what to do with cracked grout on ceiling in shower

Hello,
I had a new shower with tiled walls and ceiling put in about 5 years ago. This year the grout in one specific row of tiles on the ceiling is really starting to crack. This started last year as a hairline crack in the grout along the entire length of the row of tiles. Now the crack has widened and I must do something to repair it ASAP. The thing is, I'm not sure what it is that should be done.
Photos here:
http://i209.photobucket.com/albums/bb241/phungirl/showerstalltile_01.jpg
http://i209.photobucket.com/albums/bb241/phungirl/showerstalltile_02.jpg
Should I regrout the whole cracked area? If so, should all the old grout be scraped out first? What would be the best way to do that (if indeed that is what I should do)? Tools?
Also, is it a problem if water has seeped into the crack a bit? (There were drips from the ceiling tile where the crack is today). My hope is that no permanent moisture has entered the ceiling.
Any and all help or advice is greatly appreciated.
Thank you,
Chris.
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*If you have water dripping from the ceiling it sounds as though there are other issues going on that need to be addressed first. Maybe you have a roof leak which is causing the ceiling to flex and thus causing the crack.
There is at least one hand tool available for removing grout. Dremel has a grout removal attachment for their tools.
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On Tue, 28 Jul 2009 19:26:37 -0700 (PDT), rank beginner

Correct the moisture issue before doing anything with the crack.
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Probably.
Or the greatest portion of it.

The Dremel. The grout removal tool/bit works great.

Probably not.
You could just patch it with caulk, with or without "real" prep.
The underlying issue is what caused it to crack, probably related to the substrate material/installation but maybe also what goes on in the room overhead (if any).
If they're practicing martial arts up there, etc., enough flex may have been induced to cause the crack. -----
- gpsman
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rank beginner wrote:

The grout is cracked because the ceiling is moving; could be moving laterally, could be moving down.
If you had drips from the ceiling tile, moisture *has* entered the ceiling...those drips didn't get there from the shower (unless you are an extremely frenetic showerer). It is most likely the water that is causing the ceiling to move.
The first thing to do is locate the source of the water. If an attic is above the shower, check the roof; if not or if you have plumbing above the shower, check it too.
Next, fix the source of the leak.
Next, you need to make the ceiling that is under the tile sound once again. I assume it is drywall? Drywall - even "moisture resistant" drywall - and water do not play nice together. If it were me, I'd remove all ceiling tile and replace the drywall. Again, if it were me, I'd not replace tile on the ceiling...the tile isn't all that heavy but it is pulling the drywall downward against the screw/nail heads. Drywall isn't all that strong to begin with and - especially with a bit of moisture - the weight of the tile would tend to pull the fastener head further into the drywall causing the ceiling to sag slightly, sag cracking grout.
--

