Faucet Fundamentals

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 old 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,

Classifying Faucets


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 material, 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 material and 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.

What's It Made Of


Any material that will hold water can be used to make a faucet. Faucets have been created from wood, glass and ceramics, although these materials are not in common use. More typically, faucets are made from low-corrosive metals: pewter, copper, bronze, brass, stainless steel, and zinc alloys. Faucets can also be made of plastic.

Brass


The traditional material for faucets is brass. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc with small amounts of other metals. Aluminum may be added to make the brass stronger and more corrosion resistant — the so-called naval brasses used in salt-rich maritime environments contain a relatively high proportion of aluminum. Lead is used to make brass more machinable, but as lead in faucets is now virtually forbidden, silicon is now more often used for that purpose. Tin may be added to combat a process known as dezincification, in which the brass loses its zinc over time when exposed to water, making the remaining brass brittle and porous.

The copper in brass is anti-microbial — kills germs, although no one yet understands exactly how the process works. What we do know is that many fungi (mold and mildew) and most bacteria cannot survive in the presence of copper. In tests on colonies of E. Coli bacteria conducted by the EPA, 99.9% of the colony was killed after two hours of exposure to brass.

Brass is prized for faucets because it is very resistant to corrosion, has a relatively low melting point — making it easy to cast — is soft enough to machine with little effort yet hardy enough to endure the rigors of life as a faucet, takes finishes such as chrome plating very well, and is easily recycled. About 80% of the brass used in new faucets is recycled.

Stainless Steel


The other upscale material for faucets is stainless steel. Steel is harder than brass and has a higher melting point, making it more difficult than brass to cast and machine. But, it also contains no lead, which in today's regulatory environment is a big plus. Stainless is a steel alloy containing at least 10.5% chromium. But, the stainless steel used in faucets is usually 304 stainless also known as 18/8 stainless due to its composition of 18% chromium and 8% nickel. The nickel gives the steel a particular crystalline structure which increases its strength and malleability.

Nearly all stainless steel faucets made in North America or Europe are 18/8 or 304 stainless. Some are made from 18/10 stainless, a slightly better grade used to make knives, fine cookware, flatware and restaurant-quality stainless sinks. The added nickel makes the alloy a little harder, and able to take a higher polish. But, some less expensive faucets, made primarily in Asia, contain a lower quality stainless. As a buyer you should always look for an indication that the steel used in the faucet is 304 grade, 18/8 or 18/10 steel. Just the word "stainless" is not enough.

Zinc/ZAMAK


Less expensive faucets are often made of a zinc alloy called ZAMAK or ZAMAC in which zinc is combined with aluminum, magnesium and copper. Developed by the New Jersey Zinc Company in 1929, the original use of this "pot metal" was to replace more-expensive brass in applications where the durability of brass was not needed, but its corrosion resistant properties were. Its is commonly used in the manufacture of die cast objects such as children's toys, model trains, locks, cabinet pulls and knobs, zippers, and plumbing fixtures, including faucets. It is a distinctive metal, dull and gray, but can be plated with chrome or another finish metal so as to be indistinguishable from an all-brass faucet.

A Rose May Be Always a Rose, But a Faucet is Not Always a Faucet


There is almost no language more confusing than Plumber. You'd think that a trade barely 300 years old would be a little less complicated, unlike carpentry, which is several millenia old, and has a very odd lingo.

One of the most confusing terms in plumbing is the name of the device that controls the flow of water. In North America the most common term is "faucet". In England and the former Commonwealth nations, except Canada, the term is "tap". The two terms can be used interchangeably, along with "Spigot" and "valve".

In the U.S. a "faucet" usually refers to a decorative plumbing device used to control the flow of water inside the house. A "spigot" or "Bibb" is an outside faucet, and you probably have a few attached to the side of your house. It may also be known as a "hose Bibb", a "Bibbcock", a "sillcock", a "garden valve" or a "hose hydrant".

"Valve" is nicely ambiguous term. Technically, a plumbing valve is any device that controls the flow rate of water. A faucet is a "valve" Within the generally accepted meaning of the term, but but not all valves are faucets. A faucet also contains a valve — meaning the part of the faucet that actually regulates water flow, as distinct from other parts of the faucet such as the body, spout, handle, etc. that do not.

To add furteer to the confusion, a faucet "valve" is often confused with a faucet "cartridge" and the two terms are frequently used interchangeably. A cartridge is a housing for a valve, in fact it is often called a "valve cartridge" to distinguish it from other types of cartridges. But, while a cartridge always contains a valve, a valve is not always contained within a cartridge. A lot of faucets still have valves that are not built into the faucet body itself rather than in a removable cartridge. An outside spigot or hose Bibb, for example, is likely to have an old style compressive valve that is built into the faucet body.

The difference between a "mixing cartridge" and "mixing faucet" also causes confusion. A mixing cartridge may be inside a mixing faucet, but a faucet can mix without a mixing cartridge. A mixing faucet is any faucet in which hot and cold water are blended together before entering the spout. Virtually all sink, tub and shower faucets are mixing faucets. Non-mixing faucets are not usually found inside the house. But outside, the hose Bibb is a non-mixing faucet. Unless you have done something strange to the plumbing, an outside spigot delivers only cold water.

Mixing faucets usually have two handles, one to control the volume of cold water, and a separate handle to control the volume of hot water. Temperature is regulated by adjusting the amounts of hot and cold water entering the spout.

In a "mixing cartridge", water temperature is mixed inside the cartridge before the water is released into the faucet. These are always single handle faucets that control the mix of hot and cold water and the volumn of water. Water volume is independent of water temperature. The flow of water can be changed without changing the water temperature, and the temperature can be regulated without altering the volume of water flow.

If you have a single handle mixing cartridge faucet in your house, try it. Turn on the water and move the handle right or left until you get the temperature you want. Move the handle up or back to increase the volume of water. Notice that the temperature did not change. Move the handle down or forward to decrease the flow of water, and still the temperature does not change. Push the handle all the way down to turn off the water, then turn it back on again. The water is still at the temperature at which you left it when you turned the faucet off. It seems so simple that it's easy to forget that it took an enormous amount of creativity and over 70 years to get faucets to work like this.
Most faucets that are made of ZAMAK will say so on the box. Another indication is the weight. ZAMAK faucets are considerably lighter than all brass or stainless faucets. But, we have found that the best way to check for ZAMAK is to get a look inside the faucet, which may require a screwdriver, but most often means unscrewing the aerator to have a peek inside. If the inside is gray, it is ZAMAK. If it's brown or "coppery", then its brass. One caveat, even if the faucet itself is "all brass", the handles may be ZAMAK.

Zinc is not as durable as brass and does not survive the hostile, corrosive environment of a faucet nearly as well as brass or stainless steel.

Plastic


We have never seen advice from a responsible source on the purchase of a plastic faucet other than some variation of "Run, run away, fast and far." That is also our advice. Plastic is not a suitable material for faucets, particularly faucet bodies and spouts. It is simply not durable enough for a faucet. And, there is no reason to buy a plastic faucet when for a very few dollars more you can always find a suitable metal faucet — maybe not all brass, but at least ZAMAK, which is a giant step up from plastic.

