How to Choose the Right Bathroom Faucet
Even considering the seemingly overwhelming choices and options offered in bathroom faucets on the market today, choosing the perfect one for your home doesn’t need to difficult when you keep in mind your basic needs and budget.
You will certainly want a style that suits your decor but you also need to consider the faucet’s configuration, the type of finish it has, the type of use your bathroom typically sees and the configuration of the sink your new bathroom faucet will be attached to.
Decent bath faucets can be purchased for reasonable prices, but there are, of course higher end faucets at the other end of price scale, which can be expensive. If you have an understanding of what your needs are and what is available, you will be able to make an informed decision and be able to balance those needs with your budget. The goal of this article is to help you make that decision.
Bathroom faucets aren’t really all that technical, most of them use technology which has been around for decades. However, there are those with more complex options and advanced features for you to choose from. It helps to know what is out there before you make a final decision.
Bathroom faucets feature a wide variety of styles, however, there are a few basic elements you should know about beyond just aesthetics. When you have an understanding of these elements, most of the mystery of choosing the faucet for your particular needs will be cleared up.
There are roughly 4 main characteristics of lavatory faucets you need to know:
- Construction / Valve Type
The faucet configuration includes how it’s mounted (wall mounted or on the sink), the number of handles it has and how many holes are required to mount it.
Two terms you will usually come across relating to the faucet’s configuration are centerset and widespread. These terms refer to the dimensions, or how far apart, the holes are in the sink that the faucet will be attached to. For faucets with two handles, these terms also can refer to how far apart those handles are in regards to each other and the spout.
A centerset bathroom faucet is manufactured so the distance between the handles is 4 inches. In some cases, centerset faucets combine the handles and spout together on the base of the unit. This configuration works well in small bathrooms with limited space.
However, if your sink has a 3-hole centerset configuration, you aren’t limited to two-handles. This configuration can also be used by a single-handle configuration. When this is the case, the spout and handle are mounted on a deck plate, sometimes called an escutcheon, that is large enough to cover the other two holes in the sink.
A widespread faucet has a handle for each, the hot and cold water, which are independent of the spout and at least 6” apart. This configuration is usually preferred for a smaller bathroom sink and countertop. It also means you’ll need a 3-hole bathroom sink; two holes for both of the handles and one for the spout.
Wall mounted units are just as the name implies, they are attached to the wall behind the sink. They work well for vessel sinks that sit on top of a vanity surface. If you are considering installing a vessel sink and a wall mounted faucet, make sure the spout has the proper height and depth to clear the sink basin, and that the spout is positioned over the drain.
A faucet which combines the spout and the handle is called a single-hole faucet. There are both single-lever and two-lever, one-hole faucets. The handles on the latter configuration are usually attached on either side of the spout. Here again, as the name implies, these faucets only require one plumbing access hole in the sink.
Some bathroom faucets come with a pullout spout feature similar to kitchen faucets. A hose is connected to the spout of the faucet it runs through. This option effectively increases the reach of the faucet.
If you only plan on replacing an existing faucet, without replacing the sink, you will need to select a configuration that’s compatible with the number of holes already in the sink.
Valve Type and Construction
Another important feature to consider, when choosing a new bathroom faucet, is how a faucet is made and the type of valve it uses. A faucet that is made well and has good valve technology can provide you with years of reliable service.
A common material used to make the body and spout of a lot of faucets is brass, while other cheaper models are made from cheap plastic. Brass is normally coated with chrome plating or a PVD finish, to guard against spots and corrosion. 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.
There are 4 kinds of valve technology used in bathroom faucets: compression, ball, cartridge and ceramic disk. The important point to remember 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
These valves 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 out the fastest and need maintenance sooner than other types of valves.
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 coming through the spout. When you move the handle, it changes the position of these slots within the valve, regulating the flow. These valves don’t use washers, as in compression valves, but they have more parts, making them more complex.
