Choosing The Right Bathroom Faucets
Choosing bathroom faucets doesn't have to be difficult, though it's true that there are lots of choices and several important things to consider.
Certainly you'll want a style that suits your decor but there's also the configuration to consider, the type of finish it has, the kind of use the bathroom typically sees and the configuration of sink the faucet will serve.
Then of course, there's the budget to consider. Good bath faucets can be had for reasonable prices but at the farther end of the style spectrum, prices can get steep. Understanding what your needs are and knowing what's available will help you make informed buying decisions by striking a balance between those needs and your budget.
There's a lot of information here so if you're time constrained or just the type that just likes to cut to the chase, click on the Quick Fix section below. It's a high-points summary about making informed choices. But plan to come back later when you have more time because there's a lot of additional detail on this page that's worth understanding.
Here's What's On This Page
The Quick Fix - A High-Points Summary
(The links in this summary will connect you with the sections on this page that offer more detail)
Good Choices Rely On Understanding Faucet Basics -
- Two standard configurations - centerset & widespread
- Centerset--handles and spout are combined together on the faucet base
- Widespread--faucet handles are separate from spout
- Faucet must be compatible with the sink (correct quantity of holes and spacing)
- Mounting configuration (wall or ctop) determines plumbing requirements under sink or in the wall
- Finish refers to the surface treatment
- A durable finish is necessary for durability and longevity
- PVD coatings are preferred and very durable
- Chrome finish is another good surface finish
- Some finishes called "living finishes" are not covered under warranty
- Includes general aesthetic design and "looks"
- Involves functional design features like pull-down sprayers and spout style (high-clearance gooseneck or conventional)
Key Points To Consider When Choosing
- Construction and Valve Type
- Bathroom faucet materials include brass and plastic with some form of finish coating for tarnish and corrosion prevention
- 4 basic type of valve systems - compression / ball / cartridge / ceramic disk
- Each valve type has its own inherent complexity and level of reliability
- Ceramic disk valves are very durable and preferred (though typically more expensive)
Know What Your Options Are (Features & Innovations) -
- When possible, choose faucets and sinks together or make sure the faucet is compatible with the existing sink & ctop (re: hole cutouts & ctop thickness)
- Choose a faucet that's sized right for the bathroom
- Ordering sometimes results in a lead time before delivery - consider this in any planning schedule
- Faucets DON'T always come with handles-some are sold separately
- Darker finishes may show soap and cleaning residue more easily
- Try out some products at showrooms to know what feels good/what doesn't
- ADA compliant products are available and typically marked as such on the sales literature
- Motion-free/hands-free on & off operation
- Touch-sensitive operations (touching anywhere on the faucet)
- Temperature limit stops to prevent scalding
- Pullout spray heads for additional reach
- Lead-free faucets
- Easy clean surface coatings
- Easy installation design features
You can find a lot more detail on this information in the text below.
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What Do I Need To Learn?
Bathroom faucets aren't overly complex and the most simple varieties use technology that's been around for decades. On the other hand, there are more complex options with advanced features to choose from too. What you choose is up to you but before you make a decision, it helps to know what's out there.
Learning The Basics
Bath faucets come in a wide variety of styles but beyond pure aesthetics there are a few basic elements you should know about. Understanding them will take most of the mystery out of choosing one and help you arrive at the product that will best suit your particular needs.
There are about 4 primary facets of lavatory faucets you should know about.
- Construction/Valve Type
Faucet configuration refers to the broader "type" category that it belongs to. Configuration includes how it's mounted (wall mounted or on the sink), whether it has one or two handles, and how many holes it requires in your sink.
Two terms that you'll often encounter relating to the faucet's configuration are centerset and widespread. These terms refer to the dimension, or how far apart, the holes are in the sink that will accommodate the faucet. For units with two handles, these terms also loosely refer to how far apart those handles are with respect to each other and the spout.
A centerset lavatory faucet is made so that the distance between the handles is 4". In many cases, but not all, centerset faucets combine the handles and spout together on a base unit. This configuration works well in small bathrooms with small sinks and limited space.
If your sink has a 3-hole centerset configuration you're not limited to two-handles however. There are single-handle faucets that can be used with this configuration. The spout and handle are mounted on a deckplate (or "escutcheon" as it's sometimes called) that spreads out to cover the other two holes in the sink.
A widespread faucet has hot and cold water handles that are independent of the spout and at least 6" apart.
This configuration is preferable when you have a little more bathroom sink and countertop space to play with. It also means you'll need a 3-hole bathroom sink; two holes for the handles and one for the spout.
