Cost to install new valve - galvanized steel to copper?

Discussion in 'Shower & bathtub Forum & Blog' started by Henry Ramsey, Jul 16, 2012.

  1. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Hey all,
    I'm in a 40+ year old condo in Houston, Tx and we have galvanized steel water pipes.

    I plan to update our hallway tub/shower and I have to change out the valve body too.
    For this I obviously need to hire a plumber. My question is ass-u-me-ing that all things go right
    how much should I expect to pay? $200-300? Is there anything special the plumber should know about
    for this type of job? The condo shares cold water and we have a common hot water heater too.

    The current valve body is made by Sterling and has integral stops. The stops leak when turned and according to Stanco plumbing supply they cannot be replaced(sterling must have stopped making them since 2007 when I replaced stops and stems in my shower which is the same parts) only rebuilt and that would take over a day.

    Our condo has a common water shut off for 15 units not local per unit so I cannot take the stops out without needing to shut off my unit plus 14 others for as long as the stops are remove.

    My HOA will not allow this and I'd be persona-non-grata with my neigbors if I did.

    Therefore I have no choice, but replace the valve. I hope to install a valve that equalized pressure and temperature since we sometimes have problems with both.

    Any advice,
    Henry
  2. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,802
    Location:
    New England
    I don't think you have much choice but to make arrangements to shut the building water down if you want to replace that valve.

    Pricing is really tough as all areas labor rates, building permits, etc. are different. Assuming this needs a permit and will be inspected, that by itself could add hundreds. If in the process of removing the old one, the galvanized piping is found to be in too bad of a shape, it could cost LOTS more, but often, the condo association owns the 'infrastructure', and would have to pony up that repair cost.

    Galvanized piping is a disaster waiting to happen. Touching it is fraught with potential pitfalls.
  3. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Thank you for the fast reply. Shutting off the water for a short time yes. Our policy is 24 hours notice and is fairly liberal. For a whole day or more, no. We had a water main break up the road last year and our whole neighborhood was without water for about 3 days off and on. People hated that (I'm sure COH water got many angry complaints) and we have neighbors with small children plus it's summer in Houston where temps can soar to 100+ in July and August. ;)

    I guess I'll have to call a few places and see what they quote me. Maybe it'll be less than I'm thinking.
    I don't know about permits being too much. I rebuilt my own shower including a Schluter Kerdi drain, etc. I mudded my own shower and did it by the Kerdi book. I pulled a homeowners' plumbing permit and passed fine. It was about $60 total, IIRC.

    If not for the stupid issue with the valve stops I'd leave it be. The pipes are in decent enough shape. Is it possible to just put in ball valves below the valve body or something to compensate for the stops being bad? I guess that's as bad as changing out the whole valve? The HOA doesn't own the pipes that feed our individual bathrooms and kitchen per our HOA documents. We are responsible if there are any leaks or problems that means.

    Our HOA has had some galvanized pipes replaced with copper and a plumber changed to copper for the connections of both hot water heaters so I'm thinking of calling on him. He replaced a hot water heater and the city inspection passed.
    At least he has experience with our HOA pipes. It's just I have to pay with a CC and he's a one-man business and he
    may not accept CCs. I also have a friend who has a reliable GC she used to do work on her home. Perhaps he might
    have a reference.
  4. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,802
    Location:
    New England
    Galvanized is messy to work with as you need to go back to the last threaded connection and then build back up from there. Hopefully, you have an access panel. A ball valve can be installed in the process of rebuilding things. As you've found, a new valve with stops may not be much help on a later repair since they may no longer work. They ARE handy, though, when building things back up since you can shut them off then work on the rest...this might, depending on the configuration, let you turn the water back on quicker but not if you're putting in ball valves.
  5. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Yeah, I'm in for it when it comes to the galvanized pipe. I hope it'll work out. The water pipes come through the floor from the laundry area right below I think. I think they also share a common drain pipe and vent.

    I think I'm going to have to start with the plumber who has done work around here. He has good familarity with our pipes since he has also worked for several of my neighbors and the HOA common pipes too. He may even have knowledge of what to do since our units are cookie-cutter identical. I think he may have even replaced someone else's valve though the
    neighbor of that unit complained of rust and sludge in their water right afterwards too. A taste of cutting oil in their water too, but somehow I'm skeptical of that...

