Every home has one. Many have several. You touch it every day. (Some people should touch it more.) It promotes hygiene and hydration. Yet how many know what goes into making and, more important, choosing a bathroom faucet? Curious, I decided to get a better handle on these hardworking household fixtures and find out what we should know about them.
So, I got Noah Taft on the phone. Taft is co-owner of California Faucets, a Huntington Beach, Calif., based company that makes high-end artisan faucets. Together we plumbed the topic.
I started by asking how he got started in this business 20 years ago. He came from Hollywood where he was a writer of “mostly forgettable” sitcoms, he tells me. I see. His partner, a former college buddy, was a schoolteacher and camp director.
“So, naturally, you would get into the faucet business,” I say, searching for some connection.
“My partner’s dad owned a plumbing company that he wanted his son to take over.” The son recruited Taft to join him. “Actually, being from outside the industry was an advantage,” he said. “The industry was full of people who understood plumbing. We thought differently.”
Apparently. Twenty years later, the business has grown from 25 employees to 250 and distributes internationally.
“So, Noah,” I start. “Typically, when I use my bathroom sink I’m either half awake, having just gotten up, or half asleep, because I’m off to bed,” I tell him. “I want a faucet that I don’t have to think about, that looks great and that doesn’t require any maintenance. Is that too much to ask?”
“Not at all,” he assured me. “Once a faucet is installed, we don’t want consumers to give it a second thought, except to appreciate how nice it looks.”
Here’s what else Taft had to say during our frank faucet discussion:
Marni: What should consumers look for when buying a bathroom faucet?
Noah: First, look at your countertop. If you’re replacing an existing faucet or your sink top already has holes cut, get the right set up. One hole means you want a faucet with a single-lever handle. Three holes indicates you need a widespread faucet with two handles. Next, you want to make sure the faucet has a ceramic-disk cartridge. (Some are rubber.) That’s the engine inside that makes the faucet run smoothly. Look at the product specifications or ask the salesperson if the faucet has this feature. Finally, you want a durable finish so the product stays looking good after years of use.
How often do faucets need replacing? What if it just needs a repair?
A well-made faucet properly installed should not give you any problems for 10 years or more. If you develop a drip or leak at the tip of the spout, a good manufacturer should be able to send you a replacement part, often a new aerator or cartridge. If the faucet has an actual crack in it, you will need a new one. Most homeowners replace their faucets because they want an updated look.
Chrome? Oil-rubbed bronze? Satin Nickel? What should we know about picking a finish?
You can never go wrong with a chrome-plated faucet. Chrome is popular because it’s extremely durable. Its shiny, classic look just needs a little wipe down to look its reflective best. Satin or brushed nickel is a beautiful alternative. It looks good and hides fingerprints, making it a sensible finish that is still durable but not quite as durable as chrome. For those who want a bit more novelty, PVD (for physical vapor deposition) finishes offer a greater range of color. PVD involves a bonding process that infuses color into the chrome plating to offer a variety of finishes including graphite and polished brass. Oil-rubbed bronze faucets continue to be popular among those who want a rustic or vintage look. My personal favorite is the living finish. These finishes change with age, acquiring a patina like the faucet in an old bar sink. They’re like living pieces of art. Not everyone loves them, including my wife. She likes clean and shiny.
What’s trending in faucet finishes and should we care?
Finishes come in and out of style, but chrome and satin nickel are timeless. Right now, brass and matte black are the big thing.
How important is it that the finish of your faucet matches other metals in your home?
Though this is subjective, in general you want all the metals in the same room to be the same finish. While some decorators like to carry that consistency throughout a house, there’s no reason the primary bathroom can’t be different from the kitchen.
What should people expect to pay for a bathroom faucet, and what do you get if you spend a little more?
Bathroom faucets range in price from $200 to $1,000 and up. Our faucets start at $750.
Most faucets sold are in the lower price range, and are mass produced using parts made of plastic and lower-grade metals. This helps keep their price down. More expensive faucets are made of solid metal, such as brass, often have better styling, and are hand-crafted. A solid brass faucet does not mean it has a brass finish. It can have any number of finishes but is solid brass inside. These faucets will outlast others and allow for a wider selection of finishes, including custom mixed finishes, where the finishes on the handle and spout may be different.
What do you wish more consumers knew?
How to better evaluate the quality of what they’re buying. Many faucets look the same on the outside, but they’re not. A solid brass faucet can last a lifetime. Ones with plastic components won’t, though both can be legitimate choices depending on your budget, the level of finishes in your home, and how long you plan to stay there.
CAPTION: Get a Grip — Most bathroom faucets are mass-produced and include plastic parts. High-end faucets, like this one from California Faucets, are made of solid brass, and are hand-finished and assembled. They also allow for more customization, such as mixed finishes on the handle and spout. Photo by Jason Melcher for California Faucets.