Q: Can you help clear up some confusion about shower faucets? Is there a big difference between a shower faucet and a tub shower faucet? I also don't want to have to struggle to repair my faucet in the future. What steps can I take now to streamline repairs? What can I do to make sure the faucet doesn't leak and is as quiet as possible? Do you have any other tips?
A: I could talk about faucets for hours. I've installed many but remember clearly when I was as flummoxed as you seem to be about shower faucets. The basics are pretty much the same as they were years ago; however, there are far more faucets to choose from now.
The biggest difference between a dedicated shower faucet and a tub and shower faucet is that a true shower faucet doesn't come from the factory with an outlet for both a showerhead and a tub spigot. A tub and shower faucet comes with hot- and cold-water inlets and a separate outlet for the showerhead and the tub spigot.
To further confuse you, it's possible to make a tub and shower faucet work exclusively as just a shower faucet. This is especially true if the diverter to make the water go to the showerhead is in the actual tub spigot. All your plumber has to do is stub a dead end pipe with a cap on the outlet in the faucet that's supposed to feed the tub spigot. I've had to do this on occasion when the faucet model and trim that a customer wanted didn't come as a dedicated shower-only faucet.
Advancements in faucet technology have made most shower faucet repairs easy. Years ago it could be a major struggle to repair a faucet's washer and a valve seat. Most modern faucets have valve cartridges that can be replaced by just taking apart the faucet from the finished wall side of the bathroom.
Once you purchase a new faucet, be sure to keep the written instructions that come with it. These instructions frequently have a parts list and exploded diagrams that show how to access the faucet cartridge. I always place these instructions in a clear plastic bag that I attach to the inside of the bath cabinet.
To make repairs easy down the road, I'll often purchase a replacement cartridge or two when I get the new faucet. I place these parts in the same plastic bag with the instructions. These parts rarely go bad if left in the original packaging.
To prevent leaks, make sure you follow the instructions that come with the faucet. Some faucets require you to remove the cartridge before you solder, as excessive heat from a torch can melt the plastic components of the cartridge. (Don't try to outsmart the faucet manufacturer thinking you can control the heat flow to the body of the faucet.)
Noise can be an issue with certain faucets. If you have high water pressure - say, anything above 70 pounds per square inch - then it may behoove you to run larger diameter pipe to the faucet to minimize noise. Water moves more slowly through a 3/4-inch pipe than a 1/2-inch pipe. This slower flow creates less noise. You can also wrap the water supply pipes with insulation and add sound batts in the wall where the faucet resides to keep down noise.
Consider installing an access panel on the other side of the wall from the faucet body. Years ago, this was a common practice. It allowed you to immediately access and service the faucet from behind the tiled wall.
Tim Carter's past columns and videos are online at askthebuilder.com.
About that showerhead . . .
- Be sure to place a fitting for the showerhead arm high enough so tall people don't have to duck too much to rinse off, but don't place it so high that you can't attach the shower arm. Some faucets come with highly decorative showerheads and arms that require quite a bit of clearance to screw the arm into the shower lug fitting.
- Be sure you have roughed in the shower body at the correct distance from the finished wall surface. This is critical. Many modern faucets come with a template or guide that helps you ensure you don't make a mistake.