July 21, 2016
After the turn of the century and prior to 1950 most sinks were stand alone enameled cast iron and often included a drain board like the sink above. Between 1950 and 1980 nearly all kitchen sinks became top mounted. This is because most countertops during that period were made using plywood or particleboard and both are easily damaged by water. Laminates like Formica were glued to particle board and tile and stainless steel tops were glued to plywood. Top mounted or “drop-in” sinks were caulked in place to prevent water damage to the wood product below the countertop surface. Top mounted sinks during this period were usually stainless steel but could also be cast iron and steel enameled sinks. See the two drop-in sink examples below:
The invention of Dupont Corian in 1967 began the popularity of solid surface countertops which made far more sink types and surfaces possible. Today there are more than a dozen common solid surface countertop materials and a similar number of choices for your kitchen sink.
The most common types of kitchen sinks are drop-in, undermount, and farm sinks. Sinks can be single bowls, true double bowls and a combination of a large and a small bowl. Common materials for sinks include: Stainless steel, copper, cast iron, fireclay, soapstone, composite granite and quartz, Swanstone, and acrylics like Corian. There are some advantages and disadvantages to these different sinks that should be considered when you embark on a kitchen renovation or build a new home.
Single Bowl, Double Bowl, or Bowl and a Half Sink?
Most kitchen designers agree that a true double bowl sink is the least practical of the three choices. Both double bowl sink bowls are smaller than a standard small single sink so while you do have two bowls neither will be comfortable using to clean large pots or trays. If you need two sinks the sensible choice is to make sure at least one bowl is 21 1/4″ wide. The smaller of the two sinks is usually reserved for the garbage disposal so that it is available if you have dishes in your primary bowl. Large single bowl sinks are more popular today than multi bowl sinks primarily because nearly everyone in the US has a dishwasher. Contrary to what many people believe modern dishwashers use far less water than washing dishes by hand and also use very little electricity especially if you don’t use the drying cycle. So having an extra large sink to scrub the large pots and pans that your dishwasher can’t get clean makes sense.
Drop-In, Under Mount, Integrated, or Farm Style Sink?
Drop in sinks only make sense if you have a laminate or tile countertop. Since Main Line Kitchen Design hasn’t had a customer select either type top in 5 years we will not go into drop in sinks in detail. Solid surface countertops such as stone, man made stone, acrylic, or concrete all use either an under mount sink, and integrated sink or a farm sink. These type sinks have no lip and so you can wipe spills right into your sink. Under mount sinks can be enameled, acrylic or metal. The most common under mount sink by far is a stainless steel under mount. These sinks will wear the best and require no maintenance. If you are choosing a stainless under mount sink a 16 gauge sink is the best choice. 16 gauge is thicker than the more common 18 gauge. Never use any gauge higher than 18.
For color and style reasons enameled and acrylic under mount sinks can be attractive. With acrylic sinks like Corian be careful not to pour boiling water into a sink with ice in it. The temperature change can crack you sink. With enameled sinks avoid cast iron pans as they can scratch and chip your sink.
Integrated sinks are acrylic sinks built right into an acrylic top, so there are no seams to collect grime. And just like with the sink the top itself will have no visible seams although the sinks need to be a solid color while the tops can be any pattern. Corian is the most popular acrylic but there are a countless number of other brands and the difference between acrylics is simply the colors available. Be careful using wavy patterns like Corian’s Camel as this will make seams quite noticeable when the pattern changes turning a corner and so defeats one of the advantages of the acrylics.
Be careful using composite sinks like Blanco’s “Granite” sinks. These sinks have failed in the past and have no warranty that they won’t turn grey as many did 1o years ago. If you want a composite type sink, a Quartz sink is the better choice as the resin used to fabricate the sink is less likely to have issues. The advantage of these type sinks are their unique shapes.
Farm also called apron sinks have become very popular and can be quite beautiful. There are some disadvantages to farm sinks though that need to be considered. One common issue is that water tends to drip down the front of an apron sink and can ruin the finish on the top of the cabinet doors below the apron. Painted cabinet finishes are especially susceptible to water damage so wipe up drips immediately.
Farm sinks are difficult for some contractors to install. All farm sinks are custom installed on site and require your contractor to build a cradle inside the sink cabinet to support the sink, and to cut the sink cabinet to size. In some less expensive cabinet lines the sink cabinet needs to be built from parts. Make sure your contractor is aware of his responsibilities and is capable of installing a farm sink.
Enameled apron sinks can be cast iron or fire clay sinks. Enameled cast iron sinks allow the contractor’s cuts to be hidden by the sinks apron so their installation is easier. Fire clay farm sinks must be perfectly cut “scribed” into the sink cabinet. Fire clay although very durable can crack in an accident and unlike a chip in an enameled cast iron farm sink, a crack in a fire clay sink can not be repaired. Replacing the sink can cost several thousand dollars because the sink is built under the countertop. Because of this risk never use cast iron pans or bring heavy tools close to a fire clay farm sink.
Soapstone farm sinks and stainless steel farm sinks are the most durable. Be aware that soapstone custom farm sinks made from slabs will not drain like a normal sloped sink so you might want a one piece soapstone sink carved from a block. Bucks County Soapstone was the first fabricator to carry these sinks in our area but they are now available at other countertop locations.
Shopping for a sink can be more involved than most customers are prepared for. Ask your kitchen designer about the right sink choice for your kitchen.
Have a wonderful summer and of course….