Blindsided By Mold: A True Story About A Bathroom Renovation Gone Bad – So Very, Very Bad – Part 3

2010 Jan.21,Bathroom renovation. by gardener41, on Flickr

In our previous blog, our homeowner, “Madeline” and her contractor “Fred” confirmed the source of her BIG BAD Mold problem – the result of a bathroom renovation that Fred completed 10 years earlier.  Here’s what they found:

  1. An improperly installed shower liner had left the area beneath the shower floor and all surrounding areas exposed to excessive (you could say buckets) of moisture.
  2. The tile in the shower had been applied directly to sheetrock instead of cement board – a big no-no.

There was no question that Fred and/or his crew was at fault.  As Madeline described it, a “sickened look” came over the contractor’s face when he saw what lay below and behind the shower tiles.  He saw the problem immediately.

Now, Fred knew how to complete a proper shower install.  The problem was, one or more of his hired help didn’t, and it was at this crucial juncture that Fred had his back turned. The result was tens of thousands dollars of mold and structural damage.

Time to Buy A Lottery Ticket, Madeline
Now here’s where I’m going to interject and say that Madeline, despite the fact that one part of her home was completely infested by mold, is one of the luckiest homeowners I know.

Why? Because her contractor acknowledged his mistake, and, without a fight, agreed to fix it.  This meant committing himself and his crew to 8 hours a day of labor for over 2 months.

During that time Fred replaced every bit of damaged or wet structural material, including floor joists, wall studs, subfloor, wood floors, drywall, cabinetry and closet space.  He also completely reinstalled the shower, waterproofing, tile, and all.

“Do you know how lucky you were?” I asked.

She did.  The mold remediator who inspected the damage and consulted with Fred, left no doubt in her mind how lucky she was.   When this type of problems occurs, he said (and it occurs “a lot”), homeowners are almost always left holding the bag.  Some homeowners end up in a legal battle with the contractor to recoup the restoration cost but it is always a long, hard fight that is ultimately hard to win.  Most homeowners just give up.

Fortunately, Madeline was spared this nightmare.  Her bathroom and all the areas surrounding it were completely restored at no cost to her, and she and her contractor remain friends to this day.

What Have We Learned?
So, what are the lessons here?  Only hire contractors that are close personal friends?  No!  Friendships tend to become pretty tenuous when thousands of dollars are involved.  Friendship has nothing to do with it.

If you want to avoid what happened to Madeline, show this article to your contractor and let him know that you read it twice and that you will be photographing your bathroom and shower installation throughout the process – particularly the waterproofing stages.  If he shows any signs of resistance to this level of scrutiny, rethink your decision to hire him.  A good contractor won’t have a problem with it – in fact he’ll be happy that you know the difference between good work and bad work.

Finally, be willing to pay for quality work.  The cheapest price is not always the cheapest long-term solution.  In fact, when it comes to home construction, it rarely is.  The $1000.00 dollars you save on a home renovation, may become the $20,000.00 you spend to fix the problem created by that renovation.  Think beyond the price.  And never ever underestimate the damage that water can do to your home!

12 Responses »

  1. Trish, great article for the homeowner. As a former Director of Faculties for a public school district I have been lucky to find the damage and unlucky to see how destructive water can be. Of all the MEP’s in a home, water is always the most destructive short of fire.
    Madeline was so lucky to have a contractor “stand up” and replair/replace as needed the problem areas in this home. You didn’t mention if the contractor had insurance to cover such a disaster policy to cover this damage.
    It would now be a great follow-up to find the contractor perspective Will he check the other showers installed? Fold-up and start a new Co.? Where does he see himself one year from now?


  2. Trish, I was a contractor in Dallas in the 90′s this lady is more than just lucky, she happen on a contractor with integrity. Consequently whether or not the contractor realizes it fixing Madeline’s damaged bathroom was the best advertizing he has done this year. Madeline doesn’t have a friend or even an enemy that woundn’t hire him to do a job at their home or business!

  3. Trish was very lucky to have her contractor do the job over at no cost, especially admitting that it was his fault Sure wish there were more contractors around like that.

  4. I have repaired many of these bargain jobs over the years. It sounds so cliche’ but it is so true…” You get what you pay for”….. Depending on your age you may remember…”Pay me now or PAY me later$$$$$.

    Beware of contractors with magnetic signs as they can disappear really quickly!!!!

  5. WOW! This is an excellent article with a very happy ending!
    I agree that “price isn’t everything” and I will pay the price to get excellent, quality work when I need it.
    I really like and agree with the last sentence in the article which states, “Think beyond the price. And never ever underestimate the damage that water can do to your home!”
    Thank you for sharing this article with me.

