Faucet Basics: Part 8 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 may not be lead-free and cannot lawfully be installed in your house.
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, even after you have eliminated the faucets you definitely do not want, there are still many considerations to think about.
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 faucets, especially high-end faucets, are discounted steeply by retailers and suppliers. The prices you should be interested in (and the prices we publish in our reviews) are the actual "street" prices at which a faucet can be purchased.
It is entirely possible to pay more than $20,000 for a faucet but also possible to buy a good, well-made, stylish faucet for less than $100.00. Forget the style, and a solid, all brass faucet from a reputable company can be had for $35.00. Street prices for faucets these days are all over the place. Alternative retailing through the internet has created tremendous price pressure on established local retailers. For value received, faucet prices have never been lower.
As a general rule, faucets priced below $100.00 are suspect. They probably contain critical parts made of zinc or a zinc alloy, or worse, plastic.
But, if you are careful, you can find good, all brass faucets for less than $100.00. You just have to know what you are looking for. The golden rule of faucet buying is that "weight equals quality". Metal is heavier than plastic, and brass is heavier than zinc. A true, thick-walled brass faucet like one from the can easily tip the scales at a hefty 9 lbs. or more.
To see how much a good faucet should weigh, ask the sales clerk for a brass hose bibb — the faucet used outside your house. Your lavatory faucet should weight at least this much. A kitchen faucet should weight more.
We usually go the extra step of taking the faucet apart to see what it's made of. If its all brass, we burn a little incense to the fickle gods of good bargains. If it's plastic, we take it back.
We won't immediately veto a faucet that contains a little zinc. It depends on what part is zinc. A zinc handle or plate is not a deal killer. Zinc body or spout, toss it back in the sales bin.
How to tell if a faucet is zinc? Unscrew the and peek inside the spout (a keychain flashlight might be useful here). If it is "brassy" or brown, it's brass. If it's gray, black or silvery, it's zinc.
$100 - 300
Most faucets priced between $100.00 and $300.00 are going to give good service for many years. The key is good materials — brass and stainless steel — and a known brand name.
The faucets at the lower end of this range tend to be the traditional, established styles, while those at the upper end are often somewhat more au courant. Generally, the innards are about the same, so the quality of a tested and certified faucet at this level is rarely an issue.
Getting parts might be. If the faucet fails, you will want to know that the company that made it will still be in business and any necessary repair parts are still available.
Above $300.00 you are paying a premium for style, status, finish, a prestige brand name, boutique manufacturing and/or small production runs. The quality of the mechanics of the faucet will probably not be much better than a faucet you can buy for less than $300.00, and in some cases are actually worse.
Even at this level, prices run the gamut. Just for fun, we priced a KWC kitchen faucet that we know to be a good quality faucet. The price ranged from $300.00 to $805.00 from reputable online retailers.
High-style faucets produced in limited runs tend to cost more, which is why a faucet mass-produced by faucet, although the quality of both faucet lines is generally very good.
Made in North America
If you are interested in buying a North-American-made faucet, there are a few things you should know.
First, disregard the popular notion that almost nothing is manufactured in the U.S.A. or Canada these days. Not true, at least when it comes to faucets.
Some manufacturing has been moved overseas but scads of excellent faucets are still manufactured by U.S. and Canadian companies in North America — faucets equal in quality and craftsmanship to any in the world. In fact, and here's a shocker: Most of the faucets sold in North America are still manufactured or assembled in North America. Foreign-manufactured faucets account for less than 20% of faucet sales in the U.S. and Canada.
Admittedly, it is sometimes hard to tell which faucets are made here. Companies that have moved their manufacturing overseas often take great pains to "de-emphasize" the fact. It's not that they necessarily conceal the fact. They just don't talk about it.
for example, despite its name and distinguished history as a pioneering U.S. sanitary wares manufacturer, does not manufacture or assemble a single faucet in the U.S. or Canada. It is now a Japanese-owned company, and while it still designs its faucets at its U.S. headquarters in New Jersey, the faucets are made in Mexico from components manufactured in Asia, mostly China. American Standard no longer has any faucet factories in the U.S. or Canada. They have all been closed at the cost or thousands of good American manufacturing jobs.
