For the money, a basic American faucet may be one of the best consumer values around. Designed to last a lifetime, all but the cheapest certainly will, and if they don't, the manufacturer will at least replace the defective parts.
Modern finishes are unlikely to flake or tarnish. Modern plating and coating processes, including electron beam physical vapor disposition, can imitate anything - brass, nickel, pewter, even gold. Epoxy coatings can keep that new finish looking new for a long time, with proper care.
Today's faucet valves rarely leak. Washerless valve technologies have virtually banished the midnight drip, drip, drip. But, some of the best faucets still use the old compression washer technology (see below). These require periodic washer replacement, not an onerous task, especially for the old house purists. But, for the rest of us, the newer no-maintenance washerless technology is a better choice.
Unfortunately the classic American faucet is increasingly not made in the good ol' US of A. Some manufacturers have maintained substantial domestic manufacturing, but many faucets are made elsewhere — from China to the Balkans — and merely distributed by American companies under their own labels. American Standard and Eljer, for example, two long-established U.S. manufacturers, no longer manufacture any faucets in the U.S.
As with anything, some faucets are better than others, and price, while generally reflective of quality, is no absolute guarantee. You do not necessarily get a better faucet for more money. All of the major faucet manufacturers, Kohler, Moen, Peerless, Pfister, Delta, and Elkay make mid-priced faucets that are lifetime or near-lifetime products. When you pay more than mid-price ($100-$300) then you are generally buying the cachet of high-style (Graff, KWC, Toto, Grohe) or custom hand casting and finishing (THG, Waterstone,) or both. These are usually excellent faucets, but not necessarily a quantum leap better than major-brand mid-priced faucets. They are produced in smaller runs or even made one at a time as they are ordered, so they do not have the cost savings of large production quantities. Thus the higher price. But, even these are often sharply discounted,
Faucets are classified in any number of ways. So many, in fact, that it is hard to make sense of it all. The most common classifications are by valve type, configuration and style, although there is a lot of overlap between configuration and style. How important a classification is may depend on the viewer. A plumber is a lot more interested in valve type than he or she is in style. A decorator might place more emphasis on style and configuration than on the type of valve. As builders we agree with the plumbers that valve type is the most important consideration, but then, it's not our kitchen and we don't have to look at it every day.
A faucet is nothing more than a valve that controls and directs the flow of water. In fact, in the U.K. and much of the English-speaking world outside of the United States, a faucet is called a "valve" or a "tap" rather than a faucet. Its main components are the valve itself, a handle to
turn the valve and a spout through which the water flows. Any valve consists of two parts. The moving part, attached to a handle or "stem", and the fixed part. To shut off water flow, the moving part is pressed against the fixed part, which is usually called the "seat. Before Al Moen invented the separate valve "cartridge", the valve stem moved up and down inside the body of the faucet itself. The valve seat was machined as part of the faucet body. Today the valve and valve seat are usually built into a removable cartridge. The cartridge inserts into the body of the faucet. Any wear on the valve takes place inside the cartridge, not inside the body of the faucet. If the valve fails, the cartridge can simply be removed and replaced, restoring function to the faucet. (For a well-done and helpful video on the modern compression cartridge, see T&S Brass Cartridges.)
The removable cartridge also makes upgrading painless. For example Chicago Faucets typically come with the company's venerable Quaturn valve. But, if you want a ceramic valve instead, it slips right into the same socket. The faucet does not need to be modified to accept the newer valve technology.
In early faucets, hot and cold water were delivered separately — one faucet for hot, the other for cold. The mixing occurred outside the faucet in the sink or tub. These are dangerous (the hot water can be scalding hot) and rarely seen today outside historical renovations. The modern faucet is a mixing faucet that blends hot and cold water inside the body of the faucet — out of harm's way. Valves are of four general types: compression, cartridge, ball, and ceramic disk. The last three are commonly known as "washerless" types. (The "cartridge" type valve was invented by Moen, but the term cartridge is now commonly used to describe any valve in which the valve and valve seat are built into a removable unit. This causes a lot of confusion.)
The history of faucet valves can be understood as a process of gradually reducing wear and tear on the rubber or plastic seals in the valve. The earliest compression faucets used a rubber washer as the basic mechanism for controlling water flow. The washer was compressed and twisted into a brass seat to turn the water off. It was the twisting motion that wore the washers out fairly quickly.
The "washerless" valves from Moen and Delta still used rubber seals, which were not called washers (after all, these were washerless faucets, get it?). They were called seals or seats. These valves still needed to compress the rubber seals to shut off the water, but the new design eliminated the twisting motion that wore out rubber washers so quickly. The valve still rubbed on the seal as it moved back and forth, but the wear was much less. While the old compression rubber washer had to be replaced every one or two years, the rubber seals in washerless valves could last five to ten years, or even longer as the technology improved.
The newest technology, ceramic disk valves take this one step further by eliminating all rubbing on the rubber seals, and thus all friction that causes the seal to wear out over time. They still have rubber seals, usually in the form of o-rings at the bottom of the cartridge where it joins the faucet body. These are not used to control the flow of water. Water flow is controlled by the nearly indestructible ceramic disks. These seals never move and nothing moves over them, so they last nearly forever. What finally wears them out, if they do wear out after 20 or 30 years, are mineral deposits from the water.
A compression valve is the oldest valve type. Turning the handle raises and lowers a stem. At the base of the stem is a rubber or plastic washer that twists into a metal (usually brass) seat. When the washer wears out the faucet leaks until the washer is replaced. Easy to do, but it sometimes requires special tools. A traditional compression or
"Bibb" valve will be found on outside faucets (which are called "spigots", "wall hydrants" or "hose bibbs' — just a little plumbing trivia, for fun).
