I have a combination bathtub and shower and over the past three months or so I noticed that whenever I turned the knob to “shower” I still had a fair amount of water coming out of the tub faucet. Basically, water was leaking from the shower valve and coming out my tub faucet.
The water coming from out of the tub faucet was clearly taking away from the water pressure that was getting to the shower hose and nozzle. This means that whenever the shower was being run in my house we’d have to crank the water all the way up just to get enough water pressure out to take a decent shower. And while showering water was gushing out of the bath tub faucet below, immediately going down the drain and becoming a huge waste of water. I also found that if I had the water pressure turned on just right I’d manage to get the pipes banging and screeching in my walls.
In the past I’ve been a little shy about working on plumbing. I’m the guy who ended up calling a plumber to remove a shower knob and replace a little rubber washer. This time I decided to take what I had learned from that experience and apply it, hopefully saving myself some money. As an aside, you should know that replacing a shower diverter is pretty similar to replacing a shower valve, so if you can do one, you can most likely do the other.
I did a little research and found that plumbing valve that switches the water from the bathtub to the shower sprayer was called a shower “diverter” and it is essentially just a mechanical valve for closing off one line of pipe to the tub faucet and switching it all to the shower. In my older bathroom the shower diverter was a completely separate knob, though in many cases they can be built onto the hot and cold temperature water selector. Generally, the steps for replacing a shower diverter like mine are fairly simple:
- Remove shower diverter knob.
- Take out old shower diverter.
- Replace it with a new shower diverter.
- Replace the diverter knob.
My steps were generally the same, but I hit a few challenges along the way. You can click on the photos to see larger pictures of how I replaced my shower diverter valve.
Removing the Shower Diverter Knob: This was supposed to be the easy part, but it ended up being a major hassle. I took out the screw in the knob and tried pulling the shower diverter knob off, but got nowhere awfully fast. I know that I should have used a gear puller, but I still didn’t have one. From my previous experiences with removing shower knobs I knew they could be pretty hard to remove, so I go a hammer and hooked it around the backside of the knob. I would simply pull the hammer towards me with a good bang, turn the knob a little bit and do it again, essentially “hammering” the knob off the stem from behind it. I’ve also heard of people prying off shower knobs with a hammer by using a block of wood against the tile of a shower, but I didn’t want to risk breaking the tiles, even with the wood serving as a safety. After a few minutes of turning the shower knob and banging it out I noticed it start to wiggle and then it popped right off. Sure enough, the knob had simply corroded itself into the shaft. Once the knob was off I used a wrench to twist off the metal sleeve tube (it was threaded on the end) and the cut the caulk around the metal plate at the shower tiled wall and removed that, all giving me a clear shot at the shower diverter.
Removing the Old Shower Diverter: All shower diverters are a little different, so I took a few minutes just looking it over, trying to get a sense of how it worked. Essentially I had unscrew two things: there was a front bolt which simply had threads on it and a bolt farther back that actually held the shower diverter valve in the entire diverter unit. I used a wrench again and was able to unscrew it quite easily, removing the whole valve assembly.
One look at the assembly told me why it wasn’t working. The rubber washers of the diverter valve were shot. They were stretched and worn and when I turned the shaft to open or close the valve they somtimes stuck and didn’t close back together very well. I didn’t see any easy way to replace the rubber washers alone, so I decided to replace the whole assembly.
Installing the New Shower Diverter: This was my next challenge. I drove across town to a Lowe’s hardware store to see if they had an exact replacement for my old shower diverter. I had no idea what the brand and model of my shower water assembly was (or even how old it was) so I took my old shower diverter valve with me for comparison. If Lowe’s didn’t have it I was planning on hitting a few other hardware stores and then scouting out some plumbing supply stores. I was in luck, however, and after about 10 minutes of searching I found what seemed to be a pretty good match for what I had in my hand. This was actually a good exercise because by finding the exact match I was able to learn that my shower diverter, and presumably the rest of my shower assembly, is made by a company called Gerber. If I need to repair any shower plumbing or valves or knobs in the future I can save some time by looking at the Gerber parts first.
The new assembly worked pretty much like the old assembly. I got home, removed the packaging and screwed it into the spot where my other diverter used to reside. It went in smoothly, which I took to be a good sign. It did come packaged with one extra nut, but it wasn’t attached and I had no idea what to do with it. I presume it was an option piece that helped some shower knobs work with this particular shower diverter.
Replacing the Shower Diverter Knob: Putting the knob back on wasn’t a big deal. I just put the diverter valve where the new one was and screwed it in, using a wrench to tighten the valve. I was careful not to over tighten it. Once it was on I had to fiddle around a little bit to make sure that the knob pointed down for the bath faucet and up (or up and to the left in my case) to operate the shower. Once the knob was in position I screwed in the end screw and was pretty much done. Before going any further I gave it a quick test run and it appeared to work perfectly! When I turned the shower on there wasn’t a single drop of water coming out of the bathtub faucet!
I then cleaned the old caulk off the tile around the knob plate and put the tube and metal plate back against the tile and put new caulk around it. This is important because that plate and caulk keep water from dripping down onto the shower diverter stem and then running back behind the walls of my shower.
The entire job took about an hour or so, without including the time it took me to get to the hardware store and back. The only tools I really used were a hammer, a screwdriver, an adjustable wrench and my finger to spread the caulk.
The shower diverter valve only cost me about $16, which makes this one of the cheapest and easiest plumbing repairs I’ve ever done! And by stopping the wasteful water that was pouring out of my tub faucet every time I take a shower I should also have a lower water bill next quarter, which means that replacing this simple shower diverter may end up paying for itself in lower water usage in just a few months!