Faucet Basics: Part 6 Understanding Faucet Warranties
If your GE or Amana refrigerator breaks while under warranty, a repairman will show up at your door 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 — maybe.
Why the difference?
A refrigerator is an appliance and the established practice in the very competitive appliance industry is to guarantee both parts and labor costs for up to a year.
A faucet, deck, or gutter is a building product, and the practice in the building products industries is to provide just the parts needed to fix the defect, leaving it up to you to actually get it fixed. The gutter manufacturer will not remove your old gutters and install the new ones. All it agrees to do is ship you some gutter materials, often unceremoniously dumped in your driveway.
Understanding Faucet Warranties
The same is true of faucets. 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:
- remove the faucet,
- remove the defective parts,
- replace them with the new parts, and
- reinstall the faucet.
Nor does the manufacturer agree to compensate you 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 often 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. It's usually less trouble to just buy another inexpensive faucet. And, if you do claim under the warranty, a few parts don't cost the faucet company very much. So a "lifetime" warranty is good, and rather cheap advertising.
Most North American faucet manufacturers offer "lifetime" warranties on moving parts and most finishes. "Lifetime" faucet warranties are not, however, for your actual 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 at the top of the warranty, the warranty typically lasts:
"For as long as the ordinal owner owns the faucet and lives in the house in which the faucet was originally installed",
and not one minute longer.
You 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 for a fairly short term.
The great American huckster, showman, and philanthropist, Phineas Taylor (P. T.) Barnum is rumored to have once sold an entire train-car-load of canned white salmon by guaranteeing that it would not turn pink in the can — something that white salmon cannot possibly do.
A warranty against a defect that cannot possibly happen is a favorite ploy of all companies, not just faucet companies.
It looks great in the bold print on the warranty but actually promises nothing. Vinyl siding companies, for example, fearlessly offer a lifetime warranty against peeling and flaking — vinyl siding cannot peel or flake — but usually will not warranty against warping or twisting — something vinyl siding does all the time.
Some faucet companies are not above succumbing to the temptation of a Barnum Warranty. They boldly advertise their lifetime faucet warranties but then, in the fine print, exclude faucet finishes, cartridges, and leaking. What's left? An exploding spout? All the things that are likely to fail are not covered by the lifetime warranty. Spouts have exploded (see the image above) but it's extremely rare.
Some companies play even more elaborate games with the warranty language. A lifetime warranty is offered in bold print but a close reading of the fine print reveals something much less than a lifetime guaranty.
faucets sold by Northern Central Distributing, Inc., include what the company calls a lifetime warranty "until discontinued". That "until discontinued" language gave us pause, so we asked the company for an explanation. A company representative explained that the warranty lasted only until the faucet was no longer being sold by Yosemite, then it ended.
This is not even close to a lifetime warranty. You could buy the faucet on Monday and the company could discontinue it on Tuesday, leaving you with a lapsed one-day warranty that expired even before the faucet was delivered.
But, Northern Central plays even more tricks with its warranty. On the specification sheets provided for some Yosemite faucets the warranty is stated as:
[L]imited "lifetime" warranty for manufacturing defects... Yosemite warrants to the original consumer purchaser of the faucet against defects in material and workmanship for a period of ten (10) years from the date of purchase.
A "lifetime" warranty that lasts ten years? We — and everyone else we know of — would call that a "ten-year warranty". Or, perhaps ten years is indeed the actual lifetime of Northern Central's faucets.
The warranty offered by some faucet companies is really just a make-believe warranty, intended to look good in the bold print but not actually guaranteeing anything at all.
Spohn Global Enterprises, Inc., for example, sells faucets through Amazon and e-Bay. It seems to offer a 5-year warranty on its e-Bay faucet sales but, in reading the fine print we discovered that the warranty does not extend to items offered for sale "as is", and, according to the company's "terms of sale", all Freuer faucets are sold "as is".
The phantom warranty is the most egregious example of terms that modify the warranty but do not appear in the actual warranty. Most often they are buried in the company's "terms of sale".
Here is a typical example: RGM Distribution, Inc., which markets private label faucets sold primarily on its captive website, Decor Planet.
Fresca upgraded its warranty in June 2015 to a lifetime warranty from its earlier 3-year warranty, a step in the right direction. If you read just the warranty, you will discover that
"The limited lifetime warranty covers the original consumer purchaser for as long as the original consumer purchaser owns their home, warranting that this faucet will be leak-free during normal use and all parts and finishes of same will be free from defects in material and manufacturing workmanship".
Impressively simple and comprehensive warranty language.