Moen Cartridge Valve
The Moen Cartridge Valve eliminated the rubber compression washer. Although it still uses plastic or rubber seals, often called "seats", and O-rings, the seals are not twisted by the operation of the faucet, which makes them last much longer.
Invented by Al Moen, the cartridge valve made single-handle "washerless" faucets possible just after the Second World War and a feature of most post-war houses, quickly bumping Moen to the second largest faucet maker in the U.S. (after Delta). The cartridge rotates to control water temperature and raises up and down to control volume. Seat and O-ring emplacement is made easy because the cartridge can be removed and serviced as a unit. Quality is determined by the materials used in the cartridge: plastic, metal, or ceramic. All but the cheapest plastic cartridge valves will last a long time. And, if they do develop a drip, seal replacement is a 15 minute repair using a kit available at nearly any hardware store. Almost all Moen cartridges are guaranteed for the life of the faucet, so most of the time the cartridge or repair kit are fee, just ask for it at your local hardware or plumbing store. You will have to fill out some warranty paperwork. (To see how simple it is to replace a Moen cartridge, watch this video).
Delta Ball Valve
The ball valve is a Delta faucet innovation. It works just like a Moen cartridge valve — in fact, except for the ball-like shape, it really is just a Moen cartridge in disguise. But, the ball-shape was just different enough to enable Delta to squeeze around Moen's patent — much to Moen's irritation. Rotating the ball lines up different slots to control water temperature, raising and lowering the ball controls the volume of water, from trickle to torrent. Early balls were brass, current models are stainless steel and nearly indestructible. Delta boasts a failure rate of less than one in 100,000 units. But, Delta also makes a "Thrifty" ball cartridge for its low end faucets (also used in Peerless faucets) out of plastic. In this case Thrifty is not nifty. The ball is very susceptible to damage from mineral build up that can actually score the ball, rendering it useless. It's easy to replace, but why buy the problem?
Like the Moen cartridge, the water seals or "seats" are rubber or plastic, and friction against the rotating ball will eventually wear them out. Replacing them is very easy and well within the ability of any handy homeowner. To see how to repair a Delta ball valve, see How to Repair a Leaky Faucet.
Ceramic Disk Valve
A European innovation, first patented in this country by Wolverine Brass, the valve contains two slotted ceramic disks that rest against each other. In a single-handle farcet, one rotates to control temperature and raises and lowers to control water volume. Water flow control is provided by ceramic disks that are polished to near perfect flatness, so highly polished, in fact, that they stick to each other as if magnetized just from surface tension. The space between the disks is smaller than a molecule of water, which is why water cannot flow between them when the ceramic disks are pressed together. This valve technology eliminates any friction against rubber or plastic washers. Although the cartridge does usually have rubber or plastic seals at the bottom of the cartridge where it meets the faucet body, these "seats" are stationary. Without any friction against them, they last a very long time.
Ceramic disks are second only to diamonds in hardness, which makes them ideal for the rough and gritty environment of a faucet valve. They are largely immune to the effects of debris in the water, unlike other types of valves that can be damaged by hard water mineral deposits. Fired at temperatures over 2000°F, these discs are also unaffected by the hottest household water.
All ceramic disk valves are not, however, created equal. In the best ceramic cartridges, the parts that are not ceramic are made of brass and/or stainless steel. These hold up very well to the repeated twisting forces applied when the faucet is operated and best resists the inevitable accumulation of abrasive mineral deposits. Brass and stainless are, however, relatively expensive, so it did not take long for valve makers to start experimenting with less costly materials: primarily plastics. In less expensive ceramic disk valves the bodies and often the internal moving parts such as stems, are plastic. These do not last nearly as long. Almost always, when we see a failed ceramic disk valve, the failure is in some plastic part or another.
Many faucet companies engineer and manufacture their own ceramic disk cartridges. Wolverine Brass, for example, patented its first ceramic disk cartridge in the 1970s, and has been improving on it since. Masco makes ceramic disk cartridges for its Brizo and Delta faucet brands.
However, most smaller faucet companies buy valves from outside suppliers that have the specialized technology needed to manufacture ceramics. The general consensus in the faucet industry is that the best ceramic disk valves are made by Flühs Drehtechnik, GmbH, a German firm located in Ludenscheid, Germany since 1926. Flühs (sometimes spelled Fluehs) valves are heavy duty, all brass products with an established reputation for leak-free reliability. Faucet lines known to include Fluhs cartridges are
Waterstone and some of the better
A close runner-up to the Fluhs primacy is Anton Traenkle, GmbH & Co. KG, also German, which also makes superlative ceramic cartridges. Traenkle (also spelled Tränkle) provides the ceramic cartridges used by
Chicago Faucets and
Most mid-priced faucets with a ceramic disk valve use a lower quality product from a company such as Kerox Kft, a Hungarian manufacturer. Unlike Fluhs and Traenkle which started as machine shops making precision turned parts, Kerox started as a manufacturer of dental ceramics, and is well known for its high-quality ceramic disks which it sells to other cartridge manufacturers. It is generally considered a good to very good valve, although not as universally admired as Fluhs and Traenkle. Many of its valves use plastic bodies rather than brass or stainless to save costs. Faucets known to use this valve are Delta, Symmons, Moen, Kraus. Another mid-priced manufacturer is Greens Industries of New Zealand. Greens makes ceramic valves used in some Rohl faucets. These had quality problems around 2007 due to deteriorating plastic parts — a problem that has since been fixed, but it illustrates the risks inherent in the use of plastic — a little problem in the mix of chemical used to make the plastic can result in big problems for the faucet owners down the road.
Major Asian manufacturers also make ceramic valves, some very good, and some not so very good. Some of Moen's ceramic valves, for example, are made by Maruwa (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd. and Zhuhai Mingshi Ceramics Valve Co., Ltd. (which also supplies Pfister). Geann Industrial Co., Ltd. in business over 30 years, is also a well-established Chinese manufacturer of good quality ceramic disk cartridges. Many are brass, and of good quality, but it makes cartridges at all price points, and uses lots of plastic in its lower priced products. Faucets known to contain Geann valves include Symmons.
