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Faucets

Faucet buying guide

Last updated: January 2015

Getting started

Leaky faucets could be a thing of the past with top-notch valves and tough finishes now common on all but the cheapest models. Most faucets also have lifetime warranties (for the original buyer) that cover defects and even finishes. We found few performance differences between brands and that's why our advice is based on finish and why the faucets aren't rated.

We tested single handle pullout faucets, the fastest growing style. They combine spray head and spout for added convenience and flexibility, but our findings are applicable to other faucet styles too. The exterior of some faucets are bombarded with charged metal atoms that chemically bond to the surface of the base metal in a process called physical vapor deposition or PVD. Different metals impart different finishes, including nickel and bronze. PVD finishes resisted our best attempts at scratching them, but corrosives such as drain cleaner can stain them slightly. Chrome remains a popular finish and is pretty durable, but a heavy-duty scouring pad can scratch it. Brushed stainless didn't show scratches or stains as easily as chrome. Bronze offers a rustic look and we tested two bronze faucets. The one without the PVD finish was the least resistant in our abrasion tests. The faucet with the PVD finish was fine.

Here's what you'll want to consider when shopping for a new faucet.

The number of holes

Most sinks come with mounting holes drilled for faucets. If you're keeping your sink you'll need to match what you have or get a base plate to cover any extra holes. The base plate may come with the faucet and can also be used to cover holes in your countertop if that's where your faucet will be installed. It's not a good idea to try to drill additional holes in an existing sink or countertop.

Single handle or two handles?

Single handle faucets are easier to use and install and the handle can be attached to the faucet or installed to the side. A sprayer can be part of the faucet spout or part of the faucet deck. Two handle faucets have handles for hot and cold water and the handles are part of the baseplate or separately mounted, and the sprayer is usually separate.

Spout styles

Straight spout faucets are compact and often inexpensive, but you might need to move the faucet to fit a big pot under it. Gooseneck models have higher clearances, but can cause splashing if your sink is shallow. Whatever you pick make sure the faucet head swings enough to reach the entire sink, especially if you have a wide or double bowl sink. Also keep the faucet proportional; a large sink looks odd with a small faucet.

Installation and repair

Replacing a faucet and a sink at the same time is easier because the faucet can be installed in the sink or counter before the sink is put in place. Fittings that can be tightened with a screwdriver also streamline installation. Long water-supply hoses let you make connections lower in the sink cabinet where tools are easier to use. Though most faucets are guaranteed not to leak, if yours does the manufacturer will give you only the replacement part--it's up to you to install it.

Types

There are two main types of faucets. If you are replacing an older faucet your choice may be limited to the configuration of your current sink and/or counter. But if you're buying a new sink and faucet then consider the pros and cons of both types.

Single handle

Move the handle to one side or the other for hot or cold, or somewhere midway to mix. In the kitchen some cooks prefer a faucet with a spout on a hose that can be pulled out from the faucet head

Pros:

Single handle faucets are easier to use and install and take up less space than two-handle faucets.

Cons:

They may not allow quite as precise temperature adjustments as do two-handle faucets.

Two handles

This traditional setup has separate hot and cold handles to the left and right of the faucet.

Pros:

Two handles may allow slightly more precise temperature adjustments than a single handle faucet.

Cons:

A faucet with two handles is harder to install.

Features


Advances in faucet finishes have made most faucets good at resisting wear. Here are some other features to consider that can affect durability and function.

Finish

Tough finishes are common on all but the cheapest kitchen faucets. Physical vapor deposition is the toughest. The process involves bombarding the faucet with charged metal atoms that bond to the surface, producing a variety of metallic finishes. PVD finishes resisted our best attempts at scratching them, but corrosives such as drain cleaner can stain them slightly. Chrome, another popular finish, is quite durable but a heavy-duty scouring pad can scratch it. Without the PVD finish bronze was the least resistant to abrasion in our tests.

Spout shape


Straight spout faucets are compact and often inexpensive, but you might need to swivel the faucet to one side to fit a big pot under it--or if you're washing your hair in the bathroom sink. Gooseneck faucets provide more clearance, but can cause splashing in a shallow sink. Whatever you choose make sure the faucet head swivels far enough to reach into all corners of the sink, especially if you have a wide or double bowl sink.

Pullout spout

The spout pulls out of the single-handle faucet head on a hose; a counterweight helps the hose and spout to retract neatly. A pullout spout comes in handy when rinsing vegetables and rinsing the sink. Note that the hose should be long enough to reach all corners of the sink.

Spray/stream selector


Finger-friendly buttons on the side of the spray head let you switch easily between spray and stream. The buttons should stay in the mode you set even after you turn the water off and back on.

Temperature setting


These single-handle faucets let you turn the water off and on without losing the temperature setting and are more convenient than faucets that require you to reset the temperature every time you turn it on.

   

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