Shower Valves





There are a bewildering array of shower faucets on the market today. Brands you have heard of your whole life, and brands that may be totally unfamiliar to you. We'll run down a list of the most popular and explain the differences.

Anti-Scald All valves in showers and tub/showers are required by code to be "Anti-Scald" This means that if you are taking a shower and have the temperature adjusted the way you want it, the temperature shouldn't change much if someone flushes a toilet or turns on the dishwasher or uses water anywhere in the house. This was a common problem in older houses. "Shut off that water!" was the refrain heard from the shower for many years across the US.

There are two types of valves that will correct this problem. A pressure balanced valve and a thermostatic valve. A pressure balncing valve uses chambers, inlets and outlets and a diaphragm in some brands, a spool in others, to separate the hot from the cold water. These spools and diaphrams move with a change of pressure. So when the valve senses a drop off in say the cold water pressure, the spool or piston moves and cuts down the hot water pressure to match. If you are in the shower, you would notice a drop off in volume, but not much in the temperature. There are several of these types of valves and all are contained in cartridges which can be changed fairly easily by taking off the valve handle, various escutchions if the internal workings ever go bad. The piston or spool style was invented first and the diaphragm style is more recent. (see pictures below)

Piston StyleDiaphram StyleDiaphram Style 2

The second type of "antiscald valve" is the thermostatically controlled. A cartridge filled with parrifin which melts at a particular temperature operates a piston which opens and closes a bypass therebythermostatic Dartridge controlling the water temperature. The high limit needs to be set on these types of valves because they are somewhat slower acting than the pressure balancing type. They do have the added advantage of keeping the temperature the same even if you are starting to run out of hot water. The pressure balanced valve can't do this. This mechanism is contained in a cartridge and can be changed if it ever goes bad.


(top)Water Shutoff: The last part of the valve, which has nothing to do with "anti-scald" is the mechanism that opens and closes to let the water flow out of the valve and to the showerhead. The latest and best of these mechanisms is the ceramic disk. Two highly honed, super hard ceramic disks which have holes and slots cut into them rotate against each other. When the holes are aligned, water passes and when rotated by the valve handle so the holes are not aligned, water does not pass. These ceramic disks, while very reliable, are very brittle and do not like debris in the water. If they are going to break, they usually break when the water is first turned on because of construction debris etc. in the pipes. They are extremely reliable and last for many years and are the best of the water shut off mechanisms.

Ceramic CartridgeHere is a ceramic cartridge. Hansgrohe and American Standard are two brands that use this type of cartridge.


Delta Style

The second best water shut off method is the "Delta Style". In this method, two neoprene seats are pressed against a stainless steel plate. As the handle rotates the plate, holes in the plate are aligned ove the holes in the neoprene seats allowing water to pass. This is a very inexpensive shut off to manufacture and very easy for a home owner to replace, so it has been copied by many faucet companies (including Kohler). If you have a lot of minerals in your water, this is not the valve for you. Go for the ceramic disk valves

Moen Style

An older syle shut off mechanism is the "Moen Style" which has neoprene gaskets which are rotated against holes in the valve body. There were some companies that copied this style, but I think Moen is the only manufacturer which still makes it.



Symmons StyleThe oldest style shut off mechanism is the "rising stem". Turn the handle and the stem lifts the washers off the seats, allowing the water to flow through. As you turn the handle back, the stem's neoprene washers press against seats to shut off the water.

Only one manufacturer, Symmons, still uses this rather obsolete technology. Remember watching your father take apart faucets and replace the rubber washers on the bottom of the stem? That's what this mechanism has, but it is still sold widely and is fairly reliable.


(top)Our #1 Favorite Valve...Hansgrohe

Hansgroh newer modelHansgrohe makes a thermostatically controlled, ceramic disk valve that has an Hansgrohe older modelon off handle and a separate temperature handle. The advantage of this is obvious once you use one. You reach into your shower and rotate the smaller handle to turn the water on. The water comes on and warms up to exactly the same temperature as the last time it was used. You can turn the water on, off, on, off and the temperature always remains the same! Of course you can change the temperature by rotating the larger lever, if you want to.

HansgroheAll the other valves on the market (with the exception of Delta's 1700 series) only control temperature. Their handles rotate through cold to hot and each time you turn theirs on, you have to find the precise spot that gives the right temperature. We can't say enough about the quality of Hansgrohe's valves and many of their valves are made in the US (they have a large plant outside of Atlanta), another plus in my book.


Hansgrohe setDiverter Model: Hansgrohe goes one step further. If you buy the diverter model, the small lever can divert from shower head to hand held...and...with a little tinkering by the plumber, you can get both to come on at the same time! If you shower with others, or just want multiple spray heads for a fantastic shower, get the diverter model.

Hansgrohe valves are made in Germany and the US.





Watch our videos on Hansgrohe valves. They were done on the older model, but they are still relevant. 

