How to waterproof a tile shower

Old shower with lead pan

By code, every shower type requires a waterproofing membrane. Without it, water infiltration will allow moisture and organic residue to penetrate into the shower structures and will give rise to a migration of mineral salts, efflorescence, mold, mildew, and a loss of mortar bond. Showers are more solicited today than what they were in the past. As a result, problems surface quickly when the waterproofing is deficient. The problem is never the product, but the installers that don’t comply with installation norms. Failures also occur because shower systems are installed by unqualified tile setters that misunderstand the installation methods and that mix and match old and new incompatible products and techniques.

When there is a shower leak, it does not really matter what type of waterproofing technique it was used. It simply did not work. Unfortunately, repairing often implies a complete remake as today’s bonded waterproofing membranes get damaged when the tiles are removed.



Old rubber liner system

Mold in/outside rubber liner

Shower mold and mildew

Mold and efflorescence

Water retention versus waterproofing

Essentially, there are two methods currently used to waterproof a shower: waterproofing bonded membranes or the old lead pan. Today, the lead pan has been replaced by a rubber membrane, but the technique has not changed. The waterproofing is limited to the basin and it works behind the shower structures retaining leaks and accumulating moisture. When the shower pan first came out, it was revolutionary and much better than just cement alone. However, even if this technique is still widely used today, it remains archaic when compared to bonded membranes. New membranes completely isolate the structures from the floor to the shower head. There are also a couple of hybrid options, like the ready to tile waterproof pan. However, these are limited and incomplete solutions as they do not address the waterproofing of the shower walls or any other custom situation such as shower benches or custom dimensions. Aside from that, there are a couple of unrecognized approaches such as using plywood, paper colored gypsum, cement boards, hot tar, roofing membranes and a mix of old and new, like the combination of rubber and liquid membranes. And off course, there are those temporary solutions such sealers, silicone and epoxy grouts. But, these are just cosmetic initiatives that can only slow down water penetration, but that will never replace a waterproofing membrane.

In sum, water penetration could be stopped by one thing only. And today that thing is called a bonded waterproofing membrane. However, the waterproofing membrane is just one element in the whole shower system. A long lasting tile shower with easy maintenance is the result of a careful selection of surface and structural materials, installation mortars, grouts, tiles, installation standards, shower drain, and, a waterproofing membrane. There are many ways in which a shower project can go wrong. It could be as simple as improper wood framing, the absence of movement joints, expired installation materials, moisture sensitive tiles, etc . Regardless, it always boils down to incompetence, inadequate advice and lots of improvisation from general contractors and handymen. When it comes to custom tile showers, every project is different despite everyone’s efforts to sell you along the “supply chain”. As an experienced tile installer and waterproofing specialist, we do not only offer expert advise but we also take on the responsibility of insuring the compatibility among the shower components. As such, we share six industry awards with Schluter-Systems for the waterproofing and tiling of bathroom projects. When you choose our certified installation service, you no longer need to search the web or rely on sales and support clerks. Simply put it, you benefit from the peace of mind of a renovation done up to code, without hidden defects and backed up by a reputable professional service.

Waterproofing membrane

Waterproof shower

Epoxy grout

Specialized installation mortars

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