But, since faucet manufacturers do not generally advertise Asian, especially Chinese content, it is rarely possible for us to find our which Asian factory supplies which valves for which faucets sold in the U.S. When we take these faucets apart for inspection, the manufacturer of the cartridge is usually not identified, so even if the valve looks first class, we often do not know who made it.
Delta may have recently trumped the traditional European valve makers with its new Diamond Seal Technology (DST) ceramic valve. One disk in the two-disk set is diamond coated, a feature that Delta says helps keeps the disks absolutely smooth since the diamond-coated disk continuously polishes the other disk so they always mesh perfectly. The more you use it, the smoother it gets. Delta claims this to be a breakthrough technology. We think it more a modest, but possibly important advance in ceramic valve technology. Only time will tell. The DST technology is available in many better Delta and Brizo faucets.
Which Valve is Better
Which valve is better? That's a question that can start a three hour argument among the pros we know. You probably cannot get most plumbers to install a traditional compression-type faucet without a sizable bribe. But, that may depend on tthe valve. Most plumbers like the Chicago Faucet Quaturn® compression valve. Still, there are plumbers who would not use a compression valve if it were given a life-of-the-universe guarantee by the Almighty himself.
But, homeowners in love with everything vintage won't use anything else. While compression faucets need frequent washer replacement, it's not very hard to do and if done regularly (so the valve seat is not damaged), the faucet will last nearly forever. We regularly see Moen, Delta, and Kohler faucts made at the turn of the 20th century still in use and still functioning perfectly. Some compression-type valves are nearly as maintenance-free the newer technologies. The Quaturn™ compression cartridge from Chicago Faucet is advertised to last as long as the building it's in, and this is not much of an exaggeration, if any.
Moen and Delta cartridge valves last a long time. The rubber and plastic seals will eventually wear out after 5-10 years, but replacing the seals is a job well within the capability of any homeowner who can hold a screwdriver. Brass and stainless ceramic disk valves can last nearly a lifetime with virtually no maintenance. But, while in theory the valves are replaceable when they finally fail (and they will — eventually), as a practical matter by the time the valve fails after 20 to 50 years, the faucet is likely no longer being made and a replacement valve is no longer stocked by the manufacturer. But, if you can find a replacement valve, repair is easy. The old cartridge is thrown away, and a new one inserted. The longest we have ever taken to replace one of these is about 10 minutes. Ceramic disk cartridges with plastic parts do not last as long. The more plastic, the shorter the lifespan of the cartridge. Some will last just five years, but 10-20 years is more typical.
On the whole, with some exception, we prefer ceramic disk cartridge valves. If is the newest and best technology. Even Moen and Delta are shifting to it as ceramic disk cartridges get better, and cheaper. We think they are just a little tougher and seem to give a little less trouble. But, we certainly will not discount Moen or Delta proprietary valves, nor Chicago Faucet's Quaturn compression cartridge. They have a track record second to none for longevity and reliability.
Style and configuration may dictate your valve decision. Single handle faucets cannot use compression valves. And, availability may well influence your decision. Compression valves are fast disappearing from the market. As far as we can tell, only the commercial faucet companies like Chicago Faucets and T & S Brass still use a compression-style cartridge in their faucets.
The configuration of a faucet describes its overall functionality and basic appearance, how it is mounted, how many handles it has and other features that affect how it is installed and connected to the water supply. The following is a list of features that are generally included in describing a faucet's configuration.
Before 1960 or so all faucets required either two or three mounting holes. With the invention of the washerless valve, one hole configurations became possible, and are now the most popular for kitchen faucets. Some kitchen faucets need two holes, some three. If a side spray is installed, add one more for the spray. We have seen as many as seven (add one more hole each for the soap dispenser, lotion dispenser, instant hot water tap, and filtered drinking water tap). The largest number of holes you can get in a sink is five. So if your configuration requires more than five holes, consider a sink that supports faucet mounting through the countertop.
Bath faucets come in one-hole, two-hole and three-hole configurations. In two- and three-hole configurations, the hot and cold handles are set either 4" apart (centerset) or 8" apart (widespread). There is also the vessel faucet that mounts in a countertop and has a high arc or tube spout to clear the rim of a vessel sink.
Most faucets mount into a ledge on the back of the sink or into the countertop. These faucets are referred to as deck mounted. Some faucets are mounted in the wall over the sink. These are referred to as, no surprise, wall-mounted. Wall mounting is becoming more popular as homeowners discover that wall-mounted faucets not only provide more room on the countertop, but are easier to keep clean. Deck mounting is usually assumed unless wall mounting is indicated.
Number of Handles
Two handles were the norm until about 50 years ago when the invention of the washerless valve by Al Moen made single handle faucets possible. A two-handled faucet has one handle for hot water and one handle for cold water. This gives you a very precise control of both water temperature and volume. The one handle on a single-handle style controls both temperature and volume using the same lever. For period kitchens and baths, two-handle designs are most often the preferred configuration.
Spouts are made in just about every configuration that will hold water. But, while spouts are important to a faucet's style, only a few faucet shapes figure in determining a faucet's configuration.
- Standard Spout: A standard spout juts out from the faucet base with either little or no arch. It may angle slightly up or down, and may have a little hook at the end.
- Gooseneck Spout: If the spout arches up a lot it is called a "high arc" or "gooseneck" faucet. A gooseneck faucet has more clearance for filling tall pots, or, in a bathroom, more height to reach over the rim of a vessel sink.
