News & Press: President's Letter

April 2020 President's Letter

Tuesday, April 21, 2020  
Posted by: Trish Moss
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Outside IN, not inside OUT

Requests for zero entry showers with creative solutions to water containment and management are much more prevalent than a decade ago. Our aging population will continue to grow demand for products, membranes and gadgets designed for these installations. These devices and systems are designed in part to assist contractors with clients who ask us to change the laws of gravity and warranty installations that do not allow for a 1/4” in 12” pitch for drainage. Those clients are also the most insistent when demanding you to come back to “fix” their puddling shower, even though you may have repeatedly explained that you did not have the ability to circumvent physics within the confines of their installation. Proper pitch is required to break the surface tension of water making its way to the drain. 

If you doubt water can have a big impact over time, take a plane ride over the Grand Canyon. At some point, you will be asked to examine an installation showing signs of a leak. Presumably, you will not have any clues as obvious as the Grand Canyon, so identifying a leak may be slightly more difficult.  Start by examining the surrounding components before you disassemble the tile enclosure. Consider removing sheetrock behind or below the suspected leak. It is much easier to repair sheetrock and paint and it may allow you to pinpoint the source of the leak. Whenever we have been asked to “fix” a leak, we have found it is rarely only the tile installation. Once you demo the waterproofing, you may never figure out what went wrong in the first place.

Years ago, I worked on a steam shower project that failed almost immediately. We had done our homework, gotten the correct components approved and helped with the design of the assembly. Our team was fully engaged with the requirements of the installation. Within two weeks of the health club opening, there was a leak below the steam room and the carpet on a shared wall was thoroughly soaked. 

We reassembled the tools, people and materials we would need to work continuously through the weekend to get the steam room “fixed.” Tap Tap Tap - the mud-set and waterproofing around the drain looked great. Tap Tap Tap - other mud-set under the tile appeared bone dry. We were getting closer to the perimeter. Tap Tap FLOOD! Water flooded out from behind the bench. We discovered they had framed out a new section of bench to cover rerouted plumbing and left copper piping exposed under the new bench. They did not consider it an issue because the GC knew the new bench was going to be waterproofed. He had nailed through the existing waterproofing, but thought it was not an issue because the new bench would be waterproofed. We returned, waterproofed and tiled the bench not knowing what was under it. This had created a hot moist waterproofed chamber with cold copper pipes inside. Condensation on the pipe started the minute the steam room was turned on. Water filled the cavity to the elevation of the water pipe, then leaked through the penetrations created when framing the bench. 

Our “failure” was caused by a number of factors that could have been easily identified if we had just opened up the wall on the other side of the steam room. By the time it was all figured out, we had torn out so much of the steam room floor, we needed to demo the entire floor and lower perimeter tile to get it fixed. 

The most valuable lesson we learned the hard way was to start the investigation from the outside in rather than the inside out of the waterproofed condition.

Chris Walker
NTCA President
Vice President, David Allen Company
Chairman, ANSI A-108
Chairman, US TAG ISO TC-189
Board of Directors ABC-VA
Voting Member TCNA Handbook
Voting Member NTCA Reference Manual
chriswalker@davidallen.com