Ripping out old bath- sheetrock + tile = mold

whitneymacFebruary 4, 2014

We are gutting both upstairs bathrooms in a 12 year old house, and when we pulled back the tile on one, there was just plain sheetrock behind. And mold. Mind you, we've lived in this house for 10 years, and we have only used that bathroom MAYBE five times, as our children are young and always shower downstairs in our room. I have contacted the original builder's warranty department to see what, if anything, they will do if the original work was done incorrectly. My guess is that they will say that it was done correctly then, but I don't necessarily want to take their word for it. They aren't known for going out of their way to help their former customers. I won't name names, but it rhymes with Smavid Smeekly. Does anyone know what the code for tiling baths was in Texas around that time???

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Greenboard. You are past your warranty period for the baths. Let it go and continue with your remodel. That's what I'm doing. I have a %erry @omes tract home.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2014 at 8:20PM
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Oh boy. I was you, about 8 years ago. We just needed new windows, they were moldy. So we saved up to replace them, casings and all. Turns out, our development was built right in the middle of a huge scandal in this area involving paying off building inspectors, etc, etc. Lucky us!

So then the siding came off. No Tyvec wrap. No insulation. No flashing. Lots of mold. So now we add new plywood, wrapping, insulated siding on Day 1.

THEN we get to the back of the house. Deck is built with boards parallel to the house instead of perpendicular. Rotted 3 boards deep where it was attached flashing. So now we also need to dig out the rotted wood, displace all the carpenter ants, and repair. Oh! And as a bonus, the sliding door was not attached to the house frame except for one large wad of caulk in one corner.

But did we learn? NOPE! We spent 6 years recovering from the unexpected expenses and also grading the lawn/replacing the deck. The lawn sloped -toward the house, so the sump pump ran all the time. I was concerned about damage to the foundation eventually, so we fixed it. What a difference!

Then 2 years ago we started in again. The tub chipped, so I decided it had to go because I was afraid of what I'd find under it. Fortunately, the only surprise that project was the sink pipes not actually being fastened together in the wall. It was a miracle we didn't have a waterfall in our kitchen!

Speaking of kitchen, we just finished a remodel. Among the choice building techniques we found were rows of test holes for almost every screw in the cabinets trying to find the studs. A spacer above the microwave/vent made of scrap 2x4 and masking tape. Then there was the live wire left dangling in the wall with just some tape on the end, that was special. The other wiring was so convoluted it took a whole morning to figure out what was attached to what and where things went. Luckily, that concludes the major kitchen problems.

Let's move on to my current projects. We had to gut the basement and replace all the drywall due to mold. And they used the wrong type of insulation in the basement (the fluffy cotton candy stuff), so that all went and we now have the proper insulation. We had another live wire with tape hidden in the ceiling. None of the outlets or switches were attached to the wall, they were just in boxes dangling on the end of the wires held in place by the faceplates. We had one vent discovered that had been walled over.

They also ran out of space in the panel box for power circuits. So what to do with all the electric in the basement? Why, just feed an outlet nearby, then run FOUR leads from there. Code here is 2 max. We at least had a GFI on that outlet, but not on the one used for the sump pump. Plus that GFI also controlled the second floor bath outlet and the box in the kitchen with the outdoor light and under cabinet lights on it. Trust me, that was not easy to figure out!

Speaking of wiring, there was also a light box under the drop ceiling. No fixture, I had no idea it was there. But there were 3 wires that connected through there, and one coming out that went over the rim. So you couldn't even attach a fixture if you wanted to! Our GC has never seen anything like it.

We had to upgrade the panel box before the kitchen project, so at least now everything we've touched is up to code and on appropriate circuits, GFI, etc.

Oh! And the fireplace, which I've been working on while the GC does the basement. The mantel was wider than the hearth, so it had about an inch overhang on each side. Classy! So decided to replace them both. Turns out, the reason the tiles on the side of the hearth looked loose was because they were. They tiled right on the plywood, so most of those side tiles came of with my own hands, no tools.

So what's my point? You have an important decision to make. If you think this is original builder incompetence, you need to either jump ship now before the rest of their stuff crumbles (or burns the house down), or decide it's worth staying and save like crazy to make the needed repairs on the way. It may even pay off to find a GC you trust and have him go over everything, and I mean -everything- in detail to see what you can catch early and what to prepare for. For your sake, I hope it was just the tile guy that was horrible. But if the builder didn't catch that, which would have been obvious for days (or lack thereof), I wouldn't hold high hopes.

(BTW, all this was on top of normal stuff, like a roof at about 25 years, new furnace after about 27, etc...).

    Bookmark   February 4, 2014 at 11:01PM
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I hope you find relief thru warranty but in most cases the builder will wiggle out of any issues. Our development, they used a cheap pipe supplier and a bunch of the houses (ours included) had pinholes in the pipes. Which eventually leaked of course. They replaced it all with flex hose instead of copper (which we are now replacing). When we took out the shower, it did appear they used cement board but not sure about how good the waterproofing was, because we had efflorescence on the slab where the shower/tub used to sit after the new slab was poured next to it - it kept returning for several weeks until it finally dried out.

