Plumbing systems have been around for a very long time - nearly four thousand years! Such luxuries weren't always publicly available; some of the earliest known examples of plumbing were found in the Minoan Palace of Knossos in Crete (the largest island of Greece). Terracotta was used to create piping while the faucets themselves were made from gold, marble, and silver. By the time Romans were using plumbing in their public bathhouses (or thermae), lead was the primary material for pipes; and alloy brass is the most commonly used in modern day.
The overall design of bathroom faucets remained relatively untouched until 1937, when a young college student by the name of Al Moen (then living in The Mine's own Seattle, Washington) decided to invent the single-handle faucet after scalding himself. The two-handled option wasn't going to cut it anymore! He wanted people to have the ability to customize their water temperatures. After nearly ten years of trial and error, Moen developed his first truly marketable design, selling it to a local plumbing supply company in San Francisco.
Breakthroughs in plumbing technology have continued to emerge in the last century. Today's faucets can offer so many options that a homeowner looking to purchase one can be overwhelmed when choosing what is right for their home. It's very important to keep a few factors in mind beyond just style when purchasing – ease of care, durability and safe, convenient use.
Think about the faucet you are currently using, and then consider what about it causes you any discomfort: is the spout an improper length, are handles hard to grasp or just plain uncomfortable, or perhaps the finish is just not staying as clean as you would like? Read on! We're here to help you make an educated decision.
That's no typo, we meant installing! The most important choice you will make to is what sort of installation you'll need in your bathroom. Let's get your feet wet by introducing the various styles of faucets:
- There are a few sizing decisions that need to be made before you whip out the credit card to purchase a faucet. The first question is: are you replacing an old faucet or purchasing a brand new one for a brand new sink? If you are simply replacing an older faucet, start by taking out the old one and determining what size you already own, this will quickly narrow down your shopping selection to only faucets that will work for your sink. If you are purchasing a brand new faucet for a brand new sink you will first need to determine if your new sink is made for a specific type of faucet, if so, head for that category on your shopping site. However, if lo and behold you have free reign to pick which ever faucet you want you will need to be sure that 1) if you want a centerset or widespread faucet which requires holes in the sink that you can in fact drill holes in your sink without breaking it, this usually works best with stainless steal, not china or ceramic. Also, ensure that the faucet is tall enough to be at least 2 inches taller than your installed sink and that the spout is long enough to hang into the sink so you don't water down your counter with each hand washing.
- Single Hole: Single hole faucets are relatively modern and have many advantages. They are perfect for small sinks and simple to install! Even if your sink is not small and you want the look of a single hole faucet, but have more than one drilling space, you can get a deck plate to cover the extra holes.
- Centerset Faucets: Terrific space-savers when you want handles but need to be efficient. These include single- and two-handle designs, and are ideal for pre-drilled or pre-existing basins.
- Mini-spread Faucets: Much like the centerset in size, but the handles are not attached to a base. This gives the look and feel of a widespread model in a tight space.
- Widespread Faucets: Widespread faucets are the most common faucet choice. The handles on this installation are usually 8 inches apart, though some can extend up to 16 inches apart. If you're going for a spacious look, this is the way to go about doing it!
- Wall Mounted Vessel Fillers: These are specifically designed for undermount, vessel and wall hung sinks. They are mounted on the wall and extend over the center of the sink. Antique sinks will pair with these beautifully!
Here is the Handle…
Now is when you can start to really express yourself! Handles come in a variety of different types – round, lever and cross are the standards, with even further variations upon these. In addition, there are touchless electronic handles that assist in conserving water by turning off automatically after you are finished using them; these controls are usually located under the sink.
If you prefer a more minimalistic look, you might want to consider a single-handle option, but two-handle faucets are much more user-friendly in that they allow you to customize the temperature of the water you use. You only have a single hole drilled into your sink you say? That's no problem! Many manufacturers offer single-hole, double-handled faucets. You shouldn't have to settle, and designers respect this.
…And Here is the Spout!
There are two types of spouts, aerated and nonaerated. Aerated spouts use a screen and resistor in combination with air to create limited water flow in addition to better overall pressure. Non-aerated spouts do not have that screen, and therefore water can flow more quickly and freely.
There are four different valve types used in the construction of faucets today:
- Ball: These were the first type of washerless faucets. These valves use a slotted, rotating metal or plastic ball for flow regulation, and have the unfortunate tendency to leak more than other faucet types. They are durable and reliable, but can be used with single-handle faucets only.
- Cartridge: Easy to repair, the cartridge valve uses rubber o-rings inside a cylindrical cartridge to control water flow. They are as long-wearing as the ball valve, but can be used in single or two-handle faucets.
- Ceramic Disk: While the most expensive option by far, this method uses two fire-hardened ceramic disks - the upper moves and the lower is fixed - that move against one another to sheer the flow of water within a cylindrical body. To offset the cost, they are maintenance-free and come with excellent warranties. They can also be used with single and two-handle faucets. These are very responsive and work well for people with arthritis.
- Compression: These feature rubber (or similar) washers to stop the flow of water, but they eventually wear out and can start to drip over time. On the flip side, washers are really cheap to replace! Some newer types actually lift the washer vertically instead of grinding it against the valve seat, so it will generally last longer.
The Finish Line
As mentioned earlier, the material most commonly used to create faucets these days are the rust-resistant alloy and brass. Recognizing that not all consumers are interested in the look of brass in their bathrooms, countless finish options have been introduced over the last few decades. There has been a growing trend to offer baked-on, powder-coated enamels in wild colors, but the traditional finishes remain strong:
- Brass: While it may scratch, tarnish, or corrode, a clear-coat will go a long way to keeping your brass fixtures looking beautiful and easy to clean. Also offered in polished and antique sub-finishes.
- Chrome: Brushed, matte, or polished, chrome is both durable and economical as well as being gorgeous and highly versatile for many bathroom decors. Unlike brass, chrome does not need a clear coat protection to be easily maintained.
- Gold: Leaning towards the expensive side, gold will not tarnish, but as it's a softer material it is not as durable as some of the cheaper alternatives.
- Nickel: This easy-to-clean finish is not only durable but stylish, offered most often in satin and brushed.
- Stainless Steel: As the name implies, one of the largest draws for stainless steel is its ability to keep water spots from sticking around. On the other hand, they do tend to need special cleaning due to repeated smudging by hands. One of the more moderately priced options.
One other thing to keep in mind is that many manufacturers offer handle accent color finishes in addition to the standard hardware finish, which is not only a perfect way to draw attention to their styling but also allows a greater degree of personalization.