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Bryan Baeumler – Venting bathrooms, stopping leaks, sloping drains

Hi, Bryan. We bought a 1-1/2-storey, post-war home in East York, flipped, about 18 months ago. The flippers put in a three-piece bathroom at the top of the stairs. There is no window and the fan is controlled by the light switch. The towels don’t dry and we have a big mould problem in the shower. We need to increase the air flow but what is the best way with minimal destruction to the house? We are assuming that the fan vents into the roof space but there isn’t access to check. Would this also cause a problem with moisture in the roof space? – Rebecca & Paul C., Toronto

Well Rebecca, if you have a long, hot shower and you turn the light switch off only to have the fan turn off at the same time, then yes, it will be problematic. The towels won’t dry, there won’t be enough moisture in the room and you’ll end up with mould, mildew and all that nasty stuff.

What you want to do is get a licensed electrician to come in and split that circuit. Without being too invasive, he can fish a wire up there to split the fan and the light. He can put a timer on for the fan, so when you’re done your shower you can turn the light off, hit the timer button for the fan and let it run for about 20 minutes or so.
If you don’t have access to your attic, and it’s a proper attic, then that’s an issue. You’re required by the building code to have access to your attic. There’s often access in closets and other hidden away areas, so you may want to have another look. If there’s indeed no access, you’ll have to cut access and create a way to get in there. If that bathroom fan is venting into the actual cold attic space, that’s a huge issue because it’s pumping warm, moist air into a cold zone, and that water will immediately condense and cause moisture issues in the attic. So you’ll need to cut an access, make sure that bathroom fan is vented outside and that the pipe that goes through the attic is insulated so no warm air is escaping from it.

Bryan, during the pre-delivery inspection of our new home, we found the shower in the master ensuite was left running — probably overnight. Water visibly seeped through the dining room ceiling, the finished basement ceiling and a bit in the adjacent room. The shower could not be turned off and a plumber was called. The water looked to be draining well but the base around the shower had not yet been caulked. The builder’s rep said something to the effect that the duration of the leak was not long enough to cause mould/rot. They agreed to cut a hole in the damaged ceiling for moisture to escape. Should I insist that they open up the shower floor? They would not let us have a home inspector on site to evaluate the damage at that point, but we will do so after closing. What else would you recommend? We will certainly note all of this in the Tarion Deficiency Report. Many thanks. – Patricia C., Richmond Hill, Ont.

Patricia, you’re starting off right by making sure you note that in the Tarion Deficiency Report. Personally, I think a shower base that’s installed, whether it’s been caulked or not, should be waterproof. Caulking isn’t the last defense to stop water from leaking out of a shower. I would demand that the shower base is taken out and waterproofed properly. Obviously if water is escaping from the water base, then the base itself isn’t waterproof. The whole shower and tub enclosure should be waterproofed before you put the tiles on. You shouldn’t have to rely on the grout and caulking to waterproof your shower.

If there was only water leaking out for a day, then yes, you can open up a hole, drain the water, dry it out and it won’t cause mould. Mould is caused when organic material is subjected to a moist environment for a sustained amount of time. If the drywall gets wet, you open it up, drain it and it dries out, then you should be okay.
That said, I wouldn’t accept a water base that wasn’t properly waterproofed — that caulking will shrink and crack and you’ll just get a leak again in the future. You need to open that shower up and get it waterproofed.
You don’t say whether this is a tub or shower surround. If it’s a tub, then it should have a lip around the outside of it that goes in behind the tiles. So even if it’s not caulked, any water that gets on that lip will drain back into the tub and not leak. So there’s definitely an issue there.

Bryan, my husband tore out the old shower in our 60-year-old home. He put in a new shower BUT the new shower drain is higher than the floor — and water does not run down it. Right now, we are pushing the water forward to the drain. I would think the only alternative is to re-do the shower floor (ugh). Is there another, simpler alternative? Please advise. Thanks. – Darlene H., Scarborough, Ont.

