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El Barbón 11-26-2013 01:02 AM

What's behind that plastic tile in the shower? Do I really *want* to know?
Hi! We're living in a house built in 1920, which we mostly love. As near as we can tell, the only real remodeling that happened was around the later '40s and early '50s.

They did a little work in the bathroom, but not much. We're pretty sure that's when the shower was added to the bathtub; they slapped some mastic on top of the paint on the lath-and-plaster walls, put on some awesome seafoam-green plastic tiles, and called it a day.

Fast-forward about sixty-five years, and now we're living here. For the most part, the house is in really good shape. There's even a window that gets rained on every time we take a shower, and it's rot-free and functional. However, the grout and sealer (if ever there was any) was failing when we moved in, and we noticed water dripped down into the basement after we'd take showers. There was never very much, but there had been some water-damage to the floor under the bathroom sink, and you can see some staining on the subfloor from underneath. We slapped on an emergency bead of silicone, and the leaking seemed to stop. However, there are still some loose tiles, and our hack job started to fail. Up high, the plaster looks really good. Down at the bottom, just above the tub... not so much. The finish coat is pretty much gone, and what's underneath is crumbling.

Now, there was a really good thread about something almost identical to this a couple of years ago:

However, I'm not nearly as handy as she was, and we don't have the budget to have someone do the work for us. Compounding the problem, this is our *only* full bathroom (there's a toilet in the basement), and it's a Jack-and-Jill bath which opens into my kids' bedrooms. And the bathroom is full of lead-based paint.

So. Everybody's leaving for Thanksgiving, and I'm trying to decide whether or not I should even start this project. With the kids gone, I've got the tools to do the paint-removal properly. But everything I've heard says that it's pretty dang hard to take plaster off of the walls, and I really don't know what I'm gonna find if I open up that wall. Assuming that the studs are in good shape and there's no mold, what can I do to make the bathroom serviceable until we can actually rebuild the shower enclosure? There's no fan in the bathroom, so we use the window in the summer and a de-humidifier in the winter, but I don't know if that'll be enough to keep moisture from getting into my walls if they're open.

Should I open the wall, or do something else?

El Barbón

Arlo 11-26-2013 01:52 AM

Is this the only bath in the house? That would be typical in a 1920's house. If so I would postpone the project until you've done a lot more research. You sound very unsure about the wall construction. I do not tear anything out until I have its replacement on hand and have mapped out what I'm going to do. Even then I'll end up taking four or five extra trips to the store for plumbing parts. I'd take out the plaster and lathe and put up cement board to tile.

You really should figure a solution to the window in the shower. I've seen plexiglass put over the frames but IMO it didn't look good. We once took out the window and glass blocked it but it was the 80's and glass block was in style.

I took ceilings out of my 1908 house a long time ago. Get a big round "rubbermaid" type trash can and some "contractor" plastic trash cans to line them with. I fill them part way and take the bags out as I work so there's no trash build up. The ceilings came out easily with a recip saw cutting through the lathe. You have to wear a mask as it's dusty. I consider a shop vac a vital tool in this.

To answer your other thread, where you want save the plaster, they make hardware called plaster washers. They are supposed to join the plaster back to the lathe. I've never needed them but they are shown here:

My plaster was always so bad (in three different houses) we gutted it.

If you have a family I would wait til summer to do a big bath remodel. Schedules are looser and you can go to a motel for a couple of days if you have to. I would consider it a special hell to have my bath torn up over the holidays. I guarantee it will take twice as long as you think it will if you are an experienced DIYer.

iminaquagmire 11-26-2013 01:59 AM

The life of a tile shower is not infinite. Eventually it meets the end of its serviceable life and needs to be redone. Yours I think has come to its end.

If a shower surround is what you're looking for, then that's certainly doable in a quick fashion. Tile is a little more time consuming, especially for a novice. If you're just looking to get by temporarily, you can buy FRP (fiber reinforced panels) pretty inexpensively. They can be attached to the walls and be made to work with some silicone. But we can't really see what you have in there now to give any better ideas. Can you post some pictures to get an idea of what you're working with?

El Barbón 11-30-2013 12:27 PM

Okay! So finally, finally I have some pictures. Not the best pictures, mind you, but it should give you some idea of what the shower looks like. Hopefully, this works:

Obviously, there are some pictures in there that don't apply to this thread. :)

The first one shows the location of the window; since it's behind the shower-head, it's really in pretty good shape. We're going to leave it in, since that's the only ventilation in the bathroom, and it doesn't get very much water on it at all. The next one shows a spot where I removed a loose tile; they're masticked on over the paint and finish coat. The paint seems pretty thick to me, since there's a big piece peeling off and you still see a smooth white layer of plaster underneath. The third picture shows the tiles just above the tub, with our hack patch-job over top. The sloppy silicone is actually applied over a thin, clear waterproofer, so most of the deteriorated grout actually has a temporary seal over it.

