Unlike a toilet or a dishwasher, a faucet has a simple job: Deliver water. It’s such a simple task, it might as well be accomplished by a copper pipe protruding from the wall. The truth, however, is that a faucet is among the items homeowners touch most often in the home, so users notice the most minor of differences.

According to Consumer Reports, you could buy almost any faucet and have a reasonable expectation that it will perform well. “Better valves and tougher finishes are now common on all but the cheapest faucets,” the consumer group writes on its website. “That’s why we based our advice on finish, not brand, and why there are no ratings.”

Still, there are certain markers to look for in a really good faucet. Plumbers will tell you that builders should look for products made with solid brass and use some sort of washerless cartridge (such as a ceramic disk). Levers and handles should move smoothly without sticking, and the metal connections should be smooth and neat. Consumer Reports says the finish is extremely important, too, which is why it recommends faucets with PVD—physical vapor deposition—and chrome finishes. Chrome, the group cautions, is “quite durable, but a heavy-duty scouring pad can scratch it.”

But if most faucets are equal, how do manufacturers differentiate themselves? They stand out with cool design, innovation, and exclusive features that appeal to buyers.

One company that takes design seriously is Kohler, Wis.–based Kohler, which has a strong reputation for design-forward kitchen and bath products. One of its recent introductions, the Karbon lavatory faucet, is an example. “A common question many people have asked Kohler Faucets since the introduction of the Karbon articulating kitchen faucet two years ago is: ‘Will this be available for the bathroom?’”

Launched at the 2010 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, Karbon is the type of classic high-concept product the company offers. Similar to the kitchen version, the bath unit allows users to position the spout wherever they want, and it also features a multi-function spray head.

While Kohler uses design to call attention to its products, other companies focus on technology. Indianapolis-based Delta Faucet Co. made product news with Touch2O, an optional feature that allows homeowners to start and stop the flow of water with a simple tap anywhere on the faucet spout or handle. The technology is now available on the company’s new contemporary Trinsic line.

“Before the introduction of the Trinsic collection, Delta Faucet’s Touch2O Technology was only available on traditional- and transitional-style collections,” says Josh Feldman, the company’s product manager. “The Trinsic collection, with a contemporary style and the convenience and functionality of a high-tech faucet, will round out our offerings.”

For its part, German faucet manufacturer Hansgrohe traffics in high design, too, but it also believes comfort and convenience in the bathroom are strong selling points. “After all, this room plays a decisive part in people having a good start to their day and a relaxing end to it,” the company says. The wash basin plays a central role in that start and finish, so the company has introduced the Metris line to provide more individual choice.

The big idea is that homeowners can choose the size of the usable area under the faucet—known as the ComfortZone—according to their preference. “More room means greater comfort and convenience and a greater sense of well-being in the bathroom,” Hansgrohe says. The faucets in the line offer solutions for different habits and requirements. Metris 200 and 260, for example, provide enough space for customers to fill watering cans and tall vases or even wash their hair.

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