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How to fix a shower leak

Nobody likes having a leak in their shower, and figuring out how to fix one can be a hassle. While the process of repairing a leaky shower may be inconvenient, the consequences of not repairing it can be catastrophic. But what if you don’t know how to fix a leak? Or worse, what if you don’t even know how to identify the source?

At Lamont Bros., we’ve seen our fair share of shower repairs. We know how frustrating it can be for a homeowner to find themselves having to find and stop a shower leak before it seriously damages their home. Having helped many Portland-area homeowners through this process, our team can help equip you with the information you need to face the challenge. 

This article will discuss how to identify and fix a shower leak. We’ll cover several different levels of leakage and the work required to repair them. You can expect to read about:

Why is it important to fix a shower leak?

A shower leak is more than just an annoyance – it’s a hazard to you and your home. That’s why it’s extremely important that you fix a shower leak as quickly as you can. Below are a few hazards that a shower leak can cause.

Aesthetic damage

At the very least, a leaky shower left untreated will cause some form of aesthetic damage. Water can discolor, bubble, and warp your flooring and drywall. In many cases, this will be the first sign that you have a leak. The longer you wait to repair the leak, the more noticeable the damage will become.

While aesthetics may not be an urgent issue that needs repair, it does significantly affect the value of your home. Visible water damage is often a major concern for potential homebuyers. If you eventually plan to sell, you’ll save yourself a lot of money repairing the damage now rather than waiting until it gets worse. 

Structural risks

Depending on the severity of the leak, there may be a risk of structural damage to your home. Water causes wood to rot, and most homes are made with a wooden structural frame. If left unresolved, a shower leak can result in major structural rot in your home.

Structural damage is generally only an issue when a leak persists for many years. However, once the structure begins to deteriorate, it presents a serious risk to anyone who lives in the home. Enough structural rot, and part of the home may collapse. As a result, any affected beams must be removed and replaced to prevent structural compromise.

Health hazards

Shower leaks often provide the ideal conditions for mold to grow, which can present a different type of risk to those who live in the home. Gypsum-based drywall and wallpaper are both considered prime real estate for mold when wet.

Certain species of mold — most notably black mold — pose a serious respiratory risk to people and pets. Those with underlying health conditions such as asthma or COPD are at a heightened risk for mold-related health issues.

Black mold growing in a hotel room shower ceiling

What is the process to fix a shower leak?

The severity of your shower leak will determine the process required to fix it. In this article, we’ll break down shower leaks into three levels of severity. While your specific case may fall somewhere between the categories listed here, it should still give you an idea of what the process may look like. 

Level 1 – Mild Shower Leak

A mild shower leak is still something you’ll need to address as quickly as you can. The good news is that if you do, it shouldn’t require too much repair work.

How to identify a small shower leak

The first signs of water intrusion will be barely noticeable. Cracked grout lines or peeling caulk may indicate a small leak somewhere in your shower. This is especially common for corners and edges in showers older than 10 years, so pay special attention to those areas. 

How to fix a small shower leak

In the case of a very small leak, you may be able to get away with not replacing your shower. Keep in mind that a full replacement, while much more expensive, is the safest and most effective option. However, if the source of the leak is your grout lines or caulking, and not the tiles themselves, a full replacement may not be necessary. Instead, you may be able to resolve the issue by re-sealing your grout and re-caulking the edges.

The first thing you’ll want to do is clean the grout so you can assess its condition. This means scrubbing the grout within an inch of its life. You should also use a razor blade to remove the caulk in the edges or corners. As long as the grout appears to be in stable condition and is not crumbling or peeling out in chunks, you should be good to proceed. 

Next, dry out the entire shower and clean it thoroughly. You’ll need a clean surface to work with, so pay close attention during this phase. Once the shower is clean and dry, apply a coat of grout sealer to the grout lines and re-caulk the edges with 100% silicone caulk or siliconized acrylic caulk. Both of these options will give you a longer-lasting seal that should remain waterproof for several more years. 

What if the leak requires more than a re-seal?

In some cases, it may be better to fully re-grout the shower. You can tell if your grout needs to be replaced if it begins to crumble and fall out when you scrub it. 

If this happens, you should call a professional to assess the damage. Crumbling grout can be a sign of other underlying issues that require more extensive repairs. However, if no other areas of the shower are damaged, a full re-grout may still be a viable option.

For a shower re-grout project, it’s usually best to use epoxy grout. Though it costs more than standard cement grout, epoxy grout lasts longer and is more water resistant. It’s also resistant to staining, mildew, and thermal expansion. 

For a professional shower re-grout job, you can expect to pay between $750-$1,500. While this might sound like a lot, it is much less than the cost of completely replacing the shower. You could try it yourself for less, but grouting is a tricky skill usually best left to the pros.

