Where do you start? Of the almost infinite variety of sinks out there, how do you choose a new sink? That will depend on
The following describes the various sink types, advantages, and disadvantages.
My personal preference is stainless steel for a number of reasons. It lends itself to almost any house built in the last 80 years and can have either a vintage or high-tech, modern look. The cost is flexible. You can buy a tiny sink at Ikea for less than $100 or go for broke on a high-end 18-gauge single bowl for $1000+.
The disadvantages in a stainless steel sink are often considered to be the flimsiness of the metal and susceptibility to dents and scratches. Some people dislike it because it can be noisy.
The key to a good stainless steel sink is in the gauge of the metal. The lower the gauge, the thicker the metal. A Type 304 (18/8 chrome-nickel) stainless sink is crafted of nickel-bearing steel, which makes it less susceptible to corrosion. As kitchen sinks go, it's as good as it gets.
Noise is minimized by some type of insulated coating and generally the better the sink the more likely it is to be coated. Do your research and find out which manufacturers use an undercoating and how.
Stainless can be fabricated in almost any size or shape. Elkay actually has a bar sink shaped like a martini glass. Expect to pay for the privilege however.
Stainless is easy to clean with light scrubbing, though you want to be careful. You can scratch it or mess up the finish by getting carried away. Clean with baking soda and a blue scrubby (3M), rinse with warm water and dry off with a towel when trying to impress guests.
Expect a high-quality stainless steel sink to last 30 years or more.
Designer kitchens often feature spiffy sinks of other metals including copper, nickel, brass, and bronze. Nothing says status like a hammered copper sink. It might be overkill in a tiny house kitchen, or it could be really cool. You get to decide.
Metal sinks are often beautiful and unique but also expensive. Often you'll see these high-end sinks with specialty finishes like hammering. Copper is particularly handsome and acquires a dark rich patina over time. Being naturally beautiful, it requires virtually no maintenance. Waxing it periodically helps maintain luster and allows water to run off easily. Just make sure it's 100% copper and welded instead of soldered at its joints.
Sinks of porcelain over cast iron have been with us for more than a hundred years. They are incredibly durable and widely available. You can get almost any configuration in a range of colors at almost every price point. You can expect them to last for at least 30 years. They can often be resurfaced as long as the cast iron is in good shape, so finding an old one and refurbishing it is a viable option. Use a sink mat or dish pan because that porcelain is hard and it's easy to break dinner and glassware when doing dishes. (Hint: Wash your crystal wine glasses the next day when you are sober.)
We humans are very clever at creating new and interesting materials like Corian® and Swanstone®; quartz-, slate-, or granite-acrylic composites; and cast acrylic.
Fireclay is vitreous china enhanced with extra quartz and feldspar. That makes it heavy, dense, and therefore much more durable than regular clay china sinks. Often on the higher end of the price spectrum, fireclay repels stains, is über-easy to clean and scratch resistant. You can expect it to last at least 25–30 years. This is the material of choice for the majority of farmhouse style sinks. Sometimes you can find them with backsplashes for wall-mounted faucets and built-in drainboards. By contrast, French farmhouse sinks are enameled. Fireclay is relatively expensive; budget accordingly if this is the stuff of dreams in your ideal kitchen.
If you live in the northeastern United States, you might find an old soapstone sink. However, you might also be struck by a meteor so if this is your goal, it's probably best to look into having one fabricated. They are heavy, dense, and impervious to stains ... in the past they were used in laboratories for that reason. They are beautiful and priced accordingly. A soapstone sink is the perfect 400-year sink ... definitely a legacy worth passing on to your descendents.
Small spaces make economy, simplicity, and functionality primary goals, but knowing how various sinks are installed makes planning, design, and purchase a little easier. There are several basic sink mounting techniques:
Top mount—Easily installed with a self-rim, top mounting is something a beginning do-it-yourselfer can accomplish in a few hours if you have all the pieces. Depending on the type of rim, periodic caulking is usually necessary. What it offers in installation ease thoug, it takes back in a little extra clean up time, because you have to wipe around the rim instead of into the sink. Oh well.
Under mount—I like undermount sinks because they are so easy to deal with. Wipe down the counters and push the crumbs and stuff straight into the sink. It has its limitations though. Installation is more problematic; professional installation can pay for itself in frustration saved. And not every counter type lends itself to an undermounted sink. Generally a solid surface or stone counter is necessary to support it. You can undermount to a reinforced tiled counter and finish the rim with quarter round tile for a vintage 1920s-30s look. An undermounted sink is NOT compatible with a laminate counter however.
Apron-front—The apron front sink is the only sink that requires a specific cabinet type to accommodate the exposed front. They are available in tile-in or under-mount styles. Do not attempt to build the cabinet until you have the sink!
Tile-in—A sink mounted this way has a flange that permits tile to be installed right up to the edge of the sink. It combines the advantages of a flush mount and undermount style sink because it makes it possible to clean counter debris straight into the sink.
Flush mount—This includes the integral sink andcounter combination where the sink and counter are joined. In this case, installation is simple a case dropping the sink in,then hooking up the water and waste lines. Metal framed sinks of the1950s were often effectively flush-mounted with a metal frame thatattached directly to the counter top.
Wall mount—Like the sinks of yore, wall mounted sinks are attached to the wall by some type of integrated bracket. A backsplash is integrated into wall-mounted sinks which may require a wall-mounted faucet. These are great for vintage kitchens, but also have nice round corners for easy cleaning.
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