(formerly Price-Pfister), although still American-owned (by Spectrum Brands — those wonderful folks who bring you the George Foreman Grill and Dingo Dog Treats), also does not manufacture any faucets in the U.S. or Canada. It also manufactures, in Mexico and China.
Price-Pfister once owned the largest foundry west of the Mississippi. Its Pacoima, California plant manufactured Pfister faucets for most of 40 years, making 1,500 faucets a day at its peak and employing 1,600 Americans.
On the other hand, a Japanese manufacturer, assembles hundreds of its sanitary ware products in the U.S. Dozens of Toto's sinks, toilets, and bath accessories quality as "Made in U.S.A.". Go figure! All of its faucets, however, are made in China, and imported.
Many traditional U.S. faucet companies are still manufacturing, or at least, assembling faucets, in the U.S. including the old standards: and some less well-known old-line American faucet companies like Up-and-coming newcomers such as also manufacture or assemble their faucet in the U.S.
Brasstech, the Masco manufacturing company, assembles and finishes its faucets in the U.S., although from mostly Chinese components.
Canadian faucet manufacturers are still going strong, just not as strong as in times past. These include
Many Canadian faucet companies no longer manufacture in Canada, if they ever did.
When is it Made in North America?
There is no U. S. or Canadian law that requires faucets to disclose the amount of domestic content. Many companies do so, however, for advertising and marketing purposes. The "Made in U.S.A." and "Made in Canada" labels still count for something. If a company voluntarily discloses its products' content, then it must comply with the "Made in U.S.A." policy of the Federal Trade Commission or the Competition Bureau of Canada.
To qualify for a "Made in U.S.A." or "Product of Canda" sticker on the box, a faucet must be "all or virtually all" made in the respective country. This means, at minimum, that…
• The final assembly must be done on U.S. or Canadian soil. The final assembly must result in the "substantial transformation" of the faucet into its finished form. For example, it is not sufficient if all the company does is attach handles to a foreign-made faucet, because the resulting transformation is not "substantial". The faucet was already a faucet before the handles were attached. It was not transformed into a faucet by the final assembly.
• "[A]ll or virtually all" U. S. or Canadian made components. While some incidental parts may be made elsewhere, the critical parts must be made here. For "Made in U.S.A." claims, the FTC's enforcement policy allows only a "de minimis or negligible amount of foreign content." For example, a faucet may have "hot" and "cold" label buttons made elsewhere and probably still be "Made in U.S.A.". But, if its handles, cartridge or body were manufactured outside the country, it is not made in the U.S.A. because these are critical parts of a faucet, and not at all de minimis.
The Canadian rule is similar but less strict. For a faucet to be a "Made in Canada" the Competition Bureau requires that at least 51% of the total direct costs of producing or manufacturing the faucet have been incurred in Canada."
Assembled in North America
A faucet that includes substantial foreign content may be marked "Assembled in U.S.A." when it has undergone its final assembly in the United States. The assembly must result in a "substantial transformation" of the faucet. Merely adding a few parts to the finished faucet, or bolting a few major components together — so-called "screwdriver assembly" does not qualify.
Manufacturers may also use "Made in U.S.A. of Imported Materials" or a similar qualifying language to describe a faucet assembled in the U.S. As a consumer you must remember that anything other than an unqualified "Made in U.S.A." claim actually means "Assembled in U.S.A." no matter how clever the qualifying language — "90% Made in U.S.A." just means "Assembled in U.S.A.", nothing more.
Did you know that...
Canada produces more submarines than any other country except China, Russia, and the U.S., and that most Canadian submarines are privately owned?
What Canadian company owns them and what are they used for?
