The kitchen sink is the centre of activity in the busiest room of the house; the place where food is prepared, the washing up is done, home economy is discussed and domestic arguments are settled (most of the time).
With the advent of popular cooking shows, the kitchen and its sink are more popular than they've ever been. If you're serious about working in the kitchen, it's crucial that your sinks, taps and drainboards are properly suited to the work you want to do with them.
What will you use the sink for?
This is the obvious question to start with when you're choosing a sink - but to answer it properly, you need to understand how many options you really have. Once upon a time the sink was simply a bowl for washing up supplied by a cold water tap and kettle, and coupled to the sewer for drainage.
Today, however, any given sink in any given kitchen may have single lever mixing taps, pull-out taps, built-in garbage disposal units, wastes with in-built strainers, instantaneous boiling water on tap, under-sink water purifiers, filters and/or soap dispensers. All this, before you've even given a thought to the style you might like. At the barest minimum, you'll need decent water-efficient mixer taps. How you want to use the kitchen will determine what else you need.
- A sink with a drain in the corner of the basin (rather than in the middle) will give you more cupboard space under the sink.
What sort of kitchen sink should I get?
Because it's so easy to clean, affordable and durable, in most cases the logical choice for sink material is stainless steel - but that doesn't mean other options are any less viable. To some extent, the choice you make here will be guided by what 'style' of kitchen you're hoping to build. If you're building a more traditional style kitchen, for example, it may be fitting to install a cast iron or porcelain sink, along with some tapware to complement it. Most materials are available in many different shapes, sizes and configurations.
It's a good idea to plan your configuration before you decide on what sort of bench you're after. Some benches (like Corian) will even allow you to have your sink directly moulded into the benchtop.
Do I need drain boards? On both sides?
Australians are similar to Europeans in their love for drain boards attached to the sink - and if you're ever planning on washing things that mightn't fit in the dishwasher, drain boards are a very sensible way to keep the mess down. If you have the space, you may wish to consider installing drainboards on both sides of the sink.
If you're considering an under-mount sink, consider whether or not you'll be able to integrate some drainage channels into the benchtop on either side of the sink. If this isn't an option and you're set on a nice, simple kitchen sink without drainboards, you may also wish to consider one that allows you to put a draining rack attachment over the top of the sink. Very handy!
If you do want drainboards, keep in mind how they'll be used - most of us subconsciously expect to wash from left-to-right (i.e. dirty dishes on the left, clean on the right), and when confronted with a sink that works the other way people are likely to have a brain malfunction. Thankfully, most of the sinks produced in Australia are made with this in mind. Remember when you're planning that you'll also need some bench space on one side of the sink to stack up dirty dishes.
How big should the basins be - and how many do I need?
In short, your basins need to be large enough to immerse the biggest pot you have. Sinks typically come in single bowl, double bowl, or single with a smaller bowl for rinsing (called an 'end bowl').
Unless you're guided very heavily by aesthetics, space is normally the biggest issue when you're choosing how many bowls you'll need and how big they are. A single bowl may be enough if you're short on space, have a small family or you're not particularly social, but generous sizes and a second bowl are very sensible choices otherwise.
Keep in mind that L-shaped configurations are also available for corner installations, as are simple, single round bowls that can be installed for cooking, as a supplement to your main kitchen sink. Sinks that allow attachments may also give you the option of attaching a separate, smaller basin inside the sink, converting part of the sink to a drying rack or even covering the sink altogether when it's not needed.
- If you're a bit on the short side, you may want to consider a shallower sink to save you having to climb the cabinets in order to reach the dishes. Likewise, taller people might want to consider slightly higher benches in general.
What else do I need to think about when looking at sinks?
Think about how well the sink you're looking at is soundproofed. Soundproofing is important because as well as keeping the sound down, insulation may also protect against condensation on the underside of the bowls, and helps to maintain the temperature of the water. Different sink materials will offer different levels of natural soundproofing and insulation.
How to choose kitchen taps
Taps are bought separately from sinks. When you're choosing taps, the first thing you need to do is find some that match your sink. Generic sinks and taps are normally perfectly compatible, but as you move up in price and design, you'll find that compatibility changes. Some sinks and taps just won't match at all, and some are designed with an unusual diameter, exclusively to fit a single style of sink.
Beyond basic compatibility, you also need to consider the configuration of the tap in relation to the sink. If you have a single lever mixer, will it be installed in the centre, the right or the left? Will you have a tap in the centre and a soap dispenser on the right or left? Or if you're planning on installing a pull out tap, where 's the best spot to put it? Will you need a single tap, double tap or a tap for each sink for any particular reason? Are you choosing a style of tap that needs some clearance behind it - and have you accounted for that? This problem in particular often only becomes apparent when you're ready to install everything...