Wall mounted units are attached to the wall behind the sink. They work well for vessel sinks that sit on top of a vanity surface. If you're considering installing a vessel sink and a wall mounted faucet, make sure the spout has height and depth so that it clears the sink basin and the spout is over the drain.
Single Hole Faucet
A single hole faucet is one that combines both the spout and the handle. There are both single-lever and two-handle one-hole products. The handles on the latter configuration are usually attached on either side of the spout. As its name implies, this type of bathroom faucet requires only one plumbing access hole in the sink.
Some products come with a pullout spout feature similar to kitchen faucets. The head of the spout is connected to a hose that runs through the spout. The benefit of this configuration is that it effectively increases the reach of the faucet.
Bottom Line: if you're just replacing an existing bathroom faucet without changing your sink or where the faucet is mounted, you'll need to get a configuration that's compatible with the number of holes in the sink.
If you're remodeling and replacing both the sink and faucet, your field of choices is wide open. However, the same principle regarding faucet and sink-hole compatibility applies.
Valve Type and Construction
How a faucet is made and the type of valve it uses are important features to consider when choosing one. Well made products with good valve technology can provide you with years of dutiful service.
Brass is a common material used to make the body and spout although some cheap models do use plastic. Brass is normally coated with chrome plating or a PVD finish (see the section on "Finish" below). Without it, brass will tarnish and corrode.
The valve technology is what actually controls the flow of water. It's what really does all the work and has the most moving parts. How it's designed affects how well it performs.
Bathroom faucets use 4 kinds of valve technology: compression, ball, cartridge and ceramic disk. The important point to remember here is that the kind of valve that's used plays a role in its reliability. Reliability equates to how long the faucet works before it starts dripping and needs repair.
Compression valve faucets typically have separate hot and cold water handles. They're the simplest form of faucet valve and they control the flow of water by means of a screw-like feature in the handle that compresses a seal, which is usually a rubber washer. These valves usually wear the fastest and require maintenance sooner than other valve types.
Ball valves are used with single lever faucets.
The ball valve has slots in it that control the mixture and the amount of hot and cold water that's allowed through the spout. Moving the handle changes the position of these slots within the valve which regulates the flow. These valves don't use washers like compression valves but they have more parts making them more complex.
Cartridge valves utilize a hollow sleeve attached to the water supply that moves inside another sleeve. Movement of the faucet handle moves these sleeves relative to each other, aligning or blocking holes that control the supply of water. They have fewer moving parts than a ball valve but they do have seals that can wear out and require replacement.
Ceramic disc valves make use of two hard, highly polished ceramic disks that slide relative to each other. The motion between the two disks controls the flow of water by opening or restricting the pathway for the water. Although they're typically more expensive, ceramic disk valves are considered the most durable and longest-lasting type of faucet valve.
A bath faucet's finish is the outer surface treatment that's applied to all the exterior parts. Besides the protection that it offers the base material, the finish also gives the faucet its "color".
Brushed Nickel Finish
There's a pretty wide variety of finishes to choose from and you may be surprised once you start shopping how many finishes are actually available.
You'll find the basics like chrome, brass and nickel but you'll also see brushed copper, oil rubbed bronze, matte black, satin gold and the list goes on.
Color choices aside, the type of finish and how it's applied are the important points to remember.
One of the most durable finishes for a bathroom faucet is a PVD finish. PVD stands for "physical vapor deposition" which describes the process for how the coating gets on the faucet's surface. Without going into the technical 'stuff' about PVD, suffice to say that these finishes are very durable and scratch resistant. You can get products with a PVD finish in several "colors" (like stainless steel, brass and nickel to name a few) depending on the manufacturer's offerings.
Typical Chrome Finish
Plating is another good surface finish treatment. Chrome plating has been the mainstay for plated finishes for a long time. Chrome plate is usually applied over faucets made from brass to provide protection to the brass from corrosion and tarnishing.
You may see some product finishes referred to as a "living finish". These are usually NOT covered under warranty. Examples include finishes like hand rubbed bronze or oil rubbed bronze. This kind of finish usually doesn't have any protective sealer and the finish will age and develop a patina. The moisture in the bathroom, the cleaners you use and even the oils in your hand can affect and change how these finishes look over time.
Style refers to both the aesthetic and functional design of the faucet. This is probably the feature that drives most buying decisions, but hopefully only after the important things like configuration and construction are considered.
Single Lever Gooseneck Faucet
Things to think about relative to style (aside from simply what appeals to you visually) include the shape and reach of the spout. Higher, gooseneck spouts may offer more room for tasks like washing your hair in the sink. Other style considerations include the kind of handle to choose. Cross and lever style handles each have their own distinct feel.
More functional style considerations include handle configuration (single lever or dual-handle), convenience features like pull-out sprayers and hands-free options.