But, if you then happen to stumble across the company's "terms and conditions" of sale you will find the following:
"A licensed plumber or contractor is required to perform any installation of our items for the warranty to be valid."
Or, in other words, the warranty does not apply to do-it-yourself installations.
The requirement that faucets be installed by professionals is a reasonable one. It prevents warranty claims arising from inept installations by unskilled persons, which can be time-consuming and costly to the company to deal with.
But, the prohibition against DIY installations in a separate document is too easily overlooked by a buyer intending to install the faucet him- or herself and unaware that doing so will invalidate the Fresca warranty. Unusual restrictions like this one need to be front and center on the warranty document, itself, preferably in bold print, not sequestered in s separate document that is unlikely to be noticed.
This is a sneaky warranty exclusion.
Fortunately, as a matter of law, sneaky warranty exclusions of this sort do not work. Congress in drafting the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act was aware of sneaky exclusions and other tricks played by sellers with warranties. The sneaky exclusion problem was dealt with very simply. Under the law, all provisions of a warranty must be in a single document. Any provision not in the warranty document is invalid. So, Fresca's requirement that the faucet be installed by a professional is void under federal law because it is not in the warranty document. And, to be fair, we know of no instance in which Fresca has actually invoked the provision to deny warranty coverage.
This rule also takes care of Spohn Global's tricky warranty language. The voiding of the company's warranty contained in its "terms of sale" will be ignored.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (15 U.S.C. § 2301 et seq.) also deals with other warranty trickery. Take Northern Central's 10-year "lifetime" warranty. The Magnuson-Moss Act prohibits this kind of ambiguous language, and it will be ignored in interpreting the warranty. So, the warranty becomes a straightforward lifetime warranty — obviously not what Northern Central intended.
In addition to prohibiting tricks in the warranty language, Magnuson-Moss requires a company to adhere to certain requirements in their written warranties. There are three basic rules:
The Title Rule: A warranty must be titled as either "full" or "limited." If it is not titled, it automatically becomes a full warranty (15 U.S.C. § 2303).
The Disclosure Rule: The warranty must state
- The name and contact information of the warrantor,
- What is being warranted and for how long, and
- How to make a claim under the warranty,
The Pre-Sale Availability Rule: A warrantor (or seller even if the seller is not the warrantor) must ensure that warranties are available where the warranted consumer products are sold so that consumers can read them before buying.
Almost every faucet warranty violates one or more of these requirements.
Try this, for example. Go into your local Home Depot, pick out a faucet, then go to customer service and ask to see the warranty. The clerk will look at you like you just stepped out of a flying saucer. Home Depot does not keep warranties behind the counter for you to read nor is the warranty in the store's computer.
For internet sales, it should be easier. After all, how hard is it to post and warranty and provide a link to the page? Let's try Amazon. Pick a faucet from a known reputable company — say Scroll down the page for the link to the Delta warranty. Scroll down. Down farther. Keep going past "Sponsored products related to this item" and past "Customers who bought this item also bought..." and even past "Frequently bought together", "Special offers and product promotions" and "Compare with similar items" until you finally come to the small, inconspicuous print that says "Warranty & Support" 'way down at the bottom past "Additional Information". Click on the link displayed after "For warranty information about this product". And there it is, the warranty, maybe.
For major brand faucets, this works fairly well in most instances. But, now let's try a not-so-major brand. Find a brand faucet from the Chinese company, Hotis Home, and follow the same process. Click on the warranty link and you will not get the warranty but a message from Amazon:
"Please contact the seller directly for warranty information for this product. You may also be able to find warranty information on the manufacturer's website."
Does Hotis Home even have a website? A few minutes on Google shows that it does but a few minutes on the site discloses that there is no warranty to be found.
Unfortunately, such is the case for well over 70% of the faucets Amazon sells. And the problem is not limited to Amazon. Wayfair, Overstock, Jet, and other online retailers that host small sellers have much the same problem, or worse. They leave it up to the seller to post a link to their warranty but most don't. Even dedicated home improvement sites such as Ferguson's Build.com do not enforce the pre-purchase warranty availability rule although as sellers they are equally liable along with the selling company for not making the warranty available.
In addition to requiring certain information in a written warranty, Magnuson-Moss prohibits bans certain terms from a warranty. The three most important are:
Disclaimer of Implied Warranties: A written warranty may not disclaim or modify implied warranties. This means that no matter how broad or narrow the written warranty is, consumers always will receive the basic protections of the implied warranty of merchantability that is the law in every state and territory. The manufacturer's written warranty is "in addition to" and not "in place of" state statutory warranties. Many companies put a disclaimer of all implied warranties in their warranty document but this is a bluff and can be ignored.
