Shower & Tub Faucet Guide

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A Guide to Understanding Shower & Tub Faucets

Shower and tub faucets are a small, helpful ornament to your unit. Although they often look like sink faucets, they are not interchangeable, because bathtub spouts are designed to have a much higher water flow rate than sink spouts. For this reason, they are often called "tub fillers." Still, they operate similarly to the sink faucet, from piping concerns to handle operations.

Shower faucets, or shower heads, work the same alone as they do in the context of shower and tub faucets, which are very common in bathrooms where the tub also serves as a standup shower. In the end, you should research all shower and tub faucets to ensure compatibility with your bathroom.

Types of Shower & Tub Faucets

  • Single-handled, dual-handled and three-handled tub faucets: Shower and tub faucets come with one to three handles. Single-handled faucets have one knob or handle that connects to both the hot and cold water pipes, controlling water flow and temperature. By moving it out, left and right, you can determine how much hot/cold water escapes. Dual-handled faucets are the oldest and most common tub faucet designs. Of the two handles, one controls hot water and the other cold. With three-handled designs, there are two water valves and a third handle that operates as a diverter, meaning shifting water flow from the tub spout to the shower head. Diverters are typically located on the tub spout, but three-handled designs remove this need.
  • Wall-mount, deck-mount ("Roman") and freestanding faucets: These three major faucet designs are typically dual-handled, only varying in where they are installed in relation to your tub. Wall-mount faucets are most common in recessed and corner tubs, where the tubs are installed into the same wall as the faucet. Wall-mounts are also more common in shower-tub units. Roman faucets look similar, but are instead mounted on the side deck of a tub, making them common in built-in tub units. Freestanding faucets work best with freestanding tubs, because they allow for more room in the tub and have more options regarding pipeline installation.
  • Compression and washerless faucets: Nearly all tub faucets are either compression or washerless. They do not have different external appearance; rather, their internal assembly is slightly different. Compression faucets are assembled with a cap, valve and washer, so when you turn the handle one way, the valve opens and allows water to flow through, with a rubber "washer" controlling flow. Washerless faucets work similarly but are a little more modern, operating without a washer. These faucets use a diverting valve and cartridge to control the water flow as opposed to a washer.

Important Shower & Tub Faucet Features

  • Diverters are necessary for all shower and tub units, serving to shift the flow of water from the tub spout to the shower head. Most often, diverters are in the form of a plug atop the spout that is pulled upward while the water is flowing. However, diverters are also available in the form of a third faucet handle, typically located between the hot and cold handles.
  • Universal valve assembly (or common-valve setup) is not a feature sold with individual shower and tub faucets, but if you plan on installing yourself, then it may be a wise investment. Universal valves accommodate most faucet fixtures, avoiding often costly adjustments and alterations to your plumbing.
  • Hand showers are particularly luxurious for a shower and tub faucet fixture. The hand-held shower head is convenient for rinsing and cleaning your tub after use, and the hand-held tool also offers more localized water rinsing during a bath or shower. Some models may require extra drilling for proper installation, but check with the manufacturer to be sure.
  • Valves do more than steer water. They determine how long your faucet will last and how well it will function. For more reliability, you should shop for ball valves, cartridge valves and ceramic-disc valves, which tend to last the longest. Valves also serve as safety precautions: anti-scald valves will prevent sudden blasts of scalding hot or ice hold water when someone uses another water-heavy appliance in the household. Pressure-balancing valves also adjust for temperature, but they do it automatically, and many areas require them.

Shower & Tub Faucet Design

The easiest way to make your shower and tub faucet work well in your bathroom is to choose an appropriate material and finish. Brass has the greatest durability, resists damages and works well with more traditional bathroom décor. Bronze is a popular choice for a more aged look, complementing soft and neutral color palettes and resisting most scratches and corrosion. Chrome works well in a matte color scheme or a more modern bathroom. Chrome is beneficial from a cleaning standpoint, resisting oxidation and leaving pores less susceptible to stains. Mixed colors can form gorgeous metallic tones that add dynamic to a light- or white-colored room. Nickel is not as resistant to wear and tear, but it has an appealing satiny look. If you choose nickel, consider adding a titanium finish, which will better resist damage to the material.

Shower & Tub Faucet To-Do List

  1. Find a style that works best with your bathroom layout. Before even considering elaborate design ideas, look at your bathroom layout. Which tub and faucet designs will work more practically with your unit? In the end, practicality is more important than appearance, so take this first step before investing in a fancy design.
  2. Choose your material. See the design section above for color scheme recommendations, but remember that with fixtures involving water, simpler is often better.
  3. Shop at warehouse stores before speaking to custom designers. National chains are well known for carrying fancy fixtures -- it drives up sales. And you're much likely to find an affordable shower and tub faucet at a warehouse store, so shop around before hiring a professional designer.
Last Updated: June 19, 2013
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About Emelie Battaglia Emelie Battagila is a contributing writer for

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