New Shower Trim

This post is not for the timid.

I take it back, this post is for the timid. I want to prove to you that you can absolutely, 100% take on all sorts of projects, safely, and with professional looking outcomes.

Full disclosure: my grandfather was a carpenter and built not one but two homes for my grandma from the ground up with the help of my uncles. When I was 13 he helped me build a loft bed (notice, he didn’t build it for me, he helped me design and build it). When I was 16 he showed me how to wire electrical fixtures. My mom has been using power tools since before I can remember, and she was the one who showed me how to use a drill. My grandmother’s father died when she was very young in a tractor accident, and my great-grandma raised 7 children and ran the farm on her own. There is no “can’t do” in my blood, especially when it comes to making or fixing things, and there is no man’s work or women’s work, there is only work that needs to be done. My uncle is a contractor, and my go-to guy for “Can I do this?” “Should I do this?” and “How do I do this?”.

I started out asking him “Can I do this?” when I found a non-standard adapter soldered to the stub-out for the bath tub spout. And that was going to throw a wrench in all my plans to put new trim on our shower. Soldering (pronounced ‘saudering’), by the way, is sort of the most basic form of welding–you use a soft metal with a low melting point and put it between two things and melt it to stick them together. It’s not very high tech. I was a little hesitant when he replied that all I needed was a soldering kit (read: blow torch) and a wrench. I just heat the adapter evenly and pull and twist as the metal begins to soften until it slides off. Oh really, that easy, just use a blow torch to melt it off? Okay Uncle K, I’ll try anything once.

Nasty surprise: an adapter underneath the screw on tub spout

Always read ALL the safety instructions

Always read ALL the safety instructions

So, in a move that would make my high school physics teacher proud, I tightened my safety goggles and lit my $12 torch according to all the instructions that came with it. And then it’s like roasting a marshmallow.

Note in the third picture some toasty discoloration. That was my bad adjusting the angle to get all sides warmed up. Luckily, some moderate buffing and it came right out, good as new. Learn from my mistake and try as much as possible to angle the flame away from any plastic trim (which is tricky, especially since you can NEVER EVER hold the torch upside down).

Next, use a piece of fine sand paper and sand that pipe until it shines, with no solder (the silver stuff) left on it. Now install the new spout according to the instructions that come with it, and make sure to use silicone on the joints (more on that below).

Adapter removed!

Adapter removed!

Sand that stub out until the copper shines!

Sand that stub out until the copper shines!

Now it’s time for the shower head (arm and flange seen below). To remove the old shower head, just apply brute force counterclockwise, and maybe a little WD-40 to get things going. It should just unscrew from the wall, and you apply caulk (to prevent water from squeezing through the threads and spraying behind the wall) and screw the new one in its place. Do put the flange on the wall end of the arm before you install it, otherwise you can wreck the finish sliding it the whole length of the arm from the front end. Then, add silicone caulk again to the threads and twist the shower head into place. Easy-peasy.

Silicone Caulk

Silicone Caulk

Run your finger over a dab of caulk to smooth into threads

Run your finger over a dab of caulk to smooth into the threads

That part is a 5 minute project unless you get a well stuck old arm to remove, then you oil it and yank a while, oil it again and make coffee, come back and  yank some more, and just when you think you’re going to have to rent a friend’s husband to give it a little more muscle, it gives way. Then it’s a 45 minute project, but you got coffee out of it.The actual shower handle/knob/adjustment thingy totally depends on the brand and style you have, but suffice it to say, don’t strip it down to the rough-in valve for the love of God. Just take it down to where all the cheap trim is gone, and then pick up the installation instructions at that point for your new trim. It is very important that you match the brand (or get universal replacement trim) or none of this will work. We had a Delta valve, so I simply removed a few screws, slid off the old face, slid on the new face, and put new screws in.

This is the builder grade chrome and plastic trim our showers came with

Before: the builder grade chrome and plastic trim our showers came with

After: new oil rubbed bronze WaterSense trim kit

After: new oil rubbed bronze WaterSense trim kit

This was an extra uber-duber deal because I got the $200 trim kit for $45, and the only installation cost was the benzomatic torch for $12, and much of it is left for another project. And now we will save money on our water bill AND have a shower head that doesn’t sting.

[Update: I forgot to mention that putting silicone in the threads is adequate for the short term and I did it because it’s what I had on hand, but really for longevity, you need to wrap a few time with plumbers tape]

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