I have an old-looking rotary on-off, cold-hot dial whose trim and knob I would like to update. I would also like to replace the shower head, swapping out a chrome one for a brass one. Do I have to shut off the water to perform these operations? (I'm not allowed to shut it off in my building.) Would I need special tools? Do I need a plumber for the operations?
Swapping out the shower head is easy enough and as long as the shower is
off, you don't need to worry about turning off any other water supply.
This is a picture of a fairly typical shower:
round piece on the wall is a escutcheon (or just a trim plate), the
curved metal tube is called the shower arm, and of course the shower
head. The good news is that everything is (almost always) a standard
size. If you want to change just the shower head you'll need either an
8" adjustable wrench or a pair of tongue and groove plier (e.g.,
Channellock) and either some teflon tape or pipe joint compound to seal
the threads. While messier, I prefer joint compound because it's less
prone to leaking.
shower heads, if you look carefully have a pair of flat areas near
where the head connects to the shower arm so you can use an adjustable
wrench to remove the head (turn it counter clockwise as viewed from the
front). Once you have the old shower head off clean the threads with a
rag. If the installer used teflon tape, you may need to "pick" that
off with your finger nails. Once you have the old threads cleaned up, you're ready to install the new shower head.
you use joint compound, just apply it with your finger. You just need
enough to basically fill the valleys of the threads. It doesn't matter
if you use too much, because the excess will just squeeze out. If you
use tape, wrap it clockwise three turns around the pipe keeping it tight
to the threads. Once you're around three times, you can just grasp the
tape close to the threads and pull until it snaps. Then thread on the
new shower head again in a clockwise direction. Tighten with an
adjustable wrench. The head really needs to just be snug or a little
more. If you used joint compound, wipe off any excess. Turn on the
shower and check for leaks. If, on the off chance, there is a leak
tighten the head about 1/4" turn.
If you want to replace the
shower arm and trim piece, that's a little more "risky" because the
connection between the shower arm and the pipes inside the wall is
inside the wall so any leaks won't be visible. If you do choose to
replace the shower arm you don't even need to take off the old shower
head. Grab the shower arm with your Channellocks and loosen it by
turning counter clockwise.
Once you get the arm out, take a flashlight and look in the hole. Inside the wall will be a fitting called a drop ear elbow that looks like this:
best you can, inspect the threads for a debris and clean them. Wrap a rag around your finger or something like a wooden spoon handle and rag (don't
use anything metal that could damage the threads). Apply joint compound
to the threads of the shower arm, remember that the longer straight
part goes into the wall. Be a little generous with the compound but not
crazy. Carefully thread the arm into the drop ear elbow and make as
tight as you can by hand. Then wrap a rag around the shower arm to
protect it from damage and continue to tighten the arm with your pliers and remember the end of the pipe
needs to point down. You want it tight but not crazy tight because you
risk damaging the arm and even snapping it off at the drop ear. Slip on
the trim plate and then install the shower head as described above.
you have to check for leaks. Slide the trim plate down, turn on the
shower, and look in the wall to check for leaks. Depending on how tall
your are you may have to stand on the edge of the tub. Obviously be
careful because wet tubs are slippery.
As for updating the shower valve itself, those tend to be more brand specific. While generic replacements may be available I might suggest going to the manufacturer and seeing what they have available. Moen, Delta, and Pfister have pretty good phone support for consumers and can help you identify the model and point you to available parts.
Typically the manufacturers name is printed or stamped somewhere on the knob or trim place.
The other option is to take the knob and the trim ring off and take them to your local Home Depot. Put a rag over the drain to prevent anything from falling down. More times than not the knob is held on but a screw under a decorative cap on the front of the knob. Use a putty knife or small screw driver to carefully pry off the cap and loosen the screw. The knob should straight off. Otherwise there is a small screw (or screws) on the side, often Allen (hex) head. Loosen and remove the screw(s). The knob should pull straight off.
The trim ring is usually held on by two screws and caulk. Remove the screws and use a utility knife or putty knife to cut the caulk.