Q: I need to fix a leaking showerhead. Are they difficult to replace? At first I was just going to repair the leak, but my wife wants a new showerhead. Can you share some secret tips that will make it appear as if a master plumber did the job?
A: I'll never forget my first showerhead. A simple job, I remember thinking to myself. Was I ever wrong! I ended up with two leaks and a ruined showerhead because I used the wrong tool. My parents banned me from doing experimental plumbing in their home.
Showerheads are like so many other home improvement projects. It's not that the job is hard; it's that there are just some simple steps you need to take to ensure the job turns out as if a pro did it. In the case of a showerhead, your biggest concern should be to avoid creating a leak behind the wall where the gooseneck pipe connects to the vertical water-supply pipe in the wall.
When you unscrew the existing showerhead from the gooseneck pipe, there is a chance you can break the seal where that pipe connects to the water-supply line. The resulting leak can be large or a very sinister slow leak that produces only one or two drops of water with each shower. Either one can cause thousands of dollars of damage over time.
Perhaps the best advice is to take out the gooseneck pipe as part of the job, and reinstall it with the new showerhead. Use a small wire brush to clean the pipe threads. If the threads look corroded, then buy a new gooseneck pipe.
Many years ago, when I installed a new showerhead and gooseneck pipe, I made the mistake of not using a pipe sealant on the gooseneck pipe threads. I had no idea what pipe dope or thread sealant was. If you don't use it, water will stream from the connection like an April shower!
There are at least two popular pipe-thread sealants. One is Teflon tape and another is a thick compound you brush on the male threads of the gooseneck. I use the brush-on sealant that contains Teflon. You need to put this sealant on both ends of the gooseneck pipe. If you fail to do this where you attach the showerhead, water will leak from the connection and will spray you and the walls inside the shower.
If you decide to use the Teflon tape, there is a special way to install it on the male threads of the pipe. If you install it wrong, the tape will unwind off the pipe as you turn it into the fitting behind the wall. You may think you have a sealed joint when you have a potential Niagara Falls.
If you use Teflon tape, cut a piece that will wind around the pipe threads three or four times. Hold the end of the pipe that you are wrapping so it is pointing at your face. Wrap the Teflon in a clockwise fashion so the threads are covered. It's that simple.
Years ago, I used a pipe wrench on a showerhead. I didn't realize the fixture was made of chrome-plated brass. The teeth of the wrench ruined the finish If you look at most showerheads, you will discover at least two flat areas that are parallel to one another. These are made for an adjustable wrench that, when tightened correctly, will not mar the finish on the new showerhead.
After you install the gooseneck pipe, but before you install the new showerhead, turn on the water in the shower. This will flush out any small debris and excess pipe sealant that may have gotten into the pipe. Failure to take this important step can clog the small flow-restrictor holes that are inside virtually every showerhead. It can be a huge task to clean these out if they get clogged.
Don't over-tighten the new showerhead on the gooseneck pipe. Once it is hand-tight, it should only take one complete turn to complete a leak-free connection. If you can't turn it that far, stop and test the connection. You can damage the showerhead if you tighten it too much.
Tim Carter is a licensed contractor. To view previous columns or tap into his archive of information and sources of building materials, visit Ask the Builder at www.askthebuilder.com. You can write to Tim Carter at P.O. Box 36352, Cincinnati, OH 45236-0352.