Why does my bathroom caulk continue to crack?

Answered by Jeffrey Anderson ~ January 9, 2013 ~ No Comments

We just bought a house and completely gutted it. In our master bathroom shower we have a half wall with a glass enclosure. That wall is tiled and the caulk/ grout keeps cracking, leaving an opening between where it was and the tile. How can we stop this from happening?

Hope - Marlton, NJ

Jeffrey Anderson

Hope, the problem you are having exists in bathrooms just about everywhere. Unfortunately, there isn't a permanent solution -- at least not one that I'm aware of. All houses have movement as the temperature changes and the framing and foundation settle over time. In most cases, the movement goes un-noticed. However, where two hard un-giving surfaces meet, small cracks can sometimes develop.

This is why ceramic tile grout often cracks at the perimeters of rooms and small breaks sometimes become visible where sheetrock walls meet ceilings. In areas such as these, builders use materials that can move along with the home in the hope that if cracks do occur, they don't happen very often. Caulk is one of those materials and it is used quite a bit in kitchens and bathrooms as the material holds up well in high moisture conditions.

I'm not sure what type of caulk you used during your bathroom remodel, but I have had good luck with higher grade silicones. They seem to have a little more elasticity than the less expensive offerings. However, they too will eventually crack and need to be touched up.

One issue that can speed up the cracking process is if the gap being caulked is too large. If the space between the shower panel and the tile wall is larger than ¼ inch, you may want to lower the panel if at all possible. If that can't be done, there may be a trim piece available that can close up part of the gap. I suggest checking with the manufacturer of the shower enclosure as you will want the trim to match the rest of the unit.

You might also want to verify that the panel and half-wall aren't loose as that could be contributing to excess movement that is cracking the caulk. When I do a bathroom remodel or build a new home, I always give the homeowner a few tubes of silicone caulk. While it's a nice gesture, it also keeps me from making a lot of warranty trips to repair cracks in the material in showers and at vanity tops. Sooner or later even the best caulk begins cracking and requires some touchup.

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