- Articulating Spout: This is a very new design in which the spout is jointed at several spots and can rotate, extend or retract at the joints so that it can be moved into any position. It has both a long reach and a generous clearance. It is, in fact, a spout and sprayer rolled into one, so its hard to say whether it is a new spout shape or a new sprayer location. Invented by Kohler and introduced to the U.S. as the "Karbon" faucet, Kohler has pretty much had the category to itself for a number of years. We were initially skeptical of the design, figuring that all those articulating joints provided ample opportunity for leaks to develop. So far, however, this does not seem to be a problem. Of course, we have to wait about 100 years for the real test of reliability.
- Exotic Spout Variations: There are any number of spout configurations that are essentially just variations on one of the basic three, and function much the same way. A channel spout, for instance, is an standard spout in the form of an open trough used to create the affect of an old-time well pump. A waterfall spout looks very exotic, but is just another variation of the standard spout. There are so many variations on the gooseneck faucet that you need a scorecard to keep track of them all.
Retractable sprays aid in the rinsing of large pots and can extend to hard-to-reach areas. There used to be a faucet, and alongside the faucet was a sprayer. Now there are at least three standard sprayer locations.
• Side Spray: The original side spray configuration is still available and still very popular. The sprayer is attached to the faucet with a hose, but is mounted to one side. Its control is in the sprayer head. The spray pattern may be adjustable and usually can be switched to spray to stream with a switch mounted on the sprayer head.
• Pull-Out and Pull-down Spout Sprayer: In the 1980s Rohl introduced the European pull-out spout sprayer to the U.S. market. The pull-down faucet still makes up a major part of Rohl's faucet line. Moen, Delta and other large American manufacturers immediately copied and mass marketed the innovation. It was an overnight success. Most sprays are now of the pull-out or pull-down spout variety. In this configuration the spray and spout are the same. The spout is connected to the faucet with tub that can be extended for use then retracted. In its retracted position the spray head acts like a spout.
There are problems with this spray configuration. If the sprayer is also the spout and the sprayer fails, you have no water at all. Spout sprayers do tend to break with some frequency and chances are the failure involves the hose or hose attachment which are usually the weak points of the faucet. A braided, stainless steel hose is the best choice. Plastic hose makers claim their hoses are nearly as strong as steel braided hose, but after having responded to a lot of leaks involving plastic hoses, we don't think that's true.
If the sprayer is separate from the faucet, as in a side sprayer configuration, then if a hose fails it is merely a mild inconvenience until it is repaired or replaced, and not a four-alarm emergency
• Pre-Rinse Spray: A recent innovation in residential sprayer technology is the pre-rinse sprayer borrowed from rinse faucets common in restaurants. These feature a long hose on a very high, elongated gooseneck (up to 30 in. tall) and a spray head that sometimes offers choices of spray strengths. Some offer a gooseneck spray separate from a swivel spout, in others the spout and sprayer are one. Some home versions of the high-arc sprayer are very good, but the best choice is probably an actual, heavy duty, restaurant pre-rinse faucet. These are available from manufacturers of commercial faucets such as Chicago Faucets and Elkay.
The bridge faucet is a variation of the two-handle faucet in which the tube connecting the cold and hot water (the "bridge") is visible rather than concealed beneath the counter. These were invented in the early 1900's as one of the first attempts to mix hot and cold water inside the faucet, and are popular when resurrecting Victorian or Art & Crafts styles. Bridge faucets are by necessity two-hole mounting and two handle.
Hands free or automatic faucets have been around for quite a while, but only recently began migrating from public restrooms into home kitchens and baths. These fixtures work with a laser sensor to turn the water on and off. They can be hard wired, battery or solar powered. The drawback: The temperature and volume of water are preset. The electronic control merely turns the water on and off. For more information visit Sloan Valve Co. If you want to make your existing faucet automatic, there is a device for that. EZ Faucet makes a battery-powered control that can be retro-fitted to your existing faucet to turn the water on and off electronically. You use the regular handles to adjust temperature and volume.
To an increasing extent, faucet improvements are being driven by design, not technology. There have really been no major technological breakthroughs since the ceramic cartridge. Virtually all name faucets are functionally reliable, economical to operate, and will last a lifetime. Indeed, reliable faucet performance is pretty much a given these days. Almost all current competition is design-driven. In fact the push for design innovation now transcends mere faucets to coordinated hardware and fixture suites. Toto, Fusion, Price Pfister and other companies now have entire matching rooms of faucets, fixtures, cabinet knobs, towel racks, lighting and even tile to ensure you new bath or kitchen is stylistically consistent.
Faucets are grouped into three large style categories: Traditional, Transitional and Contemporary. While traditional faucet designs still outsell any other style group by a wide margin, transitional and contemporary designs are a growing segment.
According to a recent National Kitchen and Bath Association "Design Trend Survey", the top bathroom feature desired by most homeowners is a decorative faucet. Manufacturers are meeting this demand by pushing design limits. Contemporary designs are becoming very geometric — featuring rectangular shapes with sharply defined edges and clean, unadorned cylindrical shapes distinguished by elegant finishes. While bright chrome still dominates as the favorite faucet finish, stainless steel and polished brass are catching up, with the various bronzes not far behind.
For those whose style preference is not quite so avant guard, manufacturers have added contemporary features to traditional faucet styles to create an in-between look usually referred to as transitional or eclectic style. The Brizo Vesi Channel lavatory faucet is a good example of this style group. The basic two-handle lavatory faucet has been around for most of a century. By adding a channel spout and crisping up the basic rectangular shape, Brizo has transformed the faucet into something more modern that will fit well in a contemporary bathroom and still be quite at home in a more traditional setting.
Few inexpensive faucets are either transitional or contemporary in styling. Style innovations start at the top of the line and work themselves down over time to less expensive faucets. By the time the "very latest" has filtered down to the bargain shelf, it is long past being the very latest. Still, except for the ultra-high-style bath or kitchen, a traditional faucet works just about anywhere. And, as older styles are phased out in favor of newer lines, traditional faucets can be exceptional values found on Internet discount venues.
