If the handles that control your shower’s hot and cold water are loose – if there’s a lot of play in them – you probably need to do a little plumbing work.
That’s one of two ways to know if you have a small problem with your shower fixture, according to Mike Frentz. The second way is when the bathtub spout or the showerhead drips. That means there’s a worn bib washer at the base of the stem.
In his previous articles for this plumbing series, Mike has diagramed how to fix common problems in kitchen and bathroom faucets, and in toilets.
This time it’s showers. The fixture assembly is a little more intricate, so you have to be a little more careful disassembling and reassembling.
The payoff for you: Unlike exposed pipes, say those underneath a sink, most of your shower fixture is behind a wall. You can’t see the damage from a leak until it soaks through. That’s why checking for small telltale signs now can save you a lot of grief later.
Chances are pretty good the washers you’re going to replace are old and made of paper fiber and graphite. You’re going to replace them with washers/packing made of rubber and cotton, which Mike says is much more durable. There are two washers to replace – the second one will be replaced with its modern-day counterpart, which is made of neoprene, an extremely durable substance.
Underneath each cap – properly called an index cap – you’ll find a screw. Unscrew it; set the screw and cap on the towel.
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Now you’re going to want to get the handle off of there to expose the escutcheon.
If it's stuck, don’t pry it off. It’ll snap and break the spine off the stem, and you’ll be looking at purchasing the better part of a new fixture at that point. Mike says to try tapping on it, gently, with a piece of wood (so it won’t dent or mar the chrome). If that doesn’t work, Mike has a special tool to help loosen it called a handle puller.
Next is the escutcheon. Mike says the escutcheon sometimes gets stuck in place from moisture or corrosion. You want it loose enough so it can be turned counterclockwise, by hand, and removed. Set it on the towel.
You’re only going to be concerned with a couple pieces of the assembly. Look at the diagram, then look at the fixture sticking out of the hole in your shower wall. You’re going to see two hex nuts. The first one holds the packing nut in place.
Mike says you want the second hex nut – the one closer to the wall. Loosening that one will allow you to remove the hole stem assembly from the main body of the faucet.
Now, if you can’t get your wrench around that second hex nut, then you have a wall flush with the assembly, making it inaccessible to regular tools. That’s why the plumbers’ socket set was invented.
Look at the picture – each of these sockets fits over the entire assembly and goes into the wall. You find the right socket, slide it over the assembly, and then put a regular screwdriver through the holes in the end to turn it.
What to change
Again, replacing these washers isn’t difficult, but it does require a little patience. If you get stuck, call Frentz and Sons. Mike, John, Chip or one of the other staff members can talk you through the process.
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Last update: September 26, 2006
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