Tie-In Sales: Tie-in sales provisions are not allowed. These are provisions that state (or imply) that a consumer must buy or use an item or service from a particular company or lose warranty coverage. Typical is the requirement that the consumer use only "genuine" parts sold by the seller.
Deceptive Terms or Language: A warranty cannot contain deceptive terms or language. A warranty that appears to provide lifetime coverage, such as the warranty offered by Northern Central Distributing that actually last for 10 years or "until discontinued" is a prime example. Most likely a court will interpret it as just a lifetime warranty, disregarding the tricky language.
The Warranty as Guide to Hidden Problems
Faucet warranties have value beyond helping you fix a broken faucet. In fact, quite often this supplemental value is more useful than the warranty itself. Warranties usually tell you lots of information about the quality of the faucet being guaranteed. They are, in fact, an invaluable insight into the weaknesses of a company's products.
Warranties are so valuable in evaluating faucet quality that the first place you should go when deciding whether to buy a faucet after you've finished mooning over the sleek design and beautiful finish is the company's warranty page.
Warranties reveal secrets the faucet company does not want you to know, including the hidden problems with the products the company sells. It can help identify faucet components in which the company expects failures to occur. Companies tend to guarantee only those things that they believe will not break, and not those things they think will break. A warranty and the precise way a warranty is worded will tell you how much confidence a manufacturer really has in its faucets as a whole, and in their various parts and components.
As a general rule, the more comfortable the faucet seller is with the durability of its faucets and finishes, the longer and stronger its warranty. It's not always true that the best faucets come with the longest, strongest, most robust warranties but as a general guide, it's very reliable.
Consider, for example, which sells Chinese-made faucets under the Artisan brand through a number of upscale showrooms and through online retailers. It offers a "lifetime" warranty in North America, except it's not really a lifetime warranty. It's this:
- Manufacturing Defects: Limited lifetime warranty.
- Ceramic cartridges: (No warranty).
- Finishes: 5-year warranty.
What is this company actually guaranteeing for a lifetime? A lifetime guarantee against manufacturing defects that excludes finishes and cartridges leaves very little to be guaranteed.
The value of this warranty is not what it guarantees. It does not guarantee much. Its real value is that it tells us a great deal about the quality and expected durability of the company's faucets, and identifies the components which the company expects to fail — things that the company would never disclose outright.
The obvious first thing this warranty tells us is that the company anticipates problems with its cartridges, problems so severe or frequent that it will not guarantee its cartridges for even a single minute.
What problems? We don't know and probably will never know. It's usually a closely guarded "trade secret". But, we don't really need to know. The company's warranty clearly points out a condition or combination of conditions that make it unwilling to offer any warranty at all on its cartridges — something we should pay attention to before we rush out to buy an Artisan faucet.
Second, there are also some issues with the company's finishes.
All of the major faucet companies in North America, guarantee their electroplated and PVD finishes for the lifetime of the faucet, no questions asked. If it peels, flakes, tarnishes, corrodes, or discolors, you get a new faucet.
It takes, or should take, a lot of work to damage most finishes. (More faucet finishes are undone by over-zealous cleaning by the homeowner than by any other cause — and damage by aggressive cleaning is never included in any warranty).
But, given restrained care and cleaning, what can cause Artisan's faucet finishes to fail after just five years? We don't know, and, again, it is probably something the company is keeping very close to its corporate vest, so we may never know. But, the company's management knows even though it's not telling — at least not directly — but that skimpy five-year finish warranty is an unmistakable red flag that says "we expect bad things to happen to our finishes after five years."
So, with what you just learned about the company's faucets from studying the elements of its warranty, does an Artisan faucet strike you as a lifetime faucet worth an investment of up to $500.00? No? Hey! Join the club. We have t-shirts.
The Exceptions to the Rule
There are two situations in which mining a warranty for nuggets of hidden information does not work, or, at least, is less reliable: European faucets and high-priced faucets targeted at well-to-do households.
European warranties are exceptions because there is a wholly different dynamic at work. The standard faucet warranty in Europe is just one to five years. Why the short term? Partly it's a matter of law. All Western European countries require a minimum warranty on faucets of between one and five years depending on the country, so that's what manufacturers provide. But, it is also an accident of history.
and every other major U.S. faucet manufacturer. "Lifetime" became the standard for American faucet warranties by the mid-1960s.
European faucet companies don't compete with Pfister in Europe, so they kept their traditional, short-term. warranties.
