If you've ever seen a faucet that doesn't appear to have any connection between the spout and the handles, you were looking at a widespread faucet. The connections are under the sink where you can't see them, and the missing base plate allows more of the countertop to show. A widespread faucet is a good choice if the counter is made of slate, marble or some other attractive material.
Widespread faucets always have two handles, and you mount them separately from the spout. The water supply lines connect to the handles, which contain the valve mechanisms, and flexible hoses or rigid pipes connect the handles to the spout. You make all these connections under the sink, and the only parts of the faucet visible from above are the spout and the two handles. They can be flush-mounted to the sink or countertop, or mounted on individual metal bases. Widespread faucets either come with standard spacing between the handles or are adjustable so you can mount them in custom installations.
Virtually every faucet manufacturer has a line of widespread faucets, and styles range from ornate to minimalistic. Spouts can be rectangular or classic, squat or raised. The valve mechanisms are most often cartridges or ceramic disks so that the handles move through 90 degrees instead of 360, as is usual with a compression valve. The standard spacing for widespread faucets is 8 inches on center, or 16 inches between the handles. Some have flexible hoses so you can adjust the spacing if you need to.
Installing a widespread faucet is no more complicated than installing a conventional one. The sink or counter must have three holes. The spout fits through the center one and usually has a threaded pipe that you secure to the bottom of the sink with a nut. The handles go in the holes on either side of the spout and connect to the sink in the same way. The water supply tubes connect to the handles, and, depending on the model, a pair of pipes or hoses connects the handles to the spout. You usually screw these hoses to the connectors, but sometimes they simply snap on.
Widespread faucets look good in almost any installation, and there are just few precautions against using one in your particular project. You need access to the area just under the sink and next to the wall to make the connections, and there has to be enough room for the pipes or hoses that connect the handles to the spout. In some cases, a widespread faucet is preferable to a conventional one with a base plate. A base plate doesn't always fit well on a contoured sink, but the components of a widespread faucet have less surface area and usually will fit.
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