Oct 14, 2013

A Broken Shower, Fixed

So this is a very long story about our broken shower in a house with only one. It finally has a happy ending, but I’m embarrassed to say that it took several weeks. I’m sure already you are asking yourself - WHY would we ever wait so long? HOW? And maybe even Ew. Gross. Good thing I don’t know you in person! But let me explain.

Basically our 3-year-old shower faucet handle broke, specifically the center diverter handle that brings the water up from the tub faucet to the shower. The tub spout still worked so Oliver was completely unaffected. We were just faced with some really lousy choices. Option 1 was to replace the hardware altogether - except that meant opening up the wall, replacing pipes, re-tiling, re-grouting... and pay outrageous plumber fees. Option 2 was to order the replacement part from the manufacturer and try to fix it ourselves, but the shipping was terrible - $15 for two weeks or $76 for 2 days (on a $5 “specialty” part!). And we still had to call someone because the diverter handle was stuck and even with the right tools, we still couldn’t get it off. (We tried and broke two tools and didn’t want to go for a third round out of fearing plumbing damage.)

We didn’t want to deal with a minor bathroom gut job, even if that was the better long term solution. We ordered the replacement part, hoping to spare ourselves the pain of opening the wall, and decided to wait the two weeks ($15 was ridiculous for a small part stuffed into an envelope by the manufacturer). How bad could it be we thought? It will be like camping! Hah!

Then we waited...waited...and waited some more for it to arrive. When it finally did, Mike made the aforementioned attempts to replace the part himself with tools purchased at Home Depot. It didn’t work, so we called a handyman who was willing to replace the part and wouldn’t insist we open the wall in the shower. Except then we had scheduling conflicts. Georgia had to be rushed to the vet (she’s fine). Then the handyman had a family funeral and another job tying him up. Then we were on vacation. It was ridiculous really looking back, how long we had to live like this, but we survived.

Finally we were back from vacation and we had the guy come and pull off the handle. Even he had a hard time of it, which made us feel better about our struggle. He said there was a lot of hard water buildup inside everything. He replaced the part and water was coming out the shower head again. We celebrated and gave each other high-fives. We thought it was fixed… until after he left we realized that there was almost no water pressure and only hot water was coming out. Uggggghhhhhhh.

So then it was time to call in the big guns and we called our real plumber. The one who said we’d have to open the wall. He was right. So the night before he came Mike chipped away the tiles and cut a hole in our wall to expose the plumbing where he told us to. Oh and this was almost 2 weeks after our phone call - he was booked until then, so it was 2 weeks of a 85% broken shower.

When our plumber opened up the pipes, it turns out we had ridiculous hard water buildup. Seriously I had no idea it could be this bad after only 3 years. I knew our water was hard, but I didn’t realize it was THAT hard. So the next big (aka expensive) to-do on our list after the shower is to install a water softener. We can’t keep opening up the walls every 3 years. The hard water buildup not only clogged the pipes, but it damaged the shower fixtures beyond repair - which is why replacing the valve part only helped a little bit.

The plumber picked up a new shower hardware set at our local plumbing supply store so that if something ever breaks again, we don’t have to wait 2 weeks for some shady manufacturer to send us a part. And he replaced the pipes in the wall and put in wider ones. Everything was then “fixed”... aka ready to be put back together...

Forgive the bad lighting, it was night and I forgot to adjust the white balance because I was so tired. And forgive how dirty everything is, the demo and construction left everything covered in many layers of dirt and grime, bits of grout and yellow and gray dust. Yuck. The good news is that our shower was working again. With FULL water pressure AND cold water.


  1. Wow, that stinks. Do you have a septic system? It's hard to believe that hard water can be that damaging.

    1. No, thank goodness, we are connected to the town sewer system. It would be really stressful to maintain a septic with our water issues. Hard water is surprisingly damaging! We don't have a dishwasher, but we were warned by our neighbors that without a water softener it has a 2-3 year lifespan. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that our shower hardware broke...

  2. That was an unfortunate turn of events. I had a similar situation a few years ago, when I had to spend hours trying to remove hard water buildup from our kitchen sink faucet. I found out that the drain pipe was already damaged, so I decided to call a professional plumber to get advice on whether I needed to have it replaced or if a simple repair will do.

    Levi Eslinger @ CapitalPlumbing.ca

  3. Sorry to hear that your shower problem got worse. Hard water buildup is actually easy to remove, but, yeah, it’s surprising that it accumulated in your faucet that fast. It was a good thing your plumber quickly fixed the problem.

    Monica Ryan