The subway tiles that are lining the hallway are taunting me. Staring at me as I walk by. They’re begging to be installed, and still I had to put them on hold for another day. Why? More plumbing-related roadblocks, that’s why.
We finished most of the HardiBacker installation on Day 3, but ran into an issue right around any normal person’s bedtime that caused us to stop in our tracks (and sleep). The old CPVC and copper plumbing that ran water into the faucet and shower head had been previously installed in such a way that the pipes protruded from the wall further out than the studs (I think a carpenter would say it was “proud’?), and therefore couldn’t be covered with HardiBacker; the HardiBacker boards would have crushed the plumbing, or the plumbing would have tried to bow the HardiBacker, creating a non-level surface. Because the pipes had extra space behind the old fiberglass shower surround, it wasn’t an issue for whoever did the last bathroom remodel, and most likely, the plumbing had been customized precisely for that previous shower style. Little did I know that it would be a problem – it all needed to be moved before we could get the last of the HardiBacker installed, and that’s why the subway tiles in the hallway were so close to being installed, yet so far away.
I discovered another (pricy) issue too: The manufacturer of my original shower valve wasn’t identifiable (and in all honesty the trim had the insignia of a brand I had never seen before). I had planned on updating the trim by buying a replacement handle and new faucet spout, but that plan flopped and turned into something much bigger.
I had to make a lot of decisions on Day 4, but I think it all came together really well. Check our the progress!
First things first: As I mentioned, the shower pipe protruded out further than the studs in the wall. We planned to shift the support beam that it was attached to back a few inches and put a line in the win column. That would have been great, but when we realized that we couldn’t make use of any in-stock replacement handles, we knew the only answer would be to replace the whole valve too. As you can see in the first picture in the post, replacing the valve (where the knob is) involves replacing… everything. On the bright side, we were losing the plastic crystal knob and going to upgrade the whole system to our liking.
Buying a new valve isn’t as simple as it sounds because every manufacturer these days selling through convenient channels (I’m talkin’ Home Depot, Lowes, your friendly neighborhood shop) bundles the valve and handle, the shower head, and quite often, the faucet together in one neat 10×18 box for consumer and contractor efficiencies. I get it, I’m all about monetary and time efficiency, so that makes sense. Based on some conversations I’ve had, it sounds like you can special order individual components, but then you’re (I’m) delaying the construction waiting for pieces to come in the mail and you (I) already really (really, really) miss your shower, and you’re (I’m) willing to bite the bullet and spend a little more, even if you don’t need another shower head because you love and want to use the one you already have. When it comes right down to numbers, the incremental cost to buy the whole valve/faucet/handle/shower head combo box really isn’t that significant (I’m estimating this based on the cost of my own set, but consider that one valve might cost $130, and entire new set of trim with the valve costs $172). The extra shower head came out to an extra $9, by the way, but I’ll save it for another bathroom or wrap it up and regift it for next Christmas. (A new shower head would be a really thoughtful Christmas gift though, don’t you think? Or is that just me?) I digress.
The new kit I selected was by Delta and had a more streamlined, modern design than many of the other kits in my price range. Finished in Brilliance Stainless, Delta’s trademarked name for Satin Nickel, the curves and lines went well with the Ikea GRUNTAAL faucet for the vanity that I already bought (I even brought the real GRUNDTAL faucet with me on my shopping excursion to make sure it would match any pieces I needed to purchase).
As I mentioned, the new kit came with the tub faucet and a shower head too. They’re pretty, no doubt, but $172 was a big bite out of my maximum $1,500 budget.
Replacing the valve on the shower means that the entire shower needed to be re-plumbed, and that’s not something we had been hoping to do. We tried to make the most efficient use of the opportunity, buying new PEX pipes (for all of $2.98) and Gator Bite fittings (for about $50 total). Back at home with all of the materials, I started by turning off the water and loosening the existing pipes from the studs and wall (is that a piece of rope around the valve in the next picture?). I wrapped a towel around the base of the pipes to avoid water gushing out uncontrollably when I severed the existing hot and cold water pipes. There wasn’t a lot stored in the pipes, but it did help grab a half-cup of so.
