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Leak-Proof Showers

Tile shower installations are beautiful, but it’s important to use the proper installation techniques and materials to ensure water stays inside the shower where it belongs. Renovate Your World looks at the latest technologies for long-lasting success.
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There once was a time, about 50 years ago, when builders and homeowners steered clear of installing showers on the second or third story of homes for fear of water leaking to the floors below. Anyone who has dealt with dripping

The proper underlayments and waterproofing products help make this shower leak-free. Photo courtesy of Tile Redi.
The proper underlayments and waterproofing products help make this shower leak-free. Photo courtesy of Tile Redi.
water from a leaking shower and has seen firsthand the damage water can do to drywall, insulation and electrical components can understand why. Thankfully, there are new products and tried-and-true installation techniques that can help make your shower remodel beautiful—and leak-free.

Contrary to popular belief, tile and grout joints—including sealed grout joints—are not waterproof. Moisture can penetrate the grout joints in a shower floor and create a pond of water below the shower installation where mold and mildew breeds. In order to create a tiled shower that will last a lifetime, a waterproofing system is needed beneath the tile covering.

Tiled showers have always represented a challenge for installers. Typically, an installer creates a good drainage plane on the floor by building a mortar bed, sloped to weep holes in the sub-drain, prior to installing a waterproof pan liner. The pan liner is installed, seamed and carefully fitted to curbs and corners using a solvent-based bonding agent. Each of these steps must be completed and the weep holes protected from being clogged with mortar before the surface is ready to be covered in tile.

According to most city codes, shower membrane material must be tested before tile installation can begin. To perform this test, the homeowner or contractor plugs the drain and fills the shower base with water and lets it stand for 24 hours to make sure that there is no water leaking before the tile is installed. Unfortunately, some installers or homeowners don’t perform this test because it takes additional time.

“The biggest failure we see is that there is not pitch underneath the waterproof membrane,” says Scott Carothers, executive director of the Ceramic Tile Educational Foundation in Pendleton, S.C. He teaches professional tile installers the proper way to do shower installations. “If you have a weak spot between the basin joint and the wall, most likely the pan liner was not installed improperly, which would allow moisture to work its way through and into the ceiling downstairs.”

The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) Handbook for Ceramic Tile Installation and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) provide specifications and detailed guidelines for all basic tile installations. The TCNA handbook is a must-read for any installer or do-it-yourselfer that wants to do his or her own tile installations properly.

There are some new technologies that can make shower installations easier. Today’s professional installers often use shower kits and prefab shower bases to create a water-tight seal. Here’s a look at both.

A DIY Shower Kit
Prefabricated shower systems, like those commonly used in commercial applications, are a great way to get a leak-proof tiled shower. Schluter Systems,

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