an hour, I'd be ready to caulk and be done in forty-five minutes or an hour. No problem, right?

Until the Tiles Fell Out on Me

Pulling on the string of caulk at the front of the shower/tub under the faucet, I was surprised by the clanging of tiles as they dropped into the porcelain tub. I had been concentrating so much on the caulk, I hadn't even realized the tiles were loose, and in one pull, I had three tiles on the floor of the tub.

You might be able to tell from the picture that the drywall behind the tile was sopping wet. As evidenced by the mold, it had been going on for a while, I had to guess.

Pulling Off the Rest of the Tiles

Knowing there was no way we would want to put the tiles back up on saturated drywall, I started removing the rest of the tiles that popped off with the slightest pressure from my fingertips. Basically, the only thing holding them on the wall was the grout between them.

There was so much water, it was probably that it wasn't a result of faulty caulk at the base of the tile, and I knew we needed to find the source of the problem. In fact, the drywall was so saturated, it was crumbling.

Drywall paper and the backs of the tile. Lovely mold, huh?

I continued to remove rows of tile from the bottom up with the intention of stopping when I came to a place where the wall was completely dry under the tile. That took more rows than I thought it would. In fact, I didn't end up stopping until I got to a place where someone had replaced the drywall before at some point. I could tell this because there were two pieces of drywall next to each other with no mesh or tape or connection of any type between the two pieces. That, actually, was probably a good thing because there was no way for the water to continuing bleeding up into the upper segment.

By the time I found dry drywall (that should be redundant, but it was not), I'd removed all these tiles.

 I saved and reused the tiles I could (after bleaching off the mold). The mold shows the water problem areas.

Then Comes the Hole in the Wall

Removing the saturated drywall was easy. I just ripped it down with my fingertips and got so involved with it, I forgot to take pictures while I was making my mess. But trust me, it was a total disaster.

So then this is what I ended up with: a big hole in the wall, but with nice straight edges.

This is also where my husband took over the project. He's the handyman; I do the finishing touches (like caulk). We could tell by the mold on the two-by-four wall stud and the green patina on the copper fitting that the problem had been ongoing, and the pipe joint must be the source of the problem.

I can't tell you all the technical details (though there are some to come), but my husband successfully replaced parts and got the leak stopped. We actually were stalled at this stage for quite a while because we were just going to replace the broken piece and put everything back in place.

After weeks of online research, visiting local plumbing and box-stores (even a small shop in a mobile home that sells vintage parts for trailer homes), and ordering a part or two online that didn't end up working, we realized there was no way to repair the 1974 fixture. How my husband wished he had kept all the pieces to the old faucet! If he'd just had one small part from the original, he would have been able to make new handles work, but he had tossed it all out thinking we'd just get new. (And that was when we realized that you ALWAYS need to hold on to the old parts until the job is complete. But anyway. . . )

And the New Plumbing

Not wanting to solder the pipes (something my husband has done many times before, but not in this house), he went with SharkBite couplings to connect old copper pipes with the new ones. As you see below, he used some 90-degree ones as well as straights.

Aren't the new pipes gorgeous? Since we already had the wall torn up and were replacing pipes, and because we had no choice but to replace the entire assembly, we decided to switch from the two-handle fixture to a Delta one-handed twist on/off

When we made that decision, we were aware there would be some tiles we would need to replace because of where the cuts were made, but since our shower was tiled in the plain white square tiles that every hardware store in the country sells for a few cents a pop, we figured we were good.

With the water now running where it was supposed to go, and not running where it wasn't supposed to, we were ready to close up the wall again. Of course, we did it with hardie backer board made to go in wet places and behind tile instead of drywall. The plumbing work was gorgeous and efficient, and now the project was handed back over to me.

Time to tile. Except we ran into a little trouble.

2016 tile on the left, 1974 tile on the right.

With {Some} New Tile

Yep. A size difference. Not much, but enough that I was worried it would be all too obvious when it came to lining up to the adjacent wall.

Luckily, we had cleaned and kept all of the tiles that were intact or could fit around the new plumbing, so we only had to come up with a few new tiles. I decided it wasn't worth retiling the entire shower--time, expense, or work. I'd line them up as close to straight as I could, centering the small tile so that with a little extra grout all the way around, maybe no one would notice.

New and old tile mixed together.

For the grout, I purchased a tube of premixed, non-sanded grout. Almost as easy as the caulk I was supposed to be using when I started the project.

It worked out okay, even if a forty-five minute project turned into a month. At least we had another working shower!


Not too bad--as long as you don't look too closely.