Everyone loves a brand-new shiny shower. The problem is that from the very first use, the new and shiny starts disappearing and over time, the tired and grubby starts creeping in. Some of this is down to cleaning. Noone enjoys cleaning those shower screens but simply drying them down after use goes a long way towards reducing the hard water staining we all know and dislike.
However, we also need to bear in mind, that the structure of the shower, like many other areas in our homes, requires maintenance. Showers work hard and therefore need attention a bit more often than, say the external paintwork. All buildings move and this slight movement puts pressure on all joints – those where walls meet each other or the floor. This is concentrated in shower areas where there are lots of joins in a relatively small area. Even the smallest amount of differential movement will cause cracks in the area under stress.
Tiles and Grout
Almost all showers are finished with tiles – usually on the walls, and often on the floors too. In between the tiles is grout. The first thing to remember is grout is hard and therefore cracks. As soon as you have a crack, no matter how small, water WILL get through. This water can then sit in wall cavities, penetrate single skin walls or travel along the slab on the floor causing damp, mould and mildew on adjacent walls, blistered paint and damaged carpets. Unfortunately, even vigorous cleaning can create entry ways for water to get under the grout.
We recommend sealing grout and porous tiles every 2-3 years. There is no need to remove any tiles, or even the grout. If there are any damaged tiles or obvious gaps in the grout, these will need to be repaired first. It is then simply a matter of painting over the clean and dry tiles and grout with a waterproof sealer which will fill any of those tiny cracks and buy a bit more time before new ones start forming. The focus does need to be on the corner joints.
Caulking and Silicone
Caulking is more flexible and is often used to seal the area around fixtures such as taps. Movement joints are sometimes, not always, finished with a flexible silicone strip that allows for movement in the structure. These materials can still crack with age as it hardens and also require maintenance. Unfortunately these are common areas for mould spores to take up residence and start to grow. To repair movement joints, the grout or silicon is removed, the area is cleaned, dried and treated with an anti-mould treatment. Then a new silicon strip is installed or the grout reapplied.
Another area to look out for is the shower door tracks. If water is collecting in these, it could be working its way through tiny holes into the building materials below.
There are cases where water damage is caused by leaking pipes within the wall. This is in a minority of cases and usually needs to be fixed by the professionals. If in doubt or you want to reduce the risk of any further unknowns, then best practice is to get a licensed plumber to pressure test the pipes, before carrying out any other repair works. Any plumbing repair works will damage tiles and grout in the shower, so it is best to get this done first. If this is the source of the damage, repairing walls without stopping the leak will only make the problem reoccur.
Waterproof Membrane Fails
Beneath the surface of the tiles there is usually some kind of waterproofing membrane designed to catch/stop water penetrating to surrounding areas. There is a common misconception (possibly based on television shows) that the entire shower cubicle area is sealed. Australian Building Codes and Standards only require a waterproof barrier on the floors, the joint (corner) areas and 150mm up the walls. The rest of the walls up to a height of 1800mm is only required to be water resistant.
Unfortunately, these shower sealing membranes are also susceptible to building movement, poor installation and chemical breakdown with age. Once this membrane has been breached, water is free to move into surrounding areas and cause damage.
Keep it Dry
As silly as it sounds, water is the biggest problem in the shower and we all know that given half a chance it will get in anywhere. If you ensure your shower is as dry as it can be at the end of every use, you will go a long way to lengthening the life of the building materials in the shower. With this is mind, it is also important to allow sufficient drying time before and whilst performing your repairs, to ensure they are their most effective.