If you have an older home with an original bathroom, there's a good chance you have a 3-valve shower setup. While these designs have been popular in homes for many years, modern homes use single-handle showers with pressure-balanced designs. Of course, bathroom renovations are expensive, so plenty of homes still use this much older design.
As with any plumbing fixture, leaks in 3-valve designs are not uncommon. Leaks may cause your faucet to drip continuously or even allow water to leak behind the wall. Unfortunately, many homeowners don't know how to approach these older faucets. If you're dealing with a leak from a 3-valve shower, the answers to these three questions might help you understand your next steps.
1. Do You Need to Perform a Single-Handle Conversion?
In many areas, 3-valve showers are no longer up to code due to potential safety issues resulting from the separate hot and cold valves. This design can lead to sudden increases in temperature, even causing burns. However, these code changes don't necessarily mean that you need to replace your current shower handles with new ones.
If your shower leaks, your local building codes may allow you to repair or replace your current valves with similar ones. In many cases, these code changes only apply to new construction or large-scale remodeling that requires a permit. Still, it's a good idea to consult with an experienced local plumber if you have any concerns about the legality of installing new 3-valve equipment.
2. Will Your Tub Have Mismatched Handles?
If you commit to a repair instead of a conversion, you'll likely need to replace one or more handles. Of course, the fact that these designs are no longer up to code means that you often can't find identical or similar models in the average big box store. While most stores will carry some replacements, they may not match your existing hardware.
Fortunately, you can often determine the original brand and special order replacements that match your current handles and spouts. If in doubt, most plumbers can usually source a close or exact replacement, allowing you to fix your current leak without leaving your bathroom hardware mismatched.
3. Can a Shower Leak Cause Damage?
In many cases, leaky showers are just annoyances. The valve may no longer create adequate pressure when the handle is closed, causing some water to slip past the valve. The result may be a dripping faucet or an unbalanced mix of hot and cold water. However, loose valves or failing gaskets can sometimes allow water to drip behind the shower wall, even causing damage to rooms below.
Because of the potential for damage (and the wasted water), you should never ignore a leaky 3-valve shower. Even if your local codes require you to upgrade to a single-handle unit, this conversion is often straightforward, and you can use a cover plate to cover the old holes. Taking care of the problem now will help prevent more expensive future water damage.
For help with your system, contact a plumbing service in your area.