Stainless steel faucets don't need finishing. The material itself is the finish. But, brass faucets are another story.
Native brass tends to turn green after a while, and requires almost daily maintenance, so brass faucets are coated with some sort of tough, low maintenance finish, typically another metal, but not necessarily. If brass is left native, it is still clear-coated so it does not have to be polished continuously. Most brass finishes are highly polished, but brushed and satin finishes are also available. If the faucet is something other than bright brass, for example antique brass or weathered brass, then most commonly the finish is applied over the brass faucet just as any other metallic finish is applied.
Chrome. The original faucet finish in wide use was nickel. In the 1930s chromium, or what we now call just chrome, began replacing less durable nickel and quickly became the new standard. Tough, tarnish resistant and durable, polished chrome has been the single most popular faucet finish for nearly a century.
Nickel. Nickel fell out of favor as a faucet finish because it is a soft metal that easily wears off the faucet, exposing the brass beneath. With improvements in metallurgy and new methods of applying nickel to brass, the metal has seen a resurgence as a faucet finish. Highly polished and brushed finishes are the most popular. Brushed finishes have the advantage of not showing water spots as easily as polished finishes. Hammered nickel is a popular finish for Arts & Crafts and Mission style baths, but works in any rustic setting.
Bronze. Bronze is also a perennial favorite faucet finish. Bronze can come in a variety of shades that vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Basic bronze is usually lighter than oil-rubbed bronze (which is, of course, neither oiled nor rubbed), and some bronze finishes are almost black. So if you order your bath fixtures and accessories from different suppliers, make sure the bronze finishes are a reasonable match.
Copper. Copper can be applied to brass as a finish, but most copper faucets are actually made of copper. Copper is a component of brass, and although softer than brass, it still works well as a faucet material. The advantage of a solid copper faucet is that the finish cannot wear off since the faucet is the finish, and copper faucets are virtually lead free.
Gold. Because it is expensive, gold is rarely used as a faucet finish, but all major manufacturers offer it as a finish option. Bright and shiny, it just screams opulence, and for the classic boudoir look, is indispensable.
Non-Metallic. In addition to the classic metal finishes, faucets can be finished in most colors of the rainbow. Nearly every major manufacturer offers black, but after that the colors available vary widely. Non-metallic colors are typically applied using powder coating. Some faucets, however, are essentially pottery. They are made of vitreous china just like sinks, and can be glazed to exactly match your sink. At least one manufacturer, Kohler, offers enamel faucets in the same enamel colors as its sinks and toilets.
Faucet Finish Technology
How a faucet finish is applied makes a big difference to the durability of the finish. Three methods are commonly in use: electroplating, physical vapor deposition (PVD), and powder coating.
Powder Coating. Powder coating is a process of applying pigmented finishes to a faucet. The dry pigments are usually sprayed onto the faucet, then baked at about 400°F to set the coating. This causes the powder particles to melt and flow. The result is a glossy, tough, durable finish originally developed for marine applications that resists corrosion for many years. Be a little careful of colored finishes, however. Some of these plastic-look faucets are actually plastic, and plastic faucets do not last.
Electroplating. Electroplating is the old standard. This involves immersing the faucet and the metal to be plated in an acid then applying an electrical charge to both objects so metallic ions are drawn from the plating metal and deposited on the faucet. If the faucet is left in the solution longer, the plating is thicker. Thicker plating lasts longer. Some metals cannot be plated directly to brass, so an intermediate metal, called an undercoating, such as nickel is applied first, then the finish metal.
Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD). PVD is the latest space-age technology, rapidly replacing electroplating as the finish technology of choice. It involves vaporizing metallic atoms in a vacuum then depositing the atoms onto the faucet. Atoms are deposited in a very dense film, so the coating can be very thin — most are .05 microns or less — but still be very durable. PVD finishes are 23 times more resistant to wear than the old standard chrome electroplated finish.
Almost any inorganic material that can be reduced to atoms can be deposited using PVD, and the object being coated does not have to be metal. Its possible to deposit chrome on plastic using PVD, which it what makes inexpensive plastic faucets look more expensive. Undercoating is usually not required, although some processes use a nickel undercoating which manufacturers claim results in a stronger, most lustrous finish.
The disadvantage of PVD is the cost. There is a very high initial investment for the equipment, and the process is relatively slow compared to electroplating, so it takes longer and costs more. So, expect to pay 20%-25% more for a PVD finish over electroplating. For your money, however, you get a truly lifetime finish. (See a PVD machine in action here.)
Polishing. Much of the difference in price between a mid-range faucet such as
Delta and a premium faucet like
is polishing. Most faucet finishes are not quite perfect when they emerge from the finishing process. They then have to be polished. In most mid-range faucets, the polishing is by machine. For high-end faucets to achieve their trade-mark lustrous finishes, meticulous and very skilled, time-consuming hand polishing is required. The time is worth it, however. The luster and depth of high-end finishes is un-matched, and a sure sign that the faucet is a high-end product.
How to Buy a Faucet
Choosing a faucet is to a large extent a process of elimination. Typically your range of choice is limited by budget, style and finish. Your budget may eliminate the very high end choices, and your need for reliability should exclude the very low end faucets. You certainly want your faucet to match the style of your home. A contemporary faucet in a cape cottage or Arts & Crafts house may not be a good fit style-wise. But, after you have eliminated the faucets you definitely do not want, there are still many considerations to think about.
Not Clear About Sink Configurations or Countertop Materials?
Learn all about bath plumbing fixtures at Selecting Bathroom Fixtures, and all about countertops at New and Traditional Countertop Choices.