The last picture shows where we replaced the old sink (we kept it to use somewhere else; we just wanted some room to sit on the toilet, but we love our 90-year-old sink, too!). You can see where the finish coat came off and there's the rough horsehair stuff crumbling away underneath. That's what the wall looks like under that bottom course of tile. The tiles themselves are swelling outward in a couple of places, notably above the tub on the one side, and under the bathtub knobs on the other side.

Gymschu 11-30-2013 01:00 PM

That bathroom needs gutted and redone. It is indeed way, way, way past its' serviceable life. Gut and redo in some modern tile.

El Barbón 11-30-2013 03:56 PM

"Modern tile?!" Why, what could possibly be more modern than plastic, the space-age material? :P

So say I remove the old tile, demo the plaster around the tub, re-paint the other walls with a modern, unleaded moisture-repelling paint. If we re-tile the shower, what should I put under it? Can I do lath-and-plaster walls with a waterproof membrane, or do I just use something else? Simplicity is good, but durability counts too.

And, uh, since my walls aren't totally falling apart, can I just keep putting my finger in the dike, so to speak, and silicone the grout-lines to keep water from getting in until we actually have the time to do this right? I guess a shower curtain on that wall would be the easiest fix, huh?

oh'mike 11-30-2013 06:52 PM

In my opinion, gutting the bath to the studs will be easiest in the long run---the old plaster is very thick---making the job of getting your new surround walls to match up with the old,very difficult--

-and the plumbing--electrical--ventilation and insulation are all in need of updating.

You could do a patch job and simply replace the tub surround and mixing valve---

All depends on your budget and desire for a good working bathroom.

joecaption 11-30-2013 09:43 PM

Not sure how your code system works there, to get a permit here they would be making me install an exhaust fan that it needed anyway.
I would also get rid of that window, it's not doing a thing for the looks of that bathroom and is going to make doing it harder.
No insulation in the attic?

El Barbón 12-01-2013 12:47 AM

Blargh... not looking forward to demolishing the entire bathroom, but you guys are probably right. I want to put a nicer light fixture in, and I gotta patch around the sink anyway, and I should really tear into that wall to replace the galvanized pipe...

So shower curtain until next spring or summer, I guess. :(

(As for the window, though... I'm stubborn, and we like our old wavy-glass window. Believe it or not, it actually ventilates the bathroom pretty well. You gotta figure that any window that can survive about sixty to seventy years partially inside a shower stall deserves to live! :) Also going to try to figure out how to save the old plumbing bits, since the tub hardware is apparently original to the house. I always grew up in houses with separate hot and cold taps, and never scalded myself to death, so I'm pretty sure my kids will survive too.)

Thanks much, everybody!

Fix'n it 12-01-2013 08:49 AM

taking plaster & lathe down is pretty easy. just be carefull of what may be behind it.
you can take it down in stages, if needed. just tape plastic in its place.

El Barbón 12-02-2013 12:25 AM


Originally Posted by joecaption (Post 1273336)
No insulation in the attic?

Yeah, believe it or not. There's no insulation anywhere in the house, but we're sitting around in short-sleeved shirts using nothing but the basement wood-stove. That attic space is open to the outside via vents at the bottom and top, and it's connected to the dead-space between the second-floor joists. So basically outside air comes in, hangs out for a bit, and goes right over our uninsulated ceilings on the main floor. And I am warm. Thank you, plaster, and thank you, Mr. Fisher of wood-stove fame. :)

Now, the *upstairs* getting insulated ceilings is another story--and another thread!

JKeefe 12-08-2013 12:09 PM


If we re-tile the shower, what should I put under it? Can I do lath-and-plaster walls with a waterproof membrane, or do I just use something else? Simplicity is good, but durability counts too
Modern construction practice calls for cement board behind shower tile.

Fix'n it 12-08-2013 12:20 PM


Originally Posted by JKeefe (Post 1276184)
Modern construction practice calls for cement board behind shower tile.

even with kerdi ?

El Barbón 12-08-2013 09:49 PM

So hey, what if I were to do cement board behind the tile, and tile partway up the wall like it is right now? The window and upper walls seem to be in good shape, probably because there isn't a whole lotta water getting on 'em. So could I just put down the cement board and tile, and hope that would basically come out as far as the lath and plaster (or a little farther)? I've got some other humidity and insulation issues I should probably bring up in other threads, but all else being equal, is there any reason I couldn't use plaster in part of the bathroom?

oh'mike 12-09-2013 03:43 AM

Sure you can do that---does the tub have a shower? If so,you may wish to tile above the shower head.

The big challenge will be matching the backer board to the old plaster.

Do waterproof the surface of the board before tiling.

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