Choosing a Faucet ... The Hardest Worker Bee in Your Kitchen
Updated: Feb 11
(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)
As the saying goes, “What have you done for me lately?” If you’re talking to your kitchen faucet, the response would be lengthy. Faucets wash hands and dishes, fruits and vegetables, and refresh your pets’ water bowls. They fill big pots for boiling pasta, little pots for brewing tea, pitchers for drinking water, and vases for cutting flowers.
Faucets come to the aid of burned or cut fingers and can make ice cubes when your freezer is on the blink. They dampen sponges to wipe down countertops and keep your sink and appliances clean. On top of this, they also prevent your garbage disposal from overheating. Can you keep the list going?
All faucets have the same basic components. The spout is part that we notice the most. It delivers water to the sink. There is a handle or two that turns your water off and on. Each handle is connected to a valve which controls the rate of water flow and temperature. Because valves are hidden, it is understandable to think that handles and valves are the same thing. The body of the faucet blends hot and cold water headed to the spout. There is an aerator at the top of the spout that slows down the water flow to reduce splashing. There are also supply lines that connect to the house’s water pipes.
Faucets come in a variety of styles and finishes. A single-hole faucet is given its name because it requires only one hole to be cut in your countertop. Hot and cold water mix in a one-piece casting. If the faucet has just one handle, it has just one valve with the ability to produce hot or cold water depending on the direction the handle is pressed. Most single-hole faucets have a single handle but some have two handles (and, therefore, two valves). Single-hole faucets are most suitable for contemporary or transitional kitchens.
Two-hole faucets require two holes in your countertop. There is a pipe, or “bridge” that joins the two separate handles (valves) that blends the hot and cold water before they reach the spout. The look of this faucet is very distinctive and makes a perfect design statement in an old period or farmhouse kitchen.
Three-hole faucets are just like bridge faucets except that the bridge is hidden beneath the countertop. The cold and hot water handles, and the spout require one hole each. This faucet is called “widespread” and usually best suited in traditional or transitional kitchens.
As I mentioned, a faucet’s spout is the feature we notice most. If you have an open kitchen, where the faucet can be seen from different rooms, you may want to select a grander, taller one that has an interesting, architectural shape.
A straight spout is just that. It has a straight-line shape and provides a long, low reach. It’s good for small kitchens. A shepherd’s crook also looks just as it sounds. It has a long reach with a curved end that offers a little extra clearance in height. A gooseneck spout is high and arched and makes filling deep pots a breeze and good for larger kitchens.
There are also pull-out and pull-down faucets with integrated, high-pressured, retractable, sprayers. Pull-out spray heads pull towards you on a hose. This hose is long enough to move around your sink and even fill a pot on your countertop hands-free. A pull-out has a low profile which lessens its splash but can make filling a large pot difficult.
Pull-down spray heads do exactly as they say. This is ergonomically comfortable for the user but the hose is short and more limiting than a pull-out. Pull-down faucets are typically tall and arched which make it easy to fill large pots. Many are also are highly stylized and look great in an open kitchen. But, this high arch may lessen your water pressure, and the spray heads on cheaper models may become loose and dangle.
If you want to showcase faucet but don’t like the limitations of a pull-down sprayer, an articulating faucet may be your answer. While some articulating faucets have a pull-down sprayer, they also have multiple joints which allow you to direct water precisely where it’s needed. Articulating faucets have great style and are fun to use.
If you haven’t shopped for a faucet in a while, you may be surprised to know that they can now come handsfree and operate with a foot pedal or motion sensor. A battery-operated sensor detects your natural electrical charge and opens or closes the valve(s). Some turn on and off with the tap of any body part.
There are also faucets that deliver filtered water on demand, have shields that prevent splatters, and have magnetic docking for easy retraction and keeps spray heads in place. There are even faucets with built-in lighting.
It may come to no surprise that there are also “smart” faucets. They have a gadget equipped with temperature gauges and efficiency sensors to monitor your water usage.
The price of faucets ranges from just under $100 up to $2500 or more. What makes the difference? The answer lies beneath their polished, burnished, brushed, oil-rubbed, or satin surface. Mid-range faucets are typically made of brass. Inexpensive ones are usually zinc alloy (and sometimes, plastic). Quality stainless steel is used for most high-end faucets. These materials are not to be confused with a faucets’ finish even though some have the same name such as brass and stainless steel. These finishes and others: chrome, nickel, bronze and the like, are applied on top of the faucet by means of electroplating, physical vapor deposition, or powder-coating.
How do you eventually choose your faucet? If you are not replacing your countertop and/or sink, you’ll first narrow down your choice by the number of holes you have to fill. Next, examine your sink to determine the best size, reach and clearance your faucet should have. From there, base your choice on style, function and finish. If you’re starting from scratch, you now have a good understanding of faucets and can make a wise choice.
Of course, a faucet’s price is always a factor but given how hard this worker bee performs, it’s a good idea to choose the best one you can comfortably afford.
Photo: Blanco Empressa Semipro