(Pioneer • Olympia • Central Brass • Plumber Friendly)
Review & Rating
Review & Rating
3325 S. Garfield, Ave.
City of Commerce, CA 90040
Footnotes:1. "[A]s long as the original purchaser owns [the faucet]".
This Company In Brief
Frank Kee-Suo Chen owns Pioneer Industries, Inc., Olympia Faucets, Inc. and Pioneer Commercial Manufacturing, Inc. — all of which import and sell faucets. They also sell, depending on the company, showers and bath accessories that are nicely coordinated with their faucets.
The faucets distributed by all three companies are manufactured by the fourth member of the group, Crescent Plumbing, Inc. of Taiwan, formed in 1995, also owned in part by Mr. Chen.
Each of the companies has its own history.
Pioneer's first major expansion was in 2006 when the company bought "the assets" of the old Central Brass Manufacturing Co. of Cleveland, Ohio. At the time Central Brass was already over 100 years old, having been founded in Cleveland, Ohio in 1895. Over the years it manufactured cast brass products of all kinds, but eventually focused on plumbing fittings. In 1913 the company advertised that it made
Stop and waste cocks, bibbs, basin cocks, bath cocks, and valves made in Quick-pression, automatic Quick-pression, ground-key, compression and Fuller work; lavatory traps, refrigerator traps, wash-tray wastes and overflows; bath and basin supplies and couplings; and other Brass Specialties for plumbing purposes. We manufacture high-grade goods only. (Sweet's Catalog of Building Construction, 1913, p 1146.)
It's flagship product was the Quick-Pression™ 1/4 turn compression valve that was advertised widely to industry professionals and architects, and also to homeowners in popular magazines of the day such as The Saturday Evening Post. It is still being made and used in Central Brass commercial faucets and drinking fountains.
Pioneer organized the Central Brass assets as an Ohio corporation, Pioneer Commercial Manufacturing, Inc. that is more often referred to by its trade name: Central Brass Company, Inc. or just Central Brass®. It was initially located near Cleveland but has now moved to the Garfield Avenue address in City of Commerce, California that it shares with Pioneer Industries and Olympia Faucets.
Manufacturing is no longer in Cleveland. It was taken over by Crescent Plumbing in Taiwan. The Central Brass web site claimed that its faucets were "made in the U.S.A." until May, 2007 when that claim was dropped. We think the transfer of manufacturing occurred around that time. Central Brass continued to maintain a separate website until 2016 when it was taken down. The company now shares a newly revamped website with Pioneer Industries and Olympia Faucets.
Olympia Faucets, Inc., the newest of the trio, was organized as a California corporation in 2008 to take over Pioneer's line of builder-grade faucets. Pioneer spun off its Deco and Builder series of kitchen and bath fixtures for the residential builder market to the new corporation, where they were renamed the Accent and Elite series.
The consolidated website, completely rewritten in 2016, is well designed with intuitive navigation throughout. The information provided about each faucet is, for the most part, comprehensive and detailed, including installation instructions, specifications, certifications, an exploded parts diagram and the finishes available — a model for other companies to follow. Some of the information is on the faucet's web page, but some is in .pdf files that have to be downloaded to be read. We prefer that critical specifications appear on the web page, not in a separate .pdf file. But, having the information available for download is better than not having it at all.
We found a no major issues with the site.
The basic finish available on all faucets is electroplated Polished Chrome. For Central Brass faucets, chrome is the only finish, but most faucets in the Pioneer and Olympia lines are also available in PVD Brushed Nickel, and some in Oil-Rubbed Bronze (ORB), also a plated finish. (What is a PVD finish? Go here to find out.)
In addition to these standard finishes, there are six special-order finishes. Matte Black, Moroccan Bronze and Slate Gray are powder coated colors. Polished nickel, Polished Brass, and Stainless Steel are PVD finishes. Not every faucet is available in every special order finish, but the available finishes for each faucet are clearly identified on the website and in product catalogs.
PVD (physical vapor deposition) finishes are not usually made of the metal they represent, but a much harder metal that is altered to look like the metal it imitates. PVD Stainless Steel, for example, is usually zirconium, a nearly diamond-hard metal that, unlike actual stainless steel, does not readily show fingerprints. PVD brass is likely to be titanium. Titanium, cannot tarnish as does natural brass and needs no lacquer coating that can chip or wear away
PVD finishes are very hard (Rockwell HRC-80+, Vicker HV-2600+), about 20 times harder than plated chrome, and so resistant to staining and corrosion that they can easily withstand even very harsh household chemicals, and (for you seaside dwellers) salt-laden air. Washing with a mild detergent periodically to remove surface soiling and water marks is all the maintenance that is required.
Powder coatings are essentially very durable paints. Dry pigments are sprayed onto the faucet, then baked at about 400°F to set the coating. This causes the powder particles to melt, flow together and bind to the metal of the faucet. The result is a tough finish, more durable than most liquid paints, but not nearly as robust as PVD coatings or electroplated metal finishes. Powder coatings will chip and scratch with rough handling, and the damage is not usually covered under warranty. These finishes are falling out of favor as PVD is coaxed by engineers into reliably producing the colors and finish effects that were once available only as powder coatings.