There is no "Assembled in Canada" mark per se. The Candian equivalent of "Assembled In U.S.A." is "Made in Canada" with a qualifying statement such as: "Made in Canada from imported parts" or "Made in Canada with domestic and imported content". Content made in the U.S. is "foreign" content for purposes of "Made in Canada".
"Buy American" Laws
The federal Buy American Act (BAA), first enacted in 1933 in response to the first Great Depression and last amended in 2009 in response to the Great Recession, requires products and materials purchased by the Federal Government or used in federally funded public works projects have "substantial" American content. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act applies similar (although not exactly the same) rules to economic recovery projects funded under the Act.
Manufacturers wishing to provide products or materials to the U.S. government or for public works projects have to identify those that comply with ARRA/BAA requirements. These lists are available, usually by merely asking for them. While the requirements for domestic content under ARRA/BAA are not exactly the same as the Made in U.S.A. requirements of the FTC, they are close, and any item on an ARRA/BAA list is likely to be, at minimum, "assembled" in the U.S.
Of course, some companies cheat. Home Depot is was sued for passing off some China-made products as ARRA/BAA compliant, and Fastenal has paid a multi-million dollar fine for the same offense. But, generally the ARRA/BAA lists are reliable. Keep in mind that these are usually not very descriptive. Often they are just lists of model numbers. But, if you have a faucet in mind and want to check it for Made in America, the lists are useful. Many companies publish them on the company website. For others, you will have to ask customer service for an e-mail copy.
Choosing a Faucet
Now that we have a good grasp of faucet prices, style, configuration, certifications, finishes, warranties and how to determine made in U.S.A. status, we can go ahead a choose a faucet. If you have not read the previous seven sections. You should go back to where you left off, and resume.
There are still a few things to consider, however.
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, although most plumbers know how to punch a hole in a stainless sink. If the sink is cast iron, you are just plain out of luck. Hope you kept the receipt.
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.
Reach and Clearance
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. Just place the pot on the side of the sink, and fill it with the hose.
Another option is a pot filler faucet. These are faucets installed over the range so you can fill a large pot without having to then lug it from the sink to the stove. We seldom install them because we don't like them. Putting a faucet over an expensive range without any means of draining the water is to us just a tad short of insanity, especially if you have children in the house who like to "experiment".
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. (Acrylic plastic handles imitate fine crystal glass handles on very high-end faucets but turn yellow and harbor mold).
You can 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 spray heads.
If you are looking at single handle faucets 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. So, make certain the faucet is certified to U.S./Canadian standards.
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.
Firmly Attached Pull-Out
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.
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. The metal stem is preferred. 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 National Plumbing Code (NPC) or the International Plumbing Code (IPC) 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 a paltry 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.
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 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. But, sometime we can't, and we tell you that, too, and it generally means a generic, often Chinese, cartridge. We suggest you pick another brand.
Certified Safe, Lead-Free and Reliable
All faucets sold or installed in the U.S. or Canada must be certified safe, lead-free and reliable. A faucet that is not certified cannot be lawfully imported, sold, offered for sale or installed in either country. Twenty years ago, it was nearly impossible to buy an uncertified faucet. They were simply not sold here. Today it is a different story. Uncertified faucets are widely available. Our research has shown that over 70% of the faucets sold on internet venues such as Amazon, Sears.com, DHGate, and Rakuten are uncertified, and therefore illegal for sale. All of these sites have policies against the sale of unlawful merchandise, and none of them seem to enforce the policy when it comes to faucet sales.
What we did find on some of these sites, such as DHGate, was wholesale misbranding, with Chinese faucets being falsely identified as Delta, Moen and Kohler faucets.
Builder sites such as Faucets Direct and Faucet Warehouse do a better job of screening out uncertified faucets. They seldom appear on those sites, and when they do are, in most cases, immediately removed once we point them out. Be careful, however, of Build.com and its associated sites. When we pointed out the contraband faucets for sale it this website, we were asked, politely, to mind out own business.
