The days when a spigot and spout where enough to claim you had the latest in indoor amenities have gone the way of the Model T. For the modern household, calling forth water in your bathroom is a technical triumph as well as a design indulgence. You may be what you eat, but more and more, your home is defined by its built-in fixtures. From shiny to matte, imported to domestic, your faucet says a lot about your style and probably your finances, too.
New materials, designs and multi-media add-ons are making showering and even just filling a water glass an event. It may be simple H2O, but if you're into design, embrace green technology or like the idea of getting the latest and greatest, your bathroom faucet may be ground zero for realizing your unique vision. Remember that commercial in which a well-heeled matron challenges her architect to build a house around her futuristic looking faucet? Never underestimate the value of getting the details right.
Let's take a look at the world of bathroom faucets, their exterior finishes, inner workings and the ways they bring water to your fingertips with the turn of a knob -- and sometimes not even that. We've come a long way from priming the pump and waiting for the water to run clear. Whether you want a light show with your morning shave or a sink that looks like a crystal serving bowl, faucets help deliver the goods.
Types of Bathroom Faucets
Although you'll see them in lots of different shapes and finishes, there are four basic types of bathroom faucets. Yes, faucet design and technology is morphing and changing with advancements that are making no-touch, illuminated and waterfall faucet styles popular. Still, when you look under the sink or grab a screwdriver to fix a drip, you're most likely to find one of these four configurations.
- Ball faucets - Using a swiveling handle, ball faucets actually have a ball joint that's mounted on a central post. The handle turns to control water flow as well as temperature. This is a pretty straightforward design that's easy to identify. It was one of the first faucet styles to lose the washer in favor of newer technology. It's seen in both kitchens and bathrooms. The biggest complaint about ball style faucets is that there are so many little parts inside that they're prone to developing leaks.
- Compression faucets - These old-school faucets have two handles, each with a valve to regulate water flow and an onboard washer in each to create a pressure seal. This is the style that many of us grew up with. If you remember your dad laboring over a box of utility washers trying to find one that would stop an annoying drip, he was probably working on a compression faucet. Even though having to update a deteriorated washer occasionally is a pain, this style can take abuse, and washer maintenance is easier than it looks.
- Washerless faucets - Also known as cartridge faucets, this style eliminates the need for washers by using a stem cartridge to control water delivery. Cartridge faucets can have one or two handles. Single handle models lever up and down to regulate volume and move from side to side to control temperature. Two handle models can look identical to compression faucets. Marketed as the answer to leaky washer style faucet problems, cartridge faucets are less prone to drips but still have seals that can wear out.
- Disc faucets - A relatively current design, the disc faucet uses a central cylinder and two ceramic discs (one that moves and one that doesn't) to control water flow and temperature. If you hate leaks, this faucet style is reliable and long-lasting. Usually the most expensive of the four faucet types, disc faucets typically come with excellent warranties and even lifetime warranties on the cylinders aren't uncommon.
There's more to consider when buying a faucet than just what's going on inside. Let's take a peek at the look and layout of some popular bathroom faucet designs.
Bathroom Faucet Finishes
Your bathroom faucet has a function, but that's probably not your only concern. It needs to look good, too. Because it sees a lot of action over the course of a day, week or year, a bathroom faucet should be well-made inside and out. You've seen different faucet finishes like nickel or chrome, but the color and shine don't tell you the whole story. The way a finish is applied will have a lot to do with how long it looks good once you actually start using it.
Physical vapor deposition (PVD) is one of the best finishes around. It chemically bonds decorative surface finishes like bronze to the base metal underneath, making this finish stronger and more scratch-resistant. PVD-treated faucets will cost a little more, but they'll look good longer. Chrome is another durable finish. One caveat here: Any finish will be vulnerable to rough treatment if exposed to corrosives like drain cleaner, or subjected to aggressive scouring. The best practice is to look for a PVD or other quality finish and treat it with respect.
Let's take a look at some of the decorative and unusual finishes your likely to see in the design showrooms.
- Polished chrome - It's shiny and clean-looking and a classic choice that's long lasting and works well with lots of different décor styles. Whether you're going traditional or contemporary, chrome is a safe bet.
- Bronze - Rustic, romantic or traditional, bronze can be evocative as well as functional, but be careful to choose a PVD-applied product for longevity.
- Nickel - Nickel fixtures are available in a polished finish that has the shiny appearance of chrome and also in a brushed finish that looks warm and soft.
- Brass or goldtone - Both of these faucet finishes can be an elegant touch in a bathroom, but definitely integrate best if they match the faucets on the tub and even the handle on the toilet. Look for brass or goldtone finishes with an extended or lifetime warranty.
- Specialty finishes - Black, colored, mixed metal, textured and other finishes can all be dramatic focal points in a bathroom, but as with brass and goldtone finishes, make sure you're getting a quality product that will look as good in five years as it does the day you take it out of the box. Rely on brand names you recognize, and check the warranty before you buy.
Your design vision and personal preferences will play a big role in the faucet style and finish you choose. If you hate water spots, go for a matte finish faucet that will conceal those distinctive smudges. If you think functionality and cleanliness are key, polished chrome may be the no-nonsense choice for you.
Important Bathroom Faucet Specifications
Faucets don't exist in a vacuum. They're attached to something, and sometimes to a number of things. If you're renovating your bathroom or just upgrading your sink, you'll discover that converting what you've got into what you want can be a big project. If you haven't done any DIY plumbing before, you may want to keep your updates similar in configuration to the equipment you're replacing. If you're employing the help of a plumber, having an inspection done before you start investing in new fixtures is a good idea. A quick look behind your walls may reveal that you have more to worry about behind the scenes than you expected.
Switching out your faucet for one with a new look or finish will update your bathroom in a single, dramatic step. Because the faucet works in conjunction with the sink, though, pay attention to the sink's predrilled holes. Their number and spacing are an important consideration when choosing a faucet:
- Single hole - Most common in small sinks, one hole configurations will accommodate a single lever as well as some two-handled designs.
- Four-inch three hole - Also found in smaller sink designs, 4-inch three-hole sinks can accommodate centerset faucets that have separate handles but look like one integrated piece, some single lever designs (with concealing deckplates), and mini spread faucets that look like three separate pieces.
- Widespread (8-inch three hole) - Usually found on large sinks, this setup is designed for faucets with two handles and a separate spout in three distinct pieces. It will also work with many of the vessel sink options on the market.
- Wall-mounted - Experiencing a renaissance, wall mounted faucets can be found in either very old or very new homes. A wall mounted setup looks good and has some flexibility, but expect to replace the sink, too.
- Specialty faucets - Vessel faucets, no-touch faucets and illuminated faucets may be slightly different from standard height and width units. It's a good assumption that any cutting-edge faucet style, like a waterfall faucet, may have requirements that need special consideration. If you're adding a faucet style that no one you know has ever even heard of before, it's a good idea to find a pro who's installed one or two to get an idea of whether or not the update will be worth the effort and expense.
Many faucets are sold as kits that include handles, hardware, seals and any applicable washers. Before you buy, make sure you know what's included in the box. For instance, some faucets include drain levers, and some don't. What you get in a kit will impact the price, so what looks like a great deal may not end up so great if you have to buy a lot of extras. Warranties are another consideration. Some brands offer great warranties on standard faucet finishes but not on specialty finishes. Read the fine print before you get involved in a lengthy and possibly disappointing upgrade.
Most major faucet manufacturers have extensive websites to help you understand how to choose the right products, install and repair them.
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