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A quick and dirty bathroom water damage repair

Living with a poorly designed bathroom can be frustrating and annoying. But a poorly built bathroom can cause a whole other set of problems. We learned to live with our small cramped main bathroom knowing that we would someday replace it with a larger one. However, before that day would come, I would have to address some water damage. This fix was neither pretty nor permanent, but it was the easiest, most affordable solution.

The previous owner of our house turned a 10×12 bedroom into a main bathroom and an ensuite bathroom.  A wall was removed and the space the original bathroom once occupied became part of the master bedroom.  The new main bathroom was small but functional.  Unfortunately, it was also a prime example of how not to renovate a bathroom.

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A can of worms

I was cleaning the grout around the tub and preparing to replace the caulk when I noticed a loose tile.  It did not take much persuasion to remove the tile and reveal the mess that was behind it. 

The wall behind the tile was wet and crumbling. The tub is filled with water because I thought all I was going to do was apply new caulk.

But things went from bad to worse. When I investigated further, this is what I discovered:

  • The previous owner had installed a second layer of drywall over the original wall. If you are going to the expense of new walls and tiles, it only makes sense to gut everything to the studs. It’s a good opportunity to upgrade the insulation and make sure there are no other problems.
  • Plumbing for the tub was on an outside wall.  There was minimal insulation (less than R-12) with Kraft paper facing, but no other vapor barrier. It’s surprising that the pipes hadn’t frozen.
  • As far as I could tell, the walls were standard drywall (not even blue board).  Cement board with a membrane should have been used in this wet zone.
  • There was no actual silicone caulk around the tub at all.  Instead, the gap between the tub and the tile was filled with grout.   Grout should never be used between the tile and tub.  It isn’t flexible and is prone to cracking in this area leading to water damage.
  • Did I mention that the plumbing was on an outside wall?

The quick fix

My quick fix (and keep in mind that this was only temporary) was to remove the worst of the wet drywall (both layers) exposing the studs.  I attached some strapping across the studs to bring the final repair even with the existing wall and installed 3/8″ plywood to patch the hole.  I then installed a piece of Barker tile board over the plywood and sealed all the seams with silicone. 

[Update 2013: Barker seems to no longer have a web presence and HomeDepot does not appear to carry this manufacturer any longer. Perhaps another victim of the 2009 recession? Or maybe bought out by or merged with a competitor? Information is elusive. However, other manufacturers offer similar “tileboard products.]

While it’s not the best looking repair in the world, I am confident that no water is getting through any of my work.

Someone with more talent and experience could have possibly saved the tiles and re-installed them on the new backer. But that would have taken at least two days for the tile to set and then to apply the grout. My solution allowed same-day use of the tub and shower (at least in theory).

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Should have removed the tub spout

You may notice that the tile board is in two pieces. This is because I did not realize at the time that the tub spout simply unscrewed from the pipe.  Other tub spouts are fastened with a set screw.  I didn’t even consider doing any research for this temporary repair.  The repair could have been much cleaner with a hole drilled for the pipe instead of cutting the tile board in two pieces to fit around it, but had I wrestled with the spout, I would have run the risk of damaging the pipes.

Update 2009

So, how did this half-arsed repair stand up? The bathroom was gutted about four years later and there was no further water damage to the wall, and no evidence of any water getting behind the wall. I guess I can take credit for a successful repair, despite its ugliness.

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