For such a seemingly simple thing a kitchen faucet actually has an amazing number of features. That variety covers the gamut. Type, mount options, not to mention material and finish, spout height and reach, or number of handles. Then there are the new technologies that are beginning to find their way into faucets, such as hands-free or touch-on.
How to make sense of all this? I mean, after all, you just want a nice looking faucet that works well for a long time, right?
Not to worry. Let’s tackle those aspects one at a time, simplify everything, and explore them with a sense of adventure. A little time spent up front on research will more than repay you in many years of delighted use from the right faucet.
For years and years every kitchen had chrome, chrome, and nothing but chrome for the finish on a kitchen faucet. Lucky for us, there are now a dozen different finishing materials used. That includes bronze for that Victorian look, nickle for a subtle but contemporary appearance, and stainless steel for the industrial style that remains popular.
There’s also gold, brass, and modern alloys whose names may change from manufacturer to manufacturer. Included among the “modern” you might have seen something called a “PVD” faucet. That acronym stands for a fancy phrase: physical vapor deposition. Metallic atoms are coated gradually onto the substrate in the form of a gas.
You don’t need to care about the science involved. Just know that it produces a very durable coating that will stick forever. PVD finishes tend to resist scratching, corrosion, and make for a surface that will clean up like new for many years. They’re typically 20 times more scratch-resistant than chrome.
On the other hand, some manufacturers will deliberately forego that coating in order to achieve a certain effect. Hand-rubbed bronze is meant to age gracefully. Over time, you may see a slight greenish patina on some, just like an old statue. That can actually add to the appeal of the appearance.
And, of course, chrome is still available and looking better than ever.
Those faucet finishes are carefully plated onto materials on the interior that keep the faucet working flawlessly for years and years. Brass is the most common one for the tube and internal pipes. Brass itself comes in two types: cast and tubular. The first is usually thicker and stronger but both work well.
Beyond the basic tubing, ceramic or diamond-coated valves are an essential part of the whole as well. They come in different types too: compression, ball, cartridge, and ceramic disk.
Compression valves are used for faucets with separate hot and cold controls. Ball valves are part of single-lever faucets. Cartridges typically employ both brass and plastic and are more reliable than mere washers. Ceramic disk valves use two finely-made disks that slide past one another; they’re generally the most reliable and long-lasting, if a bit more expensive.
What’s That to You?
You don’t have to become a materials scientist or plumbing expert to make a good choice here. Just pick a finish that complements your other kitchen décor like cabinets, appliances, countertops and backsplash and read a few faucet reviews to discover which inner materials are used and how well they function.
For example, a stainless steel finish will clean up easily and well but bronze can last decades, too, with just a minimum of easy maintenance. Gold never stains but is a little more expensive and shows spots easily, so it will require a little more care to stay looking great. On the other hand, it also lasts forever and really dresses up the kitchen.
It’s also usual to pair the faucet with a particular sink. If you go for a stainless steel sink, for example, a gold or brass faucet probably won’t match well. A bronze faucet, particularly in a Victorian-themed design, will probably go best with an enamel sink. Keep things like that in mind when you select your faucet.
Of course, there are practical features that are essential to buying a faucet you’ll love not just today but for years to come.
Among the most important of those practical features are the spout height and reach.
There’s the very top of the faucet neck – the top of the arc (if it has one) or the overall or maximum height of the faucet. Then there is the height above the countertop or deck plate. Even in a faucet that isn’t curved like a swan’s neck, a standard pull-out model for example, there’s a (usually small) difference between the top and the spout itself.
Note that the distance is measured from the tip of the spout to the counter top or plane of the upper sink, not from the bottom of the sink. That’s the space that’s important because that determines how easily (or not) you can move big pots into and out of the sink.
The reach plays a part here, too. That’s the distance measured from the center of the faucet base to the center of the spout outlet. Be sure when choosing a kitchen faucet the spout reach is long or short enough so the faucet “fits” your new or existing sink. Some faucets barely make it past the inner “wall” of the sink. Others will reach to the drain hole or even a little beyond. It also has an impact on how readily you can fill or rinse without having to use any spray wand.
