Apr 012012

Shower faucets – a topic I figured would be easy to research and write about. Not so much, actually. The information I found was dripping with either measuring for your sink or plumbing info that pretty much assumed you knew what they were talking about. Maybe I would if I could find the information what it means. Even my old standbys – Lowes and Home Depot – weren’t very much help.

What exactly is a “shower faucet” anyway?

The first thing I thought was: how hard could this be? Shower faucets – we all know what they are – it’s those handles we turn to get the water to come out of the shower. Easy peasy, right? Well, not so fast. It turns out that the term “shower faucet” can either mean this, or it can refer to all the parts, including the shower head and nozzles. One article I found even said that they are always sold as kits – the handles and the shower head. Well, I know that’s not true because I’ve purchased replacement shower heads multiple times and never touched any plumbing. Just unscrewed the shower head from the “pipe” coming out of the wall and screwed on a new one.

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Although, this is true for sink faucets – in that case, the “faucet” refers to the part the water flows from, as well as the “handle” configuration that turns the water on and off. And, in many cases, when you are looking to change your faucet for a new look, you will find the knobs and shower head as a kit so that they all look the same. That doesn’t mean you have to purchase them together, though.

In a shower, the set up is a little different. With a tub and shower combo, there is the “faucet” or the “pipe” that the water pours from into the tub. Then there is the portion above you where the water comes out for the shower. In a sink this is called a “faucet” but in a shower, I have always called it a “shower head.”

For a strict shower, without the tub portion, then it’s straightforward: the “faucet” is the handles, and the pipe the water comes out of is the “shower head.” This isn’t technically true as far as purchasing plumbing products goes, but it works for practical purposes. When you go to replace these parts, you either purchase a shower head portion, or you buy the replacement handles. In most instances, you don’t purchase the plumbing pipe that connects the handles to the shower head.

So, a “shower faucet” is strictly the handles. If the shower head is directly connected to the handle (not the usual case and mostly seen on clawfoot tub configurations) that goes into a special category that isn’t the topic of this article.

Handle Styles

Well, now we’ve got that straight, you have to think about what style of handles you have, because the plumbing behind the styles differs. The two most common are the 3 handle variety and the one handle lever type.

With three handles, one is for hot, another for cold, and the third for switching from the tub to the shower. With a one handled shower faucet, the handle turns from left to right, changing the temperature depending on the position of the handle, rather than how much you turn each knob separately. With a single handle, there is a lever that you pull, usually on the top of the tub faucet, that makes the water come out of the shower head instead of the tub faucet.

When you look to replace your faucet, you’ll find lots of styles of these two designs. You can choose from multiple finishes from brass to chrome, wood to ceramic. That’s all on the outside of the wall, though. Unlike with a lamp or a toilet seat, you can’t just choose a faucet based on looks. You also have to know what configuration your plumbing is, because you have to get a set of handles that will mesh properly with the mechanism behind the scenes, in the wall.

Types Of Faucets

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Again, the information available talks about ball and cartridge and washer less faucets – for the most part, this is referring to *sink* faucets – not what you will find in a bathtub. I’ve never seen a bathtub that has a handle on a ball that moves back and forth – sinks sure, but not tubs.

So, what types of faucets *are* in showers?

1. Using a washer. This type tightens the handle against a washer that seals off the flow of the water. If you have a 3 handled design that you turn the handle tight to turn off the water, you most likely have the washer type.

2. A cartridge faucet. To repair these, you will need to replace the whole cartridge. This a single piece of hardware that fits between the knob and the pipe/plumbing delivering the water. This type of faucet is called a “washer less” faucet and is usually seen on a shower faucet that includes a single knob or lever to change the temperature.

Getting A New Faucet

When you go to purchase a new faucet, what you buy will depend on what you are doing: changing the look, or repairing a leak.

In both cases, it can be helpful to take the old pieces with you to the store to get replacement parts. In the case of fixing a leak, you will be working with the cartridge or the washers on the plumbing behind the handles, but keeping the same outside look.

In the case of changing the outside look, or the “finish,” then you will need to know the dimensions of your old faucets and often the manufacturer. In many cases, the faucets aren’t interchangeable between manufacturers. Fortunately, all the major manufacturers have many styles to choose from if you are looking to change the look of your faucets through replacement parts.

Shower faucets are fairly straightforward devices, but finding information on them can be like pulling teeth. I hope this article has helped you sort through all the confusion to get to what you need for your shower.

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