(top)Our #2 Favorite Valve...Delta

DeltaDelta may be our second favorite valve after Hangrohe, but is a distant second. However the Delta 1700 series is a pretty good valve. It is the only valve (other than Hansgrohe) that offers separate volume and temperature control. We feel this feature is extremely valuable. You can reach into your shower and flip a lever to turn it on and the water warms up to exactly the same temperature as the last time it was used. Perfect! It is a wonderful feature for handicapped people too. They can turn the water on and off, on and off, and always get the same temperature. All the other valves (in this price range) rotate from cold to hot and need a little fine tuning to get the perfect temperature.  

Delta's valves are still made in the US, bu many parts are manufactured in China.

All the other valves (in no particular order).

(top) Kohler's basic pressure balanced shower valve is OK. Nothing new here. It was somewhat surprising to see the Delta style springs and neoprene seats inside their stem cartridge. We had to saw the cartridge in half to get at them. If the faucet ever leaks, you have to find the entire cartridge. At least with a Delta, you can buy the springs and seats separately and in a few minutes replace the old ones. Trying to find a replacement cartridge could be a problem. If you have the original paper work with the model numbers on it, Kohler's customer service is pretty good at sending a new one free of charge. If you have to go through a plumber, good luck! The plumber first has to identify the model and then call his local supply house. If the supply house doesn't have the correct part, they have to order it from Kohler. This whole process can take a while, especially as busy as most plumbers are. If you have hard water or a lot of minerals, this is not the faucet for you. Kohler's lav and kitchen faucets have used ceramic disks for a long time and we recommend them.

This valve is made in the US and China. 

Inside a Koher ValveInside a Koher ValveHTML Video Code by v2.5

(top)American Standard's basic shower valve has two cartridges. A diaphragm style pressure balancing mechanism and a ceramic disk cartridge to turn the water on and off. The operation of the valve is the same as most of the other valves: rotate the lever through cold to hot with no control over volume. If you have a tub/shower valve, pull up on the spout diverter to get the water up to the shower head. At least these valves have a ceramic disk shut off. We would recommend this valve much higher if American Standard had a better customer service department and the "fit and finish" of their products were better.

This valve is made in Mexico and China.

Inside American StandardInside American StandardHTML Video Code by v2.5

(top) Moen is another company which elected to keep their old style technology. Their valves continue to use a plastic cartridge with a series of "O" rings on it or neoprene gaskets and holes drilled in it to shut off the water. Variations of this cartridge is used on all their single handle kitchen and lav faucets. This cartridge has proven fairly reliable, so Moen has elected to keep it rather than spend millions on redesigning all their valve bodies to accept ceramic disks.

I remember the first time I was called to replace a cartridge on an old leaky Moen kitchen faucet. In spite of using all my strength ( I was younger then and had a fair amount) I couldn't pull it out. After a quick call to a more experienced plumber, I found that I needed a "stem puller" specific to Moen faucets. After a trip to my local plumbing wholesaler to find this stem puller, the cartridge came out. I used to get quite a few customers hunting for the plastic handles for their Moentrol shower faucets, because as their valve aged, they had to pull and push harder and harder on the handle until it broke off. This valve is still in use today.

Moen has come out with an "Exact Temp" thermostatically contolled shower valve and it may be equipped with ceramic disks, but I haven't seen a cartridge yet. 

This valve is mostly American made.

Moen Shower ValvesMoen Shower ValvesHTML Video Code by v2.5

(top) Symmons is the inventor of the pressure balanced valve, a milestone in the evolution of plumbing shower valves, and a company which still uses the "rising stem" type of mechanism in their shower valves. Remember watching your father take apart faucets and put new rubber washers on them? In fact, their valves uses two seats and two washers, a hot and a cold. In spite of this, their valves remain popular, especially with plumbers and hotel chains because the basic models are so inexpensive. The handle and large round escutcheon are both plastic and if you have an old valve that needs repaired, a handle puller is a must. Otherwise you will be adding a handle to your parts list.

This valve was invented back in the 1940's or 50's and was quite revolutionary. But technology has past Symmons by. It is not one of our favorites because the piston which does the pressure balancing sometimes sticks, especially in summer homes or in spare bathrooms where they are not used every day, or in houses which have water with a lot of minerals. When this happens, you will probably need to call a plumber to replace the valve stem cartridge unless you are handy and can locate a cartridge. If the brass seats are bad, you would need a special tool to change them. 

Newer models are more fashionable.

This valve is American made.

Symmons Shower ValvesSymmons Shower ValvesHTML Video Code by v2.5

(top) Danze is a pretty good valve and has ceramic disks. It is a relative newcomer to the plumbing industry here in the United States. It is made in China.

(top) Price Pfister has Delta seats and springs and was never held in high regard by plumbers, but seems to have improved a bit in recent years. It used to made in the US, but manufacturing facilities (and jobs) were moved to Mexico.




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