Choose the Sink, Faucet and Countertop Together
There are many more faucet styles than there are sink styles. It's much easier to match a faucet to a sink than it is to match a sink to a faucet, so choose your sink first, then your faucet. Then go back and review your sink choice.
Most drop-in sinks have a ledge at the back with one or more mounting holes for the faucet. The number of mounting holes must fit the faucet. If you have selected a single-hole faucet, you don't want a 5-hole sink. You have to cover those extra holes with hole covers, which is unsightly. If your faucet requires three holes, but your sink has just one, you are going to have a mighty agitated plumber.
If your sink is an undermount style, then the faucet will most likely mount through the countertop next to the sink. If your countertop is laminate or solid surfacing like Corian it can be drilled at the time it is installed. But, if it is stone or an engineered product, it may have to be drilled at the fabricator's shop before it is delivered.
Ensure that Reach and Clearance are Adequate
The faucet you choose should swing in an arc large enough to dispense water to a good portion of the sink's basin(s). This is the faucet's "reach", and it is determined by the horizontal distance from the spout opening to where it joins to the faucet base. This dimension will be printed in the faucet's specifications.
The faucet should also be tall enough so that you can fit your largest pot under the spout for filling. This is called the faucet's "clearance" and it is measured from the base of the faucet to the highest point of the spout's arch. You then need to add the depth of the sink to that measurement. If the faucet's clearance is 8" and your sink is 6" deep, the tallest pot you can fill is 14" (actually about 13", you need some room to maneuver the pot).
Keep in mind, however, that pull-out faucets and faucets with side sprays greatly extend both reach and clearance and may eliminate any problems.
Say "No" to Plastic
Plastic has no place in a fixture meant to give many, many years of trouble-free operation. Look for all metal construction — by that we mean only brass and stainless steel. Even avoid a plastic handle. (Plastic faceted handles imitate fine crystal glass handles on very high-end faucets, but turn yellow and harbor mold). You can
Why is Plastic a Problem?
Your water contains dissolved minerals. Among these are magnesium, limestone, iron, silica, and even granite.
When water flows through your faucet some of these minerals are left behind as very hard, rock-like, deposits. In your bathtub or sink these are known as "lime scale" or "mineral deposits" and they are the very devil to get rid of after they have built up for a while and etched into the fixture material.
They behave the same way inside your faucet where you can't get at them, or even see them. They grind away at the internal moving parts of your faucet, wearing them down over time. Brass and steel can handle the abuse for years and years without failing, plastic cannot.
We're not picking on plastic. We think that the many plastics available have lots of legitimate uses in construction and remodeling. It's just that no plastic is tough enough to be used in a faucet, and if you see plastic in a faucet, you can bet that the manufacturer is looking to save cost by drastically reducing the reliability and longevity of the faucet. Stay away from it no matter how pretty it looks.
usually tell a good all-metal faucet by its weight. It's heavy and feels solid. If you are not sure how heavy it should feel, ask the clerk to see a hose bibb (the outside faucet your hose attaches to). These are almost always heavy, solid brass. Your faucet should be at least this heavy. Test the faucet out of the box. There are often heavy things in the box (a hose weight, for example) that are not part of the actual faucet.
If parts of the body, spout or handles are made of plastic, you can feel the difference. Metal feels cold to the touch, plastic does not.
Test for Smooth Operation
Turn the handle(s) full on and full off. The operation should be smooth with no hitches, and certainly no scratching or grinding noises. If the handle seems to bind or stiffen in certain positions, there is probably a problem with the faucet. Leave it alone.
Look for a Lifetime Valve
The part that makes your faucet work is its valve. So, if you want reliable performance year after year, a good valve is essential. Avoid any plastic parts in a valve. Look for ceramic, stainless steel and brass only. These last a good long time. Unfortunately, it's usually not possible to tell if the valve contains plastic by carefully reading the box. Phrases like "ceramic valve" and "all brass construction" are usually not helpful, since ceramic valves can contain plastic; and many do despite the "all brass" puffery.
Here's what we do. Go to the manufacturer's web site and find the replacement parts list for your faucet. Get the valve's model number. Google the number. A whole list of replacement parts suppliers will come up. Display an image of the valve. Plastic bodies on ceramic disk cartridges are usually obvious just by looking at the picture —, there is no blue, green, orange, white or bright red brass. Blue, green, orange, white and bright red cartridges are plastic. If you can't tell from the picture, read the description. It usually tells you just what the cartridge is made of.
If that does not work, call the replacement parts company and ask about the cartridge. The folks who work at these places are not just telephone operators. They know a lot about cartridges, including which faucet lines have good ones. Don't hesitate to interrogate. We don't.
As a last resort, we haul out our handy pocket screwdriver and take the faucet apart. This requires two people, one to do the work, and one to stand lookout. Store clerks can go a little batty if they catch us at it, so one guy has to fight him off while the other disassembles the faucet. We flat do not ever want to be stuck with a plastic cartridge, so we do get a little extreme at times.
Another way, less adventuresome, of finding an all brass and stainless cartridge, is review our Faucet Ratings. We usually identify the quality faucet companies that use all metal valves.
If you do buy a faucet with a plastic cartridge, go ahead and get the replacement cartridge now — you'll need it relatively soon.
Make Sure It's Easy to Clean
Look for a faucet that is easy to clean. You have to be able to get your fingers in those small recesses. Remember that even the most stylish faucet does not look so good crusted and rusted.
Select a faucet that matches your personal style, but still is easy to keep spotless with just a little effort.
Get the Lead Out
Most faucets are brass, and brass is a metal alloy that contains lead. As of 1998, brass in faucets may contain up to 8% lead and still be labeled "lead free" as long as they leach not more than 11 parts per billion (11 ppb) into drinking water. However, the process used to test leaching developed by the National Sanitary Foundation (now NSF International) as Standard 61, Section 9 (ANSI/NSF 61,9) has been characterized by environmentalist experts as "unduly generous"1, and likened to testing an automobile's crash-worthiness by driving it into a "pile of pillows". Most studies have shown that "lead free" brass faucets actually leach much more lead that the NSF test suggests.
