For most of us, the system of pipes connected throughout our homes is something of a mystery. Indeed, aside from simpler issues — such as using a toilet repair kit — it’s generally best to leave internal plumbing issues to the professionals. However, if you’re ambitious enough to take on a bathroom renovation or install new fixtures yourself, it’s important to take into account how your plans will be affected by the positioning of your pipes and drainage.
One of the most common queries when it comes to bathroom renovations is with regard to consolidating the plumbing: can a toilet and shower share the same drain? It’s certainly a fair question for the uninitiated. After all, we use one to dispose of waste, while the other is right beneath our feet when we’re cleaning. It’s only natural that we would want to make certain that there’s no chance of crossover or that sewerage might back up in the wrong direction while we’re trying to get clean.
Let’s take a look at what factors you need to consider when deciding whether or not to join these aspects of your plumbing. What affects your ability to decide if your toilet and shower can use the same drain? What precautions should you take before proceeding?
Why should you connect the toilet and shower drains?
Can a toilet and a shower share the same drain? In a way, yes. While it’s certainly not smart to connect them both to the same waste trap arm, their separate waste pipes can be connected to a common vent through a process called wet venting. However, it’s important to look at whether it’s actually advisable to do so. The good news is, in most circumstances, there are a couple of excellent reasons to join the two.
1. It’s budget friendly
Each of your bathroom appliances needs to be connected to your home’s sewerage system. It’s possible to take the individual drain lines from each plumbing fixture and run them on their own path toward the central sewage outlet. However, the costs involved with doing this are far higher than they would be to install a common vent and attach all fixtures to it. From both a parts cost standpoint and labor time if you’re hiring a plumber, it makes more budgetary sense if your toilet and shower can share the same drain.
2. It’s far more practical
“Can a toilet and shower share the same drain?” is not just a question of finances, it’s also a matter of convenience. When you’re dealing with each fixture in your bathroom as a separate line down to the central sewage outlet, you’re giving yourself a lot more work in both the planning and the execution stages. Without connecting the shower and toilet to the same drain you’ll need to map out how you’re going to fit separate pipes for each appliance throughout your home’s structure and, in some cases, how to fit additional PVC tubes into an already crowded pipe network. By connecting the shower and toilet lines to the mainline using a single common vent, you reduce the planning and installation time needed.
How can a toilet and shower use the same drain?
Now that we know that it’s both possible and a good idea to join the drainage of the fixtures, how do you go about it? If you have a little knowledge about how your pipe network operates, a few tools, and a free day, this is actually a relatively straightforward process. Take your time, don’t skimp on the preparations, and if at any point you’re unsure of the safe progress of the project, put a halt to it. It’s important to remember that if you’re not entirely comfortable taking up the floorboards or dealing with your home’s water systems, it’s best to consult an expert plumber.
1. Make preparations
This is where you’ll be putting in most of your time. When it comes to any kind of bathroom renovation that involves altering the piping, you’ll need to check the building codes for your local area. There will often be specific regulations regarding the distances your waste pipes must be apart and even the positioning of your fixtures in relation to the main waste pipes.
You’ll also need some materials, which are likely to include:
- A pipe saw
- 3-inch PVC closet bends (size may be different depending on local building code)
- 3-inch PVC drain pipes (as above)
- 3-inch PVC caps (as above)
- PVC connectors
- PVC adhesive
- Shower s-trap
You’ll then need to take up any flooring or remove wall panels in order to gain access to the pipe networks of your home. Finally, this isn’t a task as simple as repairing a toilet tank that doesn’t fill, so you’ll need to shut off your home’s main water valve.
2. Install the common vent
The pipe network leading from your toilet and shower has a job, and it is not just to take wastewater and products away from the fixtures. It also needs to be designed correctly in order to prevent water from causing a vacuum in the pipes. As such, all bathroom systems need to include a common vent in order to reduce the risk of slow drainage, sewage backup, and trapped methane gas.
The vent pipe should connect to the main vent stack in your network, which usually leads up toward the roof. The positioning of your common vent is key in this process. Unless otherwise stated in local building codes, you must make certain that the vent is located not more than 5 feet between the shower trap and the toilet. If the distance is greater than this, you will need an additional vent. You also need to ensure that the vent is located between the two fixtures — you cannot connect the shower directly to the toilet’s trap arm — and then link the pair to the vent.
3. Connect the shower to the vent
In terms of positioning, your shower trap and piping should be higher than your toilet’s. This limits any potential for your toilet’s wastewater to back up into your shower. When laying the piping between the shower trap and the vent, you should be sloping on a slight gradient to help the water flow. From the shower s-trap, the pipes should slope down at a rate of 1/4 inches per foot.
When connecting the PVC pipes to the vent, it’s also advisable to first tighten them by hand rather than using a channel lock in order to prevent any unnecessary wear or cracks.
4. Connect the vent to the toilet
The toilet should always be the last fixture in your drainage system. This is the appliance that should connect most directly to the waste outlet, and building codes tend to require these to have the largest diameter of pipes. As such, it makes much more practical sense to connect everything to the toilet drain.
As with the shower, any pipes running horizontally from the toilet toward the vent or the main vertical sewage pipe should have a slight gradient of between 1/4 and 1/2 inches per foot.
5. Test the flow
Once all pipes have been tightened and all adhesive has had sufficient time to cure, turn on the main water supply for your home. Run the shower and flush the toilet separately, ensuring there are no leaks in the pipes or vents. Once this has been confirmed, you can replace any wall panels and flooring.
Some bathroom projects are more challenging than others. While issues such as fixing a cracked toilet bowl can be undertaken by most homeowners, adjustments involving your home’s plumbing system require a great deal of care as well as a bit of knowledge. Can a toilet and shower share the same drain? Yes, but only on the proviso that you prepare thoroughly and make certain that the positioning of all elements is both up to code and prevents backups.
Aside from the practical aspects of connecting the fixtures to the drain, it’s also important that you implement a vigilant aftercare routine. Keep an eye out for evidence of standing water in your shower and use a professional plumbing snake to keep the trap and pipes clear of blockages so that you catch any serious issues without mistaking them for debris. Listen for noisy drainage and make note of unusual smells that might suggest the vent is not functioning correctly. As always, when in doubt, consult a professional plumber for assistance.