In this example the overall height is 15 1/16″ (measured from counter top to highest point on faucet), the spout height is 8-5/8″ (measured from counter top to spout outlet) and the spout reach is 8-9/16″ (measured from center of faucet base to center of spout outlet).
If there’s an integrated spray wand – such as a pull-out or pull-down – the reach plays some role in the total distance you can move the wand. The hose length, though, is the major spec there so don’t worry too much about reach for this purpose.
Of course, there is also an esthetic element to the spout height and reach. They are part of the overall appearance and, while they aren’t as relevant as the shape and finish, they influence how your faucet looks.
In the end, you’ll want to select a faucet both for appearance and function. The first is strictly a matter of taste. On the second score, besides reliability, you’ll want something that matches the overall size of the sink while it fulfills your practical goals, such as filling speed and hose reach. Also, consider the reach and swivel so the faucet can rinse a large portion of the sink without using the spray wand.
Number of Handles
Like the spout height and reach, the number of handles on a faucet has both practical and style aspects. The practical part may be the most important for some buyers. Some simply prefer separate hot and cold controls. Others prefer the convenience of a single lever that lets you control both flow rate and temperature.
There’s no rule here. Your personal circumstances and taste are paramount. Most contemporary designs lean toward a single lever, but that’s as much an issue of the current fashion trend as anything. Tastes change and the pendulum may well swing back.
Two-handle faucets tend to look more traditional. That varies from one faucet model to the next, though. You can easily find a Victorian with one lever and an up-to-the-minute Scandinavian minimalist with two. In any case, there are just as many really stylish double-handle designs on the market today as single handle.
As far as those practical considerations go, remember that a single handle faucet rotates in every direction, usually changing the flow through up and down motion while you set the temperature by tilting left or right.
That’s great for one-handed operation but some single levers become a little loose over time and can flop down. That may also be true of one with an integrated spray wand, though many have magnets to prevent that these days. Here, a manufacturer’s reputation for reliability over time is essential.
Number of Sink/Countertop Holes
There’s no particular style aspect to the number of holes in a sink or countertop but it is an important practical element. Since you’ll either be choosing a faucet and sink together or selecting a faucet to fit an existing sink, it’s a must to keep this aspect in mind.
Keep in mind, too, you can find a faucet you’ll love in just about any configuration. If your sink has, say, four holes – including one for a separate spray wand (not integrated) – you don’t have to despair if you prefer a pull-out or pull-down faucet that fills only one or two holes in the sink.
The deckplate will often cover up to three holes even for a faucet that uses only one. A non-deckplate model faucet is one that has separate components for the spout, handles, and side spray wand and/or soap dispenser. So, there’s no plate to cover excess holes. However, any excess holes can always be capped with attractive accessories made for just that purpose.
Just be sure to consider the mounting option for your preferred faucet design along with the number of sink holes. If you’re considering a wall-mounted faucet or one that doesn’t have a deckplate, you’ll need to work that in with the number of holes in the sink and/or countertop.
PlumberSurplus has created some great graphics that let you explore some of your options.
1 Sink/Countertop Hole
3 Sink/Countertop Holes
4 Sink/Countertop Holes
Last, and to use a cliché far from least, you’ll want to look at designs that offer the new hands-free or minimal touch technology.
Some faucets require no touch whatever. They sense that your hand, wrist, or arm is close by and come on/off or change the flow rate or temperature accordingly. Some can even switch the flow type from needle to gush. Others require a touch but only with the back of your hand or the tap of a finger. They sense your body rather than requiring a big physical push or pull.
Consider, though, that all of them require electricity to operate. Often that’s supplied by batteries. Other times they are integrated with your home’s electrical system, though that’s far less common.
Some buyers view these designs as an interesting toy for a while then grow tired of them. They revert to using the faucet the way it has been for generations. Others find that they have to change the batteries more often than they prefer. Still others love this new technology so much they’d never again consider a faucet without it!
As you can see there are a great many factors in a modern kitchen faucet. You could spend months learning all the ins and outs. But there’s no need. Choose a finish and style you like that goes well with your intended (or existing) sink. Make sure your selection(s) have the size and features to fulfill the way you’ll use the faucet. Pick a trustworthy manufacturer. Delve into a few reviews. See, not so hard after all!