Protect Against Lead in Your Water
Lead in drinking water is harmful. Infants and children who drink water containing lead in excess of the action level could experience delays in their physical or mental
development. Children could show slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities. Adults who drink this water over many years could develop kidney problems or high blood pressure.
Water treatment facilities are strictly regulated for the amount of lead they can have in their drinking water, so if your water is rated safe, it has little lead. But, lead can also get in your water by a process called leaching by which water picks up small amounts of lead by coming in contact with lead sources in your household plumbing. Old lead pipes and lead solder joints are culprits, as is the brass in faucets that may by law contain as much as 8% lead. Many local water systems add chemicals such as polyphosphates or metasilicate, to reduce lead leaching, and old pipes tend to corrode over time and the corrosive coating helps prevent leaching, The best way to find out if your water contains lead and other potentially harmful contaminants is to have it test a peace of mind process that usually costs less than $25.00.
While there is very little lead in most household water, even a very little lead ingested over a long period of time can be harmful. Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce every this minimal exposure to lead.
• Use only cold water for drinking or cooking. Hot water leaches more lead than cold water.
• Let water run for up for a while before using it. Water left standing in your pipes leaches more lead than water quickly flowing through your pipes. Flush the standing water out by running the water until all the old water is gone, usually 30 seconds to a minute.
• Install a drinking water purification system with an activated carbon filter that eliminates most contaminants, including bad tastes and odors like chlorine. Standard 53-certified filters also can substantially reduce many hazardous contaminants, including heavy metals such as copper, lead and mercury; disinfection byproducts; parasites such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium; pesticides; radon; and volatile organic chemicals such as methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE), dichlorobenzene and trichloroethylene (TCE). Often these filter are enclosed in a convenient cartridge for that makes changing them easy and hassle free. And, by the way, if you are going to filter your water, don't forget the water in your refrigerator icemaker.
Learn more about how we use, and waste, household water at Saving Household Water
Manufacturers are dealing with the lead problem in several ways. Some have eliminated lead altogether by fashioning their faucets our of plastic parts (not good) or stainless steel (very good). Others plate the brass parts with a non-toxic metal such as copper, or coat the brass with a chemicals, to eliminate lead/water contact.
Slow action by federal authorities has prompted some states to pass laws that more stringently regulate lead in water-supply fixtures. California's AB1953 limits lead to a "weighted average" of less than 0.25%. Beginning January 1, 2010, no faucet that does not meet the new low-lead standard can be "introduced into commerce" in the Golden State. Vermont has enacted identical legislation (S152) and other states are considering similar action.
In purchasing a faucet, simply be aware that lead is harmful, and you probably want as little of it in your faucets as possible. A "lead free" faucet is rarely lead free. The words "lead free" on the box are fairly meaningless. To get a truly lead free faucet, look for one made entirely of stainless steel. Stay away from plastic parts. To get a very low lead faucet, look for one that meets California AB1953 requirements. But, expect to pay more for it.
The irony is that, after all the fuss about lead in faucets, faucets are rarely the primary source of lead in household water supplies. Old pipes were often lead, and even after copper became the standard, it was usually soldered with lead solder until lead solder was outlawed in 1986. If your old house water pipes are galvanized steel or black iron, they probably have a number of problems by now, but none of them is lead contamination. Plastic pipes are safe from lead, but have a number of other problems, and cannot be used in many localities, including most places in Nebraska that aren't farmland.
Is the Pull-out Spout is Firmly Attached?
Make sure any spout pull-out device operates smoothly without catching. It may be hard to tell before it is installed, however, because the hose counter-weight is not fitted until installation. Any pull-out spout can be damaged if it is pulled too far and too hard. You probably won't do this, but your children will. Look for a solid metal-to-metal attachment. No pull-out is immune to damage, but well-attached hoses resist damage better. Just look, don't yank. If you break it, you have probably just selected your next faucet.
Understanding Faucet Warranties
If your GE or Amana refrigerator breaks while under warranty, a repairman will show up to fix it at no cost to you. If your faucet breaks, your composite deck collapses or your gutters rust while under warranty, the manufacturer will send you some parts.
Why the difference? A refrigerator is an appliance and the established practice in the very competitive appliance industry is to warranty against both parts and labor costs. A faucet is a building product, and the practice in the building products industries is to guarantee only the parts.
All the manufacturer of a defective faucet promises to do is send you the parts necessary to fix the defect, someties at your expense for shipping. The company does not pay for the labor required to: (1) remove the faucet, (2) remove the defective parts, (3) replace them with the new parts and (4) reinstall the faucet, nor for your loss of the use of the faucet while all this is going on.
Plumbing labor is expensive, often more expensive than the cost of a new faucet, which is why most people faced with a defective faucet just buy a new one. Moreover, the company is usually in no great hurry to send you the
replacement parts, and few of us can go for a few weeks without a working kitchen faucet. Plus you have to send in the original receipt and sometimes the offending part. Who keeps receipts for 5 years or more? And if you did happen to save the receipt, where is it after all that time?
Nor is the length of the warranty necessarily an indicator of the quality of the faucet. Some of the best faucets are accompanied by meagre warranties; while mediocre faucets have "lifetime" warranties. Why? Because the makers of inexpensive faucets know from experience that there is very little likelihood you will exercise your rights under the warranty, and if you do, a few parts don't cost the faucet company very much. So a "lifetime" warranty is good, and rather cheap advertising.
