My wonderful tub makes a terrible shower.
October 17, 2006 6:50 AM   Subscribe

How can I fix my clawfoot-forced-shower's complete lack of water pressure?

I live in a Victorian flat/condo that was just recently renovated, and bathroom aside, it is wonderful. But come 6:45am as I blindly stumble into the bathroom I am greeted with the most paltry of water pressure. Water still gushes from the facet and I have to spend a majority of the shower bent over holding the tub to shower lever to get anything more than a drizzle out of the showerhead. The landlord said that since the shower was installed on an old tub that I should expect less water pressure, but this is practically washing myself with a water fountain.

After the initial wallet shock of moving, I am trying and hoping to do this repair on the cheap. I am not opposed to a handheld mount, I would just rather save as much money as possible, so if I could just use what I currently have and maybe putty/stucco or add some type of washer or nuts and bolts to fix it, that would be top notch.
posted by banannafish to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We had this problem when we moved into our 1910 rental, and our landlord fixed it for us at no cost once we complained enough. To be more precise, the landlord fixed it for us at no cost after my lawyer dad stayed with us for a few days and became so outraged at the landlord's unwillingness to fixed it that the threw some over-the-phone legalese at the guy.

I'm pretty sure the pipes leading up from the bottom faucet were clogged with mineral deposits and other gunk. You don't want to use modern drain de-cloggers with old pipes -- trust me. If the pipes are exposed (not in the walls) you may be able to unscrew them at their joints in order to clean them out.

We're finally moving out of this drafty, noisey disappointment of a rental, and checking the shower water pressure was the first thing we have done at each new place we check out.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:57 AM on October 17, 2006

When we bought our house 2 years ago I replaced the built in tub with a claw foot I found dirt cheap on craigs list. Once the shower was hooked up using one of these kits, we found the pressure to be abysmal; like trying to shower in a light rain. For 7 dollars at Home Depot we fixed the issue with one of these heads that are designed for water efficiency but also add quite a bit of force. Couldn’t be happier.
posted by paxton at 7:03 AM on October 17, 2006

I have a 1900's Dutch Colonial revival, and I had the same problem. But a little history--we installed a tankless water heater in our house (and we love it. Get one of these.) Also we had the house replumbed and replaced the fixtures in the claw-footed tub for the shower.

A tankless hot water heater relies on the water flow to trigger the heating element. To keep the water hot the flow has to be maintained, and recently ourslow in the shower slowed and slowed until it wasn't enough to keep the water hot.

I worked on it for a day, had the plumbers come and flush out the unit for a cost of $300, and it still wasn't working. I finally took apart the actual shower head which was fine also, but had some small limescale deposits. I washed these out. Next, I took down the connector that held the shower head to the pipe, and in there was a hard rubber flow restrictor that had degraded just enough to slow the water flow. I thought about two seconds whether to take it out or not, and ripped it out of there. This reeks of evil to me.

Now I have water pressure that would be the envy of Kramer. And unlimited hot water.
posted by chocolatetiara at 7:16 AM on October 17, 2006

I just had the plumber out at my house (built in 1910) yesterday and while he was there, he cleaned out all the faucets. The difference in water pressure after he was done was pretty remarkable. He explained that my old galvanized pipes had deposited a ton of debris, and until I repipe, I need to clean them out periodically.

Should cleaning it out not work...Since this is a rental, I'm sure you don't want to spring for a plumber to come out and assess the situation. You may want to try posting over at the plumbing forum at That Home Site. There are a lot of plumbers who hang out there and are happy to answer questions.

Do you know what your local ordinances say about water pressure for rental units? That may be worth looking into, to see if your landlord would be responsible for any costs to repair.
posted by Sully6 at 7:38 AM on October 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you have good water pressure from the tub's faucet, maybe it's just the shower head that's clogged by mineral deposits. Do all the little holes in the shower head spray, or are a lot of them clogged up?
The usual fix for this is to unscrew the shower head and soak it in vinegar or other acid to dissolve the minerals.

Also, with the shower head removed, see if you get a big flow of water from the shower pipe. If not, the pipe might be clogged. Old steel galavanized pipes have the worst clogging problems.
Reading your original post again: does a lot of water still come out the faucet instead of the shower when you flip the lever to start the shower? That would be a problem inside the faucet.
posted by jjj606 at 7:53 AM on October 17, 2006

Response by poster: To explain a little better: A load of water comes from the facet rather than the shower head when I try to flip the switch.

While it's not a rental, the property manager (still can't get over calling them a landlord!) still has some say about what should have been done before I moved in - including moving in with no fridge and stovetop installed! I live in Ohio, so technicially do I have to contact him before I start taking apart pipes in an apartment? I wouldn't think so, but my condo association is completely worthless when it comes to answering the questions of it's younger new-owners.
posted by banannafish at 8:39 AM on October 17, 2006

Bananafish, have you talked with the other owners to see if this is a problem for anyone else? There could be a sediment build-up somewhere that is killing the water pressure to the shower head or it could be a piping problem. Of course, IANAP.

I would try cleaning out the shower head and seeing if that improves. If not, I would call a plumber to diagnose the problem. The plumbing company I use will send someone out to tell you what is wrong and provide you with an estimate to fix it, free of charge. You may want to see if someone in your area does this so that you know what you're dealing with, at least.

As for repiping, I think that may be the kind of thing that your condo board needs to know about before you commence any kind of work. You should definitely check with your condo board.

Was a home inspection done before you took possession? This strikes me as the kind of thing an inspector should have noticed.
posted by Sully6 at 9:40 AM on October 17, 2006

This is easy to fix with a lower flow rate showerhead. You'll have to fix or repair the broken shower lever first, though.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 12:26 PM on October 17, 2006

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