A Philosopher's Blog

Of Showers & Grout

Posted in DIY/Recipes, Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on October 2, 2011
Grey and white tilling grout.

Image via Wikipedia

Since I bought my house over a decade ago, this year it was due for some major improvements. The process began when my AC exploded and continued through painting and various other tasks. In July my tile shower started leaking badly and none of my fixes could stop it. So I had to resort to replacing it.

Busting out an old tile shower is an ordeal. If it was put in properly, there will be a layer of tile (and grout) over a backer board (typically cement on a mesh) and behind that might be a layer of drywall. Getting the tiles off is easy. If you like living dangerously, you can bop them with a hammer (at least wear safety glasses and protective clothing-tile shards can cut like blades). If you want to be a bit less destructive, a chisel for masonry work can be used to pry them off. Getting the backer out is usually a matter of force-either busting it out or prying it off the walls. Drywall is easy to remove. Some folks take a very direct approach and just hammer through the walls in square sections, pulling out everything at once. If you do this, be very careful to avoid bashing the pipes, supports and the other walls. A typically full shower is made up of a hell of a lot of stuff-so a cart can be handy for getting the stuff out. Tearing out a shower will typically generate a lot of dust-wear a proper respirator (don’t settle for those little white masks) and be sure to cover everything you’d rather not have buried in dust.

You will also need to remove the floor of the shower. That will consist of a layer of tile that can usually just be removed with a chisel and hammer (tap into the grout and then under the tile). Under that you might find, as I did, a lot of sand that was used to create the slope to the drain. You’ll have to shovel all that stuff (use a cart or wheel barrel to transport it) to get to the pan. You will probably have to break up some of it with a chisel. It will most likely be damp (did you pee in your shower…if so you’ll be handling some sand that filtered your pee). The pan is what keeps the water from going all the way through the shower wall. Oh, one interesting fact about showers: water will seep through the tile/grout walls and hence the need for waterproof backers and the pan. Pans are typically made by using a sheet of water proof material that is folded into a square pan shape and nailed to the supports. Some older ones are lead and some newer ones are metal and pre-made. In my shower, the pan had failed in several places and the tiles had also cracked in many places.

Once the sand is out, the pan is remove. Mine was “plastic” and hence I just popped out the nails and cut it to manageable pieces. I then removed all the rotted wood.

Rebuilding a shower is even more fun that tearing one out. Since I wanted my shower to not leak, I hired a contractor to do that for more. The main steps are replacing the rotted wood,  getting the pan installed (by a plumber) nailing in the backer (in my case, a Hardie backer), sealing the backer, tiling and then grouting the shower. After the shower is grouted (a nasty and time consuming process) the residue gout has to be removed-once right after the grouting and then about a day latter. This involves wiping down the tiles with a cloth/towel-although a wire brush (use gently) and a paint scraper can be handy. Dampening the towel with a bit of tile cleaner (but be careful not to dampen the grout) can help keep the dust down (this is also a dusty process).

The last annoying step is sealing the grout. Normal grout is porous. This means that it will absorb liquids. This is, obviously enough, bad in a shower-hence the need to seal it. There are many types of sealers with various means of application. Perhaps the most tedious method of applying it is with a small brush (be sure to keep as much of the sealer off the tile as possible). There are also spray sealers which are fast, but might not be the best choice in terms of their durability and water resisting properties. I went with a 3M sealer that had a one-coat application and a 20 year warranty. Sealers tend to produce obnoxious vapors, so when working in the confine of the shower stall a respirator and frequent air breaks are a good idea.

Grout will eventually wear out and develop cracks, so if you have a tile shower be sure to check your grout. Using a cleaner & sealer product regularly can help protect it, but it seems inevitable that it will need to be repaired. When I was using the shower in the other bathroom (which hadn’t been used in about four years), I noticed that the 27 year old grout had cracked in places, so my next project is repairing that.

I have learned to hate grout.

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  2. ajmacdonaldjr said, on October 2, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Hire someone to do that work, because it will stimulate our economy, and give you time for more important stuff. Ah! The joys of “owning” one’s own home! I have always rented, not having fallen for the “home-owning-as-the-best-investment” scheme. Pay your property taxes, or else you will lose “your home” to the State!

  3. FRE said, on October 2, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    A shower base cast in one piece can prevent a number of problems. Also, shower walls that are not individual tiles but are instead sheets of solid material stand up better and are easier to clean.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 3, 2011 at 1:49 pm

      True, but the common form is fiberglass (or plastic) which tends to crack and break long before tile fails. However, the whole tile and grout thing still strikes me as more of an aesthetic thing. As you note, solid sheets of water proof material would be more effective and easier to install. Of course, that is exactly what is behind the tile in my shower. 🙂

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