When repairing a shower valve there are a couple different variables to be aware of when getting prepared to do the job. First you will need to know if you have a water shutoff specifically for the shower. If you do not you will need to turn off the water to the whole house. Usually located in the basement or crawlspace. Once the water is off. Bleed the pressure out of the shower by turning on the shower and letting the pipes drain out. Keep it open until water stops flowing through. Now you can start safely without any worries.
After you’ve turned the shower off, its normal for a little bit of leakage to continue for a few seconds. But if the water continues to drip at a steady rate for more, then a minute, you should double check to make sure your water is off all the way. If your water main will not turn off all the way, give us a call and we can get a new main water shutoff installed for you!
When turning back on the water make sure you bleed the air out of your water lines by opening every faucet. Do not be alarmed when it spits air. This is a very important step as you do not want air building up in your water lines. Sediment could also push up into your fixtures if the line is not bled correctly.
Tools needed for most shower valve repairs:
- Phillips Screwdriver
- Small Flathead Screwdriver
- Pocket Knife
- Handle Puller and or Cartridge Puller
- Crescent Wrench
Pressure Balancing Valves
A pressure balance shower valve can provide even temperature to a tub or shower valve despite fluctuations that may occur from other water usage in the home or building. Having a pressure balance valve is even more important if you live in an apartment or condo where water is shared by several units. Or if someone doesn’t take into consideration you being in the shower!
Shower valves that are not pressure balanced can be dangerous due to the threat of scalding water, especially for homes with little children or elderly occupants. Most building codes require pressure balancing valves. If you have an older home or apartment it may be time to install a new shower valve to make the shower safer and more comfortable.
A pressure balance shower valve works by maintaining a balanced outlet of water from the hot and cold side. The valve has either a balancing spool or a diaphragm inside the valve body that reacts to drops in pressure from the incoming water to the valve and adjusts the outflow of the opposite water supply to match it so that the water does not change temperature.
Sudden changes in supply water pressure will reduce outflow of water from the shower head, but it will not change the temperature.
Pressure balanced shower or tub and shower valves can come in single, double or three handle varieties, so you can usually match the existing holes in the tile or surround when replacing an existing valve.
The conversion to a pressure balance valve may require some changes in the hot and cold water supply and the shower standpipe in the wall to allow the new valve to fit.
Thermostatic valves usually have two controllers. One knob/lever allow you to set the volume of water flow. Another to control the temperature. The two controls allow you to have a trickle of water flow or 100% full flow of water at any temperature you choose, from cold to hot.
You can leave the temperature set at the same place for years if that is where you are most comfortable with it and simply use the water volume control to turn the water flow on and off.
The scald setting on a thermostatic valve limits the actual water temperature to a specific temperature. You can turn your water heater way up and the Thermostatic Valve will limit the temperature to whatever the valves max setting is. In comparison a Pressure Balancing Valve controls the ratio of hot to cold water.
The difference between the Thermostatic Valves and Pressure Balancing valves is something that you may never even notice. Both valves control the temperature very well and both are safeguards for scalding.
If you live in an older house where you notice a drop in pressure out of the shower when flushing a toilet then a thermostatic valve may be the better choice, this way you will have constant temp and pressure.
The thermostatic valve is also the better choice if you would like better temperature control or if you would like to reduce the amount of flow out of the shower head throughout your shower without changing the water temperature.
Valves That Can Be Repaired
There are some valves from big box stores that cannot be repaired, these valves need to be replaced. When we are being called out to repair a shower valve we ask our customers to look on the valve and see if they can see a brand name once the brand name is located we also ask for them to take a picture with their phone and send it to us. This helps us make sure our technicians are prepared for the job at hand and can repair the valve in the best and most efficient way possible. If the shower valve is the type that cannot be repaired we can notify them the cost and educate them on the product they have in their home, that way there is no surprises. Once we have a picture of the valve we may also be able to offer a trim replacement (different color finish) if this is something you are interested in. If we don’t have a different color trim in stock you would like, we will then do the research needed to insure you get the look you are after!
Single Handle Valves
If your shower works by sliding out and turning a single handle one way or the other to control hot and cold water, you have a cartridge system. The cartridge is a plastic valve with a brass insert that turns to allow more hot or cold water to the faucet. A few rubber O-rings keep everything in place, and these can turn brittle with age. Also, hard water can cause mineral build-up that will prevent them from working and sometimes cause the valve to need replacement.
- Remove the shower handle by popping off the cap to get to the handle screw. If the handle does not come off easily, you will need to get your handle puller. Handle pullers can be bought at most hardware stores.
- Remove the retaining device. Different manufacturers have their own ways of holding the cartridge in place. It should be either a clip or spring that can be pried up with a small flat head screwdriver. Do this carefully because you do not want to lose this piece. It can be a good idea to plug your drain so you do not lose these small important parts.