Although some European manufacturers have adopted the American "lifetime" warranty for fauces sold in North America (see, e.g. many have not, which is why you will see anemic five- and ten-year warranties offered by some faucet brands with very good reputations like
This is for the most part management lethargy combined with a failure to understand the North American market, coupled with the mistaken notion that selling faucets in the U.S. and Canada is just like selling in the European Union. It's not, and astute faucet executives realize the fact. Chris Marshall, the CEO of the German faucet company, concluded after investigating the North American market that the company's standard 5-year European warranty would not work here, and instituted a lifetime North American warranty on the company's upscale German faucets.
The management of other European faucet companies has been slower to catch on. facets with a lifetime warranty. If Globe Union's mid-range faucets can support a lifetime warranty, then the high-end faucets it makes for Lefroy Brooks should be able to as well. (Unless, of course, Lefroy Brooks' management knows something about its faucets that we don't. Hummmmmh!)
Italian faucet companies are famous for their anemic warranties. warrants faucet bodies, spouts, and handles for a lifetime but its finishes and mixing cartridges for just five years.
In fact, it's usually possible to get a much better warranty on premium Italian faucets from North American importers like than you will get from Italian manufacturers on their own faucets. Since the faucets sell at roughly the same price, you are usually ahead by buying from a North American importer rather than from the Italian company directly.
There are exceptions, of course. faucets in North America, offers a "lifetime" faucet warranty that almost meets the standard for North American faucets. Originally the warranty period was just 10 years. Paini increased it to 20 years after it had had a few years of experience selling faucets in North America under its belt and felt more comfortable moving toward a longer warranty term. It recently adopted a lifetime warranty comparable to the standard offered by American faucet companies.
So, with faucets imported from Europe, it's not always possible to rely on warranty language as a guide to problems with the faucets. On the other hand, should you buy a European faucet with a short-term warranty just because the company has a good reputation? Probably not. Even companies with sterling reputations occasionally make a clinker faucet, and how can you tell you're not getting one? We can't, and you can't either.
Faucets for the Super Rich
The second instance in which the strength of a warranty often has no relation to the quality of a faucet is with the highest priced faucets — the faucets targeted at the richest 10% of North Americans. Warranties on these faucets are typically very short because the buyers in this income strata do not care much about warranties. If their faucets break, they can easily afford to get them fixed, unlike the rest of us.
Faucet companies that cater to this market segment consider themselves in competition only with other faucet companies that also serve the very rich, so all of their warranties are about the same — 5 years or less. Some, like We find it interesting, and revealing, that the American-owned Waterworks offers a stronger guarantee on the THG-manufactured faucets it sells in North America than THG offers on its own faucets.
The Warranty as a Predictor Parts Availability
A reliable supply of parts is, or should be, an important part of any faucet-buying decision. For an established like a reliable supply of parts is assumed. But, what of newer companies? Here's where the company's faucet warranty can help.
A company that guarantees its faucets for 5 years generally expects to keep parts for the faucet for just 5 years, no longer. So if your faucet breaks after 15 years, the chance that repair parts will be available is slim to "not gonna happen".
A company that offers a lifetime warranty on its products, however, is probably going to have some sort of parts organization, not only parts for its current faucets but parts for most discontinued models.
We routinely buy parts from for faucets that have been out of production for 50 years or more.
It's not always true that a lifetime warranty means a reliable lifetime source of spare parts. Some companies even announce that they will maintain a supply of parts for just a limited amount of time. We often wonder how a company like is going to honor its warranty after the parts run out in 15 or 20 years.
Still, as a general rule, a name brand faucet offering a lifetime warranty not only has a history and a reputation that can usually be relied on but also a massive investment in parts and an organization to keep track of and distribute the parts. Even if all a company does is buy faucets from outside factories, it typically also buys the parts required to keep those faucets operating.
Most faucet companies try to use the same parts in many faucets, especially parts like cartridges and hoses that get a lot of wear and could be broken. This practice helps reduce the cost of stocking a large number of different parts. Still, few parts operations are self-supporting, so some part of the cost of purchasing, cataloging, stocking and distributing those parts is going to be added to the price of your faucet. What you get for the few extra dollars you pay for a name faucet is peace of mind: If the faucet breaks, the parts to fix it are available. They might be costly if the faucet is not still under warranty but not usually as costly as replacing the faucet.
While a strong faucet warranty is the first half of any warranty consideration, the second half is warranty service. Even the best warranty is useless if the company does not actually follow through and respond to a claim under the warranty.
A great many manufacturers make excellent faucets with strong warranties but where many of them miss the mark is with their after sale customer service and warranty support. for example, does not back up its "lifetime guarantee of quality". Its customer service is dismal. We asked the company about it in 2010 and were assured by a company spokesperson that the company was hiring more personnel and that the problem would soon get better.