Most reputable faucet companies offer "lifetime" warranties on moving parts and many finishes. "Lifetime" faucet warranties are not, however, actually for your lifetime; "life of the house" does not mean for the life of the house; and 100 year warranties are not really for 100 years. No matter the wording in the bold print of the warranty, the fine print boils down to this: The warranty is good as long as you own the house in which the faucet is installed. You may cease to own the house when you die, of course, but more probably when you sell it. Once you no longer own the house, the warranty expires. As the average American moves once every seven years, the risk to the faucet maker is actually fairly short term.
Interestingly enough, the standard faucet warranty is Europe is just one or two years. Why the difference? When Moen first introduced its "washerless" single handled faucet cartridge, it offered a "lifetime" warranty on the cartridge to stir up buyer interest. Every other faucet manufacturer soon had to follow suit, so "lifetime" became the standard for American faucet warranties. European faucet companies don't compete with Moen in Europe, so they stuck with their traditional one and two year warranties. The European standard has an effect on European faucets sold in the U.S.. Although some European manufacturers have followed the American "lifetime" standard, some have not, which is why you will see anemic two-year and five year warranties offered by some very reliable faucet brands like
MGS Progetti and
Dornbracht. Sime high-end faucet companies offer no warranty at all. Among these are Sherle Wagner which makes a very high end faucet line, but offers no warranty.
So, why is warranty information important if faucet warranties are mostly junk? The warranty offered by a faucet company tells you two things that are useful in making a decision about a faucet:
In our faucet ratings (See An Overview of Faucets: Faucet Reviews and Ratings ) we take into account a faucet company's warranty when assigning a grade. Companies with sub-standard warranties lose points, those with better than average warranties gain points. We figure that a faucet company that claims it sells a lifetime faucet should guarantee it for a lifetime. Anything less is worth noting.
- It tells you how much confidence a manufacturer has in its product. As a general rule, the more comfortable the maker is with the durability of its faucets and finishes, the longer and stronger its warranty. It's not always true that the best faucets come with the longest warranties. Some very reliable faucets come with very skimpy warranties. But as a general guide, it's a reliable indicator.
- It also tells you a lot about whether parts will be available for a faucet in the future. A company that warranties its faucets for 5 years generally expects to keep parts for the faucet for five years, no longer. So if your faucet breaks after 15 years, the likelihood that repair parts will be available is slim to "not gonna happen".
The Model Game
Did you ever wonder how stores such as Lowes and Home Depot can absolutely guarantee to have the lowest price on a faucet?
Most major faucet manufacturers will make special models just for the large retailers. No one else can possibly have a lower price on an in-house model because no one else carries exactly the same model. In many cases the faucet is identical to the manufacturer's regular faucet, just renamed. But, in some cases the faucet can be sold at a lower price because the materials used are lower quality - plastic spouts rather than brass, for example. Or worse, plastic cartridges.
There is no sure-fire way of determining whether an apparent main-line faucet is actually a store model. But, here's what we do. Go to the store and pick your model. Then go to the manufacturer's web site and search for that particular model. If the model number or name is exactly the same, most likely you have a regular-line faucet. If it is not the same (usually by the addition of a suffix such as M1045-HD rather than M1045), then it is probably a store model.
If still in doubt, call the manufacturer's customer service and ask. They may not recognize the model at all — a sure clue that it is indeed a special store model. Otherwise, if it is a store model, they will hem and haw a bit, but usually finally admit it. Ask if it is the same as the main-line model. Answers such as it is "virtually" identical or "substantially" the same all mean it is not the same.
None of this is absolutely guaranteed to work. One plumber of our acquaintance usually sends customers to Lowes to buy faucets, which he then installs. He installed a Delta faucet from Lowes that leaked badly from the hot side of the cartridge. When he took it apart to figure out the problem, he found innards that did not look like a typical Delta valve. So, he bought the same model from his regular supplier and compared them. The Lowes faucet, made in Taiwan, was a cheap knock off of the regular model, made in the U.S. Both, however, were sold under the same model number.
Another huge, but little discussed, problem in the industry is counterfeiting.
Manufacturers who design faucets spend a lot of money to do so, and this cost is reflected in the price of the faucet. Counterfeiters can copy the faucet for much less investment and sell it at a lower price. High end faucets with hefty price tags are the most often copied, but even work-a-day mid-range faucets have been counterfeited.
Faucet companies copy from each other all the time. If one has a successful design, it won't be long before others begin selling faucets that look virtually the same — with some just enough variation to avoid patent and copyright infringement problems. But, some fakeries merely reverse engineer popular faucets, and sometimes even use the name of the original manufacturer. Most fakes are sold through non-standard channels, so be careful what you buy on eBay or Craig's List, but some end up in regular distribution channels. Globe Union Industrial Corporation, the maker of Danze faucets, was implicated in an international conspiracy to counterfeit Delta single-handle faucets that were sold through regular plumbing supply houses under the Atled brand name ("Atled" is "Delta" spelled backward) and under the Globe Union's GOBO trade mark in Asia.
It is also common to see look-alike faucets under off-brand names. Wenzhou Kele Sanitary Wares Co. Ltd has been known to sell what look like Kohler faucets under its own Kele brand. And, Kohler recently won a design patent infringement case against two Chinese manufacturers — in a Shanghai court, no less — for selling Kohler designs under their own brands.
The best protection against counterfeiting is to buy only name-brand products from established suppliers. If you get an unbelievable deal on a name-brand faucet, especially if you bought it at a non-traditional source, there is a good chance it's a fake.
How Much Should a Good Faucet Cost?
A manufacturer's list price is a good indicator of the esteem in which a company holds its own products, but not necessarily of their market value. Prices of many high-end faucets are discounted steeply by retailers and suppliers. The prices listed here are the actual "street" prices at which the faucet line can be purchased…
1 Mathew L. Wald, "A New Standard for Lead in Faucets", New York Times, November 3, 1994, quoting Philip J. Landrigan, head of the department of environmental medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.