  6. WOW!

    Fred just proved he is worth twice what he charges.

    This brings to mind that I just watched an all-afternoon webinar the other day. The topic was about developing information marketing products and selling them online. Ok, it may seem a bit off topic. But I have found that you can always learn something from all sorts of places. And the big “ah hah” I took away was the advice they gave to “charge enough to give your best.” In their world example they asked “How much support can you give a customer when you sell an e-book for $7?” The answer was “none”.

    We as contractors need to be careful not to lower our prices, but rather we need to be raising our prices. And then follow that up with giving the customer our very best. In other words we need to stop looking for ways to lower our prices and look for ways to give our customers more value (ie: service) for their money.

    Ms. “M” was dang lucky she found such an honorable man for a contractor. Mistakes do happen. And mistakes need to be in the budget. Which means that mistakes must be budgeted into every bid, service call, etc. so that the money is there to fix the mistakes when they raise their ugly head. Or fingers in this case.

    • Matt,

      I couldn’t agree more. Homeowners will always pay more to not have to deal with the nightmare of a poorly done job. And “Madeline” was extraordinarily lucky. In fact, this contractor has scored so many kudos from this blog, he really ought to ask me to name names! Not because he did it right the first time, but because he had the integrity to fix what went wrong. That will win out over best price any time. Contractors need to realize this.


  7. Very interesting article. As a kitchen and bath designer I see this problem all the time when I am remodeling bathrooms for clients. What I find interesting is that in Southern California, where I have done most of my work, the typical shower pan is ” hot mopped” tar and must be about 15″ up the wall or more. Where there is a shower bench like in your picture we will always hot mop that too and and continue the water proofing up the wall behind it. The bench in your picture is going to be another major place for water to leak. Also interesting that no one mentioned the old fashion and to me the best way to tile a shower is good old cement float. I have never used cement board on a shower install nor green board. I have been in business 25 years and never been called back for a leak problem using this method. Plus from a design stand point the thicker walls give a more luxerious look.

  8. This is an interesting article and very well written. However, I have to take exception to the prescription for a successful tile job in which the author indicates one “should” use cement board. That claim is short sighted and misleading. I think the writer is on firm ground when pointing out the undeniable shortcomings and faults of the initial failed tile installation. But when it coming to recommending proper tiling and moisture control techniques her foundation becomes very shaky.

    An explanation for a proper tile installation job can be site specific, involve a myriad of different materials, and require coordination of overlapping trades. It is therefore best left to a tile installation professional or expert to outline a good solution or use of a particular material. For example cement board alone is not “the” material of choice for superior tile substrating and waterproofing. In fact, cement board that is not minimally installed over 30 lb building felt can be a liability and conduit for mold and/or rot itself with regard to wooden framing members. This is because grout and cement board are both extremely porous and both wick moisture aggressively. These conduits for vapor drive have to be short circuited with at least a moisture barrier if not an outright waterproofing membrane. The author may also be surprised to learn that regular 1/2″ gypsum wall board IS specified as an approved tile substrate when used in combination with waterproofing membrane. I use it all the time with no moisture or mold issues whatsoever.

    I think the author could have better served her audience to simply refer to cement board as only one variable in a wide range of optional tiling material solutions that could lead to a sound installation. She could have then referenced the reader to someone like tiling expert who could give the reader a more accurate and detailed description of best tiling practices. Tiling is a complex trade and it’s success cannot be summed up in one sentence or two–let alone with the use of one specific material.

    Best Regards,

    • This wasn’t an article about tiling. There are plenty of “how-to” sites out there for that. It was about two (sadly) very common errors that shower/tile installers make, either through disregard or ignorance. The resulting moisture problems can go undiscovered for years, devastating a homeowner. The article (a true story) was meant to warn homeowners to be vigilant in their selection of contractors and vigilant in overseeing the job the contractors do. Even then, it is tough. This contractor (a good man who knew better) left the jobsite at a critical time in the installation, and his subs made a horrible mistake.

  9. My bathroom was just remodeled three weeks ago and I am now finding out that a tile membrane needed to be installed on top of durock prior to tiling walls and shower floor.

    What will happen now?

    I have spend so much money in materials… My shower floor is concrete, should I remove the tiles installed on the durock and place tile membrane. Or should I wait until it all goes bad. OMG I dont know what to do? I even asked the installer if the durock could handled the moisture and he said yes. Who can you trust????


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