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Installing a hand-held shower

There aren't many home projects you can undertake that will cost you less than $30. Here's one that can offer much convenience: installing a hand-held shower. You can spend more, but you can get a high-quality hand-held shower with a hose and a mounting cradle for about $20. We speak from experience when we say that you get cleaner with a hand-held shower. And cleaning the shower is easier, too.

Here are a few things of interest about hand-held units:

*Most hand showers are made of plastic -- even expensive ones. This is because plastic is lighter than metal, and lighter means being easier to hold onto. Were you to drop a solid-brass hand shower, toes could suffer badly.

*We've yet to figure out why they charge so much more for some models. The water flow seems to be equal between those costing $20 and the ones that sell for $200 or more.

*Keep in mind that there are low-quality shower heads that cool hot water by vaporizing it. Cooling hot water is counterproductive and should be avoided as heating water is quite expensive these days. If you stick with major name brands, you probably won't have to deal with this problem.

*If you decide not to purchase a kit unit, be careful when it comes to choosing a hose to go with your hand shower. Metal hoses scratch, discolor, rust and corrode. They are heavy and can tear up your shower stall. A plastic hose is lighter -- making it easier to hold onto. And a soft plastic hose can't damage your shower like a metal one can. Finally, plastic hoses hold up better than metal ones do.

*A hand shower can replace your existing shower head or it can be used in tandem with it. Although most folks replace, there are diverter valves that can be installed directly onto the shower arm that allow a hand shower to be installed while the existing shower head remains. The diverter allows water to flow through either the existing shower head or the hand shower, depending on the position of the control lever.

There are two kinds of valves: The push-pull type and the conventional dial type.

The push-pull type can be difficult to operate -- especially if you have an arthritic condition. A substantial amount of force is required to reposition some push-pull valves. Test the valve to find out how hard it is to operate before purchasing it. Remember that water valves are more difficult to operate when they are installed and under pressure.

As we mentioned, hand-showers can be purchased in kit form. When purchased this way, a mounting bracket is included in the box. But not all hand showers come in kits, and a hand-shower cradle that connects to the shower arm is not the only option available. Fancier mounting bars also are available. They look like vertically mounted towel bars. With this kind of mount, the cradle that holds the hand-held is adjustable and slides up and down the bar. Some manufacturers offer other accessories that can be mounted on the bar such as a toothbrush holder and a bar soap holder.

A bar-style cradle mount is attached to the shower wall with screws. Don't be timid. A masonry drill can be used to cut a hole through most shower wall surfaces like a hot knife through butter. A plastic lag shield then is pressed into the drilled hole and the screw goes into it. Silicone should be used to seal the connection between the bar mounts and the shower wall where screws create penetrations.

If you are planning to remodel your bathroom and want a fancy shower, you can install a built-in diverter valve that can redirect the flow of water through two or more shower heads. Diverters of this type can redirect water from one shower head to another and back -- or both at the same time. This kind of system involves the addition of a second outlet pipe just for the hand shower -- completely separate from the main shower head.

James Carey and Morris Carey are nationally recognized experts on home building and renovation.