But, there is at least one form of plastic that does work, and works well in faucets. It is cross-linked polyethylene, commonly known as PEX. PEX has been used with good effect to replace copper water pipes for over 20 years, and is recognized by all national plumbing codes as a suitable material for water channels. It is, in many ways, better than copper because it is a lot less expensive, easier to install, and is much less likely to burst from freezing.

It has only very recently begun to be used in faucets, largely in response to the very low lead requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act effective in January 2014 (see more below). Since, brass contains small amounts of lead, one technique for reducing lead in drinking water is to replace the brass parts of a faucet that come in contact with water with something that is not brass. Copper and stainless steel are probably the best choices, but increasingly faucet companies are using PEX for water channels within the faucet, replacing the traditional brass channels.

Advanced technology faucets such as many Delta and Brizo faucets have replaced all of the internal faucet waterways with PEX. PEX connects the shut-off valves under the sink directly to the faucet valve, and the faucet valve to the water exit point in the spout. The faucet body and spout have nothing to do with water flow, they are just decorative shells disguising the PEX tubing and cartridge valve inside. No water ever touches metal, so no lead can leach into the water.

Faucet Valves


From the point of view of the mechanics involved, a faucet is nothing more than a valve that controls and directs the flow of water through a tube. The 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 (see below), the valve stem moved up and down inside the body of the faucet itself. Today the valve and valve seat are usually built into a removable carrier called a 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 easily be removed and replaced, restoring function to the faucet. Before removable cartridges, the faucet body would have needed to be re-machined, or replaced. (For a well-done and helpful video on the difference between a modern compression cartridge and a ceramic cartridge, see T&S Brass Cartridges.)

The removable cartridge can make upgrading painless. For example Chicago faucets typically come with the company's venerable Quaturn® compression 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. Many faucets are built the same way: they will accept different types of cartridge.

In early faucets, hot and cold water were delivered separately — one faucet for hot, the other for cold. Temperature 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 restorations. The modern faucet is a mixing faucet that blends hot and cold water inside the body of the faucet — out of harm's way before delivering it to the sink or tub. Valves are of three general types: compression, cartridge, 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 also commonly used to describe any valve in which the valve and valve seat are built into a removable housing. This dual use of the term causes a lot of confusion.)

A Brief History of Faucet Valve Technology


The history of faucet valves can be understood as a process of gradually reducing wear and tear on the rubber or silicon 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 or silicon seals, which were not called washers (after all, these were washerless faucets, get it?). These valves still needed to compress the seals to shut off the water, but the new design eliminated the twisting motion that wore out rubber seat washers so quickly. While the old compression washer had to be replaced every one or two years, the rubber or silicon seals in washerless valves could last five to ten years, and even longer as the technology improved.

The newest technology, ceramic disk valves take this one step further by eliminating all rubbing on the rubber or silicon seals, and thus all friction that causes the seats to wear out over time. They still have rubber or silicon seals, usually in the form of o-rings or washers at the bottom of the cartridge where it joins the faucet body (the "seat"). These are not used to control the flow of water. Water flow is controlled by the nearly indestructible ceramic disks. These seats never move and nothing moves over them, so they last a very long time. What finally wears them out, if they do wear out after 20 or 30 years, are accumulated mineral deposits from the water and chemical deterioration of the seal materials.

Compression Valves

 
A compression valve is the oldest form of valve. Turning the handle raises and lowers a stem. At the base of the stem is a rubber or silicon 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", "hose hydrants", "garden valves" or "hose bibbs" — just a little plumbing trivia, for fun).

Moen Sleeve Cartridge


The Moen Sleeve Cartridge Valve eliminated the rubber compression washer and ushered in the era of single handle faucets. Although it still used plastic or rubber seals and O-rings, the seals are not twisted by the operation of the faucet, which made them last much longer.

The Moen valve is a cylinder. The faucet handle moves the cylinder up and down in a sleeve to control the volume of water, and side to side to control the water temperature. (See the illustration at right). This is done by aligning strategically placed holes in the cylinder with matching holes in the the sleeve of the faucet. When the holes are aligned, water can flow, when not aligned, water stops flowing. When the handle is rotated left, the hot water inlet is aligned so hot water flows, when rotated right, the cold water inlet is aligned and cold water flows. In any position other than far left or right, the hot and cold water is mixed to varying degrees of warm water.

This "Moen motion" became the model for all single handle faucets made since. No matter the type, source or manufacturer of a single handle faucet, moving the handle up or back turns the water on, down or forward turns it off, right delivers cold water and left provides hot water. As a consequence no one has to relearn how to operate their single handle faucet every time he or she buys a new one — they all operate the same, Moen, way.

Invented by Al Moen in the 1950s, the Moen valve made single-handle faucets possible. Moen faucets were the "modern" feature of much of post-war housing, but not without a fight. Plumbers, who are naturally conservative, distrusted this new-fangled device and were slow to adopt it. Moen geared up its marketing machinery and with discounts, inducements and advertising targeted to homeowners, persuaded plumbers to try it. They did, and they liked it. Moen became the second largest faucet maker in the U.S. (after Delta).

Seal and O-ring emplacement is made easy because the cylinder can be removed and serviced as a unit. Quality is determined by the materials used in the cartridge: plastic, brass or stainless — although we have not seen stainless in a Moen cartridge in a long while. Apparently brass works just as well, and is a lot less expensive. Both metals outlast plastic. If the cylinder does develop a drip, seal replacement is a 15 minute repair using a kit available at nearly any hardware store. Or, just replace the whole cartridge.

Almost all Moen cartridge valves are guaranteed for the life of the faucet, so most of the time the replacement valve or repair kit is free, just ask for it at your local hardware or plumbing store. You may have to fill out some warranty paperwork, but otherwise it's a no-hassle process. (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 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 handle forward and back lines up different slots to control water volume from trickle to torrent, and moving it right and left controls water temperature. Early ball valves 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?

Even before Delta's patent on the ball valve expired, it was widely copied. Delta had to sue a number of other faucet companies for counterfeiting its proprietary valve. Now that the patent is expired, it is even more widely copied. The ball valve is a very simple device, so most of the copies work well. However, be aware that if you purchase a ball valve replacement from any source other than delta, there is no guarantee that it is a genuine Delta ball. And, since Delta ball valves are guaranteed for life, why would you buy a valve when Delta will send you one free of charge?

Ceramic Disk Valve Cartridge


Where the Moen cartridge uses a number of o-rings to seal off water flow, the Delta ball uses just two, a great improvement that enhances the reliability and longevity of the valve. But, the seals (sometimes called "seats" in the faucet world) are still rubber or silicon, and friction against the rotating ball will eventually wear them out — especially as the ball becomes encrusted with sand-paper-like mineral deposits (which is inevitable in most parts of the country). Replacing them is very easy and well within the ability of any handy homeowner (See How to Repair a Leaky Faucet for a video illustration), but, obviously, a seal that nothing moves against, eliminating all friction wear, would be a great improvement. And, this is the improvement implemented in the ceramic disk valve.

