A 3-handle shower faucet is extremely common in older bathrooms, and many are still in use today. In this arrangement, the left and right faucets are for hot and cold water respectively, and the center handle is a diverter valve that either allows mixed hot and cold water to exit through the spigot into the bathtub or forces the flow of water upward through the shower head.
If your 3-handle shower faucet has stopped diverting properly or begun to leak, it may be time for a replacement. Fortunately, for most homeowners with some experience in household projects, this is a job you can easily do yourself.
Getting the Equipment to Replace a 3 Handle Shower Faucet Diverter Valve
Most of the tools and equipment you will need for this job are common, everyday tools most homeowners already have. However, there are a few things you will need that are less common and worth thinking about before you start the job.
The most challenging part of this project may be locating the correct parts. It is important to replace your shower faucet diverter valve with the same make and model as the original, unless you are replacing your entire shower faucet system. Every manufacturer has slightly different stems, and they are not interchangeable. If you aren't sure exactly what make and model you need, you may need to remove the shower diverter valve and take it to a home improvement or plumbing supply store to find the correct replacement.
Depending on the manufacturer, you may be able to find a complete kit for replacing a 3-handle shower faucet set. You may want to consider this option, since an old and leaky diverter is a signal that the faucet may also be due for replacement. Replacing all three handles at once does not add significant time or complexity to the job over replacing just the diverter valve, and the kit may also have some specialty plumbing tools that you need for that specific job.
Tub and Shower Valve Socket Wrench
These can be purchased individually, at just the size you need, or come in a set with sizes for different shower valve stems. Not every shower faucet diverter valve replacement requires this tool, but most do. And, even if it is possible to access the stems with a channel wrench, experts advise using a tub and shower valve socket wrench anyway, to avoid stripping threads.
Valve Seat Wrench
Again, not every shower diverter valve replacement job requires a valve seat wrench, but many do.
Replacing a 3-Handle Shower Faucet Diverter Valve
In order to replace your shower faucet diverter valve, you will need:
A new valve
Phillips and flat head screwdrivers
A blanket, tarp, or towel
A tub and shower valve socket wrench
A channel wrench
You may need a valve seat wrench
You may need a faucet handle puller
You may need a lubricating spray to loosen old parts
18 Steps To Replace Your Shower Faucet Diverter Valve
To replace your shower faucet diverter valve, follow these steps:
Turn off the main water supply to your house.
Open the faucets in your shower to allow any remaining water to drain out.
Use a drop cloth, blanket, or towel to cover the tub drain and prevent any parts from falling down in it.
If necessary, use a flat head screwdriver to remove the index from the center of your valve handle, exposing the screw that holds the handle in place.
Use a screwdriver to unscrew the handle and remove it. For very old, crusty handles, you may need a faucet handle puller.
Remove the escutcheon by unscrewing it and the escutcheon sleeve. You may need to loosen these with a wrench or with lubricating spray. Do not use a wrench directly on the valve stem, to avoid damaging threads. If necessary, wrap the escutcheon with a cloth before using a wrench on it, to avoid damaging the finish.
Once the stem is exposed, use the tub and shower valve socket and a channel wrench to loosen and unscrew the stem. You may need to use lubricating spray to help unseat the stem.
Once you have removed the old diverter valve stem, use the flashlight to inspect the valve seating. The shower diverter valve has a small washer on the end, that should have come free with the stem. Make sure that the washer is not still in the fixture in the wall, and that the area is free from debris for your new valve.
Wrap the threads of your new valve in a layer of Teflon tape to ensure a good seal. Avoid putting tape on the first couple threads, so that the new connection seats well.
Insert the new valve stem and turn it by hand, ensuring that it is threaded correctly and seated well in the fixture.
Once the new valve stem is hand-tightened, use the tub and shower valve socket wrench and a channel wrench to tighten it another quarter turn.
Pause and clear out the tub of parts, tools, and your drop cloth.
Turn the water supply back on.
Turn the water on in your tub, with the diverter valve hand-adjusted to the tub flow position.
Ensure that water flows into the tub as it should, and use your flashlight to see if the diverter valve is leaking.
If the tub is working properly with no water leaks at the diverter, turn the diverter to the shower flow position.
Once again, use your flashlight to check the valve for leaks.
If there are no leaks, replace the escutcheon, the faucet handle, and the index. Make sure that any indicators on the handle (arrows or words indicating function) are pointed the right way.
Replacing a 3-handle shower faucet diverter valve is not a difficult job, although it can become more difficult with old valves that have a lot of rust and mineral buildup and are difficult to loosen. Use lubricating spray and gentle, even pressure with a wrench to break old connections. Be patient and don't rush, to avoid stripping threads or doing any damage to your shower faucet assembly. Done properly, the job takes just a few minutes, and your shower valve will be operating just like new in no time.
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