Today's demanding consumers are looking for style and functionality in a faucet.

There was a time when expectations for a faucet were pretty basic: it flows water, it doesn't leak and it looks OK - for a faucet. How times have changed. Today's faucet customers are much more savvy and demanding, looking for style and functionality in a faucet. And they're also looking for contractors who understand all that, too.

Style Trends

The interior style of a home used to be labeled: “traditional,” “contemporary,” “transitional” (somewhere in between the first two choices) or the more distinctive character of “country.”

In terms of popularity, traditional style has always been the most common, though some forms of contemporary design have gained greater acceptance in recent years. Such categories are not so tightly prescribed these days, reflecting the eclectic tastes and experiences of homeowners, influenced by style from around the world.

While good judgment is always in order, the “rules” for decorating a room and the coordination of all its elements are now driven more by viewing the home as an investment and to achieve ease and comfort. Contractors can benefit from understanding the homeowners' mindset and motivation.

Homeowners now recognize that investing in their homes - new or existing - provides a good return for their money, no doubt better than the stock market or other more traditional investment vehicles. Spending on special touches or upgrades in a new home, or devoting dollars to remodeling a room, both improve the value of the home in terms of everyday living and at the time of resale.

As a result, many homeowners are willing to spend for more expensive high-style faucets in the kitchen and bathroom not only as a statement of personal style, but also for the value they bring to the home. Contractors can benefit from these potentially more lucrative installations by helping homeowners to understand this return on investment scenario.

While style is more eclectic today, a coordinated look is still important. Kitchen and bathroom faucets are available in an unprecedented array of colors and textures - stainless, copper, black, and bronze (just to name a few) - to complement and pull together the overall look of the room. Some manufacturers offer these faucets in “suites,” collections of faucets and accessories that take the guesswork out of coordination.

Contractors can alleviate the homeowner's concerns about coordinated style and be more profitable by presenting this “whole-room hardware” approach. Instead of selling and installing just a bathroom sink faucet, the contractor can provide the perfectly matched tub and shower faucets and all the accessories for the room (towel bars, paper holders, robe hooks, etc.), gaining more value from a single installation transaction.

The contractor who is cognizant of how people are spending their time at home also discovers opportunities to satisfy unmet customer needs for ease and comfort. With so much turmoil around the world today, people are turning to the home and hearth for relaxation and security. Entertaining family and friends both indoors and outdoors requires configuration of all the elements - including plumbing fixtures - that support this life “style.”

Recommending faucets designed for convenience is one way to accommodate such consumer expectations - with features like longer, higher spouts for better reach and maneuverability. Placing water sources near hubs of activity makes sense - the family room, maybe even outdoors near a grill. Even suggesting what at one time would have been unorthodox faucet applications - a pullout faucet in the laundry room or a filtration spout in the bathroom - provides convenience and utility.

It's not a bad idea either to offer a selection of universally-designed, ADA-compliant faucets that fit the wide-ranging capabilities of family members and friends - young, old or in-between. It's all about the contractor taking the style features and benefits of a faucet design and creating a fit with the life “style” of the consumer, increasing profits in the process.

Functionality Trends

In addition to style that works, today's faucet consumer has a fundamental expectation for faucets to provide reliable long-term performance.

While product warranties typically provide strong assurance of service over a product's lifetime, no one - not the homeowner and certainly not the contractor - wants to change out a faucet for unexpected leaks.

Fortunately, washers (the main culprit for leaks) are essentially a thing of the past with cartridge or ceramic disc technology in most every faucet today. While the merits of each technology have been debated, both provide washerless performance against leaks and include a minimal number of components - the fewer components, the less to go wrong.

In terms of the outside of the faucet, it's no longer the case that the faucet finish can be guaranteed against tarnishing, corroding or flaking only if it's chrome. Physical vapor deposition (PVD) finishes provide the performance level of chrome but in a wide spectrum of designer colors. In this case, the homeowner's preference for a finish color and texture is supported by a technology which contractors can sell confidently.

With consumer demand for high-end features and performance a proven reality, the obvious question is “What's next?”

“Smart” technology, the underpinnings of products engineered and designed for preprogramming and self-correcting or sensing functions, is now available in residential settings, showing up in everything from security and entertainment systems to kitchen appliances.

For example, Whirlpool offers the Polara™ Refrigerated Range, with the technology to refrigerate food in the oven during the day and then begin cooking at a specified time. With ovens that can refrigerate and cook, it's not such a leap for smart technology to begin showing up around kitchen and bath water sources.

Faucets with hands-free operation, previously found only in commercial applications, can now be found in residential bathrooms and sometimes kitchens - a real benefit for multitasking as well as for kids and the elderly. Remote faucet activation no longer seems so far fetched, nor does an automatically-adjusting water system. Some thermostatic shower valves on the market today do just that, using a “smart” technology that allows the user to dial up the precise water temperature desired just once, without constant adjustments for whatever else is going on in the house. The “smart” contractor is aware of these technologies and how they can fit everyday living needs.

Water is increasingly recognized around the world as a precious commodity. Clean water is a necessity for life, and consumers are looking for assurances that the water they consume in their homes is safe and pure. As such, demand is increasing for highly functional filtration systems. Filtration systems today run the gamut from whole-house and under-the-sink systems to point-of-use faucet devices.

As technology changes so quickly and influences the desired functionality (and style) of faucets, enabling fast, easy upgrades or changeouts for the contractor also becomes a key consideration. Modularity is the term typically assigned to the capability for changing or rearranging significant elements of a system without replacing the whole system.

Despite the certainty of change, one constant for the contractor is the need for quick, easy faucet installation. Many innovations currently available address certain steps in the faucet installation, including the hookup of supply lines. Stainless-steel braided supply lines, now quite commonplace, provide a high-quality alternative to copper tubing but with much more flexibility and ease in the installation process.

While consumer expectations for a faucet are far from basic anymore, contractors today have a wide range of options to offer in terms of both style and functionality. The most successful contractors profit from connecting these faucet options with homeowners' expectations to create solutions for everyday living.