Illegal & Black Market Faucets Updated: 04/23/18
Illegal & Black Market Faucets in Brief
Index to Illegal & Black Market Faucet Brand Reviews
Not every faucet sold by general merchandising sites such as Amazon, Sears, Overstock, and Wayfair is an illegal, contraband faucet. A great many are. But, many are not.
Master Plumber & Steamfitter
Many of these sites sell the major brands: all of which are completely legal to sell and install in the U.S. and Canada. The problem is not with the established brands but with the large number of off-brand, typically Chinese, imports sold on these sites by third-party sellers. The faucets are often attractive because they are inexpensive and stylish. But, while some are legal, and safe, most are not, and finding out which is legal and which is not legal is not all that simple.
Sellers of black market faucets do not identify their products as contraband. In fact, many claim their faucets are completely lawful, going so far, in our experience, as to produce altered and forged documentation when asked to prove the legitimacy of their products.
So, how to you avoid these products, and more importantly, why should you bother? Should you care whether a faucet complies with the complex web of U.S. or Canadian laws and regulations? Isn't this just more government interference in our already over-regulated lives?
Actually, it isn't. Which is not to say that some government regulations are unnecessary and a confounded nuisance. Faucet regulations, however, are not among them.
Faucets can be dangerous. They can introduce all manner of toxic materials into your household drinking and cooking water: lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium, all undetectable and all very hazardous even in small amounts. These and others, equally harmful, can find a happy home in your faucet then migrate from the faucet into your drinking water.Note 1
No one, not even the most experienced plumber, can tell whether a faucet contains dangerous materials just by looking at a pretty picture on Amazon or Wayfair. Faucets containing hazardous amounts of lead, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium or mercury look just like faucets that do not. The only way to ensure that a faucet is not dangerous is to extensively test the faucet in a laboratory.
Which is why testing is required by law and why faucets that have not been tested and certified free of toxins and other hazards are banned by law in every State and Province in North America.
The Rise of the Contraband Faucet
Unfortunately there are a growing number of untested, contraband faucets being sold in the U.S. and Canada. By far the greatest number are from are from China but at least some are made in Taiwan, India, Malaysia, Italy and Israel.
They are a fairly recent problem. In 1999 there were none. The three companies selling most of the Asian faucets in the U.S. and Canada imported (and still import) fully tested, lawful, good quality faucets from Taiwan. Now, however, there are over 300 different brands, and growing almost daily. Most of these are illegal. So many new brands are popping up each year that our reviewers can barely keep up with just those that have made significant inroads into the North American marketplace.Note 2
Most of the reason for the explosive growth of no-name imported faucets is relative ease with which a prospective faucet mogul can get started. The cost of launching a business to import Asian, especially Chinese, faucets is very low. No substantial investment is needed in factories or machinery. No expensive brick and mortar stores are required. All that is needed is a source of some inexpensive faucets, a place to store the faucets until they are sold, and an online venue at which to sell them.
Finding Asian faucets to buy is incredibly easy. Websites like Alibaba.com, China.cn and TaiwanTrade.com exist for the sole purpose of connecting Asian manufacturers and distributors with overseas buyers.Note 3 Alibaba alone lists over 380,000 sources of Asian faucets, most small distributors but some are giant Chinese factories.
The complexities of international buying and selling were once a substantial barrier to to a beginning importer. No longer. In the past large minimum order requirements served to deter start-up buyers. In 2004, for example, a typical minimum order was 10,000 units. By 2008, thanks in no small part to Chinese distributors that specialize in small orders, minimum orders of 1,000 faucets became common. Now minimums of just ten faucets (and sometimes just one faucet) are available from any number of Asian faucet suppliers (although 100 units is more typical).Note 4 Some suppliers will even allow mix and match, so a minimum order of 100 faucets can be made up of ten different models, 10 units each, which is a good starting inventory for an aspiring faucet entrepreneur.
Shipping faucets from overseas is not particularly burdensome, having been made largely painless by brokers and freight forwarders that handle all of the many fussy details of shipping, customs clearance and delivery to your front door for a modest fee. U.S. Customs & Border Protection helps out by providing a handy online list of licensed brokers organized by port of entry.
The heavily subsidized China Post supports small orders by providing two- or three-week delivery through the mails for a fraction of normal postage rates. Chinese merchants can ship packages thousands of miles to the U.S. and Canada for a rate that is often lower than the cost to U.S. and Canadian merchants of shipping across town.