A German innovation, first patented in this country by Wolverine Brass, the ceramic disk valve contains two slotted ceramic disks that rest against each other. Water flow is not controlled by fragile plastic or silicon gaskets, but by these nearly indestructible ceramic disks. The disks are polished to near perfect flatness, so highly polished, in fact, that they often stick to each other as if magnetized from surface tension alone. The space between the closed disks is smaller than a molecule of water, which is why water cannot flow between them when they are closed. Ceramic technology eliminates any friction against rubber or silicon washers. Although the cartridge does usually have silicon seals at the bottom of the cartridge (where it meets the faucet body) these seals are stationary. Without any friction against them, they last a very long time.

Most ceramic valves use some sort of durable lubricant between the disks to make operating the faucet smoother and easier. Over time the lubricant can rub away which makes the disks stickier and faucet stiffer to operate. However, newer generations of ceramic disk valves, like the Delta DST valve (more below) and the Flühs mixer valves use technologies that eliminate the need for lubricant.

Ceramic disks are nearly as hard as diamonds, which makes them ideal for the rough and gritty environment of a faucet valve. They resist the effects of debris in the water better than any other material. Fired at temperatures over 2,000°F, these discs are also unaffected by the hottest household water. The disks are housed in a container called a cartridge (not to be confused with the Moen Cartridge Valve) or housing. In the best valves, the body and other parts of the cartridge are made of brass, aluminum or stainless steel. These hold up very well to the repeated twisting forces applied when the faucet is operated and best resist the inevitable accumulation of abrasive mineral deposits. These metals are, however, relatively expensive, so it did not take long for valve makers to start experimenting with less costly materials: primarily plastics. In some ceramic disk valves the bodies and often the internal moving parts such as stems, are plastic. These do not last nearly as long. Plastic stems, which are the part of the cartridge attached to the faucet handle, are particularly prone to damage from the twisting action of the handle. Almost always, when we see a failed ceramic disk valve, the failure is usually not in the seals, as one would suspect, but in some plastic part or another.

However, as more and more companies switch to ceramic cartridges that incorporate at least some plastic, plastic valves are increasingly hard to avoid. Most mixing cartridges (see below) now have plastic bodies, and many have plastic internal parts. Fluhs is now the only cartridge maker we can find that still uses brass bodies for its mixer cartridges. But it is slowly moving toward more plastic in its cartridges. In our survey of the latest cartridges on the market conducted earlier this year, we were unable to find a single mixing cartridge still made of all brass. All cartridges now have at least some plastic parts. And, while it is a fact that the plastics used in faucet valves have gotten better, plastic is dicey.

Plastics used in ceramic valves, primarily poly-vinyl chloride (PVC), polyoxymethylene (POM) and nylon, are complex chemical mixtures that require very precise processing. If anything goes wrong, the result is likely to be a brittle or fragile plastic that will not hold up inside a faucet. Green's Industries, a New Zealand manufacturer of ceramic valves used in some Rohl faucets, had quality problems around 2007 due to deteriorating plastic parts — a error in manufacturing that was soon fixed, but not before hundreds of faulty cartridges has been produced. The sidebar "Anatomy of a Failed Cartridge" illustrates the risks inherent in the use of plastic — a little problem in the mixture of chemicals used to make the plastic cartridge body resulted in a cartridge that softened and deformed, allowing it to leak.

Types of Ceramic Cartridges


There are two basic types of ceramic faucet cartridges: the mixing cartridge, designed for single-handle faucets, and a single function, stem cartridge (sometimes called "headworks") intended for two-handle faucets.

Dual-Function Mixing Cartridge

: A mixing or mixer cartridge controls both water volume and water temperature, blending hot and cold water inside the cartridge. These cartridges are used in single-handle faucets and are the European answer to the Moen and Delta proprietary single-handle mixing valves. The cartridge is identifiable by the three ports on the bottom (see illustration at above right, and at left): an inlet port for cold water, another for hot water, and an outlet port leading to the spout. Rotating the handle right and left determines the mix of hot and cold water leaving the cartridge through the outlet port to the spout. The volume of water is controlled by raising and lowering the faucet handle which opens and closes the disks.

Single-Function Stem Cartridge

: The stem cartridge (or "headworks"), like the compression cartridge it replaces, controls only water volume. These are used in two handle faucets. There is a hot cartridge and a cold cartridge. The hot cartridge controls the amount of hot water sent to the spout, the cold cartridge does the same for cold water. Mixing occurs in the spout, not in the cartridge. The cartridges are usually not interchangeable. A hot side cartridge will only fit the hot side of the faucet, and the same for the cold side. There are slight differences in how the cartridge is manufactured depending in whether it is for use on the cold side or hot side of the faucet. A hot side faucet is designed to withstand hot water, a cold side cartridge is not. A stem cartridge is always identifiable by the the number of ports in the bottom of the cartridge; one or two, but never three as in a mixing cartridge.

Ceramic Cartridge Manufacturers


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. Grohe the German faucet company makes its own disks, as does Globe Union which makes the Danze faucet.

However, most smaller faucet companies buy valves from outside suppliers that possess 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 for English speakers) valves are heavy duty products with an established reputation for leak-free reliability. Faucet lines known to include Flühs cartridges are California Faucets, Delta, KWC, Sherle Wagner, Graff, Waterstone and some of the better Kraus faucets.

A close runner-up to the Flühs primacy is Anton Tränkle, GmbH & Co. KG, also German, which also makes superior ceramic cartridges our of brass, but only single function, stem cartridges for two-handle faucets. Tränkle (also spelled Traenkle) provides the ceramic cartridges used by Chicago Faucets, Sigma and Phylrich.

Some of the better European cartridges are made in Italy which boasts a well-established ceramics industry. Studio Tecnico Sviluppo e Ricerche (STSR) S.r.l., for example, makes the very good ceramic cartridges used in Newport Brass faucets. Kerox Kft, a Hungarian manufacturer, makes only mixing cartridges. Unlike Flühs and Traenkle which started as machine shops making precision turned brass 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 excellent valve, although not as universally admired as Flühs or Traenkle. Faucets known to use this valve include Chicago Faucet Company, Delta, Symmons, Ruvati, Moen, and Kraus faucets.

Another mid-priced manufacturer is Greens Industries of New Zealand. Greens makes ceramic mixing valves used in its own line of faucets sold in Australia and New Zealand as Greens Tapware, but also in the U.S. by Rohl faucets. Sedal SA is headquartered in Barcelona, Spain, but manufactures in China. Sedal is considered to be of somewhat lower quality than Kerox, and is used in a great many faucets manufactured in China and Mexico.

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 ceramic disk cartridges. Many are of good quality, but it makes cartridges at all price points. 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. It also continuously grinds away any mineral deposits that may insinuate themselves between the disks. The more you use it, the smoother it gets. Delta claims this cartridge will last up to 5 million uses (about 10 times the lifespan of a typical ceramic cartridge). But, if you ever need to change the cartridge, Delta has a video for that, which you can view here. 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 the 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 Herself.

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 faucets made at the turn of the 20th century still in use and still functioning perfectly. Some compression-type valves are nearly as maintenance-free as 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.

Protect Against Lead in Your Water


Lead in drinking water is harmful. Infants and children who drink water containing lead could experience delays in their physical or mental Toxic Warning Sign 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 could contain as much as 8% lead prior to January 2014. 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 tested, 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 is enough.

   • 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 filters are encased 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
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.

Faucet Certification Marks

A faucet that is tested and certified will be marked by the certifying organization. Unfortunately, there are a number of such organi­zations, and the certification marks nor only vary but are usually cryptic references to a bunch of logos, letters and numbers that make sense only to industry professionals.

