Friday, January 22, 2010

Piece of Mind

It is well established that shower leaks are one of the most common, and costly, problems that a homeowner may face. In the past, one would tackle a ceramic tile shower installation by going to the hardware store to purchase a 40 mm sheet of CPE (Chlorinated Polyethylene) or PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) large enough to cover the shower floor. No instructions would come with this sheet, which is perhaps the problem. How can a person fully understand what they are about to do when there is no process or instruction given?

Throughout my career as a tile setter, I met several homeowners that had the same mindset on installing a tile shower. Their line of thinking was that if a tile shower is installed in the basement and it leaks, damage will be minimal – the water will simply seep into the ground beneath the concrete slab. In a house without a basement the same reasoning would be put into practice –install the shower above a flat concrete slab. Another misconception that I faced was that one should never put a shower liner on a second floor, as damage would be severe if it were to leak. With this logic why depend on your roof to keep you dry when it rains?

While sound in theory, this information does nothing to protect the homeowner in practice. If not properly installed, the basement shower will in fact leak into the bottom plate of the walls and moisture will seep into the adjoining room. Mold and decay that will be unavoidable and in time the shower will need to be replaced. As anyone that has ever had a leak in a shower can attest, the stress, high cost and outright annoyance that comes with replacing a faulty unit is something that should be avoided.

Why then is the traditional PVC or CPE method still used today, if a ceramic tile shower is installed at all? What are the alternatives? Why are builders reluctant to install tile showers? The residential tile industry is largely trade driven with low turnover, and inexperienced tile setters learn on the job from more tenured professionals that pass their methods down over time. Builders are reluctant to use the traditional liner method, given its poor track record, but are also equally reluctant to bring in new systems. Factor this in with the explosion of (mis)information available on the Internet, and the task of building or upgrading a ceramic tile shower can be a daunting one.

In the hopes of adding some clarity and insight to the matter, I am proud to announce a coming series of newsletters/blogs entitled “Piece of Mind” in which I will debunk some of the myths that still run deep in the tile shower industry. Topics will range from determining whether to hire a contractor or tackle the project yourself, handicap shower options, dealing with mould, market trends, and quick tips to increase the value of your home. These articles will be distributed through multiple sources online, and will be posted on We invite you to send us your questions, comments, and suggestions for future articles.

Steve Dix brings over 30 years of experience in the tile industry. He has led countless commercial and residential projects throughout North America and has trained many apprentices during this time. His patented OneLiner system has been used in major installations such as Luke Air Force Base in Litchfield, Arizona and most recently a United States federal penitentiary.

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