The subsidies are provided not by just the Chinese government but also the U.S. Postal Service and Poste Canada, both of which substantially discount the postage on packages from China. The rates are so low that a 1 lb. packagel shipped from China to New York City costs less than $3.66 compared to $6.00 from Nebraska to New York. Sending the same one pound package back to China from New York would cost around $50.00.Note 5
International payments used to require familiarity with the arcane and mysterious world of bank letters of credit, escrowed funds and international money orders. International payments today are much, much simpler. Services such as PayPal and AliPay have made secure, reliable international payments a one click process; or just use your credit card. Major U.S. credit cards, denominated in dollars, are the coin of the realm worldwide.
Selling Contraband Faucets in the U.S. and Canada
Once a novice retailer has ensured a supply of faucets, setting up to sell them to U.S. and Canadian customers is not overly involved. For product warehousing a local self-storage facility will do nicely, or even one corner of the garage. Faucets are durable and don't require any special storage conditions. If they're dry, they're happy.
But, if having to run out to your self-storage box every day to ship products would be a bummer to your laid-back surfer lifestyle; you really don't want to be bothered building up a brand name; and maintaining a website is just not your bag, you can still sell faucets as a third-party seller on the many Internet sites that host small retail vendors — in fact, you can sell on all of them at the same time if you want.
US-Based Hosting Websites
U.S. companies like Amazon, >Wayfair, Sears and Walmart along with auction sites such as eBay, take most of the work and much of the worry out of being a neophyte at online retailing. They provide fully functioning international distribution systems that, for a small fee, relieve the aspiring faucet tycoon of the burden of handling advertising, promotion, order-taking, customer service, warehousing, and inventory control.
Amazon in particular is so efficient that a faucet can be advertised, displayed, sold, packaged, shipped, tracked and delivered for a cost that is only a little more than a small company would typically pay for shipping alone. The hosted seller does not need a website, a warehouse, bookkeeping, a sales staff, customer service, or even a telephone number — saving most of its start-up and many of its operating costs.
Being listed on Amazon, Sears or Wayfair is also an instant boost to brand respectability. Rather than slowly building up a brand's reputation through advertising and word-of-mouth over a period of years if not decades, a listing on a major hosting site alongside brings with it instant brand credibility not available from a stand-alone website, and a giant boost in buyer confidence in the reliability of the third-party seller.
It is also a lot easier to get found. Rather than painstakingly tweaking a website to work up to and keep a coveted front-page placement in Google and Yahoo searches, the hosting site takes care of that for you. A listing on Amazon or Overstock helps ensure that potential customers can easily find your faucets among the thousands for sale on the world wide web.
Of course, hosting sites do not do all these nice things for free. For them it's a lucrative business. Amazon's third-party "marketplace" sellers produce about half of Amazon's sales, contributing significantly to the company's sustained growth that reached $107 million in 2015, up 20% over the prior year. The New York Times Note 7 estimates that more than 50% of Amazon's revenues are derived from selling services rather than selling products. A major part of the services it provides are to hosted marketplace sellers.
China-Based Hosting Websites
An option not available to the North American-based faucet start-ups is selling over a China-based hosting website. Chinese hosting sites host only Chinese sellers.
These sites have scratched out a foothold in North America, promoting their "wholesale" and "factory direct" prices. They have actually been operating for several years but have been little noticed until very recently and still do not have much recognition, trust or market penetration on this side of the mare Pacifica. But, some of these are monster enterprises, and thoroughly entrenched in much of the rest of the world.
LightInTheBox, for example, is aimed at buyers in Europe and North America where prices and profit margins are much higher than on its home turf in China. It makes most of its money in Europe, where it is a minor powerhouse. Its penetration in North America remains shallow, producing only 19% of the company's 2013 revenues but it is working to improve its North American performance, including a recently established a fulfillment center in the U.S. for faster delivery to North American customers.Note 8
LightInTheBox, however, is not even a close second to the most successful Chinese hosting e-tailer, AliExpress, an Amazon-like e-tail shopping mall selling Chinese products to consumers outside China.