To de-mystify the marks and their meanings, here is a list of the most common certifying organizations and an explanation of what their marks mean.

Marks indicating certification are required to be permanently marked on the faucet itself, "located in such a way that they are visible after installation".

Compliance with ASME A112.19.1
(Safety, Flow Rate and Mechanical Reliability)


All North American plumbing codes require that at least one of these certification marks must be present.
International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials. The UPC Shield is applied to faucets that are certified by IAPMO as complying with ASME A112.18.1/CSA B 125. The "C" under the shield indicates that the faucet complies with both the U.S. and Canadian standards for faucets.
International Codes Council - Evaluation Service. The ICC-ES mark is applied to faucets that are certified by ICC-ES as complying with ASME A112.18.1/CSA B 125. The optional "C" indicates that the faucet complies with both the U.S. and Canadian standards for faucets.
Canadian Standards Association. A (CSA) mark signifies that a faucet complies with ASME A112.18.1/CSA B 125. The optional "US" or "NRTL" means that the faucet is meets the applicable U.S. standards. A CSA mark with the indicators "C" and "US" or "NRTL/C" means that the product meets both U.S. and Canadian standards.
Intertek Testing Services NA, Inc., Intertek is an international testing service operating in 100 countries that tests to North American faucet standards, but also to other standards. The "C" or "US" mark must be present to indicate certification to ASME A112.18.1/CSA B 125.
NSF International. The basic NSF International certification mark must include a "C" or "US" or both, or a notation such as "U.P.Code" or "I.P.Code" to indicated compliance with ASME A112.18.1/CSA B 125. If the faucet has been certified only under the lead-free standard, one of the notations in the bottom row will be shown and an additional mark indicating compliance with ASME A112.18.1/CSA B 125 must also be present.
Underwriters Laboratories. Faucets displaying the (UL) mark have been evaluated and found to comply with all applicable nationally recognized health effect and performance standards, and have demonstrated compliance with both the IPC and UPC plumbing codes. The notations "CA", "US" or "CA & US" may be shown to indicate compliance with Canadian and/or U.S. standards.
Water Quality Association. The WQA mark indicates faucet compliance with ASME A112.18.1 and NSF 61. The mark will usually be accompanied by a notation indicating with which standard the faucet complies, as "ASME A112.18.1/CSA B 125" or "NSF/ANSI 61".

Lead Free Compliance Marks


In addition to certification of compliance with the composition, safety and mechanical function requirements of ASME A112.18.1/CSA B 125, a faucet must be "lead free" as that term is defined in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. California, Maryland and Vermont have their own state-wide low-lead requirements. The low-lead standards are similar, but not the same, and efforts are being made to "harmonize" the standards so faucet companies can avoid unnecessary multiple certifications for low lead compliance.
Compliance with Federal Law
Lead Free
Low Lead
NSF 61
NSF 61-9-G
NSF pw-G
NSF 372

Compliance with State Law
CA AB1953
AB1953
CA Compliant
CA/MD/VT Compliant
All of these notations combined with any of the marks above indicate a lead free faucet that complies with the requirements of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act which allows no more than a "weighted average" of 0.25% lead content in a faucet.

Prior to January, 2014 the national maximum for lead in faucets was 8%, and only California, Maryland and Vermont required the lower 0.25% limit.

At left are common notations used to show compliance with the state low lead standards.

Additional/Optional Certification Marks.


In addition to one of the required certification marks identified above, a faucet may also be certified in one or more of the following categories.
CalGreen refers to the California Green Building Standards Code. Faucets that meet The CalGreen faucet standards have a maximum flow rate of 1.8 gallons per minute (for kitchen faucets) and 1.5 gallons per minute (for lavatory faucets), below the industry standard ASME A112.18.1/CSA B125.1 of 2.2 gallons per minute.
Kitchen and Bath Remodeling in Lincoln Nebraska: Faucet Reviews and Ratings. Watersense Logo.
Watersense®
An EPA program for reducing water consumption in the U.S. Water-Sense labeled faucets use about 20% less water and perform as well or better than their less efficient counterparts. Expect the cost of WaterSense faucets to be slightly higher, but also expect to recoup the higher price many times over in water savings. For more information, see "Saving Household Water.
Kitchen and Bath Remodeling in Lincoln Nebraska: Faucet Reviews and Ratings. ADA Logo.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Compliant
The faucet meets or exceeds the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Generally this means it compiles with the Actuation Force Accessibility Guidelines, Section 309 Operation, of the Act and can be operated by persons with limited manual function. Faucets with multiple handle options usually qualify only with lever or blade handles. "Touchless" or automatic faucets may also qualify. Any limitations on the qualification will usually be noted.
On the whole, with some exception, we give a slight edge to ceramic disk cartridge valves. It is the newest and in many ways the 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 kitchen and bath faucets.

Regulating Faucets


FFaucets are regulated products in the U.S. and Canada. Not just anything with a shiny chrome finish and a handle can be sold as a faucet. It has to first be tested and certified. Faucets have to meet three general criteria:

Composition, Safety and Mechanical Reliability


Of all the possible toxic and noxious materials that might find their way into faucets, the federal government is concern with just one: lead. Apart from lead contamination, all faucet safety issues and all reliability standards are the responsibility of the individual states and provinces through local and state or provincial plumbing codes. In all Canadian provinces and American states, there is a statewide plumbing code, but in many states and provinces local governments are permitted to adopt their own plumbing codes or modify the state or provincial code to fit local needs. Rather than research and write such a complicated law, all jurisdictions adopt one of the model plumbing codes. (We have not found a single jurisdiction that has not adopted a model code, even if heavily modified, but if you know of one, please let us know.)

Who Enforces Faucet Standards?


In the U.S. faucet certification and the enforcement of compliance with faucet standards is highly decentralized. As with many building and consumer products, government's involvement is limited to adopting the standards as law, then leaving it to industry to ensure that the faucets comply with the law. With faucets, some of the law is federal, some statewide and some entirely local.

Federal Enforcement


Certain require­ments are a matter of federal law and have national scope.

The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 as amended in 1992 limits sink faucets to a maximum water flow of 2.2 gallons per minute (GPM) at a pressure of 60 pounds per square inch (PSI). The Safe Drinking Water Act as amended in 2011 limits the lead content in faucets to 0.25% starting on January 4, 2014.

The maximum flow requirements are enforced by the Department of Energy's Appliance and Equipment Standards Program. Manufacturers of faucets offered for sale in the U.S. must certify each year that the faucet was tested in accordance with approved test procedures, and meets the standard.

The EPA enforces the lead free standard of the Safe Drinking Water Act that requires that manufactures and sellers of faucet provide a certificate of compliance with each faucet sold in the U.S. It is illegal to sell a faucet without a certificate, and even more illegal to certify a faucet as compliant when, in fact, it is not. Violation of the former will net you a htefty fine, while the latter will earn you a cot and three squares at a federal Graybar hotel.