The Pioneer, Olympia and Central Brass faucets we examined were of good to very good quality — heavy cast brass with well-machined surfaces. Finishes were impeccable, some so highly polished that we could be fooled into thinking we were looking at a high-end faucet selling for twice the price. Incidental parts such as handles and base plates are zinc or a zinc-aluminum alloy called ZMAC. The use of zinc or ZMAC in non-essential parts is common even among manufacturers of some luxury faucets to reduce cost. Zinc is not as robust as brass, but more robust than its alternative: plastic. When used in non-critical parts, it has no adverse effect on the appearance or over-all quality or durability of the faucet.
In the Pioneer and Olympia lines, all sprayers, whether pull-down, pull-out or side spray, are plastic. This is a trend in the industry and by no means limited to Pioneer and Olympia faucets. Metal sprayers can get uncomfortably warm in use with hot water, plastic does not, and it is also a lot less expensive. The downside is that plastic spray heads seem to cause a lot of problems resulting in more than their fair share of warranty claims. Metal sprayers have to be wrapped in plastic or rubber to protect against heat, but overall, give longer, more reliable service.
We did not find any qualitative difference between the company's Pioneer faucet and its builder grade Olympia brand. We cannot say, however, whether this is true beyond the three faucets we examined, but we were impressed by the quality of the Olympia faucets, especially as one retailed for a paltry $28.65 (in chrome) and was hefty enough to use as a hammer.
We did not recognize the manufacturer of the ceramic cartridges used in the faucets, so we asked the company to identify them, which it did, but asked us to keep the information to ourselves. We can say, however, that cartridges from several different suppliers are used and all have solid reputations for reliable, leak-free products. We have no concerns over the longevity of the faucet cartridges, especially with the company's lifetime warranty against leaking. If the company thinks they will last a lifetime, then so do we.
The standard cartridge in Central Brass faucets is the Quick-Pression™ quarter-turn compression valve — a technology that has been around since late 1800s. Ceramic cartridges are available as an alternative. Ceramic is the newer technology and the homeowner preference for home kitchens and baths because it requires less routine maintenance. For commercial installations, however, compression valves have long been the first choice. The ease of replacing the compression washer outweighs the nuisance of having to replace it fairly often. Bob Chin's Crab House or a busy McDonalds cannot close the kitchen for a day waiting for a replacement ceramic cartridge to arrive by FedEx. It needs to be able to get a non-functioning faucet working right now, and replacing the compression washer — which typically takes about 10 minutes and uses parts that every plumber always has tucked in his or her tool box — usually does the trick.
So, don't be so quick to discount the Quick-Pression™ quarter-turn compression valve for home use. It's a tough, tough valve, tested in commercial kitchens for more than a century, and a proven performer under some very harsh conditions. If you don't mind a little routine maintenance every year or two, replacing a worn washer takes very little skill and common household tools — nothing exotic or expensive. Washers are available at any hardware store.
If the seat needs replacing, there are repair kits for that from Central Brass and third party parts suppliers like Danco that include a seat wrench (if needed) and detailed how-to instructions. If you keep on top of the maintenance, The faucet will last nearly forever. We regularly maintain faucet valves that were first installed over 100 years ago. (See how easy it is to replace a seat washer at this video. For more in-depth information on compression valves and ceramic cartridges, go to Faucet Basics: Faucet Valves and Cartridges.)
Most Pioneer faucets are stylish, some are striking designs that we have not seen elsewhere (for example the Estate faucet pictured above, a top-of-the line Pioneer kitchen faucet). Olympia faucets, as befits a builder line, are more conservative, but also a lot less expensive with no obvious sacrifice of quality. Central Brass faucets are not at all stylish and are not intended to be stylish. They are functional, heavy duty, institutional faucets and do not pretend to be anything but.
The warranty on Pioneer and Olympia faucets is for "as long as the original consumer purchaser owns it" and includes all "defects in material and workmanship." and all defects in finishes. The warranty language does not specifically include cartridge replacement, but a company spokesman assured us that any leaking ceramic cartridge will be replaced under warranty free of charge.
Customer service is prompt and responsive. However, for many of our questions the agent had to refer us to a technical expert, suggesting that customer service representatives may not be as familiar with the products as they could be. On the other hand, we ask unusual questions, so for typical consumer issues the service is probably quite adequate. Hold times were minimal and well within the range of acceptable. Agents were polite, respectful, patient with even very dumb questions, and "California friendly".
Pioneer faucets are widely available from general merchandise retailers such as ATG-Stores, Overstock, Amazon and Wayfair as well as dedicated plumbing supply stores including Ferguson, Briggs and Winnelson. The Pioneer website features a showroom directory which seems to be comprehensive and complete. Olympia faucets are generally sold in bulk quantities to builders, but are also available as singles from the same on-line venues and usually through your local plumbing supply distributor.
Central Brass faucets are designed primarily for institutions — everything from your local Wendy's to the state prison — so you can expect to find them in stores that cater to the commercial kitchen market such as restaurant suppliers. But, they are also surprisingly widely available in more DIY-friendly venues such as Home Depot, its just that the selection is limited. Use the web site's "Where to Buy" option to locate suppliers in your community.
In addition to selling faucets under its own brands, Pioneer supplies faucets sold by Standard Plumbing Supply as private label Plumber Friendly faucets. Standard Plumbing Supply is a distributor of plumbing products in nine Western states. Pioneer also supplies private label faucets sold by Just Manufacturing, a manufacturer of good quality stainless steel sinks that are still made in the U. S. of A.
For commercial faucets comparable to Central Brass, consider
For residential faucets from Asia comparable to Pioneer and Olympia, consider
We are continuing to research the company. If you have experience with Pioneer faucets, good, bad or indifferent, we would like to hear about it, so please contact us or post a comment below.