Wow. It sounds to me like you didn’t use a prefab base or a shower system. Rather, you might’ve just used a mortar bed for the shower floor. In that case, you’ll typically pre-slope a mortar bed — you’ll put down a PVC liner, which is waterproof, and then you’ll slope mortar on top of that down to and towards the drain. The great thing about mortar beds is the materials are cheap, but you’ll need a lot of skill to slope them properly. You’ve got a great example of this right here.

If the drain is higher than the shower floor, there’s not much you can do aside from redoing that shower floor. One way of doing that is to take out the entire mortar bed and start again, in which case I’d recommend getting a prefab shower base or a kit like the WEDI shower system. It’s hard to say without seeing it, but you may also be able to remove the tiles, build up the mortar floor around the drain and then retile over top of that so the water slopes down towards the drain. But technically, the drain should be at the lowest level of the waterproofing, which means it should be tied into the PVC liner any water that gets through the tiles and hits it should flow down towards that drain. So unfortunately, there really isn’t an alternative to fixing that floor other than pulling it out and putting it together properly. You may want to hire a tiler to come in and do the base for you.

Bryan: I recently bought a condo that is still under construction. I have to choose the various finishes, one of which is the bathroom shower. I can either have a tiled shower enclosure or regular tub with a shower head. I personally don’t want a tub because I never use one and would love to just have the shower area. From a resale perspective and using your experience, do you think its better to put in a tub or could I go ahead with the shower? – Karim P., Toronto

Well Karim, that’s a tough question. There’s a market for everything and there are plenty of people just like you who don’t necessarily need or want a tub, and it wouldn’t affect the resale value. The question you want to ask yourself is: how long do you plan to live there? If you’re planning to own the property for 10 to 15 years then it really doesn’t matter, because by that time the bathroom will probably be due for an update anyway. And removing a tub and installing a shower base really isn’t that big of a job. I think in this day and age a lot of people are opting to not have a tub and just have a shower. I think the market is wide and varied enough that this won’t affect your resale value. There will be buyers out there who are looking for the same thing. I’m not a real estate agent, but that’s my personal opinion.

Hi Bryan. My family and I live in a 1-1/2-storey, 1950s house we bought in 2008. On the basement floor, about half a foot away from the exterior wall, there’s a two-by-two foot square that appears to have been repaired with concrete. After we had waterproofing done in May 2014, we had several heavy downpours and I noticed water seeping up through these repaired seams. Since then, though, there has been no water seeping through. I’ve also had the waterproofing company do a test and water did not come through the foundation or through the seams. What could be under this concrete repair? I’ve had some drainage contractors say that it may be a catch basin or an old sump pit that was sealed. I’d like to complete this area of the unfinished basement since we have two young children who need the play space. I appreciate your help. – Gerry Z., Scarborough, Ont.

Gerry, that square of concrete could be hiding a chest of hidden treasure! We’ve found all kinds of interesting things under basement slabs, from old dishes to slag from manufacturing plants.
Frankly, a bit of moisture coming up through the seams isn’t a major concern of mine if your basement’s been dry ever since and you haven’t noticed anything else. Typically, with any crack or seam in the concrete, you’ll get a bit of moisture coming through because it’s in direct contact with the soil.

I’m not sure if you’ve put in any new drains or sump pump or bathroom in that basement. It may have been an old floor drain that was removed and patched up. Or it may have just been an area of the concrete that was damaged and repaired. There’s no way to really tell without chipping it up and having a look underneath it. I mean, there are companies that can come in with ground-penetrating radars and all sorts of stuff, but I’m not sure that cost would warrant the investigation and the information you’ll get from it.

I’ll have to leave this one up to you. It depends how curious and adventurous you are. If there’s been no moisture coming into it, I wouldn’t be concerned. As long as it’s flat, you can finish the floor right over it. But hey, there really could be a box of treasure under there! You never know.