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Never-tarnish brass kitchen faucet

Dear Ms. Builder: I have to replace our tarnished kitchen faucet because my husband is too big to work under the sink, or so he says. Are there any faucets that do not tarnish and do you have any installation tips? - Sarah R.

Dear Sarah: Don't be too hard on your husband. Space under a kitchen sink, especially with a garbage disposer, is very limited. It is easier for a small person with small hands to accomplish the faucet installation.

You might actually do a better job than your husband because you are not as big and strong. The fittings and connections, when installing a faucet, should only be tightened enough to eliminate leaks. Overtightening, with a "Tim Allen attitude", can cause problems.

There is a relatively new finishing technology for brass fixtures that is tarnish-free. The brass body of the fixture is coated with a very thin coating of a brass alloy (looks identical to brass) in a vacuum chamber.

This finish not only never tarnishes, but it is extremely durable. Over time, even the best lacquer-treated brass will tarnish. Even though the tarnish-free brass finish is tough, do not use harsh abrasive cleaners on it. New combination chrome/brass fixtures (called a split finish) are attractive and durable too.

Wear old clothes because this can be a dirty job. Before you start, turn off the hot and cold water shutoff valves under the sink. Next turn on the faucets and wait several minutes to make sure the water is really off.

Old shutoff valves may not always shut the water flow off completely as I have had the misfortune of finding out once. If you start to remove the fittings or cut the tubing and the water is not totally off, your kitchen can be a huge pool by the time you retighten it or get to the main valve.

On 95% of the faucets that I have installed, a basin wrench was definitely needed. This is a strange-looking tool with a swivel head to accommodate the tight space constraints. A standard adjustable wrench will not generally fit. You can buy an inexpensive basin wrench at most hardware stores.

Now read the installation instructions carefully especially if this is your first faucet installation job. Even if you have done it before, each faucet design is slightly different. There are many designs of supply tube fittings, so get familiar with all the parts before crawling under the sink.

Loosen the supply lines and the faucet bolts and remove the old faucet. It should just lift off easily. Clean the top of the sink surface. If your faucet kit included a gasket, place it between the new faucet and the sink.

If there was no gasket, lay a bead of plumber's putty on the sink. Just roll a small bead about the size of your baby finger. This blocks water leakage from the sink surface into the cabinet below.

Once the fixture is tightened in place (with the basin wrench again), all you have to do is install the supply tube from the shutoff valves to the faucet. These tubes are usually made of flexible plastic or easy-to-bend chrome-plated metal.

Supply tubes come in many lengths and have different fitting designs depending on your faucet. The trick to installing these without leaks is to make sure that they are square at the compression fittings. Bend them to insure this. If they meet the mating fittings at an angle, you are asking for a leak.

First just snug down the compression fittings. Remove the aerator so it does not get clogged at first. Turn on the water slowly and check for leaks. If there are leaks, gradually snug down the fittings a little more until they stop. Replace the aerator.

Tools and materials required - screwdriver, basin wrench, two adjustable wrenches, hack saw or utility knife, plumber's putty, paper towels.

Send your questions to Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.