    I hope to build in an access panel where none exists; there is a closet right behind there the valve body is so the access panel can be discret. I also hope to do any plumbing whilst I have the walls torn down to retile.
    The current tile is puke..err avacado green circa 1971 or so and needs to come out.
    The tub with the appliques is in the same bathroom, btw.

    I had great success with Kerdi in my other shower and I'll be using it again here.
    I'm just having some supply problems buying it. Schluter isn't making it easy for consumers to buy and have a warranty (I wish someone would sue them for antitrust). The other shower was a walk-in 30x30 and I built it from mud bed up (I even had it inspected and passed) to this should be a breeze by comparison except for this stinking valve.

    In that shower I just left the valve body alone and replaced the stems and stops which were available back then. I even changed the valve seats after some mild problems that the seat wrench was hitting the back wall of the valve body before it was wide enough to engage the seat. I ended up using a wide flat screw driver instead.
  6. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    OK. Forget actual pricing and assume the building permit is low cost. My homeowner's plumbing permit in 2006 was $17 and the regular building permit for the shower rebuild was $35 w/a est. valuation of $1400 for the job.
    I found my permit record earlier tonight.

    Let's ass-u-me the pipe is intact and can be re-threaded with relative ease and a union fitting put on to connect a new valve body. Our HOA has had a few sections of the main-feed hot and cold water lines which feed two buildings replaced and none have had any serious complications during those repairs. Several times the HOA had galvanized replaced with same and others there were union fittings and copper bridged in.

    Assume the pipes to my shower/tub are at least as intact. How long should a competent plumber take to do a replacement of the valve body under normal circumstances including putting in the union fittings, sweating copper, etc? This will help me figure out the labor cost at least get me in the ballpark. Would three-four hours be outlandishly long or short time?
  7. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,297
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    Considering your plumbing is a disaster to begin with, and not being able to see the job site, it is virtually impossible for anyone hundreds or even thousands of miles away to give an educated guess on what you want to know, and by the way, this is not a normal job. The best thing for you to do is to get at least 3 estimates from local licensed plumbers who can inspect the work site in person and see what will be involved. Most condo associations require a licensed plumber to do plumbing, and licensed electricians to do electrical work, etc.. You also need to realize that the time will include travel to and from the shop, as well as the possibility of requiring more than one person.
  8. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    OK. I'll have to find someone to inspect the issue once I actually get into the shower and take off the wall. I had hoped to get a general idea of the cost before I begin. Obviously, not going to happen though.

    The HOA generally uses licensed/insured workers, but has no such restriction on what each homeowner does with his or her own unit's plumbing. Many even use handymen even for plumbing however illadvised that would seem to be.
    I will however look for someone who is a qualified plumber.
  9. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,802
    Location:
    New England
    Houston may be different (Texas seems to be that way with things!), but in most parts of the country, in a multiple family dwelling, the homeowner cannot pull a permit and perform certain work. While I can actually do hvac stuff legally in my condo, I cannot do electrical or plumbing work - it must be done by a licensed workman. IOW, stuff you could do in a single family dwelling yourself, you cannot do in most places if it's a multiple family dwelling.

    I'm not sure how many plumbers still cart around a pipe threading machine. As mentioned, taking threaded piping apart can lead to problems not readily apparant.

    WIth the wall out and full access, it may only be a few hours work. That could turn into much longer. You may end up with say the cold line being still good, and the hot one all rust inside, or both could be bad, or both good. You won't know until it is torn apart. It can look great from the outside, but you won't know until you start to take it apart (unless it is really bad already).
  10. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Inside Houston I think is different than the non-incorporated Harris County. There no permit is required nor even enforced. TX does require licensed workers for electrical. Evidently Houston allows homeowners to do some plumbing work inside condos. I had to show that I was solely responsible for the portion of the plumbing I was working on, IIRC.

    Our HOA documents are strife with ambiguities (they're from 1976 and never amended). The plumbing is not mentioned except for commode,sinks,dishwasher and disposal being mentioned as being the responsibility of the homeowner.
    HOA policy has always been that if the plumbing serves only one unit then the unit owner is the responsible party.
    (This has never been disputed and I have no desire to open Pandora's Box by questioning it. We have a lawsuit happy neighbor who cost us thousands with a lawsuit that was ultimately settled after she won the Presidency of the HOA in a landslide.)

    This includes clogs where two homeowners have an issue but no other units are affected. Several times this has created problems when one owner refused to pay for the plumber.

