What Is a Diverter Valve?

By: Debbie Wolfe

If you’ve turned a knob on a shower faucet to send water up to the showerhead, you’ve used a diverter valve. It does precisely as its name implies: diverts the direction of water. This simple piece of plumping hardware makes it possible for showerheads to get water. 

Types of diverter valves

Though a tub diverter valve is most common, there are a few other valves you should be aware of:

  • Tub diverter valve—This valve redirects water from the tub spout to the showerhead. There are three types of tub diverter valves.
    • Three-valve diverter—This valve is located between the taps of a two-tap faucet. Once the water from the hot and cold faucets are set to the right temperature, a third faucet or lever is engaged, diverting the water through the valve and out through the showerhead.
    • Two-valve diverter—Located in the center of a faucet, this valve has two L-shaped valves. A single dial or knob adjusts water temperature between the taps of a two-tap faucet. Turning the handle will direct water from the bathtub spout to the showerhead. 
    • Tee-diverter—This is a simple valve that’s part of a tub faucet. It features a straight handle that you pull up to direct water to the showerhead.
  • Showerhead diverter valve—Made for multiple showerheads, this diverter valve is typically found in gym or pool showers, or any place where more than one showerhead is fitted in the bath. 
  • Other types of diverters—Specialty diverters such as a diverter valve pool or a 4-way shower diverter valve are used in pool plumbing or speciality shower fixtures. 

Diverter valve vs. transfer valve

The main difference between a diverter and a transfer valve is how they direct the water supply. 

  • Diverters switch the flow of water between a tub and shower—either the showerhead or the tub faucet gets the water flow. 
  • Transfer valve sends water to multiple outlets at the same time. Transfer valves allow you to use more than one component, like a hand-held showerhead, without turning off the main showerhead. 

Is a diverter valve similar to a shower cartridge?

A shower cartridge isn’t a type of shower diverter; it’s a type of faucet-stem valve assembly commonly used in plumbing. Many DIYers use the terms “diverter” and “cartridge”  interchangeably because they perform the same function and control the flow of water. 

A shower cartridge has holes that regulate water pressure and temperature when you turn the handle. It has several plastic components and pieces, whereas a diverter is primarily metal with rubber washers.

How does a diverter valve work?

Diverter valves switch the flow of water between the tub faucet and the showerhead. Water flows directly through the faucet and into the bathtub when the valve is open. When the valve is closed, water pressure forces the water to run upward to the showerhead.

Occasionally, valves will wear out due to use, age, and sediment buildup. If you notice water coming out both the faucet and the showerhead, it’s time to adjust or install a new diverter valve.

How to install a new tub diverter valve

Installing a tub diverter is an easy task for most DIYers and can be completed in a single afternoon. In most cases, tub diverters are easy to access and remove. However, if a diverter valve is located behind walls, you may want to call a professional to install the diverter valve for you.

Materials

  • Screwdriver
  • Socket Wrench
  • New compatible diverter valve

Instructions

  1. Turn off the water supply.
  2. Remove the center knob handle where the diverter valve is located.
  3. If there’s cement or grout inside the diverter, stop what you’re doing and call a professional plumber. Attempting to remove a cemented-in diverter may result in damage to pipe. 
  4. Inspect the diverter sleeve. If there’s caulk inside, remove it.
  5. Remove the sleeve over the diverter.
  6. With a socket wrench, remove the old diverter and make sure the nylon washer comes off with the diverter.
  7. Install the new diverter and replace the handle.
  8. Turn on the water supply and test the diverter.

If your diverter valve is located on your tub’s spigot, the steps to replace it are similar to if it were located in a handle.

  1. Turn off the water supply.
  2. Loosen the screw on the spigot and unscrew the spigot.
  3. Remove the sleeve over the diverter.
  4. Remove the diverter using a socket wrench.
  5. Replace the old diverter with a new diverter, then replace the spigot.
  6. Turn on the water supply and test the diverter.

How to repair and replace a diverter valve

To determine if a repair or replacement is needed, the first step is to troubleshoot the problem.

  1. Remove the old diverter and inspect it. If it’s full of sediment, clean it out.
  2. Put it back on by tightening the screws behind the faceplate of the diverter valve.
  3. Turn the water back on.
  4. If the leak is resolved then you’re done. If it still continues to leak, you’ll need to replace the diverter with a new one. 

How much does it cost to replace a diverter valve

You can replace a tub or shower diverter valve for under $50. If you hire a professional plumber, expect to spend at least $75 an hour for labor, plus the cost of supplies.

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