Cartridge valves use a hollow sleeve attached to the water supply that moves inside another sleeve. The movement of the faucet handle moves the sleeves relative to each other, aligning or blocking holes that control the supply of water. This type of valve has fewer moving parts than a ball valve, however, they do have seals that can wear out and require replacement.
Ceramic Disc Valves
Ceramic disc valves consist 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.
The finish on a bath faucet is the outer surface treatment that’s applied to all of the exterior parts. The finish gives the faucet it’s color, as well as, providing protection to it’s base material.
There is a wide variety of finishes to choose from, which may surprise you once you start shopping for a bathroom faucet.
You will find the basics like chrome, brass and nickel, as well as, brushed copper, oil rubbed bronze, matte black, satin gold and many more.
Besides the look of the faucet, the finish and how it’s applied are important points to learn more about. One of the most durable finishes for a bathroom faucet is a PVD finish. PVD is short for physical vapor deposition, this is the means in which the coating is applied to the surface of the faucet.
A PVD surface is very durable and scratch resistant. PVD finishes come in several different colors including stainless steel, brass and nickel to name just a few.
Plating is another excellent surface finish treatment. Chrome plating has been a long time standard for faucet plating. Chrome plating is usually applied over faucets made of brass to provide protection to the brass from corrosion and tarnishing.
Product finishes also include some which are referred to as a “living finish” and these are usually not covered under a manufacturer’s 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 (green or brown film caused by oxidation). The moisture in the bathroom, the cleaners you use and even the oils in your hands can affect and change how these finishes look over time, giving them a rustic and aged look.
Style refers to both the aesthetic and functional design of the faucet. Style is what drives most purchasing decisions, which is fine, but should be combined with important factors like configuration and construction.
Factors to consider in regards to style are the shape and reach of the spout. Higher, gooseneck spouts may offer more room for tasks like washing your hair in the sink. Another important style consideration is the kind of handle to choose. Cross and lever style handles each have their own distinct feel.
More functional style considerations are handle configuration (single lever or dual handle), convenience features like pull-out sprayers or hands-free options.
Additional Things to Consider
Choose a Faucet and Sink Together When Possible
Faucets and sinks obviously need to be compatible. If you are only replacing the faucet, the number of holes in your existing sink will dictate the configuration of the faucet you will need. However, if you buy the faucet and sink together you will still need to make sure they are both compatible, but you also have more freedom to choose a sink that will fit the faucet you decide on.
Your Faucet Should Fit Your Everyday Needs
Take into consideration your requirements and how the bathroom will be used before you choose your next faucet. If children will be using the bathroom on a regular basis, your faucet should be easy to use and durable.
Choose the Proper Size
A wide spread faucet offers more convenience and style options, but only if you have the space to accommodate it. A small centerset unit works well in tight areas and will maximize sink and vanity-top space, but cleaning the tight space between the handles and spout can be difficult.
Bathroom Faucet Technology
Style and finish aside, today’s bathroom faucets come with a wide variety of technological options besides just delivering water. Here are some examples of the technology available in bathroom faucets:
A hands-free bath faucet offers a convenient and sanitary way to turn the water on and off. These faucets are controlled by a motion sensor and include a way for you to adjust the water temperature and flow.
Touch-sensitive faucets allow you to turn the water on and off with just a touch. This comes in handy when your hands are messy and you don’t want to get dirt or grime on the faucet handles.
Several manufacturers are offering lead-free faucets, which don’t allow the water to touch any lead and are in compliance with state and federal requirements.
Easy Clean Finishes
Bathroom faucets are required to stand up to a tough environment that includes moisture and caustic cleaning chemicals. Durable finishes like the Delta Faucet’s Brilliance and Moen’s LifeShine make for a long lasting and easy to clean surface that protects against damage and tarnishing.
Some manufacturers like Moen’s Mpact system allows you to quickly and easily install your bathroom faucet.
Just as pull-out faucets are convenient in the kitchen some manufactures offer the same convenience in the bathroom with pull-out bathroom faucet technology.