    Does how well the water currently flows in the faucet tell anything about the condition of the pipes?

    Ex. I have pressure problems where the hot has to be fully open to get hot water then it gets blazing hot and
    when I add cold it goes completely cold even with the hot tap fully open. I have to fiddle with the taps to get even temperature (one more reason I want a new valve with temp EQ) sometimes it'll come out fully hot and I have to avoid being scalded.

    Could this just be a general pressure thing with the building? The HOA has a recirculation pump for the hot water. It's supposed to allow hot water whenever the tap it opened. It goes to the far end of the complex (7 units and probably 150ft) then back to our building and we're two doors from the boiler (figure 30ft). If so then I'm SOL.

    Else I'm really likely to be opening a can of worms with messing with the pipes I guess.
  11. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,297
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    Here's the problem in a nutshell. Do your own work in your own home and if it fails and damages the home, it's just your problem. Live in a condo or apartment and do the work yourself and if fails and damages property other than your own, and you are liable. Even if it is legal in your are to do the work, you would still be liable if there was damage resulting from the work. That's why most condo associations require a licensed and bonded repair person. If there is a screw up, he or his insurance pays.
  12. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Our HOA has no specific rules nor instructions regarding individual homeowner's use of licensed/insured workers. To cover myself I pulled a permit on the shower work. Specifically the shower floor and drain were my concern. All work was permitted and passed with full city approval. I did the 'flood' test in the shower the same as if it was a normal pan liner and passed with little issue. The water was in there for about 30 hours with no sign of leakage.

    Also, I think if I had a leak my homeowner's insurance would pay in part for the neighbor's damage if any.
    We have good coverage for liability. I think a leak would be considered a liabilty. I know several homeowner have flooded
    each other with their washing machines overflowing and their insurance paid for it. As long as I have a permit and I pass
    the ins. should cover a leak that does damage outside my unit. I don't know if it would cover my unit though.

    Anyway this is not the current case. I plan to hire a plumber for any plumbing this time since it's well beyond my ability to change galvanized to copper (assuming I even end up doing that).

    I've done electrical soldering, but never with a torch and that alone would have me hire out even with copper pipes.

    I'm not doing an electrical stuff either; we have aluminum wire throughout (building may have been built as early as 1968). Except for changing an outlet (It was 'stabbed in the back') that was damaged with the correct CO/ALR unit and putting in some ceiling fans using NoOx/DeOxit where appropriate I've not done any electrical stuff. The ceiling fans were actually replaced last year through the 'weatherization program' from City of Houston and the nimrods didn't initially use NoOx/DeOxIt which created a fire hazard. I even told the foreman of the problem and gave him the tube of deoxit I had on hand. He refused to use it. The inspector they sent 'round to check the work made the come back and put NoOx/DeOxIt on the connections.
  13. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,802
    Location:
    New England
    Do you get any rust stains on things? Is the tub/shower valve two handles or a single handle? If two, you should get the same volume and pressure when either one by itself is opened. If there's a radical difference, you have a restriction somewhere and it's likely the galvanized piping. A recirculatoin system, properly installed, should not have any impact on the volume or pressure you get; only how fast it takes to get hot water to where it is called for.
  14. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Two handles and one divertor. A standard tub/shower as far as I know. No rust stains but rusty water does come from the tub now and then. But I don't use it often since the other shower is usable. And we have awful water from the City of Houston. They have to come and open the fire hydrant every so often to flush our local water pipes of the sediment that comes from the water source.

    I wonder if the issue could be in the divertor or pipe that actually feeds the shower head? I'm also using a low-flo shower head to save water (The HOA pays for it from our monthly HOA dues). I'll have to check if the same problem happens with the main faucet/tub. I put in new shower stems in about fall of 2010, I think. I'm not sure if I changed the divertor, but I believe so.

    I did not change the valve seats at the time since I couldn't removed them with the tools I purchased.
    This old valve body is too shallow for a normal seat wrench. The wrench bottoms out before it catches on the seat and so turns without use.

