Do It Yourself: Plumbing Tips: Fixing A Shower Fixture

You can repair most common shower fixture problems yourself, saving costly plumber's bill. Here are tips, instructions and tools you will need for bathroom maintenance projects.

The most common problem with a shower fixture is leakage. There are several places that the fixture can leak: the showerhead, the shower handle, and the diverter, which is the push button that makes the shower come on.

Before attempting any repairs, make sure the water to the tub and shower is shut off. Depending on the shower this may be accomplished by just making sure that the bathtub faucet is off and the handle turning on the water to the shower is in the off position. For other showers, open the access panel for the whole house or for the floor, find the shutoff valve, and shut it off. Cover the bathtub drain, so that small parts are not lost down the drain.

If the leak is in the showerhead and the diverter is not part of the bathtub spout, there are several steps to take to correct the leak. Unscrew the diverter and the faceplate around the shower faucet and remove it. The parts that need to be replaced will be behind the shower faucet. Inspect the washers and the O-ring, which is on a pipe toward the shower wall, for wear, and replace them if they are worn. If this does not eliminate the leak, replace the seats and springs, which will be between the ball assembly, which includes a round part about the size of a marble, and the O-ring. If the leak persists, the ball assembly should be replaced. The cam and packing should also be replaced. They are just forward of the ball assembly. If the installation manual for the shower fixtures is not available, then take the old parts to the building supply or hardware store to compare them to the new ones being purchased. When the handle is replaced, be sure to tighten the adjusting ring, which is just behind the faceplate, so that there are no leaks from the faucet. Do not over tighten, as this will prematurely wear the adjusting ring. Tighten it just enough to keep the faucet from leaking.

If water is running from both the faucet and the showerhead at the same time, the diverter will need to be cleaned or replaced.

Some diverters will be a part of the bathtub spout. If so, the spout should be removed and replaced, as these diverters cannot be repaired. Turn the spout counterclockwise to remove it. Replace the old spout by fitting it to the pipe and turning clockwise. Be sure to turn it firmly enough that there are no leaks, but not so hard that the pipe threads are stripped, especially if the pipe is plastic. When you replace the new spout, use plumbing sealant on the pipes, unless they are plastic pipes. Do not use plumbing sealant on plastic pipes.

If the diverter is separate from the bathtub spout and is separate from the tub handle, unscrew the diverter and remove the faceplate around the diverter. Check the diverter for anything which may be clogging it and preventing it from operating properly. If there is no clog, the diverter will have to be replaced. Diverter repair kits are available at any building supply store, with or without a new faceplate.

The diverter assembly is set into a bonnet nut. To remove it, you will need a hex wrench. You will have to carefully remove some material around the bonnet nut in order to get the hex wrench around it. Turn the hex wrench counterclockwise to loosen the nut and remove it. Once the old diverter assembly is removed, put the new diverter assembly in place. Secure it by tightening the bonnet nut in a clockwise direction with the hex wrench. If the shower wall is not fiberglass, repair it where material was removed with sealant or tile. If the shower wall is fiberglass, and a lot of material did not have to be removed, the faceplate will cover the removed material. Replace the faceplate.

If the water had to be turned off at the shutoff valve, turn it on again now.

Another problem with shower fixtures is low water flow from the shower. Many times this is due to a clogged showerhead. If the showerhead is clogged, it is probably due to mineral buildup from hard water. Remove the showerhead. If the showerhead cannot be unscrewed by hand, use an adjustable wrench, being careful to protect the showerhead with a cloth so that there are no wrench marks left on the showerhead. Turn the wrench counterclockwise to loosen the showerhead. Soak the showerhead in vinegar overnight. The next morning, scrub it really well with an old toothbrush to get rid of any loose deposits of material. If some holes are still clogged, unblock them with a small pointed object such as a toothpick. Rinse the showerhead well and replace it. Make sure all connections are tight when the showerhead is replaced, so that there are no leaks.

If the showerhead is still clogged, it will need to be replaced. Purchase a new fixed showerhead at a building supply store. Wrap teflon tape around the threads on the shower arm. Pull the tape tightly into place so that the tape is forced down onto the threads and they are outlined sharply. Screw the new showerhead into place, using the adjustable wrench. Make sure to use a cloth with the wrench to protect the new showerhead. Make sure all connections are tight and that there are no leaks.

If you wish to replace the old showerhead with a handheld shower, and the old showerhead was a standard showerhead, you may need to drill a hole in the tub wall for the fixed-mount bracket holding the new handheld shower. This is not advisable for fiberglass showers. If you have a fiberglass shower, purchase a handheld shower that uses the shower arm as the bracket to attach it to the wall. If you have another type of shower and the new showerhead requires a fixed-mount bracket, drill a quarter-inch hole in the wall. The height of the hold depends upon the household; five and a half feet is the standard size, but if the household contains elderly or handicapped members, drill the hole lower so that all household members can easily reach the showerhead. Push an expansion plug into the hole. Screw the bracket into the hole, and screw the shower hose onto the shower arm. Make sure that the shower hose is connected tightly to the shower arm so that there are no leaks.

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