Remodeling or building a new shower? Then you need a shower valve. But navigating the different types of shower valves and buying one isn’t such an easy decision.
For one, there are hundreds of different shower valve types, all made from different manufacturers with different features and benefits.
If you’re not familiar with shower valves, they are kind of like the heart of the shower, controlling the flow of water and temperature to the shower head, tub spout, body sprays, etc. Getting the right shower valve kit will not only ensure that you have the shower of your dreams, but that you won’t create a plumbing nightmare if there should ever be any repair needs with the product in the future.
In this article, I’m going to make sure you have a simple understanding of the different types of shower valves, their features and benefits and how to avoid the most common pitfalls. I’ll wrap it up by giving you a list of my top choices of shower valves on the market.
If you just want to skip the details and get our #1 Best Selling Shower Remodel Kit, here’s the list of products you’ll need.
- Main Shower Valve
- Shower Trim
- Transfer Valve
- Transfer Trim
- Rain Shower Head
- Overhead Shower Arm or Ceiling Mount Shower Arm
- Hand Held Shower Head
- Slide Bar
- Drop Ell
Types of Shower Valves Explained
In a nutshell, there are three different types of shower valves on the market: pressure balancing shower valve, thermostatic shower valve and diverter shower valve. Don’t skip through this section on how to choose a shower valve, because you’ll likely end up with something that doesn’t suit your needs.
Pressure Balancing Shower Valve
Ever flush a toilet when someone was in the shower, only to get yelled at because you burned them with hot water as a result?
That’s because you didn’t have a pressure balancing shower valve! Depending on how old you are, they may not have been in existence at the time. Today it is plumbing code to have pressure balancing in your home - making it one of the most important types of shower valves.
What you experienced is cold water being pulled away from the shower to the toilet, dropping the level of cold water while keeping the amount of hot water the same - resulting in scalding hot water in the shower. Pressure balancing shower valves can sense these pressure changes in the hot and cold lines and partially close down one side to continue to deliver a consistent water temperature.
These valves can require more frequent maintenance, as the internal cartridge balancing the pressure usually has a spool in it that can get locked up over time due to scale and heavy mineral deposits. That will inevitably cause your valve to not produce a consistent water temperature until you get a pressure balance shower valve replacement cartridge. But that’s a small price to pay for safety.
Pro-Tip: Most manufacturer’s back up their valve cartridges, and other parts, with a Limited Lifetime Warranty. So when in need of a part or troubleshooting, contact the manufacturer’s product support line to get to the bottom of the issue and the free parts necessary to make the repair. Read more here: https://www.theshowerheadstore.com/blogs/news/shower-head-faucet-warranty-information
One of the common pressure balancing valve problems is that there isn’t the ability to control the volume of water. So when you turn on the shower it starts at the coldest temperature at full water pressure. There are certain valves that offer temperature memory and volume control but you need to know exactly what to look for. Hang around until the recommendations section, and I’ll give you some good options.
When choosing between types of shower valves, you also need to know how many shower heads you will be using for your project. Pressure balancing valves are good for one to two shower heads at most, as they are equipped with standard sized ½” water inlets. As for larger showers with more shower heads and body sprays, you’ll need a different valve type because this ain’t gonna cut it.
Price-wise, the pressure balancing shower valve is the value buy, starting at around $80.
Thermostatic Shower Valve
Thermostatic shower valves operate in a similar manner as pressure balancing valves, with respect to maintaining a consistent water temperature even when other appliances are running water in the house.
So how do thermostatic shower valves work? Unlike a pressure balancing valve that uses a spool to control pressure changes, thermostatic shower valves use...well...a thermostat that regulates the temperature. This is a much more precise way to control the water temperature. You can literally control the temperature down to a degree, while with pressure balancing valves you’ll be sticking your hand in and out of the shower to find the “right” temperature.
Once you pinpoint the exact temperature that you want for your shower, you never have to deviate from it. That’s because thermostatic shower valves have a dial for the temperature and a separate control for the water volume. Again, with most pressure balancing valves, once you shut off the water you lose the temperature “memory”.
Because of this design, thermostatic valves are one of the best types of shower valves for larger showers with multiple shower heads and/or body sprays. This is due to the fact that they typically have at least ¾” water inlets, allowing more water to flow through the valve to the multiple devices being used.
Price-wise, this is the more expensive valve, starting at $400.
Diverter Shower Valve
The previous two types of shower valves are “main” shower valves that control the flow and temperature. Diverter shower valves, on the other hand, are optional valves that divert the flow of water between multiple shower heads. So, if you are only planning on using one shower head, you can skip using a shower valve with diverter.
