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TubThe old homeowners laid it on thick. Photo: Doug Mahoney

Unfortunately, much of the 'character' of my 100-year-old farmhouse derives from subpar DIY improvements. The master bathroom is a perfect example. The only thing worse than the uneven tile job around the tub is the blobular caulk joint that runs along the inside corners and at the tub deck.

With a caulking job this ugly, it's doubtful that care was taken with the preparation. To be honest, it looks like someone emptied an entire tube of caulk every five or six tiles. There are points where the caulk joint is almost 2" wide! You may be wondering: are the joints so heavy because the previous owner didn't know what they were doing with a tube of caulk, or does the excess caulking actually serve a purpose?

I was thinking that there might be some separation between the caulk and the tile; that might explain the heavy caulking. And a scenario like that would actually be good news: If I were to discover a bad leak due to a plumbing issue, it would be much harder to solve, not to mention more expensive. If it was just a case of the tile separating from the wall, then we may just be looking at a sloppy job done by a novice.

In the latter case, the opening at the end of the caulk tube may have simply been too big. When cutting the end of a new tube of caulk, use a utility knife and aim for a hole about 1/4 inch (or less) in diameter. It's better to have an opening that's too small than one that's too big.

I'd been wondering/worrying about the caulk joints for some time. But the water stain appearing on the living room ceiling -- directly underneath the tub -- finally pushed me to take action.

So how bad was the situation? Once I took my head out of my hands and gave the area a careful inspection, I realized it actually wasn't that bad at all. Behind the tile was some construction paper that was pretty moldy, so I removed that, but underneath was a decent plywood substrate. From where the water marks were on the plywood, I could see that the water had been getting in between the tiles on this bottom row. For my fix, I decided to simply reinstall the tile and recaulk the whole thing.


Absolutely! Here's how I did it.

Removing CaulkPhoto: Doug Mahoney

Step 1: Remove the Old Caulk
The first step was to remove the old caulk. There are a number of methods for doing this. You can use specialized tools -- and even chemical caulk softeners -- to make the process easier. But I've always had the best luck with a simple utility knife.Doug MahoneyI like the kind with the snap-off blades; it's easier to draw the razor down along the tile face.

The vertical bead where the two walls meet came off with no problem, but the horizontal joint at the tub deck was another issue. Here, the lowest course of tile actually came off with the caulking (in fact it was being held in place by the caulk). The area behind the tile looked pretty nasty at first glance.

Removing CaulkPhoto: Doug Mahoney

Step 2: Reinstall the Tile

I dried the area out with a heat gun and put the tile back on with my favorite construction adhesive, PL Premium. The process was easy; just butter a little PL on the back of each tile and stick it back into the plywood. PL expands as it cures, so I held the tiles in place with some tape.

Step 3: Recaulk

I waited a day for the PL to cure and then entered the recaulking phase of the plan. The first thing to do here is to thoroughly clean everything so that the new caulk can get a good seal to the tile. I did this by giving the tile and tub deck a thorough wipe down with denatured alcohol to remove any film or residue left behind. If you have a mildew problem, you may want to also look into using a specialized mildew remover.

RecaulkingPhoto: Doug Mahoney

There are a lot of different caulks out there, but I think silicone is the bet for this situation. It's a bit tougher to work with than latex caulk, but it lasts longer and has better elasticity, which is a must for my saggy old house. I also used one that is specially formulated for showers and tubs and has a mildew-resistant additive.

If you're really concerned about getting the perfect looking caulk joint, you probably want to lay down a piece of painter's tape on each side of the joint. This keeps the caulk where you want it.

To get a nice smooth finish on the caulk bead, I just used my finger. But if you're not into that, the DAP ProCaulk tool works great. Some people use a rag, but that tends to push the caulk into the joint and leave it uneven.

Step 4: Wait and Admire

Finished TilesPhoto: Doug Mahoney

It's a good idea to let your new caulking cure for about 24 hours before using the shower. If you're in a huge rush, there are sink and bathroom caulks available that cure faster, but I've found that they're difficult to work with.

Your results will vary depending on the condition of your tiles. In my case, the original tile job is so bad that even with the fix, it's not ideal aesthetically (there's still the hideous grout job). But it's certainly better than before. And with the leaks sealed up, at least I can stop stressing out about water in my walls.

Photo: Doug Mahoney


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