Typical conventional wisdom says to choose a faucet style consistent with the decorating style of your bathroom. You can follow that philosophy or be a maverick and choose any style that suits your fancy because there are truly hundreds of styles to choose from.
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What Considerations Do I Need To Think About?
If you've read this far you should have a good understanding about the makeup of a bathroom faucet. Next, we'll take a look at some of the considerations you should think about when it comes time to make some choices.
- Choose A Faucet & Sink Together (When Applicable)
Sinks and faucets obviously work together but if you paid attention to the information above, you'll recognize that they also have to be compatible. If you're simply replacing a faucet, the number of holes in your existing sink will dictate the configuration of faucet you'll need. If you're buying a new faucet and a sink together, make sure each is compatible with the other.
Hint: Your contractor, plumber or the people where you buy your sink and faucet should be able help you with that determination.
- Lifestyle (Should) Play A Role In Your Choice
Before you actually choose your next bathroom faucet, think about you and your family's lifestyle and how the bathroom will be used. Products that cater to young kids should be easy to use and durable (not the dainty delicate Victorian style). Young kids usually make a mess with the toothpaste -- which might not mix well with an oil rubbed bronze finish.
Small Centerset Faucet
- Choose The Right Size
Small centerset units work well in tight areas and maximize sink and vanity-top space. On the other hand, trying to clean the tight space between the handles and the spout on this configuration can be annoying. If you have the space (and the sink) that accommodates a widespread faucet, you may find it offers more convenience and style options.
- Know Your Countertop Thickness
A bathroom faucet needs to "fit through" the thickness of your countertop. In other words, the part of the faucet that goes through the countertop is made to a specified length, which varies with each product. Some specifications refer to this as "max deck thickness". If your countertop thickness is bigger than the length of this feature on the faucet you want, you might not be able to use that faucet unless you can obtain something called a "thick deck" or "thick countertop" mounting kit.
- Bath Faucets Don't Always Come With Handles or Drain Levers
Some units are sold without handles. The reason is to allow you to mix and match spouts and handles of various styles. This is important when comparing prices - you might think you're getting the whole enchilada for $X when in fact, you may have to make an additional purchase for the handles.
Drain levers are actually known as "Pop-Ups" - the little knobs and rods you pull and push to open and close the drain. Some faucets come with these features, others do not. Read the product's technical specs to know if they're included or not.
- Some Finishes Don't Have A Warranty
Typical "Rubbed Bronze" Finish
Most sink manufacturers offer a lifetime warranty on their products. However some manufacturers don't offer a warranty on units with a particular finish. Rohl faucets made with their Tuscan Brass finish are examples. Check the warranty of products you're interested in to understand what is and isn't covered.
- ADA Compliant
Bathroom faucets that comply with the American Disabilities Act offer ease of use for those with limited hand capability. By definition they're able to be operated with one hand and don't require a tight grasp or twisting of the wrist. Products that comply with this specification are usually clearly labeled as "ADA Compliant".
- Be Aware Of Delivery "Lead Times"
Sometimes there's a time lag between when you purchase a faucet and when it's delivered (that is, unless you buy it right off a store shelf). This is known as a product's 'lead time'. It's important to understand from a timing perspective because this lead time could delay certain aspects of a bathroom remodel if you don't get what you need at the right time.
- Darker Finishes May Show Spots & Cleaner Residue
Products with a dark oil or hand-rubbed bronze finish may tend to show soap spots, water scale or cleaner residue more readily than chrome or more 'silver' colors. Small centerset faucets with spouts and handles that fit tightly together make the cleaning and rinsing process more difficult, raising the chance of leaving some cleaner residue on the faucet. It's not a big deal if you're not too particular but it's something to keep in mind if you like a spotless bathroom.
- Test Drive Some Lavatory Faucets
Take some time to try out various bathroom faucet configurations at home centers or showrooms to appreciate how different varieties "feel". Understanding how a single handle faucet feels vs. a cross-handle vs. a pull-up handle will make you a better decision maker once it comes time to choose.
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What Kinds Of Choices Do I Have?
Aside from the differences in looks among all the available bathroom faucet choices, you might think that at some level they're all pretty similar.
Let's face it; they all deliver water.
But despite the "sameness", there are certain features, innovations and technologies that are worth noting. You can make better choices when you combine the knowledge of these features with your wants and needs.
- Hands-Free Operation
A hands-free bath faucet offers a convenient and sanitary way to turn the water on and off. Also known as an electronic faucet, it's operated by a motion sensor and typically includes a means to adjust water temperature and flow control. Delta's e-Flow™ faucet and The Sonoma Forge Sans Hands faucet are examples of products with this technology.