State and Local Enforcement


Most other standards specified in ASME A112.18.1/CSA B125.1 are enforced as part of state and local plumbing codes. The basic enforcement is that non-complying faucets cannot be installed, and, if installed, must be removed. Usually a licensed plumber will simply refuse to install a faucet that does not show the necessary certification and testing marks. Installation of unapproved faucets can be grounds for the loss or suspension of a plumber's license. The plumbing inspector commonly will also look for certification marks on the faucet. If the owner of an unapproved faucet refuses the remove it, then the next step is either a civil suit for an injunction or a misdemeanor prosecution, or both.

Insurance Companies


The other enforcement arm is insurance companies. All homeowner policies require that any plumbing installation meet plumbing codes, and an uncertified faucet does not meet code. If a faulty faucet causes damage to your house, your insurance company is going to look for evidence that the faucet was certified. If it is not certified, the likelihood is that the company will not pay for the damage.
There are three model codes in North America. The International Plumbing Code(IPC), the most widely adopted code in the U.S. holding sway in the Northeast and Southern States is published by the International Code Council(ICC).. The Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC), maintained and published by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials(IAPMO) since 1927 has been adopted by most of the Western and Midwestern United States. Its Canadian counterpart, the Canadian Uniform Plumbing Code (cUPC) is the law in some Canadian provinces. The National Plumbing Code of Canada (NPC) published by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) is, however, the most widely adopted code in Canada.

All of these codes require a faucet must meet or exceed all of the standards and pass all of the tests established by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME, now renamed ASME International). These are published in standard ASME A112.18.1. The same set of standards has been adopted in Canada as CSA B125.1. The two standards, at least with regard to the standards for faucets, are virtually identical, and often referenced as "ASME A112.18.1/CSA B125.1".

No government agency performs tests to ensure faucets comply with plumbing codes. It is all handled privately. ASME authorizes organizations to certify faucets. These are identified in the panel at left. Faucets are submitted to one of these organizations for testing and, if they pass the tests, for certifications. A faucet that is certified appears in a document of certification, most often along with all of the other faucets a company sells in North America. If a faucet does not appear in a certification document, then it is not certified no matter how often and how loudly a manufacturer may insist that it is certified.

A faucet must undergo an daunting battery of tests before it is certified for use in North America. These include tests to ensure that the faucet does not contain any harmful materials and tests of the faucet's mechanical operation to ensure a long service life. Faucet finishes are tested for durability and longevity. They are sprayed with salt concentrations to simulate many years of exposure to the normal household environment which may include cleaning chemicals. Faucets are tested in extremes of heat and cold to duplicate years of mixing hot and cold water, and are subjected to many times the normal household water pressure of 60 pounds per square inch (psi) to see if they can be made to leak. Testing also ensures that the faucet will maintain a water temperature without spontaneously changing the temperature on its own — which would be at minimum annoying and at worst, dangerous. It also ensures that the faucet will work with standard North American faucet fittings. While the rest of the world has gone metric, in North America we still prefer our quaint and antiquated system based on inches and feet, and most metric fittings don't work here.

The fact that you have probably never encountered any of these problems with a faucet shows how carefully and comprehensively faucets are tested.

Faucet valves are rigorously tested for durability. The standard test for valves used in the U.S. and Canada requires operating the cartridge through 500,000 on/off cycles under 60 psi of water pressure without a single failure. That is equivalent to about 70 years of ordinary kitchen faucet use. In other countries the standard is much less rigorous. The European (EN 817) and Chinese (GB18145) requirement is just 70,000 cycles.

Some ceramic cartridges are tested to tougher standards. Faucet makers can request more cycles. Delta tests its new Diamond Seal Technology valves through 5 million cycles, or about 700 years of ordinary kitchen use. Our guess is that it is probably a very reliable valve. But, it's still too early to tell for sure. Check back in 20 years or so and we'll let you know.

These tests have limitations, however, which is why a faucet valve that should last 70+ years in home use will probably not last quite that long. The culprit is hard water. Faucets are tested in crystal clear, often distilled, water. Testing labs don't want their testing apparatus gunked up with mineral deposits, so they eliminate minerals from the water used for testing. This is not, however, the typical household environment in which the faucet will be used. City and well water routinely contains an abundance of dissolved minerals which tend to deposit themselves on the inner workings of a faucet, and, over time, grind away at the faucet until some part fails.

Maximum Water Flow


The maximum flow rate for a residential sink faucet in the U.S. is 2.2 gallons per minute (GPM) or or 8.3 liters per minute (LPM) measured at 60 pounds per square inch (psi) of flowing water pressure. This maximum rate was established by the federal Energy Policy Act of 1992, and is the law everywhere in the U.S.

Enforcement is the responsibility of the Department of Energy which has wisely had the 2.2 gallon per minute requirement incorporated into the ASME A112.18.1 standard, obviating the need for and cost of separate testing or certification. Most local plumbing codes allow the federal maximum water flow rate, but an increasing number of statewide and local plumbing or conservation codes permit even less flow. Faucets complying with the EPA's WterSense® program, for example, are allowed a maximum flow rate of 1.5 GPM (5.7 l/m) which is also the maximum flow rate in Europe and much of Asia. The California Green Building Code (CalGreen - Download PDF) allows a maximum flow rate of 1.5 GPM in bathroom sink faucets, but a slightly faster 1.8 GPM in kitchen faucets.

In faucets sold in the U.S. there is a flow rate to suit just about any regulation. We looked at a selection of Delta faucets in preparing this article and found stated flow rates of 1.5, 1.8 and 2.2 GPM. Some faucets are available with multiple flow rates — when ordering, you specify the flow rate just like you specify the faucet finish. Many faucets made for the Asian and European markets are pre-set with the European standard flow rate of 1.5 GPM. But, faucets designed to be sold in North America are often manufactured with a maximum normal flow rate of 2.2 GPM. If a lower flow rate is required, then a device called a flow restrictor is inserted somewhere in the water channel to further restrict flow. It is often a part of the aerator.

By the way, if the lavatory in the washroom of your favorite eatery seems much slower than your home faucet, it actually is. The maximum flow rate for most public faucets is a miserly 0.5 GPM (1.9 LPM) — slightly more than a trickle. Some faucets, however, are not restricted. For example your tub spout (technically a tub filler faucet) has no official flow limit. Its job is to fill the tub. If your tub holds 50 gallons, then that's the amount of water it will take to fill the tub. Filling it more slowly does not save any water (but does increase irritation). The flow rate is limited by the maximum capacity of faucet valve buried in the wall above your tub, and by the size and age of your pipes. Typically it is about 4 GPM maximum. Any faster and the water flow could overwhelm your tub overflow drain, causing flooding if your tub accidently overfills.

Lead Content


Most faucets are brass, and brass is a metal alloy that often contains small amounts of lead. Prior to 2014, brass in faucets in the U.S. could contain up to 8% lead and still be called "lead free" as long as they did not leach more than 11 parts per billion (11 ppb) into the water flowing through the faucet. 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) was 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 showed that "lead free" brass faucets actually leach much more lead that the NSF test suggests.

Slow action by federal authorities to strengthen national lead-free standards prompted some states to passed laws that more stringently limited lead in water-supply fixtures. California's AB1953 mandates lead content of less than a "weighted average" of 0.25%. Beginning January 1, 2010, no faucet that does not meet this standard could be "introduced into commerce" in the Golden State. Vermont enacted identical legislation (S152), as did Maryland.