AliExpress together with its two sibling China-only e-tail sites. Tobao (consumer-to-consumer, like eBay) and Tmall (business-to-consumer, like Wayfair), has already made its parent company, Alibaba Group, one of the largest internet retailers in the world, and its founder, Jack Ma, one of the world's wealthiest citizens. According to the Wall St. JournalNote 9, Alibaba's China-only e-tail sites handle 80% of China's online shopping.
DHGate was started in 2004 by Diane Wang, the current CEO, as a business-to-business portal connecting small and medium-size Chinese manufacturers to overseas business buyers. It very quickly became a source for consumer purchases by adding retail-friendly features such as easy international credit card payments, prices stated in U.S. dollars and U.S.-based product distribution. By 2015 it listed nearly 40 million products from 1.2 million Chinese suppliers.
Without the retail platforms provided by online retailers such as Amazon, eBay and Wayfair, the black market in illegal faucets would not exist at the enormous scale it has reached over the past five years. By providing easy access to third-party sellers without taking steps to ensure that the products being sold are legal for sale in the U.S., these hosting website are largely responsible for creating the black market problem.
eBay & Amazon
The common online selling models used in e-commerce today were largely developed by eBay and Amazon at the dawn of the Internet age. The hosted third-party seller was the brainchild of eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar, who envisioned creating an online platform through which a person with an item to sell could easily connect with buyers interested in the product.
He modeled eBay, founded in 1995, on the venerable flea market in which seller and buyer negotiated a sale face to face. In Omidyar's Internet version, face to face contact was replaced by an auction in which the seller offered a product and buyers bid on it during an set bidding period, with the highest bid winning. The seller paid a fee for hosting, advertising and managing the
The model attracted its original target: individual sellers offering mostly used items and collectibles. But, more important to eBay's success, it also attracted corporate sellers looking for novel ways to sell consumer products over the then very new World Wide Web. The auction model did not really fit the needs of these commercial sellers, so eBay introduced eBay "stores" and the "Buy it Now" option in 2000. Stores allowed commercial sellers to develop a brand identity on eBay, reinforced with buyer ratings. Buy-it-now permitted sellers to bypass the often slow-moving auction process to speed up the pace of sales and increase profits by charging higher, buy-it-now prices.
Amazon pioneered the modified drop-ship model that allowed the company to appear to have a vast inventory of products for sale, while actually stocking very few. In the eBay model, the host's involvement ended at the completion of the sale. The seller was, and still is, responsible for delivery after the sale and handling returns, exchanges and warranty issues. Amazon added fulfillment and after sale customer service.
Founded in 1995 by Jeff Bezos as an Internet bookseller, Amazon initially had fewer than 2,000 titles in inventory, filling most orders through agreements with third-party wholesalers and publishers to deliver books to Amazon only as they were purchased by Amazon customers. Amazon's receiving warehouse then shipped the products to the customers in Amazon packaging, leaving the customer with the impression that Amazon stocked a huge inventory.
After its initial public offering in 1997, Amazon used newly raised capital to expand rapidly into selling a vast array of consumer products, maintaining its deliver-when-sold model through fulfillment contracts with suppliers such as Target, Toys-r-us, Circuit City and Borders. Amazon sold the items but these contractors shipped them.
The company did not begin to host third-party sellers until 2000 when it launched Amazon Marketplace, in part to compete head-to-head with rival eBay. The idea of inviting retailers to sell competing products on Amazon was a risky concept at the time. No one had any idea how much impact the program would have on Amazon's direct sales.
It did affect direct sales but its impact was vastly outweighed by the enormous expansion of products offered for sale on the platform and the increased income derived from providing services to hosted sellers.
Amazon improved on eBay's hosted-seller model by adding fulfillment services made possible by the company's extensive network of warehouses and nationwide distribution, assets that eBay does not have. For a modest fee, Amazon takes care of warehousing, inventory control, picking, packaging, handling, shipping and returns, making it possible for even very small retailers to sell efficiently and at a very low cost on the Amazon platform.
Sears & Walmart
Sears pushed aggressively into Internet selling soon after its merger with K-Mart in 2004. It began hosting third party vendors in 2008, following the lead of rival Wal-Mart, which had begun hosting third-party sellers the prior year. Sears online sales have seen an annual growth of 13% (from $3.1 billion in 2010 to $5.7 billion in 2015), one of the few bright spots for an otherwise flagging retail brand that lost $7 billion between 2011 and 2015, surviving only by selling off selected assets.