dadiOH
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Yes, for a gap that big something is moving, either sideways to open the gap -- not likely, or vertically. Lay a straightedge on the ceiling and you will probably see that the ceiling is sagging -- the lowest point at the crack. Do you know what material was used for the ceiling, as mentioned above drywall or even any other gypsum product is bad news anywhere in a shower. I would wager that there is also a seam in the backing material very close and parallel to the crack. You may have to drop the ceiling and re-do it with cement board and some new tiles.
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Thank you to everyone for your suggestions. They have helped considerably in finding a solution to this.
A few things I'd like to point out/mention, though:
I'm almost certain the water I saw dripping out was not because of a roof leak. First, the bathroom is on the ground level of the house (we expanded a half-bath to a full bath in the dwonstairs rec room), so there is no roof to the exterior anywhere near the ceiling of the bathroom. Immediately above the shower is the subfloor of the kitchen.
The water probably got into the cracks in the grout and started dripping perhaps through steam from the hot water when showering. Since the shower ceiling is quite low (little over 6 ft.), the water/ steam does not have far to travel. It's possible that the steam penetrated the crack in the grout, and then later, cooled down and condensed back into water. The drip-drip only lasted for a minute or two, and it started several hours after I had showered in it. This fact is what leads me to think that steam is getting behind the tiles in the ceiling and then later condensing once the temperature drops.
Yes, there is drywall behind the tiled walls and ceiling of the shower.
As far as lateral or vertical movement above the shower ceiling maybe being the cause - this is where I've deduced, thanks to your helpful replies, the root of the problem: New hardwood floors were installed 2 years ago, and the old floor tile was ripped out, and other significant construction was done in the kitchen during the summer of '07, including installing cabinets against the wall right above where the downstairs shower is. The new cabinets that replaced the old ones now house a pretty heavy microwave and regular oven built into the cabinetry. Before the kitchen renovation, by that wall (which is right above the shower), there was an old refrigerator that was leaky. At one point, before I got rid of it, it would leak water onto the carpet and at one point it seeped down into the subflooring. I subsequently had to replace a section of the sublfoor with new plywood, but that's another story. To sum up, that section of the kitchen floor was never quite the same, even with the new plywood. While they were doing the kitchen reno, I had a chance to check out the repair job I did with the subfloor (about a 2 sq. ft. area). Well, it was holding up, but the floor still "gave" a bit and had some sag, especially if you walked over it and put your weight a bit over it. So, I've come to the conclusion that this is the cause of the drywall sagging and the grout cracking.
What gives even more support to this is the fact that I took a straightedge to the tiled ceiling and indeed the lowest point of the sag is exactly where the cracked grout runs. So I think this adds further weight to the theory that the compromised subfloor and all the activity in the kitchen is what has made the drywall move and the grout crack.
Fixing this is the right way, i.e., taking the ceiling tile out, replacing the drywall with cement board and replacing with new tile, is beyond my $$ means, as well beyond my own skill level. I'll just have to settle for redoing the grout. I don't have a dremel, so I will consider getting a hold of one with the appropriate attachment, if you think it's worth it. I wonder how much a secondhand dremel with the attachment can be had for? I'll check eBay for one.
Whew...got some work to do.
Thanks again for your quick replies and excellent suggestions/advice.
Chris
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wrote:

Thank you to everyone for your suggestions. They have helped considerably in finding a solution to this.
A few things I'd like to point out/mention, though:
I'm almost certain the water I saw dripping out was not because of a roof leak. First, the bathroom is on the ground level of the house (we expanded a half-bath to a full bath in the dwonstairs rec room), so there is no roof to the exterior anywhere near the ceiling of the bathroom. Immediately above the shower is the subfloor of the kitchen.
The water probably got into the cracks in the grout and started dripping perhaps through steam from the hot water when showering. Since the shower ceiling is quite low (little over 6 ft.), the water/ steam does not have far to travel. It's possible that the steam penetrated the crack in the grout, and then later, cooled down and condensed back into water. The drip-drip only lasted for a minute or two, and it started several hours after I had showered in it. This fact is what leads me to think that steam is getting behind the tiles in the ceiling and then later condensing once the temperature drops.
Yes, there is drywall behind the tiled walls and ceiling of the shower.
As far as lateral or vertical movement above the shower ceiling maybe being the cause - this is where I've deduced, thanks to your helpful replies, the root of the problem: New hardwood floors were installed 2 years ago, and the old floor tile was ripped out, and other significant construction was done in the kitchen during the summer of '07, including installing cabinets against the wall right above where the downstairs shower is. The new cabinets that replaced the old ones now house a pretty heavy microwave and regular oven built into the cabinetry. Before the kitchen renovation, by that wall (which is right above the shower), there was an old refrigerator that was leaky. At one point, before I got rid of it, it would leak water onto the carpet and at one point it seeped down into the subflooring. I subsequently had to replace a section of the sublfoor with new plywood, but that's another story. To sum up, that section of the kitchen floor was never quite the same, even with the new plywood. While they were doing the kitchen reno, I had a chance to check out the repair job I did with the subfloor (about a 2 sq. ft. area). Well, it was holding up, but the floor still "gave" a bit and had some sag, especially if you walked over it and put your weight a bit over it. So, I've come to the conclusion that this is the cause of the drywall sagging and the grout cracking.
What gives even more support to this is the fact that I took a straightedge to the tiled ceiling and indeed the lowest point of the sag is exactly where the cracked grout runs. So I think this adds further weight to the theory that the compromised subfloor and all the activity in the kitchen is what has made the drywall move and the grout crack.
Fixing this is the right way, i.e., taking the ceiling tile out, replacing the drywall with cement board and replacing with new tile, is beyond my $$ means, as well beyond my own skill level. I'll just have to settle for redoing the grout. I don't have a dremel, so I will consider getting a hold of one with the appropriate attachment, if you think it's worth it. I wonder how much a secondhand dremel with the attachment can be had for? I'll check eBay for one.
Whew...got some work to do.
Thanks again for your quick replies and excellent suggestions/advice.
Chris
That being the case , I'd just caulk it with colored caulk to match the grout or use clear silicon caulk untill you can fix it right...Trying to get the old grout out re-grouting or other wise messing with it will probably make it worse and may even knock some tiles off....Even if your very carefull and do re-grout it without making it worse it will just crack again....Start saving your pennies.....I bet the "leaky fridg" was the start of it all....
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rank beginner wrote:

OK, forget the roof ___________

The water isn't from steam.
Check your kitchen for leaks...sink, dishwasher, fridge ice maker supply line, etc.
Check the plumbing that comes to the shower. The unseen, plumbing, that is. May come from the kitchen which means it would be in the shower overhead space. Also, check all drains - the hidden part - in the kitchen. You really need a plumber. ________________

Your kitchen subfloor isn't affecting the ceiling of your shower below the kitchen as that subfloor is supported by the structure to which it and the shower ceiling are attached. If that structure is sagging/moving/rotted you have problems W A Y Y Y Y beyond cracked grout in your shower. ____________

Your choice but it won't last. Nothing will last until you first find and repair the source of the leak.
--

dadiOH
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dadiOH wrote:

Here's a way you could check...
1. Tape a few layers of newspaper over all the grout crack 2. Tape a piece of plastic or aluminum foil over the newspaper so it is completely sealed. 3. Don't use the shower for a week. You need a fairly lengthy period of non-useage as the leak appears to be small and intermittent and may occur only under a particular set of circumstances...using both dishwasher and sink at the same time, for example. If there should be a leak in the drain line, it might only occur when the line is totally filled with water. 4. Remove plastic and newspaper. Is the newspaper damp? Then you *know* the leak is overhead of the shower...either from kitchen supply or drain lines or from shower supply line to the mixing valve; if the paper is bone dry, you can be reasonably - but not totally - sure none of those are leaking.
If no moisture from above, tape up paper and plastic again and run the shower - both hot and cold - for 10 minutes or so; keep the temperature minimal so you don't get steam. Check the paper again after another 15 minutes or so. Damp? If so, the leak is in the shower supply line between mixing valve and outlet.
If the paper is still dry, run the shower again for 10 minutes or so but run it hot so you get lots of steam then quickly wipe down the shower ceiling so it is dry and tape up paper & plastic again. Wait a couple of hours then remove the paper. Dry? I thought so and that means that stem isn't wafting up into lord knows where and then later condensing.
If you do all of the above and the paper is never damp it probably means you have no leaks but do have rodents with uncontrollable bladders :)
--

dadiOH
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Fixing this is the right way, i.e., taking the ceiling tile out, replacing the drywall with cement board and replacing with new tile, is beyond my $$ means, as well beyond my own skill level. I'll just have to settle for redoing the grout.
It is quite simple and cheap to just fix the ceiling. If you can re-grout you can install tiles. A sheet of cement board is under $20.00, screws $5.00, tiles: well you can spend lots but also get some very reasonably priced ones on sale at $1.00 to $2.00 per square foot. Adhesive (but thin-set mortar is better, and grout will cost under $30.00. Of course, there are the hidden costs that you find when you remove the ceiling and examine what is behind the problem.
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When you mention money in connection with doing it the right way, that's a bit misleading. You should be thinking "doing it the safe way".
Tile on a drywall ceiling in a shower is a bad situation to start with. You have a very substantial crack in the grout and it's obvious that you lost a fair bit of grout there. This leads me to believe that the grout job is faulty as well.
You have heavy and hard material suspended overhead, place on an unsuitable substrate and with questionable installation. The most likely time for that tile to fall would be while the shower is in use - shower door opening and closing and more moisture being absorbed by the drywall. That is not a safe situation.
Do not put a bandaid on something that needs surgery. Tiling a ceiling is not the thing I'd want a beginner to learn tiling on, but it is doable. Check out the John Bridge tile forums - they're very knowledgeable and will be able to walk you though the work if you decide to do it yourself.
At the very least you should pick up the phone and get a couple of prices from some qualified contractors, not your run-of-the-mill handyman who may or may not know tile work all that well.
R
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