It got worse.
Our testers experienced very long wait times. Once they were able to talk to a representative, many of their questions seemed to need referral to a supervisor, adding more delay to the process of getting help, and indicating that the depth and breadth of product knowledge among the customer service agents needs improvement. If they asked for a call back about an issue, they usually do not get one. E-mail requests and postal letters generally went unanswered. Of the three instances in which testers were told that company owner, Michael Isaacs, "would get back to you", with an answer to one of our test questions, he has gotten back exactly never — but at least he is consistent.
Our concerns about Mico's failing customer service have been confirmed by the Better Business Bureau which grades the company's response to post-sale customer issues "F" on a scale of "A+" to "F" for failing to respond to most complaints filed with the Bureau — some of which the Bureau classified as "serious matters".
if another example in which a lifetime faucet warranty is paired with warranty service that is markedly below average. In fact, it is a blot on the brand. Grohe America clearly prefers that its customer service not be contacted at all but if customers insist, then preferably by e-mail or voice mail. Hold times of more than 20 minutes are common, and 40 minute waits to talk to a customer service agent are not at all rare.
Grohe promises to respond to e-mails and voice mails within 24 hours. But, our experience is that it frequently does not respond at all, and rarely within 24 hours. If your faucet needs a part and is out of service, this kind of delay is a real problem.
If you do have the patience to wait for an agent, expect to be treated, at best, brusquely, and sometimes with outright rudeness. Agents act as if talking to you is a major imposition on their valuable time.
Our observations are confirmed by the company's Better Business Bureau's grade of "D+" on a scale of "A+" to "F". The basis for the poor showing, according to the BBB, is that "Grohe America does not respond to customer complaints."
This is a systemic problem that has been going on for more than a decade. It can be fixed. originally had serious customer service issues when it introduced its Chinese-made faucets to North America in 2000, earning several years of straight "F"s from the Better Business Bureau. But it worked hard to improve, and has, working its way back up to an A+ with the BBB — its highest score and a far cry from what it was ten years ago. It now has one of the smoothest, most responsive service operations in North America. So, it can be done. Grohe, however, has let the problem go on and on for years and years. It seems that it simply does not want to be bothered with post-sale service.
Contrast Mico and Grohe customer service to the service provided by
We have not sampled the after-sale customer services of every single major faucet manufacturer in the world but we will take a chance and proclaim Moen's to be the very best customer service anywhere. It is absolutely a first-class act.
Moen's process for quickly getting you a replacement part for a broken faucet is nearly as painless as can be. Many times you can take the defective part down to the local hardware store, one that sells Moen products, and exchange it for a new part right on the spot. Moen then sends the store a replacement for its inventory. If the store does not carry the part, then a quick call to 1-800-BUY-MOEN puts you in touch with a customer service representative who has been very well trained on Moen products, and you will usually get the part by express delivery in about four working days.
How does Moen determine over the phone that you are the original purchaser entitled to free replacement parts? They ask you and take your word for it. Moen figures that getting cheated by a few is much better than irritating everyone with excessive paperwork and burdensome procedures. And, it works. Moen customers tend to stay Moen customers, more so than for any other faucet brand.
It's a first-class act. But not the only one. are also stand-outs in this area. Not necessarily the only ones. Just the companies that immediately come to mind.
The Philosophy of Warranty
There are essentially two approaches to warranties in the faucet business, or any business, really. The first approach tries to reduce the cost of warranty service to its irreducible minimum and insulate the company as much as possible from liability for a failed product. This is the bean-counter approach, the tack favored by accountants and chief financial officers, and is the philosophy adopted by most faucet companies.
The other, and better, approach is to turn warranty service into a marketing tool, using the power of a good warranty to drive sales — figuring that any additional cost of providing a first-class warranty will be more than offset by additional sales revenue that a first-class warranty generates.
This is the approach. Moen, one of the first major faucet companies in the U.S. to offer a lifetime warranty on its products, figured out early that a good warranty and strong back-end support would substantially increase sales on the front end. It worked. Its warranty helped boost Moen from a little-known bit player in the 1950's to the second-largest faucet company in the U.S., behind Faucets, by the 1970s. (The companies are now neck and neck for the number one slot, each having about 30% of the U.S. faucet market.)
The loyalty of Moen customers is legendary. It is nearly impossible to talk a Moen customer out of a Moen faucet, shower, or tub filler — not that we try. Other companies need to take a leaf from Moen's playbook and start looking at its warranty as an opportunity to build sales and forge customer loyalty rather than strictly as a nuisance liability to be minimized as much as possible.
More on Warranties
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.