Help me replace a faucet and save $457.50 (plus tax!)
September 20, 2013 11:15 AM   Subscribe

How do I replace a shower faucet? (difficulty - Stripped screw)

I am trying to replace a broken single lever delta shower faucet. Should be simple enough right? I have all my tools and replacement parts. I unscrewed the faceplate. (Yay me!!) Next, I tried to unscrew the set screw on the lever. That's when I ran into problems. The previous homeowner had apparently tried to do the same thing, and had stripped the screw. So now i'm screwed! I called a plumbing guy. He came and took a look at it, tried a couple of different sized allen wrench thingys (which I might add I had already tried!!) with no luck. Then he pulled out a book and showed me the price to replace the faucet. $457.50 (plus tax!). I just about died! So I asked if he just could remove the screw and let me install the faucet, and he said it would still be the same price. $457.50!
So I turn to you, Metafilter. Please save me $457.50 (plus tax!) and help me fix my broken shower handle so I can actually take a shower? I'm tired of taking baths.
Thank you.
P.S i'm already out $50 for the service charge. (hmmph!)
posted by ramix to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does the screw have a protruding head at all? If so, try using a channel lock to unscrew it.
posted by ethidda at 11:20 AM on September 20, 2013

Is there enough of the screw sticking out to render it susceptible to a set of Vampliers? If not, could you perhaps drill into it a little and then have a go at it with a damaged screw remover?
posted by flabdablet at 11:22 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

So, wait, the screw head is stripped out such that it can't be "grabbed" by a screwdriver?

If so, one trick is to use a small strip of rubber (eg: rubber band) to get a better grip on the end. Place rubber against screw head, apply screwdriver, turn carefully.

If you have a penetrating oil, apply that to the setscrew first, then wait a while (overnight, in some cases), then thoroughly clean off the oil from the screw head and proceed as above.

A one-way solution, if the screw is of a sufficient size, would be to use an extractor bit -- these go on a drill. Basically, these drill their way into the screw, then you reverse the drill and they back it out. This ruins the screw, but I've done this a few times and had great success. There are several different varieties of extractor bits -- I prefer the drill-in, back-out type, but there's another common type that simply drills in (and then you use a pliers to grip the extractor end, and use it to turn the screw). Ask at a hardware store for their preferences/thoughts. Oh, and one other note: a lot of drill extractors are very very hard steel, which also means they're brittle and can fracture if struck or dropped.

Another one-way approach would be to solder or braze on a stud, and turn that instead. This also destroys the setscrew. Although I haven't personally tried it, one possible equivalent (if you don't have a soldering iron/torch) might be to use an epoxy to fix the stud to the screw.
posted by aramaic at 11:26 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: To clarify, screw is totally stripped. Nothing protruding. I was doing some research online and read that set screws are usually softer than regular screws so drilling into them wouldn't be a good idea. (I have no idea if that's true or not). Also it's a relatively small screw we're talking about here, in a recessed groove. So I don't even know how to fit any type of stripped screw implement in there.
(Assume that my handyman skills are preschool level)
posted by ramix at 11:31 AM on September 20, 2013

If it's the screw thread that's stripped rather than the head, or if extracting the old screw doesn't work, you should be able to drill it out and then re-tap the hole to take a larger set screw. If you're drilling out a screw that's stuck in place, start with a drill small enough to make a hole that fits entirely inside the screw, then step up 1/32" at a time until you've drilled out the whole thing.

Also it's a relatively small screw we're talking about here, in a recessed groove.

Could you upload a photo to and let us have a look at it?
posted by flabdablet at 11:33 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

A guess: the screw is a recessed set screw with an Allen head. Based on what you've told me thus far, I'd see if I can get just a replacement handle, and drill out the set screw with a large enough bit that I take some of the surrounding thread with it. Blows the handle, but keeps the valve itself intact.

Or, as flabdablet suggests, re-tap the handle for the larger screw.
posted by straw at 11:34 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think your problem is a kind of bad plumber.

Quotes should be free.

There's no way his labor replacing a shower faucet is $450, so either he's insisting that you replace with an identical faucet or telling you how much the faucet costs?

Call some more plumbers, make sure they don't charge for quotes, and ask them to come look at your shower.
posted by contrarian at 11:43 AM on September 20, 2013

Response by poster: Straw, you hit the nail (screw) on the (stripped) head! That is exactly the scenario I have tried to describe. I have replacement handles and valves, so I don't care about ruining the existing one. I will try that and report back.
posted by ramix at 11:51 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I work for a contractor and we hire subs (including plumbers) constantly. We (and our subs) would never charge for such a simple visit UNTIL all parties had agreed upon a scope of work and a price.

Find another plumber.
posted by futureisunwritten at 11:53 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

set screws are usually softer than regular screws so drilling into them wouldn't be a good idea

The more I think about this, the less sense it makes. Link to a source?
posted by flabdablet at 12:05 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it's all coming off I don't see why you can't drill it out. You just want the set out so you can remove the handle and then... what? If you're replacing the entire mixer then you probably need access from the other side of the wall and I honestly don't think ~$500 soup to nuts is an entirely unreasonable price.

I may be misunderstanding, but if you're taking out the mixer you almost certainly need to sweat the pipes. Some regions of the country use that flexi-vampire stuff but I would assume you're not.
posted by phearlez at 12:39 PM on September 20, 2013

You can give a screwhead a new notch with a dremel tool's cutting disc.
posted by zippy at 1:22 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

nthing another plumber. There are definitely good ones and bad ones. You need a referral.
posted by notned at 2:57 PM on September 20, 2013

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