Faucet Basics: A Homeowner's Guide
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.
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 unceremonious 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:
Nor does the manufacturer agree to compensate you for your loss of the use of the faucet while all this is going on.
• remove the faucet,
• remove the defective parts,
• replace them with the new parts, and
• reinstall the faucet.
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. 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, actually 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 the house in which the faucet was originally installed,
and not a 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 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 manufacturers. It looks great in the bold print on the warranty, but actually promises nothing. Vinyl siding companies, for example, "boldly" offer a lifetime warranty against peeling and flaking — vinyl siding cannot peel or flake — but usually do not guarantee 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 today.
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 what we consider 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, it gets even more confusing. 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 date of purchase.
A "lifetime" warranty that lasts ten years is what we — and everyone else we know of — calls a "ten-year warranty". Or, perhaps ten years is indeed the actual lifetime of a Yosemite faucet.
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, which sells
faucets through Amazon and e-Bay, 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 by its its captive website, Decor Planet. The company 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.
for example, has a similar provision in its warranty where the language makes it crystal clear on the face of the document that its "lifetime" warranty applies only to faucets bought from an authorized dealer or installed by a licensed plumber, otherwise the warranty is for five years.
In2aqua if very up front about its limitation. Fresca is not. The prohibition against DIY installations does not appear on the face of the warranty itself, but on a separate document 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 us unlikely to be noticed. This is a sneaky warranty exclusion.
The Warranty as Guide to Hidden Problems
So, clearly even the best faucet warranty is not going to solve the problem of fixing your broken faucet. The most a warranty program will do is mail you some parts and leave it up to to pay the cost of getting them installed. But, faucet warranties still have value because they usually tell you a lot about the quality of the faucet being guaranteed. They are, in fact, an invaluable font of information for the savvy shopper about a company's faucets. 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 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 structured, will tell you how much confidence a manufacturer really has in the various parts of its faucets.
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 on-line retailers. It offers a "lifetime" warranty in North America, except it's not really a lifetime warranty. It's this:
|Faucet Component||Warranty Period|
|Ceramic cartridge:||No warranty|
|Finishes:||5 year warranty
Remember the Barnum 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 value is that it tells us a great deal about the quality and expected durability of the company's faucets, things that the company would never tell you 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 to 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 one of its faucets.
Second, there is also some issue with the company's finishes. All of the major faucet companies in North America,
guarantee their plated 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, and more 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 warning sign that clearly says "we expect bad things to happen to our finishes after five years, so we are not going to guarantee them after the fifth year."
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.
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 the very rich.
European warranties, for example, 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, between one and five years, depending on the country, so that's what manufacturers provide. But, it is also an accident of history. When
quickly adopted a lifetime warranty of their own, followed by every other major U.S. faucet manufacturer. "Lifetime" became the standard for American faucet warranties. European faucet companies don't compete with Moen in Europe, so they stayed with their traditional, shorter term. warranties.
The European warranty standard has an effect on the warranties offered on European faucets sold in the U.S. Although some European manufacturers have adopted the American "lifetime" warranty (see, e.g.
for example) 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 and 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 new German faucet company,
just beginning to sell in North America, 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 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.)
Italian faucet companies are infamous for their anemic warranties.
warrants faucet bodies, spouts and handles for a life time, 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 itself.
There are exceptions.
faucets in North America, offers a "lifetime" faucet warranty that meets the standard for North American standard. 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.
Very High Priced Faucets
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 sold to the richest 10% of North Americans. Warranties on these faucets are typically very short because the buyers in this 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 faucets it sells than THG offers on its own faucets sold in the U.S.
The Warranty as a Predictor Parts Availability
The second useful thing a warranty tells you about a faucet company is the likelihood that parts will be available for its faucets in the future. A company that warranties 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 is probably going to have an extensive parts organization, not only parts for its current faucets, but parts for most discontinued models. We routinely buy parts from Kohler, Delta, Moen, and even American Standard for faucets that have been out of production for 50 years or more. We often wonder how a company like Kraus U.S.A. which offers a lifetime warranty but promises to maintain parts for discontinued faucets for only ten years, is going to honor its warranty without parts in 15 or 20 years.
A name brand faucet 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 generally 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.
A reliable supply of parts is an important part of any faucet-buying decision.
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".
Contrast Mico to the customer 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 in the faucet world. It is absolutely a first class act.
Moen's process for quickly getting you a replacement part for a broke 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. f 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 customer tend to stay Moen customers, more so than for any other faucet brand.
Like we said: It's a first class act. But not the only one.
are also stand-outs in this area, and not the only ones, just the ones that come immediately to mind.
originally had serious customer service issues when it introduced its Chinese-made faucets to North America in 2000, earing several years of straight "F"s from the Better Business Bureau. But it worked hard to improve, and has, working it's way back up to an A- with the BBB. Not great, but a far cry from what it was ten years ago.
The Philosophy of Warranty
There are essentially two approaches to warranties in the faucet business. 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 use the power of a good warranty to drive sales — figuring (correctly) 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, the first major faucet company 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.
Warranties and Our Faucet Ratings
In our faucet ratings (See Faucet Reviews and Ratings ) we take into account a faucet company's warranty when assigning a score. Companies with sub-standard warranties lose points, those with better than average warranties gain points. We figure that a faucet company that sells what the buying public considers a lifetime product should guarantee it for a lifetime. Anything less is worth noting.
Customer service, or lack thereof, can drag a company's warranty score down, while exception service can give it a big boost. Moen, for example, scored five stars for its lifetime warranty combined with its exceptional warranty support — the only faucet company to score that high.
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 .