December 5, 2021
By Mikael Short
The shower valve plays a big role when it comes to your showering routine. The showerhead may be where water flows from, but the shower valve controls the water pressure and temperature to ensure an enjoyable shower experience.
Your shower valve is what makes the difference between a shower that turns scalding hot after a toilet is flushed and one that maintains its temperature when someone uses another water fixture. Those water temperature surges can be dangerous, leading to surprise slips and falls. So, to mitigate those surges and keep as consistent of a temperature as possible, you need the right kind of shower valve!
To purchase the right shower valve type for your shower, whether for a bathroom or shower remodel or replacement, here’s what you should know:
The shower valve is the inner device within the wall that regulates water temperature, flow, and output to the showerhead, tub spout, and other shower accessories. The cartridge in the valve connects it to the external trim handles as a supporting player in controlling the water flow and temperature.
Shower Faucet vs Shower Valve
A shower faucet refers to the showerhead and sometimes a tub spout and other visible faucet handles and controls in a shower. Shower faucets and their accompanying controls are sometimes called shower trim, which are the visible pieces of your shower that you use every day. Unlike shower trim, most shower valves are installed out of sight.
Shower valves are mostly sold separately from shower trim and accessories. Not all shower trim sets come with valves.
Because they work in tandem, both the shower faucets (the shower trim) and the shower valve must be made by the same manufacturer and be the right pairing to ensure a proper fit to work correctly.
Types of Shower Valves
There are a few different types of shower faucet valves to know about.
One of the most common valves, pressure balancing valves (PB valves) automatically control the balance of water pressure between hot and cold water. When the water passes through a set of pistons and diaphragms, the valve detects changes in water pressure from the hot and cold water lines and restricts one side to ensure a steady water temperature (within 2-3 degrees).
PB valves are usually accompanied by single-handle shower faucets that turn left and right to control both the water pressure and the temperature. As the industry standard, they are also the most affordable shower valve option.
One downside is that you can’t control the volume of water on many models, though a few designs have temperature memory and volume control.
Pressure balancing valves are also known as anti-scald valves, shower pressure valves, or mechanical valves.
Thermostatic valves (TS valves) have two valves and two handles to control the pressure and temperature, so you can set the temperature without affecting the water volume, and vice versa.
TS valves can sense and control the water temperature through a wax insert, or other thermosensitive element, that expands or contracts to restrict the water supply when it reaches the desired heat threshold.
With a thermostatic valve, you have direct control over the water temperature by presetting a temperature control on the valve, providing scalding protection. It maintains the desired temperature to within one degree. You can also set an overall temperature limit on the valve. Also, when you shower and set your preferred temperature with the handle, you don’t have to change the temperature handle to get that same temperature next time you shower.
The thermostatic valve is regarded as superior to a pressure balancing valve, and it is the most expensive valve type.
Outdated and Prone to Scalding
The shower mixing valve, or a manual valve, is the oldest of the shower valve types and is most often found in older homes. This type of valve mixes cold water and hot water from the taps before sending it through to the showerhead.
There’s a risk of scalding with the mixing valve if the cold water pressure drops since this type of valve doesn’t regulate sudden pressure fluctuations. It is no longer permitted in new buildings with this danger.
If you have a mixing valve, an anti-scald pressure-balancing valve or even a thermostatic valve would be a worthy upgrade. However, make sure your plumbing is strong enough to withhold the update.
The shower diverter valve (DV) diverts water from a bathtub faucet to a showerhead, or a showerhead and another sprayer, and vice versa. These aren’t necessary if you only have one showerhead, though they are commonly seen in tub-shower combinations.
There are three types of shower diverter valves:
- Tee diverter: A pull arm is used to divert water from the bathtub faucet to the showerhead by blocking the flow to the former once a desired temperature is reached.
- 2-valve diverter: A rotating handle is used to control hot and cold water, while the other knob redirects water between the shower and tub or other sprays.
- 3-valve diverter: Two knobs are used to control the cold and hot water, and the third control diverts water between the shower and tub/other sprays.
For water flowing through different faucets or heads, whether alternately or at the same time, the shower transfer valve (TV) is the one you’ll need. A transfer valve distributes water flow to multiple outputs depending on where you want it.
Concealed vs Exposed Valves
Most valve designs are concealed, meaning they’re hidden within the wall of your shower. This is great for small showers or shower-only bathrooms, and if you want to minimize clutter in the bathroom for a clean minimalist or modern look.
Exposed valves are newer but growing in popularity since they can be installed without opening up the wall, and installed mounted on the shower wall or tile. This makes it easier to replace or repair the valve and cartridge. Exposed valves work best in showers with a little wiggle room to avoid hitting your elbows on the mounted pieces.
Best Shower Valve Manufacturers
Now you know the difference between the different shower valves, here are some of the most trusted brands who make them!
Kohler - A long-time trusted manufacturer for their resilient brass valves. High quality may come with a higher price tag but longer lifespan. Kohler’s pressure-balancing valves are a particular favorite.
Moen - Popular for thermostatic valves and digital shower panels, Moen valves are durable and made with quality materials.
Delta - A more affordable and easier to install shower valve manufacturer. Delta is known for its multi-choice universal shower valve, which is compatible with a wide selection of Delta trims and cartridges.
Most reputable valve manufacturers offer limited lifetime warranties.
How to Identify the Type of Shower Valve & Shower Faucet You Own
Your shower faucet and shower valve go hand-in-hand, and so it’s important to properly identify the type of faucet and the valve you own before replacing or repairing your shower system. Although the best way to identify the shower valve type is to speak with a plumber, the following steps can give you some clues on what shower valve type you currently own.
1. Count the Number of Shower Faucet Handles
Often, the type of shower faucet and handle(s) will indicate what kind of shower valve is behind it.
Zero handles may imply a shower panel faucet with buttons to control water flow and temperature.
A single-handle shower faucet controls both flow and temperature with one handle, the most common and easy-to-use option.
A double-handle faucet controls hot and cold water through each handle.
A three-handle faucet controls both the hot and cold water along, and a diverter handle shifts water flow between the showerhead, other shower attachments, or a tub.
2. Determine How the Shower Faucet is Connected
A mounted showerhead, or fixed showerhead, directly connects to the shower pipe in the wall. It’s a stationary showerhead faucet that you may or may not be able to adjust the water flow angle on.
A handheld showerhead, or handset showerhead, has a hose that runs from the showerhead to the shower pipe behind the faucet handle. They offer more flexibility in terms of being able to move the showerhead around.
3. Identify the Manufacturer
To identify the manufacturer of your existing valve, check the center of the trim plate for a logo or letter indicating who it’s made by—K for Kohler, M for Moen, though some brands have their full name on their trim.
Also, certain valves within each brand may require a specific kind of trim, so it’s important to check the manufacturer and the type of faucet you have or want.
4. Check the Shower Cartridge
You can identify the manufacturer of the shower valve you have by removing and checking the cartridge for the brand name.
Do not try to mix and match with manufacturers when it comes to shower faucet and valve parts. The different brands’ faucet and valve types and sizes are not interchangeable.
Caring For Your Shower Valve
How to Make Your Valve Last
Shower valves made by trusted manufacturers are built to last a very long time. To keep them in tip-top shape, use your shower regularly. A regularly used shower is less likely to go bad as quickly as a scarcely used one.
If you’re remodeling or replacing your water heater, installing a water conditioner will also improve the lifetime of your shower valves by softening the water that passes through them, so less scale and hard water buildup will occur.
When to Replace Your Shower Cartridge
Both mixing valves and pressure balancing valves have inner cartridges that can wear out over time. In PB valves, the spool inside the cartridge can also start to stick due to hard water buildup and scale.
One sign to replace your PB valve cartridge is when you get mostly hot or cold water, suggesting the mixing mechanism isn’t working properly. Another sign the cartridge has failed is when water stops flowing.
Thermostatic valve cartridges also may need replacing after some time.
Due to their design, TS valves are prone to gathering dirt or debris in the check valves that control the flow of water from the hot and cold water taps. If water temperature or volume is unequal or imbalanced, inspect and clear the check valves per instructions from the manufacturer. If that doesn’t work, replace the cartridge.
Hold onto your manufacturer manuals so you always know where to look for troubleshooting tips.
When in doubt… Ask for help!
If you’re unsure about anything when it comes to replacing or getting a new shower valve, don’t hesitate to reach out to a plumber. Plumbing can be tricky and mistakes can be costly to fix. It’s better to ask a pro to get it right the first time than to regret it and pay more later.
For help selecting the right shower faucet and shower valve for your space, reach out to our expert design consultations at 855.483.2629 or browse our selection today!