Finally, in 2011 an embarrassed federal government got off its duff and stiffened the federal lead-free requirement. The new federal standard contained in Section 417 of the Safe Drinking Water Act, effective as of January 4, 2014 reduces allowable lead content from the former 8.0% to the California standard of a "weighted average" of 0.25% or less. 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. Delta has re-engineered its Diamond Stealth Technology faucets so the water channels inside are separate from the faucet body and spout. The water never touches metal, so it cannot pick up any lead.

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 itself 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. The answer may be PEX, an engineered material made of cross-linked polyethylene formed into a hose. Stronger and more flexible than copper, and less susceptible to damage from freezing, it has gained wide-spread acceptance in the plumbing trades for most household water supply applications.

The Cost of Certification



Testing and Certification is costly. The average cost is $8,000, and It can cost more than $15,000 to test and certify a faucet: a substantial investment by the faucet manufacturer, particularly one that offers several hundred faucets. Testing has an effect on the price of the faucet to the consumer. A faucet made in China may sell to 60% of the U.S. price for the same faucet. The difference is largely the expense of initial certification and the ongoing cost of maintaining certification.

A faucet is not just tested once, then allowed to coast. Certification organizations periodically test random samples drawn from the production line, and if the faucet fails and re-test, it loses its certification. Obviously this serves to keep faucet manufacturers on their toes, but also is a substantial additional expense.

Faucet Configurations


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.

Mounting Holes


Before 1950 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.

Mounting Surface


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. There are also floor mounted faucets. Most of these are tub fillers, but there are floor mounted lavatory faucets offered by a few faucet companies, used primarily in very contemporary bathrooms. Deck mounting is usually assumed unless wall or floor 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.

There are three handle faucets. The third handle is for filtered drinking water. One such faucet is the Triflow faucet by Triflow Concepts sold by Rohl and Franke. The Triflow filtration system allows the delivery of hot, cold and filtered drinking water through one faucet.

Spout Shape


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 geometric 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. The Kohler bridge faucet pictured below includes a gooseneck spout.

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. The Waterstone articulating “Gantry” Faucet pictured at the top of the page is another example of an articulating spout faucet.

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: high-arch, low-arch, Roman-arch, and so on.

Spray Location


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.

Bridging


All two-handle faucets have some sort of arrangement for connecting the hot and cold water inflows so the temperature of the water can be regulated before it is sent to the spout. In most faucets this connection is hidden: either inside the faucet, or under the counter top. A 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 or hidden inside the faucet. 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 always two-hole mounting and two handle.

Hands Free Operation ("Automatic" Faucets)


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 sensor of some kind to turn the water on and off. Most systems use electric eyes or motion sensor technology. Sonoma Forge uses a different technology in its hands-free faucets. Sonoma's technology operates by generating a small electro-magnetic field that surrounds the faucet. Hands held anywhere near the faucet interrupt the field and the faucet turns on. When the hands pull away, the continuity of the field is restored and the faucet turns itself off. The technology works like magic, and does not require an electric eye or external sensing device that detracts from the look of the faucet.

Automatic faucets need electric power to work, and 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. If you want to adjust the temperature or water flow rate, hands are again required. 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.

Faucet Styles


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. Most faucet companies now offer suites of matching fixtures and accessories such as cabinet and door knobs, towel racks, lighting and even tile to ensure you new bath is stylistically consistent. Some companies, such as Lacava offer complementing furniture, and some like Sherle Wagner even provide matching towels and bed linens. Waterworks trumps just about everyone else, however. It goes so far as to provide coordinating bath mats, bathrobes, lot ions and toiletries. That, friend, is coordination!

Kitchens are less well integrated, so far, but sink and faucet combinations have always been common. Sink companies such as Blanco offer complementing faucets. Blanco's faucets can even be finished in exactly the same color as the company's engineered stone sinks. Faucet companies are getting even by offering their own sinks. California Faucets should probably be renamed California Faucets, Sinks, Organizers, Accessories and More, Inc. as it expands is inventory to many things other than faucets. Kohler, always an "everything for the bath" company, is becoming an "everything for the kitchen" company as well, including lighting and accessories such a cutting boards, towel racks, and various kitchen organizers.

But, back to the subject at hand.

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.

Faucet Finishes


Stainless steel faucets don't need finishing. The material itself is the finish. But, most faucets are made of brass, a copper/zinc alloy (with a whiff of other metals, such as lead. More about lead in faucets, below). Refined copper is what is known in the industry as a reactive metal. Left to its own devices, it makes strenuous efforts to return to its stable, pre-refined, state as copper oxide. We view copper oxide as tarnished copper or verdigris (a word adopted from the French which means "green-gray", the actual color of copper oxide). To make copper less reactive, it is usually alloyed with a less reactive metal, such as tin to make bronze, or zinc to form brass. Brass tarnishes less violently than copper, turning that golden brown color that we usually think of as "antique brass".

Native brass requires a lot of maintenance. To reduce maintenance and increase durability, brass is given a coat of some less-reactive metal, such as chrome. Chrome does tarnish, but the tarnish is only a few microns thick, very transparent, and after coating the chrome, prevents further tarnishing. It is also very hard, so it helps protect the softer brass. If brass is left native, it is still coated to prevent tarnish. The traditional coating was lacquer which wore off over time. Today the preferred finish is a brass-looking non-reactive metal such as zirconium applied using Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) (See, below). So, your PVD "brass finish" is probably not brass at all. It just looks like brass, but is much tougher. 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.

Metal Finishes


Today, chromium or chrome is the preferred faucet finish. It is hard, tough and takes a high polish. About 85% of the faucets sold in the U.S. are finished in chrome, and polished chrome has been the single most popular faucet finish for nearly a century.. But, the original faucet finish widely used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was nickel. Native nickel tarnishes very slowly at room temperature, and when alloyed with zinc and copper, tarnishes barely at all. Its disadvantage, however, is that it is a soft metal and shows wear rather quickly. In the 1930s chrome began replacing nickel and quickly became the new standard.

Nickel is, however, making a comeback. 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 is also a perennial favorite faucet finish. However, some finishes called bronze are paints, not the actual metal. Bronze can come in a variety of shades that vary from light brown to nearly black. Basic bronze is usually a light brown color. Oil-rubbed bronze (which is, of course, neither oiled nor rubbed), is darker, and often a non-metallic coating. As a general rule, if the manufacturer calls the bronze a "living finish", it is probably not a metallic coating. If it has a lifetime warranty, it probably metal, but not necessarily actual bronze. It's more likely to be a more durable metal made to look like bronze. So, if you order your oil-rubbed-bronze bath fixtures and accessories from different suppliers, make sure the bronze finishes are a reasonable color match and that all are either living finishes or not.

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 faucets are virtually lead free. The disadvantage of copper is that, like brass, it tarnishes over time if not coated with a durable coating of some kind. The traditional coating was a lacquer. Today a simulated copper finish applied using PVD (see below) is replacing actual copper as a faucet finish. The simulated copper finish, made from zirconium or titanium, still looks like copper, but does not tarnish, and is very scratch resistant.

Pick any other low reactive metal and someone probably has made a faucet finish out of it. Gold and silver, while not common, are available by special order from most high-end manufacturers. Zinc is popular as a heritage finish, as is pewter (another copper ally, this time with bismuth, antimony and either lead or silver). Both can be electroplated on brass.