- Remove the cartridge. If it’s stuck, use pliers and gently pull with a twisting motion. Some manufactures provide a cap that threads into the valve to aid in removal, but if its really stuck you may have to buy a cartridge removal tool. These are specific to their manufacturer. Take note of who made your faucet.
- Cartridges are very specific to their faucets. You need to make sure it matches in every aspect or else you will have a leak.
- Insert the new cartridge in the same position as the old one that you took out. It should fit securely. If you put it in backwards your hot and cold water will be reversed, be very contentious of what direction it was facing originally.
- Replace the retaining nut and reassemble your faucet. Turn the water back on and make sure your faucet does not leak.
Two Handle Shower
A two handled shower can be either a washer style or cartridge style. A cartridge type is repaired in the same way as a single handled shower valve mentioned above. A washer style, also called a compression type is a little different.
- Remove the handle the same as previously mentioned
- Locate the bonnet nut beneath the handle and, using a crescent wrench, turn it counterclockwise to remove it. If it is sunken back behind the wall. You may need a shower valve socket wrench.
- After the bonnet nut has been removed, use pliers to gently turn the stem counterclockwise and remove it.
- Remove the screw at the other end of the stem and remove the old washer, replacing it with a new one. The replacement washer should be an exact replacement and should be coated with silicon grease or petroleum jelly.
- Find the O-ring and replace it with an exact replacement coating it with the lubricant.
- Replace the stem, bonnet nut and handle.
Note: When your shower was installed, it is possible that they cut a hole just large enough for the stem to go through. Your shower socket wrench may not fit in this hole. You may need to bore this hole out a little in order to fit the socket in.
Three Handle Shower
A three handle shower has hot and cold faucets, but it also has a diverter valve. The diverter valve is what sends the water to either the tub or the shower. If water comes out of both, it is time to fix it. The hot and cold handles are repaired as mentioned above, in the two handle guide. The diverter valve will either be a small handle on your tub spout or a handle on the wall of the shower.
Tub Spout Type
- Using channel locks or a pipe wrench, turn counterclockwise to remove the tub spout. The old pipe should come off with it. If not, use the wrench to remove it (some spots are held on with a set screw on the bottom.) Check this before trying to turn the spout and remove it. Your Spout should then slide off.
- Clean the wall where the old spout was to ensure a snug fit.
- Your new spout should come with a new pipe. Wrap both ends in plumbers tape to ensure a good seal. (wrap the tape so that when you thread it in clockwise it wont come off.) For the end that goes into the wall a little plumbers dope can help ensure a good seal.
- Thread the pipe in and snug it up with a wrench. It doesn’t have to be extremely tight.
- Thread the new tub spout on snugging it up with the wrench. Wrap cloth or something protective around the spout to ensure you do not remove the finish of the spout with your wrench. (If it is the set-screw type) Slide it on to the pipe and tighten the screw.
- Apply a bead of caulk where the spout meets the wall to ensure a watertight seal.
- Remove the cap and handle as in the single handle guide. you may have a sleeve over yours. Gently remove it being careful not to mar the finish.
- To Remove the diverter valve, use the shower socket wrench.
- Wrap plumbers tape around the threads of the new diverter valve, leaving the first few threads bare to ensure a grip.
- Insert the new diverter valve and tighten it nice and snug, giving an extra quarter turn after it’s tight. Do not force it. If it doesn’t want to go it is fine.
- Turn the valve with the handle and test the water to make sure it only comes out of where its supposed to. This is also a good time to shine a flashlight into the valve and ensure there are no leaks.
- Reassemble the diverter handle
Is It Time To Upgrade?
When repairing these valves you need to be aware that it will be more difficult to turn then it was before. If you have arthritis this could be an issue for you. Before moving forward with the cost of repair, it would be beneficial to decide if you want to replace it instead of repairing it. Often times customers repair it because it is more affordable and then are disappointed when their valve is more difficult to open and close.
You might be tempted to upgrade your faucets and handles while you have them apart. (Trim Colors). This is a good idea when you already have the faucet completely apart.
Hard water may be leaving an awful residue, making your spout or shower head not only look crusty and gross, but perform poorly. The same residue can be building up in your valve, making a replacement a must. This will adversely affect your water flow and turn a relaxing shower into a frustrating chore.
Sometimes a simple upgrade of the faucets and handles is all that is needed to give your bathroom a quick face lift. You might be doing this for a sale, or you may just be tired of looking at the same old faucets day in and day out. If you’ve upgraded your shower from a plastic surround to tile or stone, you old faucets may look pathetically out of place.
The cost of upgrading your shower valve is really a long term investment. Then when it comes to selling your home it is one less thing to worry about!