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Squeaky bathroom floor causing woes now and later

QuestionOur 1998 house has a full basement, which we finished in 1999 with sound-proofing between the floors. In 2001 a floor covering expert installed a new floor covering in the main bath upstairs; the toilet was lifted at that time.

This spring my husband noticed a squeak in the floor near the toilet. The shower grate has had a crack for some time, and a piece also came out about this time. The downstairs bath is just below and I discovered a soft damp spot in the ceiling.

The plumber determined that the seal around the shower grate was gone, so he resealed it and put in a metal grate. This solved the damp spot downstairs, but we still have a squeak around the toilet. Do you have any ideas on what to do about it? My husband thinks there is water under the floor near the toilet but it is not showing up downstairs.

You can hear the squeak downstairs and in our master bedroom upstairs. Thank you for your consideration.

AnswerIt's possible that water could be coming from the shower drain, toilet, or both. However after our phone conversation, I think it's more likely leftover water that leaked from the faulty shower drain. There is no way to know for sure without removing the finish flooring and underlayment or the ceiling below for an inspection.

Rather than tear into the finished floor, I suggest that you start in the basement ceiling where the soft spot is located. Place a bucket directly under the soft spot and open a small hole using a keyhole saw. The bucket will catch any water that may be trapped in this area. Remove enough of the drywall to open the area under the shower and toilet. Also remove all the insulation in this area so you can carefully inspect the underside of the subfloor.

My guess is that when you open up this area you will find water/moisture in the insulation and on top of the backside of the drywall. If you see water stains and it is wet around the toilet's soil pipe, then it's possible you have leaking from the wax bowl ring. If it is clean and dry, then most likely water from the shower drain traveled between the subfloor and underlayment. If this is the case, it will be difficult to remove the water trapped in this area.

If you truly have a two-floor system, i.e., a 3/4-inch subfloor and a 3/4-inch underlayment, you can drill holes through the subfloor from the underside. You want to drill just into the underside of the underlayment, not more than 1/8-inch deep, so be sure to verify your floor's thickness. Then apply a piece of tape to the drill bit at the depth to which you want to drill. The tape will help prevent you from drilling through the underlyment and on through the finish floor.

Drill 3/8-inch or 1/2-inch holes in areas that feel damp. Hopefully, the trapped water will escape through the holes, and the holes will also allow some air to penetrate. To help dry out this area, place an electric forced-air fan heater under the subfloor pointed upward toward the ceiling. The idea is to get the underside toasty warm for a couple of hours.

After that time, turn off the heat and plug in a fan, also pointing toward the underside of the subfloor, and let it run a few hours, fanning across the area. Repeat the process several times during the day. For safety, do not leave a heater on overnight or unattended during the day. It may take up to a week to dry out this area.

If this process doesn't work and you still have a squeak, then you'll have to remove the finished floor and underlayment in the bathroom above to expose the topside of the subfloor so it can dry.

On another note, PlumbRite Mfg. offers the WingTite Shower Drain. It's a new after-market product that allows you to fix a leaking drain in plastic and fiberglass shower stalls without removing the shower and without calling in a contractor. Once the existing drain has been removed, the new drain is installed from the top (no below-access required). The WingTite Drain's O-ring seals onto an existing 2-inch drainpipe, and the four built-in "wings" extend under the shower hole to secure the drain to the shower. It costs just $65. To learn more about the product, go to: www.plumbrite.com.

I'm curious to learn if it was leftover water from the shower or if you discover a new leak; please be sure to let me know how the project turned out.

Copyright © 2005, 2006, & 2007 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.

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