Non-Metallic Finishes


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 some form or paint or powder coating. But, some are a glass-based glaze similar to the finish on bathtubs and toilets. Paint does not bond to the underlying metal like the metallic finishes, which bond at the molecular level. Most non-metallic coatings are tough, but brittle, and can chip if not handled carefully.

Certain faucet makers, those that also make sinks, use painted coatings to finish their faucets to exactly match their sinks. Blanco, for example, finishes some faucets to exactly match is engineered granite sinks.

Living Finishes


Most faucet finishes are engineered to look out-of-the-box new for as long as possible. Living finishes (sometimes called organic finishes or architectural finishes), are an exception. They are designed to show wear and age over time. Used primarily in reproduction heritage baths and kitchens, they look well used out of the box, and age further with use, enhancing the rustic, antique look of the faucet. These are, by nature, relatively delicate finishes requiring routine maintenance. California Faucets, for example, recommends that its living finishes be allowed to age for one or two weeks, then waxed to help prevent water spots.


Ceramic Finishes


Some faucets 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. Metal can also be coated with glass enamel. The technology dates from the 1900s and used widely to protect iron and steel bathtubs and sinks.

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 used as plating in an acid bath, then applying an electrical charge to both objects so metallic ions are drawn from the plating metal to the faucet. If the faucet is left in the solution longer, the plating is thicker. Thicker plating lasts longer.

The process is scalable. While large companies have usually automated plating, smaller manufacturers can electroplate locally using a hands-on process little different from that used in 1900. Boutique faucet makers rarely invest in very expensive PVD technology (see below), offering instead some exquisite hand plated and polished finishes. Even on a small scale, however the process is inherently dangerous, involving very corrosive acid solutions, and resulting in waste by-products that can be very hazardous to the environment if not properly disposed of. Watermark, a small manufacturer in Brooklyn, was recent caught dumping hazardous electroplating waste into the New York sewer system and was fined mega dollars.

Plating often involves several coats. Some metals cannot be plated directly to brass, so an intermediate metal (usually nickel or zinc/nickel alloy) undercoating may be necessary. Undercoats are also used in high-quality faucets to even out any small imperfections in the brass before it is given its final finish. A highly polished final finish, generally requires one or more undercoats. Undercoats can also used to reduce cost. Chrome is expensive, nickel is not, so a nickel undercoat means that less chrome need be used to achieve the same quality of finish.

Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD


PVD is the latest space-age faucet finishing technology, rapidly replacing electroplating as the finish of choice. It's very new. Thirty years ago it did not exist outside of experiments is laboratories. Today, the technology is everywhere, and the machines required are getting smaller, faster and cheaper all the time. In a few more years your local auto repair shop may have one in the back room to freshen up the chrome on the bumper of your F-150. But, not yet.

The process is almost science fiction. Load a small chamber with unfinished faucets, then remove all the air. Add a chunk of the metal to be used for the coating, usually in the form of a rod. Heat that rod to a temperature so high that is dissolves into individual atoms. Mix the atoms with various concentrations of nitrogen to get the color and finish effects you want. The atoms will be redeposited on the faucets to form a thin, tough finish. The process is loud and scary, and still involves as much art as science to get just the exact color and finish needed, which is why PVD operators make the big bucks.

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. By some estimates, PVD finishes are 23 times more resistant to wear than the old standard chrome electroplated finish. How thin is .05 microns? Well, a human hair is 70 microns in diameter, so you figure it out. Obviously, it's pretty thin.

The coating material must be a metal, but, the object being coated can be almost any material. Its possible to deposit metal on plastic, which it what makes inexpensive plastic faucets look more expensive. Undercoating is usually required for highly polished finishes because, unlike electroplating, PVD has no gap filling properties at all. Any scratch or mare on the faucet body will show through the finish, so the faucet body must be very smooth before the coating is deposited. It is not uncommon to see two or even three electroplated undercoats beneath a PVD final coat.

PVD allows a lot of flexibility in devising durable, long-lasting, finishes. The trick is to use a very hard metal to simulate the desired finish. Brass PVD finishes are not actually brass, but some combination of tougher, denser metals like zirconium or titanium, used to simulate yellow metals such as brass, copper and gold. Chromium and aluminum are used to imitate silvery metals. Combinations of metals and various levels of nitrogen are used to achieve interesting finish effects such as the various bronzes, antique brasses and nickels. Some manufacturers have managed to create metal finishes that do not exist in native metals, such as black. Chrome, however, is still chromium, although PVD chrome is reputedly much less scratch prone than electroplated chrome.

A limitation of PVD is that only certain metals can be used as coating material because any metal used must be tough, durable, and low-reactive. This limits the metals that are available to the essential four: titanium, aluminum, zirconium, and chromium, although aluminum is rarely used in decorative finishes. These metals are used to simulate many other metals that are not suitable for PVD, or which, being reactive, do not make good finish materials.

Another disadvantage of PVD is the cost. The initial investment for the equipment is coming down, but still very high, and the process is relatively slow compared to electroplating, so it takes longer and costs more. So, expect to pay more for a PVD finish over electroplating. For your money, however, you get a truly lifetime finish.

To watch a PVD machine in action, click here.

Polishing


Much of the difference in price between a mid-range faucet such as Moen or Delta and a premium faucet like Sigma, Phylrich, Herbeau, or Waterstone 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.

PVD finishes often requires polishing in two steps. Since the PVD coating is so thin, polishing the faucet before coating eliminates any small imperfections that may show through the finish, and polishing after the finish is applied brings out its high luster.

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 should not even consider a faucet that has not been certified as required by your local or state plumbing code. Uncertified faucets cannot lawfully be installed in your house. You want your faucet to be lead free. 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.

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 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. Watch out for pull-down, pull-out sprays. Increasingly the heads are made of plastic. Manufacturers will tell you that plastic is better because it does not get hot and is more comfortable to hold. Plastic is not better, and we are finding quite a few problems with the new plastic spay heads.

If you are looking at single handles with a ceramic cartridge, you may not be able to avoid plastic. It seems that all ceramic mixing cartridges for single handle faucets are now made mostly of plastic. Some feature a metal stem, and if you have a choice of a metal or plastic stem, choose metal every time. Because the cartridges are plastic, it is important that they meet or exceed the life-cycle standard of 500,000 on/off cycles specified in ASME A112.18.1/CSA B125.1.

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.

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. The faucet industry has been slow to adopt PEX as a hose material, but it is slowly coming around. PEX is considerably stronger than the rubber and cord hoses now the standard.

Look for a Lifetime Valve


Just about any faucet-buying advice you will read other than ours will tell you that the style and finish of a faucet are the most important elements to look for\ (See, e.g. "Before Buying That New Faucet, Think Finish First", HGTV). Certainly they are important. But, the critical element is the faucet valve. The valve is what makes your faucet work. If it fails, you don't have a faucet, you have a stylish, nicely finished chunk of useless metal. So, if you want reliable performance year after year after year, a good valve is essential.

