Shower stall leaks into kitchen & caulking didn't fix it

For quite some time, I have had evidence of leaking from my bathroom, in the form of first a soft spot in my kitchen ceiling, and now the spot has tears in it.
The spot in my ceiling is directly under a corner of the shower stall in my bathroom - same side as the shower fixtures, at the entrance to the shower.
Because I thought the caulk and grout looked okay, I called a plumber. Plumber checked out the drain and it was okay, fixtures seemed okay, and he suggested that I recaulk, just because it had been several years since I did that.
So I did things the right way - carefully removed all the old caulk, washed down the surfaces thoroughly, dried them out in three separate cycles involving paper towels, a hair dryer, and cloth towels, taped off the area to be caulked, used GE silicone caulk, pressed the bead in with my wet finger, carefully removed the tape immediately, let the caulk cure for 36 hours before using the shower - and as soon as the shower went into use today, leakage from ceiling.
As I said, the plumber "blessed" the drain and the fixtures, and ran the shower without standing in it, and there was no leakage. It's not the toilet; the toilet was flushed several times during the 36 hours of shower non-use and there was no leakage, and the ceiling soft spot felt warm and dry to the touch last night.
I have looked, VERY hard, at the grout along the wall from where the leak point seems to be. The grout is ugly, and I've never done anything with it in my 20 years in this house, but I just plain don't see anything that would appear to be a reliable leak point.
To quantify it, we're getting maybe 5-10 tablespoons of water coming through our ceiling when my wife and I shower. Obviously, there's more that leaks but stays within the ceiling.
I'm guessing that the problem is with the wall with the shower fixtures on it - not just because the ceiling leak is directly under that wall, but because if the shower runs and runs with no one standing in it, no leak. Only when the shower water bounces off a person and runs down that wall do we get the leak.
With all the above information, what should I look at as a leak source, bearing in mind that I see no deficiencies in the grout?
And if the problem IS the grout, what's the easiest EFFECTIVE way to fix the problem? Meaning I don't want something that will challenge me; I'm pretty worthless at repair, but I want the repair to last for years, not weeks or months.
One final thought: I'm contemplating duct taping a plastic dry cleaner bag along the shower wall in question, just to see if, with the wall covered, the leaking stops, since I'm pretty discouraged after doing the best caulking job I've ever done, and having that NOT be the answer. How useful will this approach be as an investigative tool?
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The ceiling is going to need repair, why not remove a section and take a look while someone showers?
Since it does not leak with no on in the shower, it is probably not the drain. IMO, it is not the water bouncing off a person, but the weight. The bottom pan of the shower may be depressed just enough that the water is getting around the drain flange. It may then run along the bottom of the pan and drip to one side or the other. It may have to be re-sealed or re-gasketed, it may also need some support. Weight may also be opening some other gaps but I can't suggest anything not knowing the construction.
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My personal thoughts are that you are on the right track. I would try standing in the shower with the water running in a stream and not hitting any walls. This would prove the grout theory. It does seem like the ultimate outcome will either be a leak in the feed piping, between the faucet(s) and the shower head, or a leaking pan, neither easily solved without some degree of demo

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*You should open up the ceiling to confirm where the water is coming from. Water tends to travel to low points. The spot that you see in the ceiling may not be the exact spot where the water is coming from.
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trader-of-some-jacks wrote: ...

I'd venture the seal around the valve handle escutcheon, etc., has failed and you're getting water behind them.
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trader-of-some-jacks wrote:

Define "ugly". Got pin-holes or fine cracks? If you spray water on it, does water soak in or bead? Is there caulk around the plumbing openings? What is on the other side of the wall from the plumbing fixtures?

Removing old grout and regrouting is a DIY job, PIA, too. I did my shower, before any leaks showed up. Some in our condo, with all same tile jobs, got very serious leaks from whatever grout problems they had. We had a few pin-holes in our grout, but no cracks. On a slab.
Is shower floor tiled, too?

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On Sun, 01 Mar 2009 11:08:50 -0500, " snipped-for-privacy@earthlink.net"

It's dirty, but seemingly intact. No guarantees that it's absent pin-holes or fine cracks, but none that I can see.
No caulk around the plumbing fixture outer perimeters, although a plumber put these in and I know he used caulk between them and the wall.
On the other side of the wall from the plumbing fixtures is another bathroom wall, with no plumbing on it.

Shower floor is one of those circa-1978 (when house was built) plastic pans, maybe 4-5 inches deep, dropping down to a center drain.
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wrote:

Mine had a problem with the plastic pan. Often these things are put in before other work is done and workmen step on it causing cracks which eventually leak. I had mine replaced by the builder's plumber after a year in the new house but then, a few years later, leaks developed around walls as builder had put tiles on regular dry wall. I then had the whole shower redone properly with no leaks in over 30 years.
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trader-of-some-jacks wrote:

Hopefully it backs up to a bedroom closet or linen closet, where you can easily cut in an access panel, thereby avoiding trashing the tile. Not so easy if the wet wall backs up to hallway or master bedroom or living room or something, where even a trimmed-in access panel would be considered too ugly to stand. But even in those situations, patching drywall and painting, is usually cheaper than redoing tile. If I ever hit the lotto and build my dream house, the layout will be tuned so all the plumbing has access hatches built in as the finish trim is done. (I hate patching drywall.)
-- aem sends...
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Oh, there's a bathroom closet, about two feet of open space behind the shower wall. There are fixed (unmovable) shelves in there. The back wall of the fixture side of the shower forms the side wall of the closet.
So access is possible, sort of, but even if the closet shelves were removed, it would be a gymnastic feat for a human to gain total functional access to the area behind the shower wall.
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Leaking water frequently travels significant distances horizontally, behind tile/sheetrock etc.

