Installing a new shower curtain rod in an old bathroom

April 6, 2011

Question: I am planning to replace a shower curtain rod in my condo, which is more than 35 years old. I’ve noticed that most new rods are labeled “twist-tight,” meaning, I suppose, that they rely on tension to remain in place. Are they really dependable? Also, if the old rod is screw-mounted, will the“twist-tight” style work without damaging the tile? --Gaithersburg

Answer: Tension rods, which expand by twisting so they grip shower walls through friction, do hold securely. But there’s a different issue with some friction-fit rods that you may want to consider before you buy. If the rods adjust to various widths, you will probably discover that this feature leaves a bump in the middle that keeps shower curtain hooks from sliding smoothly. Manufacturers make a plastic ring to smooth out the transition, but it’s not a perfect solution.

The big advantage of tension rods is that they eliminate the need to drill pilot holes through tile. Because your existing rod uses screws, you’re probably best off with a new one-piece rod with screw-on flanges, or collars, even if it means arranging for a special order or going to a plumbing-supply company, rather than a big-box retailer.

Consider shower rods made for commercial use. Moen’s Donner Commercial line, for example, includes one-piece rods with screw-on flanges on both ends as well as friction-fit rods that don’t have a bump in the middle, because only the end caps expand to create the friction fit. The Twist Tight products that you mention are expandable rods, with plastic rings to smooth out the bump where telescoping rods fit together.

Question: Every winter, the caulk in the 1 / 16-inch gap between my Silestone counter and backsplash dries up, allowing spills to reach the wall behind. The company that installed the counter didn’t mention that this would happen, so I was surprised. I’ve recaulked it twice with urethane acrylic sealant and adhesive, purchased from the installer. Can you recommend a more permanent fix? I have a lot of trouble getting the caulk into the crack and always make a huge mess. --Washington

Answer: You could switch to a silicone sealant, the longest-lasting type, but there are several reasons to first give the urethane acrylic sealant and adhesive at least one more chance. Silicone caulk is a lot messier to work with, and though it grabs tenaciously to most surfaces, it’s virtually impossible to completely remove, and no other caulk will stick to the residue. So once you make the switch, you’ll never be able to go back to using a less messy product.

To get the best results from a fresh application of urethane acrylic caulk, it helps to understand that it is a water-based product that shrinks about 30 percent as it cures. The shrinkage makes up for the loss in volume as the water evaporates, so you cannot avoid it. However, you can cope with the shrinkage.

One way is to apply slightly more caulk than you want, so when it shrinks there is just the right amount. Then wrap the tip of a cloth around a finger and wipe the joint with that so you leave a rounded-in bead, suggests Michael Martin, technical director for Siroflex, which makes the Duo-Sil brand sold by some Silestone dealers. “If you make a real 90- degree corner, it’s too little,” he says.

But leaving more caulk than you want to see can be scary when you don’t do this task every day, because it’s hard to know what’s just right. The solution then is to clean up the joint so it looks right (even if that means a 90-degree corner), wait a week for that to cure, and then apply a second layer of caulk to fill in where the initial caulk shrunk. You could never do that with silicone caulk, because it doesn’t stick well to itself; layers of urethane acrylic caulk do bond, though.

It’s very important to make sure the area behind the backsplash and countertop is completely dry before you apply the caulk. To ensure that, you may need to clean out the existing caulk and leave the joint open for several days before you reseal.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line and tell us where you live.

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