If possible, get a valve that is all brass, aluminum or stainless steel. These materials are the most durable. Zinc or ZAMAC is acceptable, if not as durable. If you are shopping for a two-handle faucet, all metal cartridges are still widely available. If you are considering a single-handle faucet with a mixing cartridge, your choices are more limited. Most cartridges for single handle mixing faucets are now all plastic, or plastic with a metal stem. Only one cartridge maker that we know of still uses brass bodies, Fluehs, and it still uses some plastic in it mixer cartridge.

Next, find out the life cycle rating of the cartridge. The fact that a faucet valve is "certified" is not enough information. You need to know by what standard. A cartridge should be certified under the U.S.-Canadian standard (See "Make Sure the Faucet Is Certified" below) which requires a life cycle test of 500,000 on/off cycles without failure. A faucet certified to meet the requirements of the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC), Canadian Uniform Plumbing Code (cUPC) or the International Plumbing Code has passed this test. Many cartridges used in foreign-made faucets are rated under the European EN817 (CE/EU) or Chinese GB18145-2003 standard that requires only 70,000 on/off cycles.

Finding the actual cartridge manufacturer is a little trickier. We like to know if a cartridge is made by a known manufacturer with a good reputation. If the online documentation is silent about the origin of the cartridge, we call customer service and ask. If the faucet uses a name-brand cartridge, the customer service rep will tell us right away. Companies that use a well-known cartridge like to talk about it, sometimes at great length. If customer service does not want to talk about the cartridge or has no information about the cartridge, we assume it is an off-brand, and start digging through our data base of cartridge manufacturers to see if we can identify the cartridge.

As a last resort, we go to the store, haul out our handy pocket screwdriver and take the faucet apart to look at the identifying codes that are usually printed or engraved on the cartridge. This requires some agility and at least two people: one to do the work, and one to stand lookout. Store clerks can go a little nutso if they catch us at it, so one guy has to fend him off while the other dissects the faucet.

Another way, less adventuresome, of finding a faucet with a good valve, is read our faucet ratings at An Overview of Faucets: Faucet Reviews and Ratings . We identify the faucet companies that use well-known valves and cartridges by researching each company's valves. Usually we can find out where the valves come from and who makes them. Then we tell you.

Make Sure the Faucet Is Certified


Because it costs a lot to test and certify a faucet, some companies succumb to the temptation to bypass testing and certification. Uncertified faucets, like counterfeit faucets (see below) are a large and growing problem in North America.

Any faucet sold or leased in Canada after October 2, 2008 must be certified. Faucets that are not certified lead free are illegal to "introduce into commerce" anywhere in the U.S., as are faucets whose flow rate is not certified to be less than 2.2 gallons per minute. The federal Energy Policy Act requires faucet manufacturers to test faucets for compliance with the Act, and to file certificates of compliance with the EPA. Those who don't are subject to some serious civil penalties and even criminal prosecution for deliberate violations. In most localities in the U.S. where there is a plumbing code (and that's almost everywhere), an uncertified faucet may not be lawfully installed.

If a faucet is certified, it will be marked a seal or certification mark. Most certification marks are required to be stamped into the faucet itself. Look for markings on the aerator (where the water comes out of the spout), or on the back of the spout between the valves or on the underside of the deckplate of the faucet. If you can't find the marks on the faucet itself, or you are buying on line without an opportunity to examine the actual faucet, look for the faucet at the manufacturer's web site and read the specifications. The markings you are looking for are those in the table displayed above. If there are no markings, the faucet is not certified.

Certification is the only way to tell if a faucet is safe to use. The alloys in faucets are subject to careless as well as intentional adulteration with substances you do not want your water in contact with. Dangerous metals found in uncertified faucets have included lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium: all known to be dangerous and even toxic in low doses — especially to children. In certain combinations, these metals can replace more expensive metals in brass alloys and faucet finishes, and if maximized profitability is the goal, there is some temptation to use them, particularly in Asia where the regulatory environment is not always as rigorous.

Without certification you also don't know anything about how a faucet is likely to function over the long term. Can you tell by looking at a faucet if it is durable with a robust finish, and a valve that is unlikely to leak? We can't either. We rely on those brainy individuals who speak Engineer (a language somewhat related to English, but not quite the same). Once they test and thumbs-up a faucet, we have considerable confidence that it is a viable product. Certification testing ensures that a faucet meets at least a minimum standard of robustness and durability. With an untested, uncertified faucet, you can't possibly have any idea how well it will function.

Many uncertified faucets are sold through non-standard channels like eBay. In fact, most of the faucets for sale on eBay at any one time are not certified for use in the U.S. or Canada (although eBay publishes a nicely-written article on how to avoid uncertified faucets). But, some main line faucet sellers are equally guilty. Signature Hardware, for example, admits that at least some, and probably most of the Chinese faucets for sale on its website under the Signature Hardware brand name are not certified. In fact, customer service has not been able to identify for us a single Signature Hardware faucet that is certified. Herbeau Creations, which sells very expensive faucets made in France, is also guilty of selling faucets not certified for use in the U.S. or Canada.

We strongly recommend against the purchase of uncertified faucets. You have no idea what you are buying you are taking a large risk with a product that is expensive to replace if it fails. We cannot lawfully install them, and you cannot lawfully allow them to be installed in your house. And, if it breaks and floods your kitchen, your insurance company won't pay for the damage caused by your unapproved faucet.

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. Finger prints can be a problem with some faucet finishes. Polished stainless steel is a particular culprit, but almost all highly polished faucet finishes will show finger prints and water spots that have to be wiped off from time to time. Some manufacturers recommend using a household wax on the faucet to reduce spotting and finger prints.

Living finishes will show dirt oil from you hands and from cooking, water spots, staining, fading and color changes. None of this is a problem because that's what they are supposed to do. In a sense, living finishes are the easiest to take care of because you don't have to take care of them. They are supposed to look like they are not being taken care of. It's a part of the finish. However, a little wax will also help keep water spotting to a minimum.

Most manufacturers publish maintenance and cleaning procedures for their faucets which should be followed. Almost all recommend against harsh detergents and any sort of scouring — both of which can ruin a finish very quickly. We find the original Windex to be an effective cleaner that does no harm.

Select a faucet that matches your personal style, but still is easy to maintain and keep spotless with just a little effort.


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, sometimes 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 meager 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 one- and two-year warranties offered by some very reliable faucet brands like MGS Progetti and Dornbracht. Some high-end faucet companies offer no warranty at all. Among these are Sherle Wagner which makes a very expensive line of customized faucets, but does not guarantee any part of them.

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.

So, your faucet leaks and the faucet company has essentially told you to take a hike, it's not covered. What to do? There is still a lot you can do to enforce your warranty. We deal with warranty problems all the time, so we have a pretty good idea of what to do. For much more information on how we do it see: How to Win the Warranty Game .

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?

Simple.

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. Sometimes the difference is subtle and hard to spot. We compared one name brand faucet to its Box Store counterpart and found that the two faucets looked exactly the same, but the box store model weighed less. We finally realized that the body and spout were made of much thinner brass than the main-line model. We have also found that box store models are sometimes not as well finished. It seems like the manufacturer skimped on the undercoating of the box store faucet. It was still chrome, but not as nice or as shiny.

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 cartridge. When he took it apart to figure out the problem, he found innards that did not look like a typical Delta faucet. 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.

Counterfeit Faucets


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 fakers 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… more »


Footnotes:

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.

Rev: 04/04/14