Everything and the Kitchen Sink

Your kitchen sink, faucet and disposer are meant to take a beating; they experience some of the highest use (and abuse) of any mechanical components in your home. So it's no wonder they're often among the first that need to be replaced.

Doing so can be part of a grand kitchen makeover or a small-scale project — either way, you'll enjoy choosing from a vast array of options that can make your kitchen more beautiful, functional and convenient.

Where to start (and stop)
For most homeowners, gutting and remodeling a kitchen is so costly and inconvenient as to be out of reach. But performing incremental upgrades is an affordable approach that keeps your property from going to seed. Thinking long-term, create a list of projects that are functionally and aesthetically compatible; then schedule them in a logical order. This will enable you to renew your kitchen with less disruption and spread the expense over a manageable time period.

Of course, an essential part of the planning process is evaluating the condition of your kitchen's existing components. If the cabinets and countertop still have life left in them, replacing only the sink, faucet and disposer is an easy choice. If the countertop also needs to be replaced, you'll want to do that when you replace the sink, and that will add to the cost. If the lower cabinets are worn out, you'll have to decide whether to replace the sink and/or countertop immediately (a temporary, short-term fix) or wait until you can upgrade the cabinets as well.

Function comes first
For this project, we chose to replace only the sink, faucet and disposer. Although the options initially seemed limitless, they quickly narrowed as we considered function, aesthetics and cost.

If you're installing a sink in an existing countertop, it should closely match the size of the old unit, and it should mount in a similar fashion. For example, you probably can't replace a rim-mount sink with an under-mount sink – and certainly not if it's paired with a laminate countertop. And you can't replace your old sink with a smaller one, although you might be able to enlarge the existing opening to accommodate a larger unit.

If you're installing the sink yourself, make sure that it can be mounted without any special tools or skills. If you opt for stainless steel, choose an 18-gauge or thicker model with a sound-insulated bottom. Also consider the shape and depth of the sink bowls to accommodate your needs.

When selecting a faucet, choose one that fits the sink's hole pattern or that includes an escutcheon plate to cover any unused holes. Be sure to consider the height of the faucet. If you're filling large pots or just want better access, look for a high-arc design. A one-handle system is typically more convenient to operate and makes it easier to control water temperature. Some faucets incorporate a pull-out sprayer in the spout rather than having a separate unit.

Be sure that the faucet's valve has a good reputation so you won't have to constantly replace parts. (Availability of parts is another important consideration.) In some cases, manufacturers use the same or a similar valve for all of their faucets regardless of price. That typically means that as the price increases, you're paying more for upgraded features and appearance — the quality of the valve is standard.

When it comes to disposers, you get what you pay for. Inexpensive units tend to be wimpy, noisy and short-lived and may not grind waste finely enough to easily pass through pipes. Look for a powerful motor, good soundproofing and efficient grinders as you make your selection.

Appearance and price
Because disposers are hidden in the sink cabinet, aesthetics don't apply to them, but appearance is an important consideration for sinks and faucets. A good rule of thumb is to opt for mid-price fixtures (roughly $200 to $400) that deliver respectable quality and looks. These may not be the latest trendy designs, but they're usually attractive and durable, and they often represent the best value for an incremental upgrade.

Chrome-plated faucets and stainless steel sinks offer the most bang for the buck, but you could also choose a "designer" finish such as brushed stainless or antique bronze that might complement your existing décor and add a little extra eye appeal. To keep up appearances, several manufacturers now offer finishes that resist staining and are easier to clean, which should help extend the life and the beauty of your upgrade.

How to Replace a Sink and Faucet

Before removing the old sink, first shut off the water and disconnect the plumbing. Pry off the old sink, being careful not to lift or damage the laminate.

With a cast-iron sink, use wood scraps to prop it above the counter so you can get your hands under the edge. This type of sink may require two people to lift.

Test-fit the new sink and adjust the opening as needed. If the opening is a little small, you may be able to enlarge it with a jigsaw or router, but you'll need to make the cuts precisely.

Install the sink basket with plumber's putty and then the quick-connect disposer flange. Tighten the screws evenly, being careful not to over-tighten them.

Install the faucet and soap dispenser before installing the sink in its opening. The escutcheon that came with this faucet covers the unused holes.

A long nut driver will make it easier to install the sink's retaining clips. You may also need to squeeze the clip channels on the sink to prevent the clips from popping out.

Before installing the disposer, be sure to assemble the drain, knock out the water-inlet plug and wire the electrical cord. Refer to the instructions for your specific situation. Prevent water from seeping under the sink by applying a bead of caulk under the sink's lip before you install it. Finally, reconnect the plumbing.