    I ended up partly stripping the seat of the cold side since it did partly catch but not enough to turn it. Luckily the seats are not worn enough to make the valves leak. (We had a faucet leak years ago, actually gushing hot water and unable to turn it off. I think the plumber may have changed the seats then so they're no so old as the faucets were.) I had to leave them in place. I'll bet a screw extractor cut off to the proper length would work to remove them now that I'm thinking about it.
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2012
  15. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,802
    Location:
    New England
    The seat wrenches are cheap...cut off the end so that it doesn't bottom. Galvanized pipe when it's on its last legs can have the effective diameter of a soda straw, which could account for the volume decrease you are noticing. If that's the case, the only way to resolve the issue is to replace it back to where it is still good, and ideally, just replace it, but that may not be an option (it will be required eventually).
  16. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Yeah, they are cheap, but I have to find a good tool to cut it off and not too much at a time or it'd be worthless.

    I just found a photo I took of the valves from when I replaced the stems. I do not think changed the diverter only the stems. If this is so then my complaint about the shower pressure may be wrong. I also noticed tonight that the diverter handle is dripping some water so I have to replace it now too. If I use a plumber for the rest I'll probably let him do this too.

    If the threading of these pipes is similar to what was done in the bathroom I worked in before the next threade fitting was not on the same level. That may mean opening the ceiling AND a portion of the wall in the laundry area or lavitory if the plumbing doesn't have a bend that goes somewhere else and therefore a threaded connection.

    The sheetrock is a non-issue compared to the pipe though. Sheetrock is cheap and float/tape guys are available too. Heck I may just cut a hole in the back of the closet and have a look-see where the pipes are threaded. I can always patch it back up later.

    I still haven't got in contact with the plumber I am playing phone tag. Maybe tomorrow when I'll be here all day. This guy has done other work here and may have a solution I'm missing/don't know about. And he does good work so I don't have to be worried about that.

    I don't want to call anyone else for now either since the wall isn't taken down and there's nothing to see. I don't really know anyone else to call anyway.

    I'm in a bit of a circular problem. I don't really want to tear into the wall without know what
    I'm getting into, but I won't know what I'm getting into until I take down the wall.
  17. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    UPDATE...

    I finally got a call into the plumber. He ended up quoting about $480 plus parts which is going to include changing the shower valve and the tub drain and lever. Cleaning those appliques off the tub saved a bunch...

    Figure $650-700 or so +/- since a valve seem to be about $100+ and I really would like a temp/pressure compensating type
    if possible. He can cut the galvanized pipe himself btw so that's labor reduced. I don't know if that price is good or bad, but I think his experience with the plumbing on the property is king so even if it's more than I should be paying it's probably worth it. His cell phone must have gone dead on him. As we were talking it cut off and the number dumps me to his voicemail. I'll try tomorrow again and see if we can hash out when he can come out and how long. I still have to put out notice before we do any work since it involves cutting off the water.

    I hope we could do it Monday but that might be too close. I have a UPS package coming and I have to be around so that would be ideal. I really don't want to take down the wall(s) until I know the work can be done so I don't end up with only one shower for very long.
  18. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    If I were to get a thermostatic or pressure balanced shower valve what is the best brand in the $200 range?
    Anyone have a preference? I like Moen's warranty but I'm not sure I can afford it's cost.
  19. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,802
    Location:
    New England
    ALL available, code compliant shower valves will be anti-scald, and the least expensive ones will be pressure-balanced. The biggest driving factor in cost is the trim, which can drive the costs up considerable (with often, the same guts).

    Asking this sort of a question is sort of like whether you prefer Ford or Chevy...I tend to like Delta and Grohe - Delta is likely more readily repaired, but Grohe parts are available fairly easily, but probably not in as many places without ordering. If you look at the Delta R10000 rough-in valve, you can then decide on any of three different 'guts' to install in it (the guts and trim come as a package, the rough-in valve is a separate item, too, but often packaged together for those sold in say HD or Lowes). If you go that route with Delta, you can get a single handle PB, a PB with volume and temp control, or a thermostatic 'guts' and trim - they all will fit inside the same R10000 rough-in valve. So, you could change your mind a few years down the road, and update the visible and working guts without touching the plumbing. This makes it quite flexible.

    After experiencing a Ghrohe thermostatically controlled valve in a hotel in London (the pressure was bouncing all over the place and the temp stayed constant), I chose one for my home remodel and have been happy with its operation. Especially in a shared environment, you'll appreciate the PB functionality, but especially a good thermostatically controlled valve.
  20. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    That's good enough. I see the Delta is not terribly expensive ($60) for the valve and maybe my plumber will have a good supplier for the trim out which I see is as low as $150 retail. That's acceptable given what we have now.

    That single handle design may even be easier to tile around too. Schluter even has a special part for it in their Kerdi line.
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