All About Kitchen Faucets
For a quick and easy upgrade in a house's most popular room, nothing makes a bigger impact with less sweat and expense than replacing an outdated faucet
Of all the working parts in a kitchen, the faucet might be the one we most often press into service. According to faucet manufacturer KWC, the average family turns on the tap more than 40 times a day, whether to fill a pasta pot, rinse off salad greens, or simply get a glass of water. That's a lot of on-off cycles for a product that should last for years.
Today, these workaholic fixtures come in a wider variety of designs and price points than ever. High-end models can cost up to $2,500, but prices are actually trending in the opposite direction. In fact, you can score a kitchen faucet for as little as $15, though we don't recommend it; expect to spend about $200 or more.
By and large, even budget-priced cartridge-valve faucets are a big improvement over their compression-valve cousins of yore. Better manufacturing and engineering helps them stay drip-free and last longer while keeping their looks, and quick-connect fittings have made them a cinch to install. Still, not all faucets are created equal. Beneath their shiny surfaces lurk differences in materials and technology that affect cost and longevity. Plus, the sheer number of choices on the market can be overwhelming.
Shown: Perrin & Rowe bridge faucet with sidespray in chrome, about $1,470; ROHL Home
No matter how fancy or simple, they all contain the same basic elements.
Aerator: Reduces the water's flow rate and curbs splashing.
Spout: Delivers water from the body to the sink.
Handle: Opens and closes the valve.
Valve Controls: the flow rate and water temperature.
Body: Blends hot and cold water headed for the spout.
Supply: lines Connect to the house's hot and cold water pipes.
What's the cost?
Cast-brass faucets start at roughly $200, and the cost of a high-end stainless-steel faucet tops out around $2,500. Prices depend on the faucet's material, design, and finish.
Install it yourself or hire a pro?
A kitchen faucet is the simplest type to install. But call a pro if working on your back inside a cabinet isn't your cup of tea.
How long will it last?
A faucet should work for a decade or longer. The finish may wear out first. Most brass and stainless-steel faucets made in the U.S. and Europe have lifetime warranties on parts; some warranties cover finishes, too. Plastic or zinc faucets may conk out in as little as five years.
What care is needed?
Wipe down with a soft cloth, warm water, and a gentle liquid dish soap. To preserve the finish, don't use abrasives or ammonia.
Connect to the house's hot and cold water pipes.
Hot and cold water mix in a sleek, one-piece casting that also houses the valves. Available in one- and two-handle designs.
Often has a contemporary look.
The pipe joining the separate valves blends hot and cold water before they reach the spout.
Often featured in period designs.
Mixes hot and cold water like a bridge-style faucet, except the pipe is hidden beneath the counter.
Typically used in traditional faucet designs.
Single-hand operation is simple for people of all ages and abilities. Handles may be mounted on top of the spout, on either side, on the front, or beside the spout, requiring a separate hole.
Shown: Bridgeford in chrome, about $670; GROHE
Though fine-tuning the water flow and temperature is a little trickier, a two-handle faucet is a timeless choice for any kitchen.
Shown: Antique in brushed nickel, about $1,725; Kohler
These faucets have a retractable sprayer head that docks on the spout. Pull-out heads, available in several spout styles, are held in place by gravity.
Shown: Elate pull-out faucet in stainless steel, about $325; Kohler.
Pull-downs, generally fitted to gooseneck spouts, require a magnetized or locking dock to stay put when not in use.
Shown: Tails S HighArc 2-spray pull-down faucet in chrome, about $550; Hansgrohe
You'll find faucets that turn on with the help of a foot pedal (think doctor's office) or a motion sensor (think public restroom). But the latest ones rely on simple human contact: Tap the faucet with any part of your body and a sensor detects your natural electrical charge and opens or closes the valve. The handle controls water flow and temperature. These taps aren't cheap, and the sensor's batteries need replacing every 18 months, but they appeal to gadget fanatics and cooks who really get their hands dirty.
Shown: Addison with Touch2O technology in chrome, about $570; Delta Faucet
Pros: The most common choice. Simple to install if there's enough clearance between the sink and the wall behind it.
Cons: Requires holes in the countertop or sink. Creates tight quarters for cleaning.
Shown: Parq bridge faucet in chrome; about $670 for deck-mount, Kohler
Pros: Frees countertop space and makes cleanup easier.
Cons: Plumbing connections must extend above the countertop in the wall behind the sink. Not suitable for exterior walls in cold climates, where pipes may freeze.
Shown: Parq bridge faucet in chrome; about $800 for wall-mount model, Kohler
Follow these steps to avoid unexpected pitfalls on installation day.
1. Settle on a sink first. Its size, shape, and features will determine where the faucet should be mounted and how much "reach" the spout should have. Look for this information on manufacturers' websites.
2. Shop in person if possible. Visit home centers and kitchen showrooms to see faucets on display. Make sure handles turn easily and features like pull-out and pull-down spouts work comfortably for you.
3. Measure the spout's height. There are no hard-and-fast rules, but ideally the spout will be tall enough to clear your deepest pot but not so tall that water splashes everywhere when it hits the sink's bowl.
4. Check clearances. Make sure there's enough room behind and beside the faucet to clean around the body and to use the handle without scraping your knuckles.
