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Ask the Architect

Do you need an architect to plan a shower?


Q. We’re having a problem with our shower. The tile started to lean out in spots and the seams have opened up. We’re told by our tile guy that the sheetrock is the problem — it was probably the wrong kind, and the outside layer is pulling away. He said he didn’t know what was used because the whole surface was coated in white spackle when he started putting in the tile. He said he thought it was maybe a plaster finish, so he glued his tile to it, like he always does. What should have been there? Can we fix the problem without starting over? And who should pay for this? The contractor says it wasn’t shown in the plans as to what to put there.

A. You hope there’s at least a plan for the work, with notes and information, but consumers are usually assumers, projecting that the people they hire will know just the right way to do things and just do it all right. Nobody is that knowledgeable of every aspect of a job. Even though we all like to think so, there’s a process on every job of thinking things through, making notes, researching just the right products and applying the materials in the right order according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Unfortunately, the reality is that sometimes the wrong products are used, or they’re applied incorrectly and the result is failure.
The greatest number of failures in buildings are due to two things, water and movement, both of which must be planned for. When people ask, “Why do I need an architect?” I immediately think of those two things. I don’t think you needed an architect to plan a shower, but since you're asking one after the fact, I guess it couldn’t have hurt to ask questions first.
There are many formulations of coatings and wallboard that are specifically used for different applications. Over the many thousands of years that humankind has been building shelter, the formulations have changed, but not all that much, until the last century. Computerization has affected every aspect of our lives, including the formulation of building materials. The ability to accumulate and analyze data using computers has meant that companies can keep modifying the molecular, chemical and structural composition of everything manufactured, including wallboard.

Now there is wallboard that breathes, soaks up toxins to help purify the air, reduces sound transmission and waterproofs the room. What should have been chosen was a synthetic wallboard, either concrete- or fiberglass-based, left with a surface just rough enough to take the mastic (or glue, in layman’s terms) to bond the rough surface of the back of the tile and hold its own structural integrity. The board you got probably had a paper surface, such as green-board, which detached due to moisture getting into the incorrectly grouted joints. Grout for wet environments isn’t the same formulation as grout for floors, for example. Good luck!

© 2019 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.