Kendall "aka Renos"

Founder, Lead Instructor of Bathroom Update Guide &  Renos 4 Pros and Joes

Several years ago I was working on a bathroom remodel in an older home. When I looked inside that bathroom vanity cabinet to inspect the plumbing supply lines I realized that neither the hot water supply nor the cold water supply had shutoff valves. It was at this moment that I asked myself, “Can you change a faucet without turning off the water?”


Yes, you can change a faucet without turning off the water. However, your likelihood of success will depend on your ability to work quickly as well as the water pressure levels at the fixture location. Keep reading as we discuss the best way to attempt this changeout, as well as how to tell when its time to throw in the towel and try something else.


Before we go any further, let’s address the elephant in the room. Why on earth are you trying to change out a faucet without turning off the water? For the sake of this article, we will assume that there isn’t a faucet shutoff or its inaccessible. 


If the property doesn’t have shutoffs under the sink, but there is a water shutoff to the property, this is going to be the next best option. Locate the shutoff valve for the entire house, which is usually located somewhere inside the property, and turn it to the off position. 


Start your bathroom renovation off right

Get prepared for your renovation by learning the process, planning and foresight needed to bring your bathroom project to life. 

If there is not a shutoff valve inside the property, another option may be to turn off the water at the meter, provided that you are able to access it. 


If you are able to turn the water off on the house water shutoff valve, or at the meter, the next step is to open the several faucets at the property. Ideally one of those faucets should be at the lowest point in the plumbing system. The lowest point often ends up being an outdoor hose spigot. 


Opening up these faucets allows any water and any pressure that is in the line to escape. So that when you remove the faucet in the bathroom, you don’t get much water or pressure from the supply line pipes when you disconnect them. This will make connecting the new faucet easier and reduce the amount of water that you will have to absorb or cleanup. 



If you the faucet that you want to change out does have shutoffs, and they are leaking, then the amount of water that is escaping past the shutoff valve will directly impact how easy the faucet replacement will be to complete. 


If the valve is doing most of the work, and there is just a small stream of water getting past the shutoff, you should be able to install the new faucet without any additional steps. However, if the faucet shutoff


What is a shutoff valve?

A shutoff valve is a device that is typically found on supply lines. They are common on both water and gas lines. They allow the user to turn the handle and quickly stop of the flow of water or gas through the pipe by closing and blocking the passageway that is located inside of the valve.


Why do faucets have shutoff valves?

Faucets have shutoff valves in order to control leaks in given area of a plumbing system. Shutoff valves are useful under faucets in the event that a plumbing supply line breaks, or becomes loose and begins to leak. In the event that this occurs, the shutoff valve allows the user to stop the flow of water beyond the valve. 


A faucet shutoff valve is usually much easier and faster to access than the shutoff valve for the entire property, which may be located in a crawlspace, basement, utility room, or garage. In older homes, you may also discover that the property does not have a valve that shuts off hte water to the entire property. In this scenario, the only options are using s shutoff under a sink if there is one, and in the event that there is not one there, you will have to turn off the water at the meter.  


The worst-case scenario is if the property where you are working does not have aa faucet shutoff valve, a waterline shutoff valve, and you cannot access the meter. In this situation, you may not be able to replace the faucet. Your best chance at doing this is to open all the valves at the property in an attempt to lower the water pressure as low as possible. Then you will also need someone working along side you with a shop vacuum to suck up any water that escapes when you disconnect the existing faucet. This is not a recommended method due to the amount of water that will be wasted, as well as the high likelihood that you could flood your space in the event that you cannot get the new faucet installed quick enough before the vacuum fills up with water. 


It may be time to bite the bullet and call a plumber. 


Let’s assume for a moment that you are able to reduce the water pressure low enough to successfully replace the faucet. There are a few steps that you need to take before you disconnect the faucet. 


Remember that there wll likely be a slow but steady stream of water leaking from the supply lines as you work. WIth this being said, time is of the essence. In order to reduce the amount of time it actually takes to replace the faucet lets do the followiing:


Step 1: locat the rings on the coutnertop that help keep the faucet from moving. Go ahead and loosen those. You can back them down the treaded stem as much as possible, but the the main goal in this step is to make sure that you can move them freely and easily, so that when you disonnect the water lines from the old faucet you can remove it quickly and begin working with the new faucet.


Step 2: Go ahead and unbox the new faucet. Take a close look at it and its parts. You need to have a basic understanding of how it will be installed. Most faucets basically come assembled in the box (except for the drain and the stopper. But in the event that you have purchased one that has some additional assembly required before installation, you need to make yourself aware of that fact now, and go ahead and complete any preliminary assembly.


Step 3: The next step is to apply the plumber’s tape or plumbers thread sealant to the stems on both the hot and cold side of the new faucet. If you use plumbers tape, be sure to apply the tape in the same direction that you will install the faucet supply line hose. You want to make sure the tape is going in the correct direction so that it does not begin to bunch up as you turn the threaded fitting on the supply line, as this can negatively impact the watertight seal. 


Step 4: Get you vacuum in place so that you can address any water immediately. Make sure that your shop vacuum has a water filter installed. Also make sure that that shop vac is plugged in and then test the vacuum to make sure that it is getting power. We want to leave as few things to chance as possible.  


Step5: Make sure to have towels on hand to soak spilled water. Also, have a bucket on hand to capture water from the supply lines. 


Faucet vs Tub/Shower Valve


Even though replacing a faucet without cutting off the water is difficult to accomplish, replacing a tub or shower valve is even more difficult. Here are several reasons why: 1. The space that you have to work within is much tighter. Most tub and shower valves are mounted between 2 wall studs and there is usually a small opening on the backside of the tub or shower where the plumbing can be accessed. 2. The most common way to remove and attach a shower valve involves using a torch to loosen the connect and then using a torch again to sweat the pipes back together. Sweating pipe requires that no water come in contact with the area, during the heating process. This will be virtually impossible to do without shutting off the water. 


There is one alternative that just may work, and that is by using Sharkbite fittings. The Sharkbite fittings use compression to create a watertight seal and can be installed very quickly. The main hurdle that you will run into is that the shower valve has to be installed at a height that is specific to the hole in the shower wall where the handles and controls will be accessible from inside the tub and shower. You will have to take very close measurements in order to install the valve at the exact height. And while it isn’t impossible, it will be very difficult to accomplish. As mentioned above with regards to the faucet: its probably time to call a plumber. 



Related Articles You Might Like:

Announcement: All New Working With Bathroom Contractors Mini-Course is now available. Let's establish a clear mindset and objectives when you interview, select and manage contractors.