Level 2 – Mid-Level Shower Leak

A leak that involves anything more than a re-grout will require a lot more time and money to repair. Even an average shower leak almost always requires a full shower replacement.

How to identify a mid-level shower leak 

In a tile shower, the entire surface should be firm and rigid. If you begin to notice any flex or give in your tiles, that is a telltale sign of water intrusion. Discoloration in the drywall around your shower, warping in the floor below, or loose tiles means it’s time to replace the shower.

How to fix mid-level shower leak

By the time you start to see noticeable water damage around your shower, it’s been leaking for quite a while. At this point, there is very little chance of saving what remains. Additionally, you’ll need to remove the shower anyway to see what damage lies underneath.

Because of the hazards that water damage can pose to a home, it is best to have a professional contractor assess and repair the affected area. This often involves removing any water-damaged material to prevent any rot from spreading. In addition to the shower itself, you may also end up replacing some flooring and drywall as well.

A full shower replacement almost always requires some professional design and planning work. The good news is that it also presents the opportunity for you to design a shower specifically to your own needs. Generally, the cost of replacing a tile shower is between $20,000-$25,000.

A mid-level shower leak usually involves replacing the shower.

Severe Shower Leak

If left unrepaired for long enough, a shower leak can cause extensive damage to your home. These types of leaks require more than just a shower replacement. Instead, it may involve a full structural repair of the surrounding support beams in the walls or floor. 

How to identify a severe shower leak

In many cases, you won’t have to look for a severe leak because it will make itself known. At this point, the damage will begin to show on the opposite side of the wall, the floor around the shower, or the ceiling below the bathroom.

If the bathroom in question is on the upper floor, you’ll want to check the ceiling below to see if it is showing signs of damage. Mold or mildew on adjacent walls is a key indicator of a severe leak. In some cases, you may even notice soft spots in the floor or wall near the shower.

If left unrepaired, a water leak can rot the structural support beams in your wall.

How to fix a severe shower leak

When dealing with a severe shower leak, you can expect to fix more than just the shower itself. There’s likely going to be mold and rot deep in the walls behind the shower. Chances are, this is going to be an extensive project and include some form of repair to your home’s structural members. 

The first step to fixing a severe shower leak is to remove anything affected by water damage. Stripping an entire wall down to bare studs is a best-case scenario – sometimes, even the studs have to go. Only after all of the rot has been removed can you replace it with a shiny new shower.

With a repair of this caliber, you’ll end up working with several different professionals to get the job done. A structural engineer, interior designer, and mold remediation specialist may each have a role to play throughout the process. As a result, the final cost to fix a severe shower leak may be anywhere from $30,000-$100,000, depending on the extent of the damage. 

A severe water leak may require stripping the bathroom down to bare studs.

What do I need to know before fixing a shower leak?

Before you dive into the repair process, there are a few things you should consider. Fixing a shower leak can be an involved process, so it’s important that you prepare. Here are a few questions to ask before you begin:

How much work am I willing to do myself?

For most people, anything more than re-sealing the grout will likely present too much of a challenge to do alone. The more severe the damage, the more planning and expertise is required to fix the leak. It’s also common for homeowners to begin a project that seems simple, but grows in complexity the longer it drags on. You might think you’re getting into a simple grout re-seal, when the shower really needs to be fully re-grouted or replaced, instead. 

How quickly do you need the repairs to happen?

The number of bathrooms in your home will most directly affect the answer to this question. If your home has 2 or 3 bathrooms, the timeframe is probably at least a little flexible. However, if you only have one bathroom, chances are, you need the repairs to start and end quickly so you can get back to using it. The sooner you need the project completed, the more it will make sense for you to hire out the work rather than do it yourself.

Is your shower under warranty?

Depending on the age of your shower and the materials used to install it, you may be able to save a lot of money by filing a warranty claim. Most contractors offer a 1-year warranty on their installations. Beyond that, some product manufacturers have product-specific warranties. For example, Hydroblok, a manufacturer of shower backer boards, offers a lifetime limited warranty on their products. 

If your shower requires repairs but is not under warranty, the good news is that you can hire a contractor who offers a warranty to repair it. That way, you can rest assured that the repairs are guaranteed once completed.

Want to talk with a designer about repairing your shower?

Now that you’re an expert in the different types of shower leaks and what it takes to repair them, take the next step! Read our Ultimate Bathroom Remodel Guide. It covers everything you need to know before beginning a bathroom remodel project. 

Do you think your shower leak needs a designer’s help to fix it correctly? If so, click the link below to schedule a free consultation with a member of our design team.