Replacing Shower Faucet Without Access Panel: How-To Guide

If you’re a novice DIYer looking to replace a shower faucet without an access panel, you’re probably wondering where this elusive panel is.

Don’t worry. To replace a shower faucet, you need a handful of tools, a bit of ingenuity, and these helpful hints to get the job done.

In most cases, replacing a shower faucet without an access panel doesn’t require cutting holes in your shower wall. Any DIYer can tackle this job.

Accessing the Situation

Most homes don’t have a hidden or exposed access panel to access the plumbing in our shower stalls. Of course, some bathtubs and shower surrounds have access panels cleverly hidden in false walls and removable panels.

Here we’ll discuss how to get around not having access, and it doesn’t require a sledgehammer or demolition crew.

What is the purpose of replacing the shower faucet?:

  • Updating the look
  • Leaking taps
  • Corroded seals
  • Rusted fixtures
  • Replacing a faulty cartridge (no hot water)

If replacing a shower faucet, ensure the new profile matches. This means the size and plate of the new fixtures will cover any openings. With planning, you can tackle the job and be done in a few hours, providing you have the tools and correct replacement parts.

The first thing you need to discover is the water shutoff valve. If you don’t have the water shut off at the source of the shower tap, turn it off at the main shut-off coming into the house. Look near the water heater if you have trouble locating the main shut-off.

Once you do that, drain any residual water in the pipes before removing any taps or fixtures.

Gathering your Tools and Replacement Parts

Some DIYers like to remove the old parts and take them to the local building hardware supply store. This helps them find the proper shape and type to complete the task. Others already know the exact parts required and shop beforehand.

Here is the list of basics you’ll need:

  • Allen wrench or hex key
  • Assortment of flathead and Philips screwdrivers
  • Cloths or towels to soak up any water (never use your wife’s good towels)
  • Pliers and adjustable wrench
  • Rubber tightening belt (prevents scratching)
  • Trim kit for the new faucet
  • Putty knife
  • Safety glasses
  • Plumbers Teflon tape, pipe dope, and sealing compound
  • Flashlight (always handy)
  • Your new shower faucet and tap set

If you’re lucky, behind the tiles of your shower wall, you’ll find a healthy set of pipes. In those cases, replacing a new faucet is straightforward and requires little effort. Following the included manufacturer’s kit instructions is vital.

We will focus on replacing shower faucets without corroded or outdated pipes. Roman tub faucets, garden tub faucets, or shower wall fixtures have similar parts. Different-sized spouts are visual differentiators; most are set screw or push-on types.

Tip: If you ever remodel a bathroom, that’s an opportune moment to install an access panel. Even better advice is to save a few new tiles if you need to replace pieces in the future.

Removing the Existing Fixtures

With your Allen or hex key, loosen the set screws. Or use an adjustable wrench for the screw-type faucet.

For aesthetics, the set screw often has an inconspicuous cover to disguise and make it flush. Pop that off with a flathead screwdriver. At my house, one of the shower plates has a Philips screw mounting plate; one is a screw-on, and the other has a set screw.

Make sure you catch the screw and prevent it from going down the drain. Set the screw on a safe surface if you plan on reusing the faucet set.

Once you undo the screw, you can pull the spout off. You might have to loosen the sealant or caulk around the tap using a putty knife. 

Always be careful not to scratch the tiling. Use the adjustable wrench or rubber belt to create force if the fixture or spout is stuck.

With a bit of force and twisting counter-clockwise, unscrew the spout or faucet handles.

Set the old faucet aside. Clean the pipe or stub-out (extended from your shower wall) threads. Use a copper brush to remove old sealant and corrosion. 

Starting with clean threads makes attaching new fixtures easier. It prevents leaks and promotes better adhesion.

Cleaning the thread is essential for either type.

Choosing the Right Coupling Adjuster

Changing the faucet or spout using a brass coupling extension to make the stub-out fit your new fixture is possible. Any plumbing or hardware store sells these brass extensions at various lengths.

Always test the correct extension by attaching it to the stub-out, inserting your new tap, and tightening close to the wall. If it’s too long or short, switch the brass extension for the correct length.

Before attaching any taps, set them aside. Clean the surface, making sure it’s free of debris or grime before mounting new fixtures. 

Tip: Take your flashlight and peer into the cavity while you have the old fixtures off and a gaping hole. It’s always good to check to see if there is any moisture damage from leaks or mold.

Replacing Part-for-Part

Replacing shower faucets with new parts means creating a tight seal at the source. You’ll also need to replace threaded models (no set screw) or slip-on models with suitable replacements.

However, you can purchase universal kits that allow you to transform each type by using the accessories included in the pack.

If you’re happy that you’ve chosen the right fit, prepare the stub-out and apply your Teflon tape or pipe dope. Wind the tape clockwise and use the joint compound. Attach the correct brass extension and repeat the Teflon tape and compound application.

For visual learners, watch this video demonstration.

After you attach the extension, tighten with a set of pliers or wrenches, careful not to over-tighten and strip the threads.

Finally, insert the new tap or faucet over the brass fitting. Tighten the tap with a set screw or mount it using the rubber belt wrench.

If it’s a new tap set, you don’t want to use a metal wrench on the metal finish. Use your hands or the rubber belt to tighten it instead. If you don’t have a rubber belt, drape a cloth over the new fixture to protect it from the metal wrench.

After you’ve turned on the water at the source, test your new fixture against leaks. If you’re satisfied there aren’t any, add a silicon strip around the seal where the wall or tile meets the faucet.

Tip: Apply the final silicone strip only around the faucet’s top side, leaving the bottom open. This opening will alert you to leaks if one is at one of the connections. It helps prevent water from dripping inside the walls and causing damage.

Encountering Pipe Problems

We associate older homes with inadequate or lead pipes. All homes must adhere to the national standard plumbing code. We know lead pipes are bad for human health and congress banned lead pipes in 198. However, existing lead pipes remain.

Copper pipes are costly. Even PEX (Cross-linked Polyethylene) has come under the scrutiny of state plumbing regulations. They are currently deemed safe.

When replacing taps, look and identify the plumbing material behind the tiling. Identifying lead piping in your home is important. The EPA sets specific standards you should be aware of.

Final Thoughts

Replacing a shower faucet without an access panel is standard in most homes. If you feel you must install an access panel in the future, there are many helpful tips you can follow.

One of the best plumbing tools is researching. Plan what you must do, and prepare the proper tools and replacement parts before you start.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *