Reuben Saltzman

Finding Shower Leaks

One of the most common places to find plumbing leaks during home inspections is at the showers.  Steel showers always leak, glass doors frequently leak, and tiled shower floors will leak if they’re installed wrong.  Any time I inspect a home, I do my best to find these leaks.  Today I’ll share a few of my methods.

Metal Showers

Ok, I can’t say metal showers always leak, but I seriously can’t remember ever inspecting a steel shower that didn’t leak.  All I need to do to make these leak is run the water.    The fix is to replace the shower.

Metal Shower

Glass Doors

I’d estimate that about every other glass shower door leaks.  To find these leaks, I simply point the shower head at the corner of the wall and door intersection, turn the shower on, and let it go until it leaks.  If the door doesn’t leak right away, I leave the shower on for a few minutes, inspect a different room, and come back again.  If there is still no leakage, the shower passes.  If it leaks, the repair is usually as easy as adding some caulk inside the shower at the intersection between the wall and the base.

Leaking Shower Door
While a leaking glass door typically only allows some water to leak on to the bathroom floor, this can eventually lead to major water damage at the sub-floor if the shower base or tub isn’t properly caulked at the floor.  The photos below illustrate this quite clearly, I hope.  To help prevent damage here, always make sure that the tub or shower is properly caulked at the floor.

Gap at tub and floorRotted Sub-floor

Tiled Shower Floors

UPDATE 8/23/17: We will no longer be flood testing tiled showers. We have had to deal with too many contentious situations to justify this practice. Our new standard for testing tiled showers is to run cold water in the shower for a minimum of 30 minutes, and then scan the area below with an infrared camera.

Tiled shower floors look great, but they often leak.  These leaks sometimes take a long time to show up because the leaking is usually very minor and very slow.  Just taking a shower once a day typically isn’t enough for the water damage to be seen on the ceiling below, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

I look for caulked joints in the floor, cracks in the floor, and patching at the ceiling below.  I also use a rubber shower dam to fill the shower with about 2″ of water.  I leave the water slowly running in the shower and I don’t worry about it overflowing – that’s the beauty of using a dam.  I’ve found a lot of leaking showers using this method.  The leaks usually take a while to show up on the ceiling below, but if a tiled shower is leaking, it’s an important thing to know about.

Cracked Shower
Shower Dam
Leaking Shower

The repair for a leaking tiled shower is to tear it out and start over.  Caulking any cracked areas in the tile is not an acceptable repair.

Shower Drains

Shower drains occasionally leak at the connection between the drain and the tub or shower.  I find these leaks by carefully examining the area below the drain for any drips after I’ve run the water.   If it’s a bath tub, I fill it up to the overflow to really build up the water pressure; if someone is going to find the leak, I want it to be me.

Leaking Shower Drain

Plastic shower drains ocassionally leak, and these leaks are extremely difficult to find during the course of a home inspection.  A friend of mine had a big stain on his ceiling below the shower, so we spent a couple hours trying to figure out where the leak was coming from, but we couldn’t make it leak.  Two days later, the stain got bigger.  It turned out that the drain was leaking only when he was actually standing in the shower, which caused the shower floor to bow just enough to make the drain connection leak.  I’ve never found a leak like this during the course of a home inspection.

Just for fun

Here’s a quick video of a rotted subfloor in a shower.  This shower had been leaking for a long time.  (right, Milind?)

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections – Email – Minneapolis Home Inspector

Quick link: Tiled Showers

No responses to “Finding Shower Leaks”

  1. Milindian
    July 21, 2009, 10:51 am

    Nice post! Very informative as usual.

  2. Michael
    September 28, 2009, 12:57 pm

    A professional pre-purchase home inspection can reduce anxiety by screening for problems and itemizing them in a comprehensive report. This home inspection report may include approximations of repair costs and recommendations of useful upgrades to the property systems. The general result of a professional home inspection is that property buyers make significantly more informed purchases.

    Screening for Problems: All homes have strong and weak points, they are not always what they seem. Gain the perspective and sound information you need to make better decisions with a home inspection performed by an experienced professional home inspectors. A good home inspectors works through a very long checklist of potential concerns to identify the major and minor deficiencies in the home. A good report will clearly describe the problems and illustrate them along with the what-to and how-to of repairs.

    Provide Owners Benefits: Home owners who are planning to make improvements to their homes in order to increase its market value would be well advised to have it inspected first. A home inspectors can help prioritize home improvements and offer advice on the best ways to approach repairs. More importantly, an inspectors can help the seller identify potential or undiscovered problems before those problems become material for contract contingencies. By taking a pro-active approach one can avoid the frustrations many owners encounter when they are asked to re-negotiate their contracts because of unanticipated problem areas.

    Credentials: Like any other professional, home inspectors (even those with licenses) have varied degrees of expertise. All home inspectors should be carefully screened. Inspectors learn from experience. It takes a few thousand inspections and a more than a few complaints for a home inspectors to LEARN what it takes to satisfy clients. I spent seven years as a construction contractor prior to becoming a home inspectors in 1993. I have taught the New Jersey home inspection training class to new inspectors for a few years. I still see things I have never seen before. Would you want the biggest investment of your life inspected by a person who took a three week training class? RECENTLY PASSED LEGISLATION ALLOWS NEW JERSEY HOME INSPECTORS TO BE LICENSED WITH AS LITTLE AS THREE WEEKS OF CLASS ROOM TRAINING AND JUST ONE WEEK IN ACTUAL HOMES. LICENSING IS A MINIMUM QUALIFICATION. MAKE SURE YOU ASK FOR RESUME!

  3. Truth-in-Housing Requirements | Structure Tech Home Inspections
    July 11, 2011, 7:49 pm

    […] Plumbing leaks and electrical hazards make up a large portion of the repair items.  Before having your inspection, take time to make sure there are no leaking plumbing fixtures.  To test the sink, fill the sink up with four inches of water, and then let it drain.  Look underneath with a flashlight to make sure there are no small drips, and also check the faucet handles for leaks – laundry faucets are the most common offenders.  To ensure no electrical issues, replace any missing cover plates at outlets and switches – check the outlet behind your fridge too!  Make sure there are no permanently installed appliances running on extension cords – the most common offenders are garage door openers and water softeners. […]

  4. Home Inspections and Infrared Cameras | Structure Tech Home Inspections
    September 17, 2013, 4:26 am

    […] use infrared cameras to help identify leaking tiled showers. As I mentioned in my blog post about shower leaks, we test tiled showers by flooding the shower base with about 2″ of water, and then letting […]

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a Reply