Diverter valves are IN ADDITION to the main rough-in shower valve. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen clients buy diverter valves thinking that they were the main shower valve, only to be sadly disappointed when passing it along to their plumber...leading to project setbacks.
You’ll find these diverters installed just above the main shower valve with their own separate control. For pressure balancing valves, you’ll only ever need one of these diverter valves (as you’ll only be able to use up to two shower heads). For thermostatic shower valves, you can have multiple diverters to control all of your shower heads and body sprays. Typically, for thermostatic valves you need one diverter per shower head or spray.
Pro tip: When shopping for diverter valves, keep an eye out for 2-way diverter shower valves and 3-way diverter shower valves. A 2-way valve means that you can divert water between two shower heads, whereas a 3-way valve can run water to those independent shower heads or to both at the same time. I’d always opt for the 3-way! For thermostatic shower valves, you’ll typically need one diverter per shower head or spray.
Value bomb: If you want to save money on your project, or aren’t touching the rough plumbing in the wall, you can elect to use an external shower diverter. This type of diverter installs onto your shower arm and operates the same way, diverting water up to two different shower heads.
Avoid These Shower Valve Pitfalls! Consult Your Plumber
I wanted to take a brief pause here for a PSA before moving along. Please talk to your plumber about the types of shower valves you may need for your project and make sure you are on the same page before proceeding any further.
Miscommunications at this stage of your project can lead to unnecessary setbacks, which cost you time and money.
Do You Even Need A Shower Valve?
This is an important question to ask before spending too long exploring the different types of shower valves. Make sure you even need to provide a shower valve for your project. Two instances come to mind where you normally wouldn’t have to.
- The plumber intends on keeping the same valve in the wall. In that case, I would give you a word of warning. If the valve is not a pressure balancing shower valve, make sure that he (or she - I know some badass female plumbers too!) changes it out to bring the shower up to code. If it is up to code and you decide to keep it, determine the brand and valve name so you can find the right shower trim to go along with it. (For example: Moen (brand) Posi-Temp (valve name).
- The plumber intends on providing the valve. Some plumbers have preferred valves and will install one without even consulting you. (Of course the best plumbers will inform you, but let’s not assume anything.) If this is the case, and you are comfortable with that, confirm the brand and valve name so you can get the compatible trim (which I’ll discuss later), same as in the previous instance.
Types of Shower Valves: Connection Type
When exploring types of shower valves and installing them, it’s important to understand that there are different connection types.
Copper connection (CC) means that the plumber will have to directly solder the copper pipe into the valve.
Iron Pipe Straight (IPS) connections are threaded connections on the valve, where the plumber would attach an adapter to the valve before soldering the copper pipe into the adapter.
PEX is a plastic tubing that is preferred to copper due to its flexibility, resistance to scale, corrosion resistance and ease of installation (no soldering).
More and more new construction is moving away from copper pipes to PEX. Although it’s been around in the USA since the 1980’s, it does take some time for new home construction to catch up to all of the older homes with copper pipes.
Those are just some of the connection types, which is why it’s so important to consult with a plumber first before going on a shower valve shopping spree.
Other Things To Consider When Exploring Types of Shower Valves
Number of Valve Ports
Are you installing a walk-in shower or a tub/shower combo? That’s important to know, because there are 3- and 4-port shower valves. A three-port valve will have one for hot, one for cold and one port up to the shower head. A four-port valve will additionally have a port down to the tub spout.
Remember, a plumber can always cap a forth port on a valve if you only need three but he can’t create a fourth port if you only provide a three port valve. So know what you need before you buy one of the types of shower valves.
Service stops on a shower valve are optional but certainly come in hand, especially if you are in an apartment or condo.
They allow you to shut off the water to the valve so you can repair it without having to shut the main water source off. If you live in a building with multiple other residents, this could mean that you would have to shut off the water to the building or floor before you can fix your valve, which will take some time to get approved by the building’s superintendent. Even if you just live in a single family home, with these check stops you can work on the valve without stopping your washer from running water...you get the point.
I think they are worth it to have for the little extra cost of the upgrade. They can mean the difference between getting your valve repaired in a few hours or a few days.
Shower Valve Brands to Consider
When shopping for different types of shower valves and trim kits, I am a big advocate for buying products from national brands. Here’s why:
- Plumbing Codes: There are a lot of Chinese sellers on sites like Amazon selling nice looking shower systems, but they may not be up to code with American plumbing standards and/or not have compatible fittings with American plumbing systems.
- Reliability: Should you ever have an issue, like your shower valve leaking, having purchased a national brand with a reputable customer support team will save you a major headache. Repair parts are easy to get a hold of, whether it’s for free through their limited lifetime warranty or at your local hardware store if it’s really time sensitive. With off-brand products, it may be very hard to find repair parts. And when you are talking about shower valves that are installed in your wall, that could mean the difference between being able to fix your existing valve and having to open up the wall to remove the entire defective valve, all because you couldn’t get your hands on replacement parts.