With all of the piping removed we quickly realized that there would be no bathing until it was reinstalled, so we proceeded optimistically, hoping that it wouldn’t take 5 days to figure out. With all plumbing removed, we seized the unexpected opportunity to raise the height of the shower head 10-inches. Ten. Whole. Inches. I’m 5’9″, so that’ll make a huge difference, and I’m excited for it. The old shower head did have a extender on it that raised the height of the shower head about 5″, but it really wasn’t enough for me.
In the picture, I’m marking the original height of the shower with my hand, and showing you how much higher we installed the 2×4 brace with shower fitting. It’s now about 6’8″ from the base of the tub, and more than ever before, I can’t wait to test it out.
After mounting the placement of the new shower fitting, we prepared the new valve itself, first by wrapping the threads with white Teflon PTFE tape.
Also, before install, I applied the Gator Bite fittings to the valve securely, knowing that they’d all be more difficult to twist into place once the valve was screwed into the stud.
If you’re wondering how we determined how far back to position the valve, the instructions pretty clearly explained how much of the valve needed to protrude outside of the tile, and graciously allowed about 3/8″ of wiggle room. Easiest way for us to do this was to extend a scrap piece of HardiBacker level on the studs, and layer one subway tile over that (with an extra 1/8″ estimated for mortar) to see how thick those finishing components would be. Then we measured backwards to determine where back of the valve would need to rest flush. The framing nailer helped us to quickly anchor the 2×4 in place, and the valve was installed and leveled quickly.
Take a second to familiarize yourself with an exposed valve; hot water on the left, cold water on the right. The fitting going straight up will allow the flow of water to the shower, and the fitting going down is for water going to the tub faucet spout. We aligned the fitting for the spout directly beneath that downspout, and were all ready to begin installing the PEX lines.
Side note: We did use a bunch of recycled 2×4 boards; they appear a little damp because they were in the vicinity of the pipes when I severed them, but were structurally in good shape.
Going upwards from the valve to the newly anchored shower head fitting, I installed my first piece of PEX. Soft and flexible, it was cut to length easily with a sharp utility knife, and popped directly into the Gator Bite. Another note: There are extra white fittings that you need to use when you’re installing PEX to a SharkBite or Gator Bite. The long and short of it is that you’ll need to put that fitting into the end of the PEX and then insert the entire tip into the fitting. Read the instructions carefully, because I read on many forums that DIYers were confused with this step. None of us want leaky pipes.
We connected PEX to the original hot/cold water too, bringing pressure back up to the new valve. The downspout, however, is connected to the valve with copper piping per the Delta installation instructions. With a temporary piece of PEX attached to the downspout to direct water into the tub, I tested out out work. Success. I love plumbing.
In order to test that the shower was plumbed correctly and securely (obviously a very important step), we attached the new faucet temporary to engage the diverter. We ran the shower for a few minutes to make sure there were no leaks in our plumbing from where the water came in (without a shower curtain, this was a little messy), and then checked all over for possible leaks between the fittings and the valve and the outputs.
Confident in our plumbing job (testing the water flow for leaks at least 5 times), we sealed the moisture barrier over the lip of the new tub. I realized that I didn’t show this step in our Day 4 update: quite simply, we cleaned the edge of the tub with denatured alcohol and used a clear silicone sealant along the back edge of the tub lip. Once the 6 MIL moisture barrier was pressed into the edge of the tub, the silicone coated the whole back panel down to the corner edge, creating a thorough seal to prevent water from wicking up into the studs.
Moisture barrier in place and plumbing checked for leaks, it was time to install the final pieces of HardiBacker and tape the joints in the boards. I chose to use a self-adhesive mesh that deters mold and was listed as being a good product for use in wet areas. If you haven’t had a chance to use self-adhesive tape before, I’d recommend it. It unrolls and sticks with little effort, creating a nice bond. The only trouble that I can report is that the edges begin to fray, and once they start, it tends to become a tangly mess. I’ve seen it be more of a problem when it’s taping drywall joints (harder to hide the frayed edges beneath mud and paint) but it wouldn’t be an issue in this shower, since once it was mudded, it would also be coated by tiles.
Next step, tiling! I’m squirming with delight to have my shower back, and hoping our first wall tiling project goes smoothly.