Replacing Faucets

There's a lot to think about choosing a new faucet. Here's an overview of the many facets of faucets to consider when replacing one.

By Gene And Katie Hamilton

Replacing Faucets

Your kitchen, bathroom or shower faucet is on its last leg when the finish is dull or pitted, and it continues to drip even after you repair it. Replacing it with a new faucet is one of the fastest facelifts for a kitchen or bathroom and an improvement you'll enjoy every time you use it. Spend time looking at all the choices in finishes and styles while considering your purchase. Here are some characteristics to consider when choosing a new faucet.

Finishes
  • The finish determines the look of the faucet and how easy it is to maintain.
  • A chrome finish on a brass or zinc faucet looks good and lasts a long time.
  • Pewter, nickel and satin-nickel finishes have muted tones that hide water spots, scratches and fingerprints.
  • If you like the look of natural brass, choose a lifetime finish that blocks out oxidation
  • Painted or enamel finishes are available in various colors, but because most aren't bonded to the metal, they chip and scratch relatively easily.
Materials

Check out the body of the faucet, which is the spout and controls. In the $160 price range, faucets with solid-brass bodies cost the most and last the longest. Solid-brass requires the least care. If you aren't sure whether a fitting is solid brass, pick it up. It should feel heavier than other units.

In the $80 price range most faucets have die-cast zinc-alloy bodies that provide good durability. Zinc is the metal beneath most brass and chrome-plated fittings. Because zinc corrodes when it contacts water, these faucets must be replaced when the plating wears off.

In the $60 price range, most faucets have a plastic body that provides a good value, but can't be expected to last as long as faucets made with more durable materials.

Valves

Control valves open and close the water flow inside the faucet body. Older designs have compression valves that rely on a rubber washer to control the water flow. Choose a washerless faucet that has a cartridge, ball or ceramic-disk to control water flow. There are three basic types, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

  • Cartridge valves are used in one and two-handle faucets. Because all the working parts are contained in a single unit that lifts out quickly, sleeve-cartridge valves are easiest to repair. Manufacturers have different sleeve designs, so be sure the replacement parts match (usually in the $10 to $20 range). Choose brass over plastic, if possible.
  • Ball valves are exclusive to single-handle faucets that use a slotted-metal or plastic ball and spring-loaded seal to control flow. These systems are very durable and inexpensive to repair, but they have a lot of small parts that makes assembly difficult. Stick with metal ball valves and replacement kits (about $10), which hold up better than plastic ball valves.
  • Ceramic-disk valves, considered the best by many experts, are a two-part revolving disk that turns water on and off depending on the alignment of its ports. Replacing the self-contained disk is fast and easy (about $15 to $20). And because the disk is impervious to sand and sediment, it's a good system if your water has lots of impurities.
Handles and levers

Replacing an old single lever faucet with a new one is the easiest swap because it involves removing the old unit and installing the new one in the same hole. When replacing a double faucet with separate hot and cold water levers, measure the distance between the center of the old holes to choose a new unit with that same measurement.

If it's a kitchen sink with two or three bowls choose a faucet with a 12- to 14-in.-long spout. Those that swivel at least 180 degrees are a good choice so there's flexibility to reach all of the bowls.

For both kitchen and bathroom, choose a single-handle faucet or one with lever handles for older users or anyone who has trouble turning round knobs. Also look for an "ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) Approved" label. If you opt for round knobs, look for ones with rotational limit stops, which take just a quarter turn to open and close the valve inside.