The kitchen tiles were stuck directly onto the drywall.

And, like williamsen, the original house is only three layers: The siding, a black paper similar to roofing material, and drywall attached to the framing. Oh and I guess the two coats of paint. Now we're in Hawaii where weather conditions do not require insulation in most cases, but I found it ridiculous that this is how the houses in our development were built.

There are worse stories. We had friends who bought a model home in Las Vegas to find that the plumbing and tile in the bathroom was a façade. There were no actual pipes in the walls and the tile was falling off since it was just glued on.

I agree with williamsen - hopefully only the bathroom is the issue but you might want to look at other areas.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 12:48AM
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If I remember correctly, the gypsum board was okay as a tile backer with pretty much no restrictions as late as IRC 2000.

IRC 2003 prohibited gypsum board over a vapor barrier if the gypsum board was going to be covered with tile.

The IRC change of January 2006 is when tile backer board in wet areas was required to be cement, fiber-cement or glass mat gypsum board. So by exclusion, non glass mat gypsum board was banned as a tile backer board in wet areas with that re-write.

You can find out what code (if any) your town followed back then by calling your building department.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 10:37AM
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Mongo, just to clarify, you're stating that as of 2006, wet area tile cannot simply be over greenboard, correct? I ask because a friend of mine was a plumber (joourneyman probably) who now does sales of plumbing fixtures. He and I have on several occasions argued about whether it is ok to simply use greenboard behind shower tile. He has argued that it's what he's seen professionals do (while I of course argue that it's a recipe for mold). I'd love to be able to tell him that code (International Residential Code?) states that it is not a legal construction.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 11:19AM
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You found mold in a bathroom that you hardly use after 10 years of living in the house and you expect the original builder to assume responsibility? Many years ago, the statute of limitations was extended for construction because problems weren't noticeable early on. It was extended to 10 years, which is, I believe, the longest statute of limitations there is for any kind of claim (this is California, it may differ in your state). Anyway, 1) this is no longer a warranty claim, as your warranty probably expired years ago, 2) you may have had a construction defect claim IF this were within 10 years and IF you could actually prove it was a construction defect, as opposed to wear and tear (which frankly, you cannot prove). I'd suggest you do as Anna suggested and move on. Not everything is someone else's "fault".

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 11:32AM
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What's wrong with deck boards running parallel to the house? That's how mine are. Just googled it and didn't see any dire warnings, unless it's simply a matter of aesthetics.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 11:58AM
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"Mongo, just to clarify, you're stating that as of 2006, wet area tile cannot simply be over greenboard, correct?"

Correct. Greenboard has been no good as a tile backer in wet areas since January of 2006. Lemme dig up the code for you:

Here's IRC 2006 when the change was made:

R702.4 Ceramic tile.

R702.4.1 General.

Ceramic tile surfaces shall be installed in accordance with ANSI A108.1, A108.4, A108.5, A108.6, A108.11, A118.1, A118.3, A136.1 and A137.1.

R702.4.2 Cement, fiber-cement and glass mat gypsum backers.

Cement, fiber-cement or glass mat gypsum backers in compliance with ASTM C 1288, C 1325 or C 1178 and installed in accordance with manufacturers’ recommendations shall be used as backers for wall tile in tub and shower areas and wall panels in shower areas.

My opinion? We had gypsum board. It fell apart when wet. So they improved it to moisture resistant gypsum board (green board) It lasted longer, but still fell apart when wet. So they reformulated again to the acrylic and glass-faced boards. There were problems with some of those, so they "improved" them yet again. And so on, and so on.

I'm not going to disparage any of the lightweight gypsum core boards that have waterproof skins. I simply warm folk that if they use any of the "latest-greatest" gypsum core products, they'd better properly detail every cut edge and every fastener or plumbing penetration.

My preference? I will simply say that I prefer to use true cement boards as tile backers in wet areas. Durock or Wonderboard. Although I use them both, I prefer Durock a bit over Wonderboard. Fiber-cement (Hardie) comes in second to the cement boards. Again, I'll use Hardie...but I prefer Durock over Hardie.

My preferences, my opinion.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 4:23PM
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Linelle, probably not a big deal running parallel if you appropriately flash. We had no flashing or other waterproofing, just deck attached to house. So water pooled and caused lots of rotting. It rotted through three boards deep!

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 11:33PM
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Thank you so much, Mongo! (Ironically this guy's brother discovered a major black mold problem in his condo bath where tile was set directly over greenboard. Hmmm... coincidence? I don't think so.) I really appreciate all of the incredible knowledge and expertise that experts like you share with us on this site.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2014 at 11:57AM
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Thanks Mongo for the insight on the codes. I realize there's nothing they will do, though I was happy to waste the warranty guy's time for an hour or so. It's disappointing to see what things look like when the walls come down- we had a cracked stair joist that was patched with plywood on several stairs, and there were wires run under the open space under the tubs instead of through the walls. While they may have followed code requirements, they certainly wouldn't have built their own houses this way! Moving forward, we will be installing Kerdi showers next week!

    Bookmark   February 6, 2014 at 5:31PM
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