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My parents (live in Belgium) have a shower that has ceramic tile mounted directly on the plaster wall over cement blocks, beforehand the tile installer painted the wall with what was supposed to be a "waterproof barrier." Since then, a few years has passed by and water has obviously penetrated this "paint" and moved to the other side of the wall e.g. the living room wall.

I'm fairly certain the whole shower area tiles have to be redone, and redone correctly. In the US they use this "cement backer-board" and vapor barriers to form a membrane. I would just like to get an idea for what a proper installation should look like. Vapor barrier, backer-board, tile?

Secondly, since this isn't a drywall/wood wall, the backer-board would protrude the tiles off the wall about 1/2 an inch, this is easily fixed at the top where there is a tile moulding but was wondering if there were any other elegant solutions?

Thirdly, wouldn't the backer-board cause something similar to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tl1-4FaxUU @ 32:32 with the backerboard and the plaster?

Side note: there are no leaks, and the pipes are not in the effected wall.

  • "Obviously" ? How have you proved it's not a leak from above? I find it hard to believe that shower water has penetrated a cement-block wall. For that matter, it's hard to believe water has got thru the tiles unless the grout has been ignored for X years and fallen out. – Carl Witthoft Jul 27 '16 at 15:28
  • There are no pipes above the wall, nor are there leaks. You would be surprised how much moisture a cement block wall can hold and retain. I siliconed the grout lines as a temporary fix, and the wall is pretty much dry now, which further supports this claim. Further, I believe that even though it might not penetrate in the future, the tiler obviously did something incorrectly and did not seal the area off from moisture. Hence my question, what the optimal order of operations, so we can make sure the next contractor is more knowledgeable. – Alex Jul 28 '16 at 0:50
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The proper installation order: vapor barrier, backer-board, tile.


Secondly, since this isn't a drywall/wood wall, the backer-board would protrude the tiles off the wall about 1/2 an inch, this is easily fixed at the top where there is a tile moulding but was wondering if there were any other elegant solutions?

I'm not sure that I understand this problem, but perhaps you need to run the backerboard to the top and corners of the wall. Use tile trim or bullnosed tile along the edges and in the corners anywhere it's necessary.


Thirdly, wouldn't the backer-board cause something similar to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tl1-4FaxUU @ 32:32 with the backerboard and the plaster?

That's drywall in the video, not backer board. The difference is like the difference between cement and chalk. Backer board is cement-like. Drywall (gypsum) is more chalk-like.

  • With regards to the youtube video, I guess what I was getting at is wouldn't the backer board conflict with the plaster behind in such a way that moisture gets caught between causing mold. But I guess with the vapor barrier that solves it. Just to be clear there is virtually no difference in construction of the shower area between the EU and the US, such that, both should require vapor barrier, then backerboard? Not necessarily looking for code differences, just things to look out for. – Alex Jul 28 '16 at 0:46
  • @Alex Vapor barrier is not always used in USA (usually depending on what is on the other side of the wall... exterior walls may have condensation issues). It should be used in this case because the shower is against an interior living space... moisture/condensation from the living room shoudn't be an issue. – Ben Welborn Jul 28 '16 at 12:22

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