5. Choose the accessories early. Order extras, like a soap dispenser or separate sprayer, with the faucet, and add a hole in the countertop or sink for them. Shown: Finley in spot-resistant stainless, about $480; Moen
Lindley High-Arc Pull-Down Faucet
Spout: Gooseneck with pull-down sprayer; 8 11/16-inch clearance above the counter; 7 7/8-inch reach
Finish: Electroplated stainless steel with a coating that resists water spots and fingerprints
Notable feature: Push a water-saving button on the sprayer to drop from the standard 2.2 gallons per minute to 1.5 gpm.
Manufactured by Moen; about $215
Brantford High-Arc Pull-Down Faucet
Spout: Gooseneck with pull-down sprayer; 8 ¼-inch clearance above the counter; 7 7/8-inch reach
Finish: PVD stainless steel
Notable feature: Super flexible hose automatically retracts into spout; connects to spray head with sturdy, easy-to-swivel ball joint.
Manufactured by Moen; about $415
Woodmere High-Arc Pull-Down Faucet
Spout: Gooseneck with pull-down sprayer; 9 9/16-inch clearance above the counter, 8¾-inch reach
Finish: PVD stainless steel
Notable feature: A pause button on the sprayer head allows you to start and stop water flow without touching the faucet handle. Manufactured by Moen; about $850
Brass is the most popular option. It's durable and easy to cast, and companies offer a wide variety of models and finishes. Some have sprayer heads made of plastic, so they weigh less and stay cool to the touch (not to mention they're cheaper to make); other parts might be made of zinc. Do your research so that you know what you're buying.
Stainless steel is another good, though expensive, choice. Not to be confused with stainless-steel finishes applied over brass, solid stainless-steel faucets don't need a separate finish. Some companies apply a clear protective coating to resist water spots and fingerprints.
Plastic or zinc faucets are the least durable of the bunch. From the outside, they may look no different from brass faucets. The best way to tell them apart is to pick them up; plastic and zinc are light, while brass has serious heft.
To control water flow and temperature, today's faucets use cartridge valves that enclose all the working parts in a single, easy-to-replace unit (meaning no washers to swap out). Some valves are made of plastic or metal, but the best ones house a pair of ultrahard, ultrasmooth ceramic discs that rarely leak and aren't affected by hard-water deposits. The only drawback: The discs are brittle and can crack if they snag any debris, so make sure to flush your supply lines before installing the faucet. Cartridge valves differ by faucet make and model; if you ever need to replace one, order it directly from the manufacturer.
Brass is usually alloyed with lead to make it easier to cast. By law, faucets sold in the U.S. can't contain more than 8 percent lead, but that lead can contaminate water sitting inside the faucet body for more than a few hours. (Running the tap for a few seconds will flush it out.) California and Vermont have enacted a stricter standard: a "maximum weighted average" of no more than 0.25 percent. For a list of nearly 7,000 faucets that meet this low-lead standard, go to NSF.org/consumer, or look for fixtures with the label NSF 61-G. rtridge valves differ by faucet make and model; if you ever need to replace one, order it directly from the manufacturer.
Offering a blend of traditional and contemporary elements, these faucets look at home in kitchens that share this mix. Here, a widespread faucet feels right for classic marble counters, while the streamlined spout and handles harmonize with the stainless-steel sink.
Shown: Pilar Waterfall in chrome, about $340 (available in November 2011); Delta Faucet.
With their spring-encased spouts and docked nozzles, these supersize faucets mimic the look of pot rinsers from restaurant kitchens. Because they're so tall, they work best in airy, modern home kitchens with deep sinks.
Shown: Parma pre-rinse faucet in chrome, about $375; Danze
Unadorned designs featuring sleek lines, simple cylinders, and straight spouts are hallmarks of this style. Pick a faucet like this to complement a refined, neutral-toned kitchen with smooth tile.
Shown: Trinsic in chrome (available in late 2011), about $270; Delta Faucet
A warm-toned tap with decorative detail is the perfect finishing touch for rustic, cottage-style, or Victorian-inspired kitchens. Old-school touches, like cross-handles with ceramic tap buttons, add extra charm.
Shown: Highlands in aged brass, about $625; Cifial
Classic detailing makes these faucets a good fit with nearly any kitchen style. This single-handle option, designed to look like a manual water pump, has an unexpected heritage appeal.
Shown: Amherst in stainless steel, about $170; Pfister Faucets
The most common (and oldest) method. The faucet is dipped in a bath of dissolved metal that adheres to the surface when a current is applied. Pro: Offers a durable, long-lasting finish. Con: Plating is susceptible to harsh cleansers.
Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD)
The faucet is placed in a vacuum and bombarded with metallic ions that bond to the surface. Pro: Results in a very hard, tough finish that doesn't need a clear coat. Con: More expensive than other application methods.
The faucet is sprayed with a dry powder that cures when exposed to heat. Pro: Results in an even, thick finish layer.Con: Not as durable as PVD or electroplating.
New faucets are so easy to put in that you barely need tools to do it. But for the best results, follow TOH plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey's DIY advice.
1. Remove the old tap without damaging counters or cabinets. It's tempting to loosen rusted-on nuts by applying heat with a propane torch, but a heat gun or hair dryer would be safer. Remove the nuts with water-pump pliers or a basin wrench.
2. Skip plumber's putty if you have stone counters. Putty, often used to form a seal between the faucet base and the countertop, contains oils that can stain the stone. Most modern faucets have an O-ring in the base and don't require a sealant.