- Touch-Sensitive Controls
Like its hands-free cousin, touch-sensitive faucets like the Jean Nouvel line of faucets by Jado operate by the simple touch of a hand somewhere on the faucet. You can save water when you're brushing your teeth by just tapping the faucet on and off with one hand while the other is busy putting the gleam on your pearly whites. No need to twist or turn a handle with these units.
- Lead-Free Construction
Many faucets are made with materials that contain trace amounts of lead however some manufacturers offer the ability to go completely lead-free. American Standard has substituted bismuth in place of lead in some of their products. (Lead-free is defined as being less than one quarter of one percent total lead content by weighted average).
- Convenient Handle/Valve Technology
Convenient handles include those with 1/4 turn operation, meaning the water flow can go from off to full-on with just 1/4 turn of the handle. Other handle-related innovations include GROHE's SilkMove® technology that uses ceramic valve cartridges coated with a Teflon lubricant for virtually friction-free handle movement.
- Hi-Tech & Easy Clean Finishes
Bathroom faucets need to stand up to a tough environment of moisture and caustic cleaning chemicals. Tough finishes like the Brilliance® finish on Delta Dryden faucets and Moen's LifeShine® finish make for durable, long lasting and easily cleaned surface finishes that protect against damage and tarnishing.
- Easy Installation
Whether you install your bathroom faucet or you're paying someone to do it, quick and easy installation without the need for Joe the Plumber is a plus. Some manufacturers have designed ease of installation into their products. Moen's Mpact® system allows you to change your faucet (when your design tastes ultimately change) without having to change the plumbing. Kohler's "No Sweat" installation features include flexible hoses and all the tooling required for easy installation right in the box.
- Pullout Spout Feature
Pullout faucets have proven their effectiveness in the kitchen and you can also have that convenience in the bathroom too. Products like those found in the American Standard GreenTea™ collection provide a spout that disconnects and pulls out of the faucet base to extend its reach.
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What Do Lavatory Faucets Cost?
Prices are as broad as the range of selections. The cost you ultimately pay will depend on the style, features and brand that you choose.
To give you some indication of what you get for the money you spend, here's some broad ranges of bathroom faucet prices and features below
$0 to $100
Products in this price range are mostly limited to smaller centerset styles with either two handles or a single lever. Lots of models have clear acrylic knobs for handles. Despite the lower cost, you can still get good quality features like ceramic disk valves, high temperature limit stops, and solid brass construction. These faucets won't make the cover of high-style bathroom design magazines but you can still find good durable fixtures for this price.
In this price range you'll be able to choose widespread (separate handle and spout) designs along with additional features like pullout spray heads and hands-free electronics. The number of styles and color options that are available also increases.
$500 to over $1000
For this amount of money you'll get (or should
get) the features and innovations of the other price brackets but with greater style choices. In addition, products at this price point include high-quality construction like all-brass spouts and handles, 1/4 turn ceramic cartridges and unique finishes. Don't be surprised however to see some brand name cachet associated with some of these high costs. Quality and industry status do have their price.
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How Do I Make The Best Choice?
Choosing a bathroom faucet doesn't have to be a mind-blowing experience. Depending on your objectives it could be very straightforward, such as buying a simple replacement faucet for an existing bathroom.
On the other hand, if you're building a new home or remodeling and several bathrooms are involved, or you're looking for some style along with functionality, then it may take a little more hunting. But if you follow some basic steps, it shouldn't be difficult.
There's no "perfect" way to go about this but the following process should give you a solid footing toward making a good choice.
- Determine the style, finish and price point you prefer
You can check local home centers but your range of style options will be limited. Instead, check the manufacturer's websites as well as online merchants to get familiar with available styles and price points.
- Determine what features and configuration you want
Do you want a pullout faucet or will a standard fixture with no bells and whistles do? If you have a choice (meaning, you're not constrained by your existing sink style) do you prefer a small centerset style or individual handles and spout like with a widespread faucet? Consider who will use the faucet and how much use it will get to help decide.
- What kind of sink will you use with it?
Make sure the sink and faucet you choose are compatible from a configuration standpoint. The number of holes and the spacing on the sink needs to be congruent with your faucet choice.
- Understand when the faucet needs to be installed
When choosing a bathroom faucet make sure you understand when it's needed for installation so that it won't be the holdup in your remodeling schedule. Some products aren't available off the shelf, particularly some high-end models with unique finishes. This is an area where your choice can affect a builder's schedule.
- With the prior considerations done, make your purchase
If you've thought through the preceding considerations you're in good shape to make the right choice. Narrow your choices down to a short list then pull the trigger on the one that suits you best. Don't labor over this too long or you'll get into decision paralysis! Make your choice and go. Good luck!
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