The top three brands that I would consider for your shower valve and trim kit are as follows:
- Moen Inc.
- Delta Faucet
Sure, there are dozens of brands to choose from, but these are the most reputable American brands that the majority of plumbers know and trust. While an experienced plumber can install any type of shower valve, the more foreign or complex the project, the longer the project will take and that means more money out of your pocket.
Avoid These Shower Valve and Trim Kit Pitfalls!
Not All Trims Contain Valves
Just like there are different types of shower valves, there are different types of shower trim kits too. So don’t assume that just because you buy a valve that you’ll get a trim or vice versa.
Although Home Depot and Lowes, for example, sell kits that include both the valve and matching trim, that’s more of the exception than the rule. These big box store sets are usually very cheaply made with plastic components, and don’t offer much in the way of shower head performance.
Hey, I love Home Depot as much as the next guy, I'm just letting you know that the standard material quality there is sub-par.
When you shop online or from showrooms, especially from reputable name brands, the valve and trims kits are typically sold separately.
Again, you’ll just need to confirm the product details to know what exactly is included and buy the trim kit that matches the brand and valve model.
Not All Trims Contain Accessories
Additional accessories that you will need for your shower remodel are as follows:
Of course, you may want to add things like a slide bar or body sprays, which are mostly never included with these sets. Usually buying all of the components as one set is more economical and helps you to avoid issues with product compatibility. The downside is that there are less options when you look for a “complete” set.
I’ve written a previous article on this topic that dives into more of the fashion plumbing side, instead of the rough-in shower valve topic that we are covering here.
Read it here: Shower Remodel 101
Simply put, you cannot use any old shower trim with any type of shower valve. The trim is the decorative escutcheon plate and handle that you see and touch, which controls the valve inside the wall. Like a car, where you wouldn't use Mercedes-Benz parts on a Toyota, the same applies to shower valves and trims.
And it even goes a step further. Brands, such as Moen and Kohler, even have different types of shower valves that require specific types of trims. So you cannot just assume that “oh, I have a Moen valve, any Moen trim kit will work.” You must identify both the brand name and valve type before selecting your trim kit.
Top Recommendations for Valves and Trims
Here are our top picks for the different types of shower valves, factoring everything that we’ve discussed above. To keep it simple, we’ve selected one trim style per valve. However, brands typically offer 10-20 different styles of trims for each of their valves, so you can do your own research if you find that these styles aren’t necessarily your cup of tea.
Pressure Balancing Shower Valve Recommendations
Moen Posi Temp Valve (No Volume Control)
Moen Posi-Temp Trims
Moen Moentrol Valve (Pressure Balancing with Volume Control)
Moen Moentrol Trims
Moen Diverter Valve
Moen Diverter Trims
Delta Shower Valves
An interesting note on Delta Faucet’s Multi-Choice Shower Valve is that you can use a wide range of trim styles with this valve, including showers with or without volume control and even thermostatic options. The major difference is the cartridge that is being used. With the Multi-Choice, there is one standard valve body that does not include the cartridge but is compatible with many Delta cartridges and trims that vary in functionality. The trim style that you choose is what actually includes the cartridge that you install in the valve, and controls the functionality of the valve.
On the other hand, with most traditional valves, like the Moen Posi-Temp valve, when you buy their valve the specific cartridge is pre-installed in the valve and there is no way to change the functionality in the future without replacing the entire valve.
Delta Multi-Choice Valve
Delta Multi-Choice Trim
Kohler Shower Valve
Kohler Shower Trim
Thermostatic Shower Valve Recommendations
Moen Thermostatic Valve
Moen Thermostatic Trim
Moen Diverter Valve for Thermostatic Set Up
Moen Diverter Valve Trim
Finding The Best Types of Shower Valves For Your Project
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by all of the types of shower valves, we have put together a list of our preferred shower valve, diverter valve, trim and all the other accessories that you may want for a beautiful shower makeover, which you can find below.
And remember - your plumber is always a good place to start for recommendations and questions you may have about choosing the best shower valve and trim kit for your bathroom remodel or shower upgrade.
Still have questions? You can also contact The Shower Head Store at any time to speak to our knowledgeable customer service team about finding the right products for your bathroom.
Shower Makeover Recommended Products List
- Main Shower Valve
- Shower Trim
- Transfer Valve
- Transfer Trim
- Rain Shower Head
- Overhead Shower Arm or Ceiling Mount Shower Arm
- Hand Held Shower Head
- Slide Bar
- Drop Ell
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