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Jul 25

Is it a Leaky Shower or Centerpiece-Watering Opportunity?

Posted by C. Mason Hearn in repairs, handyman, contractors, bathrooms


It appears that we have a leak from an upstairs shower, right over our dining room table below. Is this a job for a plumber or a handyman service, or what?

Bob S., Glen Allen, VA


Most know that the works of Frank Lloyd Wright were fraught with technical problems.  I recall the story of an angry letter from Edgar Kaufmann (owner of the famous Fallingwater house) to Mr. Wright, complaining of a roof leak over his dining room table.  Wright's flip response:  "What a perfect place for a bowl!".

Seriously, though, let's first get familiar with the particulars of your shower, toward diagnosis of the likely cause.  Is it an acrylic / fiberglass base, or is it tiled?  If it is tiled, you will certainly need another trade involved to possibly open-up and inspect / diagnose and eventually make a patch or replacement of the tile.  As well, I assume that you may need at least some drywall repair; there may be a need to open-up for a look from below.

There are all sorts of causes for shower leaks.  "Pan" leaks are quite common, especially in old-house tiled showers (where the waterproofing under the floor was a sheet metal pan - naturally, prone to rusting-out).  Could be a failed seal around the drain (in which case one may diagnose and easily resolve without much cutting or patching), or a leak in the drain trap itself (a poor plumbing job that has just now broken loose).  I am amazed how many times we actually find out that the leak is water bouncing off the bather's body, and filtering down through a poor seal at the shower controls on the wall.  An obscure diagnosis, but the easiest to fix.  Can you tell if it leaks, even when there is nobody in the shower, but the shower is running for some time?

Is it a slow leak (likely indicative of a drain line problem, or leak through a wall or floor seal), or is there a large quantity of water involved (more likely a water supply line)?

Otherwise, there are the typical leaks at failed sealant joints (this will happen after a very few years; caulk does not last forever), or a leak in a supply line behind the wall.

So you see, there are numerous possibilities for shower leaks.  A good handyman tech could run it down, considering all of these conditions and diagnosing the possibilities, rather than just look at it from a plumber's perspective, who might tell you "nope, it's not the pipes", then hand you a $150 bill, with your problem no closer to resolution.

So you see, it could be a simple problem with a very quick solution, or you could end-up "gutting" the shower as well as opening-up the ceiling below.  Depends on the source and nature of the leak.  I know it will be aggravating until it's fixed, but perhaps Wright's solution will provide some short-term peace.  I do wish you the best in pursuing your repairs.


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