That's a lot of water to seep through apparently sound grout.

If the problem arises only when someone is in the shower, I think it's quite likely the problem is with the shower pan. Maybe where it meets the wall with the fixtures.
You might also check the area around the faucets. I have known cases where water bouncing off a person in the shower splashed onto the faucet and ran along the faucet body into the void behind the tile and dripped down that cavity onto the ceiling below.
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trader-of-some-jacks wrote:

You're showering together?
Maybe your combined weights are causing something to spring open just enough to create a leak. Try showering solo...
(Just kidding, and "Ah feel your pain.")
I've got a similar tiny leak in one of our bathroom, I think it may be from water pooling on the tile floor if someone's sloppy while showering and then doesn't wipe it up immediately. A small wet spot would occur on the ceiling below when that happened.
Jeff
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On Sun, 01 Mar 2009 12:21:05 -0500, Jeff Wisnia

I *wish* this was our problem. We're extremely vigilant about water pooling outside the shower. It rarely happens, and when it does, we towel it up immediately.
In the past week, when the leak has become more noticeable (probably because the last vestiges of absorbent wallboard under the leak have washed away), the bathroom floor is bone dry near the shower.
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trader-of-some-jacks wrote:

From all the discussion so far, I am 90% convinced your orignal hunch is correct- something on the faucet wall is funneling water down into the wall. I don't totally discount a cracked shower pan, but I would try the test you mentioned about draping the faucet wall with plastic, and see if that affects the leak. If it does, I would either regrout, or even just touch up the more eroded-looking cracks with silicone. If the lower seal between tile and pan is one of those peel-and stick L-shaped caulk strips, rip it out and replace with real caulking. If the drape has no effect, time to take the closet apart, and start cutting some inspection holes so you can reach in with a flashlight and your hand, and see what is damp right after a shower. May want to open up ceiling below before you do that, since it has to be repaired anyway, just to rule out the drain and pan.
I do feel your pain. This place had a similar problem when I moved in- idiot previous owner had fitted faucet stems that were too short, such that there was no room for a trim plate to water-seal the wall. His solution was to take down shower rod, and make it a bath-only bathroom. Cost me a chunk of change to get faucet guts changed out with something plumber scrounged. I didn't want to retile, and 2-handle tub faucets are getting rare around here. (Plumber, although highly recommended, turned out to be an idiot, but that is a tale of woe for another day.)
-- aem sends...
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trader-of-some-jacks wrote:

Do the plastic thing. Cover the whole wall, from the shower head down to the floor. Problem solved? Then cut off some of the bottom and try again. Repeat as necessary. My guess is that the problem will recur when you uncover the controls, because water is likely leaking through the holes behind them.
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Mine had a valve leak in the wall:( it turned into a all day job replacing the valve, went from 3 handles to single handle temp balance delta.
Honestly I am glad the old valve failed the new one hold the temperature GREAT no matter what other water uses are going on
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bob haller wrote:

Since the problem didn't occur for the OP unless someone is in the shower, that would probably not be the case here.
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wrote:

I'd already "done the plastic thing" by the time of the above post, and so far, so good. Two showers taken this morning, and no water from the ceiling.
The plastic is about waist-high in the shower, down to the caulk line where the tile hits the pan. Yes, I goofed up; I should have had the plastic lower to eliminate any exposure to the lowest grout on the wall. But even so, like I said, no leaks.
The single-handle faucet, and the plate on which it's mounted, were fully exposed to the flying water, and the droplets going down the wall.
I'm going to repeat this experiment the next few days, and hopefully get the same "no leaks" results. Not looking forward to grouting, but beats every other option, hands down.
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On Mon, 02 Mar 2009 11:38:49 -0500, trader-of-some-jacks

Since I often browse newsgroups looking for answers, I wanted to close this one out by sharing how this eventually unfolded.
The garbage bag taped across the shower side of the stall seemed to be doing the trick - except on the fourth day, just as I was about to repair the grout, there was a leak into our kitchen.
Back to the drawing board.
So it's now three weeks later and here's what happened.
It appeared that, if we kept the shower curtain liner from pressing on the wall, no water would leak into our kitchen. But if we sealed it to the wall (not that unusual - the liner has suction cups on it to promote sticking to the wall, and obviously, that would ensure no drips on the bathroom floor), we'd get a leak.
After a few weeks of making these observations, I came to the conclusion that the curtain on the wall would channel water running down the walls into the grout lines, where it would pour down, until hitting a crack or hole. Then, because of the liner pressing on the crack, the water would "take the path of less resistence" and pour into the crack.
The few times my wife or I accidentally pressed the liner to the wall, we'd get a leak. But never otherwise.
So I was finally satisfied enough to rip off the plastic and fix the lower three feet of horizontal and vertical grout (with, naturally, no visible issues higher up, and lots of visible issues closer to the bottom of the wall). And today, first time back in the shower in a few days, and two showers, no leaks. And we had the liner touching the wall.
Hooray.
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