Q: My shower is looking dated and I want to freshen it up without spending too much money. I have tiles in the shower and the handles look disgusting. Any ideas?
A: Showers that look gross leave you feeling nasty even after you’ve just showered in them. It’s like eating gourmet food out of a dog dish … the experience just isn’t what it should be. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do that will make you feel clean again without totally breaking your budget.
You can start by regrouting, recaulking and replacing your outdated shower handles and showerhead with modern ones. Now would be a good time to change grout colors if you would like. If you have white tiles, I would stick with white grout and caulking, otherwise the different color will contrast too much and it will look a lot like a checkerboard. If you have dark tiles, you can change to a slightly lighter or darker color to avoid getting dizzy while showering.
The biggest challenge you will have will be the shower handles. Many people go out and buy whatever handles appeal to them, not realizing that they may not fit. Different manufacturers have different patterns when it comes to attaching their handles to the stem that juts out of the shower wall. So you can’t just install a handle from one brand to the stem of another. There are some universal kits available, but with those there is usually a certain degree of play in the handle, which will cause the setup to wear prematurely and break. So you should buy new handles from the manufacturer that produced your current shower valve. Realize though, that this is no guarantee it will fit, especially if your shower valve is very old and you are installing new handles.
The safest way is to remove your handle and take it with you when you go shopping. That way you can see if the pattern matches up. You can buy replacement handles at home centers or plumbing supply stores. If your handles are old, I would go and have an experienced parts technician find what you are looking for. You also can try contacting the manufacturer directly or placing an order online.
While you are dressing up the handles, also get a new escutcheon plate, showerhead and shower arm. That way, all the visible parts will match in color and style.
The shower handle will remove by a screw. This screw will be hidden under the handle (usually a set screw - you will need an Allen wrench to remove it), or behind a cap on the handle. You will need to pry off the cap, and you may not even recognize it as a cap as it is built into the handle.
With the handle removed, you can take out the escutcheon plate. It will be held on with an obvious screw and then caulked against the surface of the wall. Once the screw has been removed, you will need to pry off the plate with a screwdriver. The only caveat to be aware of with the escutcheon plate is to make sure you buy one that is large enough to cover the hole in the wall. You can reinstall these items exactly as they came out, just make sure you run a bead of caulking around the inside of the escutcheon plate before you screw it to the wall.
With these inexpensive changes to your shower, it will look modern and you may even feel clean after your shower.
Michael D. Klimek is a licensed contractor and president of Pro Handyman Corp. Questions may be sent by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, mail to: P.O. Box 96761, Las Vegas, NV 89193. His Web address is: www.pro-handyman.com.