As a homeowner, regular maintenance is just part of the job. Sometimes you buy a house with “hidden secrets”, or things may deteriorate due to age. A shower leaking behind a wall is a commonly found issue that can become an urgent problem quickly. Water collecting from a leaky shower can cause damaged walls or high water bills, so you have to know what to look for to find one.
A tell-tale sign that you have a leaking shower valve behind the wall is water soaking the ceiling or dripping down from it. If you see these signs, it means that water is leaking somewhere in the vicinity, but finding the exact location can be a challenge. The leak may be very small and damage may have been caused over many years.
If you can see the leak, the issue is small and can be easily taken care of. The bigger problems are leaks that are not visible. These problems cause significant damage and you will likely need to hire a professional. If you are experienced or enjoy DIY projects, you can choose to remedy the situation yourself. Here are some suggestions on how to handle a leaky shower valve behind the wall.
How Do You Know If Your Water is Leaking Behind the Wall?
This is not always easy to detect. Sometimes it takes detective work to find it, and this requires evidence.
A tell-tale sign of water leaking behind the wall is the water soaking/dripping from the ceiling. You may notice actual dripping or see water spots staining the ceiling. It doesn’t mean that the leak is directly above the spot as water can move up a wall or through cracks in the ceiling. It could be coming from anywhere in the vicinity.
Finding the exact location may be challenging.
Most of the time, water drips slowly from a leak. Your valve could have a pinhole that causes a restriction in water flow. It can also take years until the water once again gets to the surface causing a stain.
The final sign is when the shower tile becomes like a sponge. This occurs when it has been wet for a long duration. This means that the leak is right in that location.
How Do You Find a Leak in a Shower Wall?
When there is water leaking behind a shower wall, the location isn’t always easily found. It isn’t often near the showerhead or faucet. Often, the best thing to do is take off the shower plate. This creates enough room to look at the valve connections.
If feasible, remove a piece of the wall directly behind the valve. Looking at the piping near the valve may give you a clearer indication as to what the source is.
Some houses contain a plumbing access panel. If it does, it will be located behind the shower just inside the wall. It will allow you to get a good look at the water pipes leading into the shower or tub. This makes the job easier as you can just remove the panel for inspection.
Other homes require owners to cut a small window through the drywall so you can see the water pipes. The damage is nominal, and it is done so you can see the pipes before things become a big deal.
What to Do if Shower is Leaking Behind Wall?
Fixing a shower leak can be done in six steps:
- Know the Signs of a Shower Leak. Inspect the leaks as mentioned above and try to locate the source.
- Determine Where it is Leaking.
- Cut a Window. Use a saw to cut a small hole in your wall. The hole should be a 10 x 8″ square and should allow you enough space to get a look at the pipes. To obtain the best view, use a small mirror and a flashlight.
- Locate the Leak. Once the hole is cut, there will be water stains located on the drywall ceiling just below the drain of the tub. Homeowners can turn on the tub to determine if the drain is leaking. You will probably notice a green or chalky discoloration on copper pipes from oxidation caused by leaking water. This will also tell you where the leak is.
- Turn the Shower On. If you see water coming from the sides, then you have located the source. Water may also leak from the pipe connecting the showerhead or can be coming from the shower valve. Create a final check and proceed with the steps below.
- Fix the Shower Arm or Valve. If the cause is the shower arm, remove the plate surrounding the shower arm. Remove the shower arm. There is a chance it may be leaking due to the threads not being adequately sealed.
To fix the situation, use a wire brush to remove the old joint compound. Use TEflon plumbing tape to wrap the threads. Screw the arm to the back into the joint of the water pipe. If the arm is fine and it’s the valve that’s leaking, shut off the water supply to the valve. Then replace the cartridge.
If the leak is coming from the body of the valve, it needs to be removed and replaced. You will need to have a licensed plumber deal with the problem.
Why Does my Shower Leak Only Sometimes?
Random leaking may be caused by a hole located in the water pipes. Additionally, cracks in grout/tile along a shower floor or wall can cause the same thing. The best way to find out is to have someone watch from below to see if a leak appears or use a shower massager to spray each wall to locate the leak.
Showerheads can also leak intermittently if they are plugged. They may need to be cleaned. Worn-out gaskets or inner seals may need replacing, or an eroded rubber 0-ring may be the culprit. These all cause intermittent leaking.
Sometimes fixtures have not been sealed or installed properly. The only way to know for certain is to investigate the source.
Locating the source of a leaking shower may not be easy and it requires a bit of detective work to find the source. However, once it has been located, the fixes aren’t usually terribly difficult. This issue should be quickly addressed, though, as it can cause physical damage to the bathroom, and can be dangerous health-wise.