I have some old baby blue wall tile in a house I purchased a couple of years ago. During the home inspection, the inspector noted the cracks as a possible area of improvement. I've been keeping an eye on the tile over the years, and I noticed several more cracks showing up.

I've been watching for water damage (from the access panel) and I can't see any. So how big of a deal are cracks in wall tile? What are the possible consequences if left untreated?

I would replace the tiles, but I don't have any spares from the previous home owner (and they're ugly anyhow). I'm trying to estimate how much time I have before a bathroom remodel is going to be on my home improvement list.

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I am going to guess from the look of the tile that the shower was installed years ago. It was probably installed directly on some form of drywall. Using drywall vs concrete board has one dramatic affect (other than waterproofing). It will move/swell more during hot/cold, humid/nonhumid seasons.

Is it a huge concern? Well at the very least I would epoxy the cracks. Normally I would replace offending tiles. If you have access behind this wall, what do you see? Is it drywall? If so that kind of answers your question. Does it need to be replaced right away. No. Especially if you can see it. Also since you have access to the wall from behind, how solid is the wall? There should basically be zero movement on a bathroom wall.

You also might want to think about adding more insulation to your house. If temperature and humidity changes are varying enough to cause cracking, maybe you can solve the root cause. Then maybe the cracked tile lasts long enough to where you can just replace it when you want.

  • 1
    I wouldn't say it's over drywall. This looks like an early 60s install. It may be over a cement-based stucco, about 3/4 to 1 inch in thickness.
    – Edwin
    May 16 '14 at 18:29
  • @Edwin - if it is a pure shower than you may be right. If bathtub then most are drywalled from 60-90.
    – DMoore
    May 16 '14 at 18:31
  • Im my house, I had to take out a whole bathroom of cement walls - from five feet up to the floor - was a remodel from 1961. I've seen similar installs all around the Philadelphia area. Note how deep the tile is from the wall.
    – Edwin
    May 16 '14 at 18:32
  • @Edwin - Wow we don't see bathrooms like that in Midwest. I took out 2000 pounds of concrete from my shower (late 60s) that was over an inch. But it was basically in the shower area. I think I have run across one tub in my area with concrete and a good 50 drywalled. I always feel bad taking down the concrete but its usually to run plumbing, electric or in my case to make the shower bigger and change location.
    – DMoore
    May 16 '14 at 18:36
  • Thanks for all the replies. I believe there is concrete board behind the tile, but that's for another post. It sounds like the job of replacing all the tiles would be a big task and not something I have to do right away. Thanks again and sorry for the delayed acknowledgement.
    – Bob McNees
    Jun 17 '14 at 1:34

The home inspector

When I worked as an assistant to a home inspector, I learned that a large portion of the items in a report were due to "potential for water intrusion". It's as simple as that. If water can get through and area where it's not supposed to, even if it's what you might consider an unlikely possibility, the home inspector will write it in their report. That's what I saw.

I agree that those cracks ought to be manageable with some kind of waterproof sealant, but I have no experience to offer in terms of a particular product.

Good luck!

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