Never buy a faucet you have not heard of.
Unknown brands have often justly earned their obscurity.
Jerry Francis Leonard, MSE, PE
Online sites connected with big lumber stores: Home Depot, Lowes, and Menards also do a good job of keeping uncertified products from being sold, as do Ace, True Value, and Do-It-Best hardware store sites.
Online auction sites such as e-Bay are some of the worst offenders, even though they also have policies prohibiting the sale of unlawful merchandise. In a count conducted in April 2016, we found 63% of the new-in-the-box lavatory faucets offered for sale on e-Bay were illegal to sell in the U.S. or Canada. In many listings, the brand name of the faucet was omitted — a sure sign that the faucet is illegal — and some listings go so far as to proclaim that certification "does not apply" to the faucet.
But, the worst offenders of all are internet retail sites originating in China. These sites totally disc regard U.S. and Canadian laws regarding certification. We found no certified faucets at all on AliExpress, LightInTheBox, or FaucetSuperDeal, even though these sites target U.S. and Canadian customers, even going so far as to establish fulfillment centers in the U.S. to reduce shipping time.
So, where can you be sure that the faucet you are buying is legal in the U.S. and Canada? First, most faucets made or assembled in the U.S., or Canada are legal. There is one exception, however. All of the German and Italian faucets sold in the U.S. and Canada are legal.
But, while many Chinese- and Taiwanese-made faucet brands are careful to comply with U.S. and Canadian laws, many do not bother. And, determining whether a brand of Asian faucet is legal for sale in North America often requires a lot of sleuthing. But, the best course is just common sense. If you have never heard of a brand, check it out thoroughly. Our faucet reviews can help. We identify faucets that are being sold unlawfully without certifications or compliance with federal regulations. If the faucet is a brand you have never heard of, or worse, being sold with no brand name mentioned, avoid it like malaria. This is especially true if the faucet is being sold through an online auction site like e-Bay or an internet general merchandiser like Amazon. A no-name faucet from one of these sites is almost guaranteed to be uncertified.
Never buy an uncertified faucet. Certification is the only way to tell if a faucet is free of toxic materials and safe to use. All plumbing codes in use in the U.S. and Canada require that a faucet be tested and certified to meet both ASME A112.18.1/CAS B125.1 (safety and reliability) and ANSI/NSF 61/9 (lead-free/drinking water safety) standards. Without certification, you also don't know anything about how a faucet is likely to function over the long term. 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.
There are two ways you can do so. The easy way is to read our review of the faucet. We will tell you what certifications the company has. Or, you can ask customer service for a copy of the ASME A112.18.1/CAS B125.1 (safety and reliability) certification, the ANSI/NSF 61 drinking water safety certification, and the ANSI/NSF 372 lead-free certificate. A faucet must have all three.
If the customer service rep does not know about certifications, or cannot e-mail you the certification documents, pass it by. It's not certified. We always ask the customer service rep to circle or highlight the model name or number of the faucet on the certification sheet. If the model name or number does not match the faucet you intend to buy, pass it by.
Beware of forged and altered certification documents. They are common. Unscrupulous sellers such as commonly provide altered or forged certificates or try to pass off a certificate from a totally different company as proof that their faucets are certified. False certificates are getting to be a real problem.
To view an altered certificate and compare it to a real certificate, click here.
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. fingerprints can be a problem with some faucet finishes. Polished stainless steel is a particular culprit but almost all highly polished faucet finishes will show online 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 online. (Before you do this, go to the faucet seller's website to see if a specific wax is recommended. Using the wrong wax may void your warranty.)
Living finishes will show dirt, oil from your 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. Use the wax the faucet company recommends.
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.
Step by Step Guide to Buying a Faucet
Now that you have read all of the parts of this article, starting here, you have all the information you will need to select a faucet that will give you a lifetime of reliable, trouble-free service. Now let's walk through the actual process of buying a faucet.