Sears and Wal-Mart, both already operating a national warehousing and distribution system to serve brick and mortar stores, adopted the Amazon model almost unchanged, adding only an option of free in-store pickup, something not available to Amazon, which, until very recently, had no physical stores. Wal-Mart's online sales have seen steady growth. In 2015, sales increased 12% over the prior year but saw a slight decrease during the critical holiday quarter.
One important difference among the websites is that while Amazon and Sears host dozens of third-party sellers offering illegal faucets to U.S. and Canadian customers, Walmart, which is much more careful to ensure that the faucets sold through its site comply with all laws and regulations, hosts very few. Just under 2% of the third-party off-brand faucets offered on Walmart in May and June of 2016 were found to be illegal compared to 70.1% for Amazon and 61% for Sears online.
Like the early Amazon book store, Wayfair and Overstock appear to a potential customer as though they stock millions of items in its inventory. In actual fact, they stock very few of the items they sell through the Wayfair and Overstock platforms.
Wayfair rarely handles the merchandise sold through its website. Its over 7,000 suppliers tend to be substantial businesses with their own inventory management and warehousing facilities. Founded in 2002 as CSN Stores to sell storage furniture, by 2011, the company operated over 200 online niche websites, each selling a specific type of furnishing or household product such as cookware.com, strollers.com and luggage.com. The individual outlets other than AllModern and Josh & Main were consolidated into Wayfair by the end of 2012.
When an item is sold on Wayfair, the seller is notified to package the item in Wayfair packaging and ship it to the customer. The seller saves money on shipping by piggy-backing on Wayfair's favorable shipping rates with UPS, FedEx and the postal service.
Overstock was founded in 1997 by current CEO Patrick M. Byrne to buy and sell surplus and returned merchandise as well as the inventories of failed companies, often at below wholesale prices. These direct sales constitute about 15% of its business and very nearly all of its warehoused inventory. The other 85% of its business are what it calls "fulfillment partners", third-party sellers who warehouse their own inventory. These products also tend to be closeout lots. A company like Swatch that does not want to discount last year's watches on its main website alongside this years pricier models may sell its outdated inventory through Overstock, which never handles the inventory. It just takes the order and instructs Swatch to ship the merchandise.
Because it deals mostly with closeouts from larger companies, the proportion of illegal faucets sold on its website is relatively small — 24.8% compared to 70.1% of Amazon faucets.
The model has, for the most part been successful. Overstock's initial public offering in 2002 raised $37 million in new capital. The company's 2015 revenue of $1.6 billion capped a six-year record of steady revenue growth since it first reached the billion dollar mark in 2010.
Rakuten & LightInTheBox
Although owned by the giant Japanese e-tailer, Rakuten Ichiba (Rakuten Marketplace), Rakuten in North America is actually the successor to Buy.com, purchased by Rakuten in 2010 and renamed Rakuten USA, Inc. The old Buy.com that mainly sold directly to customers is now just one of the thousands of third-party "stores" that sell products through Rakuten.
Its model differs from the Amazon prototype slightly. While a search for faucets on Amazon will lead to listings of several hundred, if not thousands or item, a similar search on Rakuten can display the virtual storefronts selling faucets — more like a physical shopping mall with individual stores located in proximity to each other. Rakuten feels that this approach gives the buyer a closer connection with the actual seller.
Other than this difference, however, Rakuten is largely following the Amazon model, offering fulfillment as well as sales support, which makes it attractive to small, start-up faucet sellers. Rakuten does seem to take more interest than Amazon or Sears in ensuring that the faucets sold on its site are legal to sell. Most faucets are name brands, and most of the off-brand faucets are legal. But, some are not — about 11% of the faucets offered on the site.
LightInTheBox like Rakuten, is a late comer to the market. It started out in 2007 selling discounted wedding gowns, and is still heavily skewed toward women's wear. But, it has steadily expanded its offerings to include items such as faucets and bathwares. Its IPO in 2013 raised $86 million, despite the fact that it has never had a profitable year. Located in China, it is aimed at buyers in Europe and North America where prices and profit margins are much higher than in its native country. It allows only Chinese sellers — European and American sellers need not apply. Its North American penetration remains shallow. Canada and the U.S. produced only 19% of the company's 2013 revenues compared with Europe which provided 62% of its 2013 revenue. But, it is working to improve its North American market performance, including a recently established a fulfillment center in the U.S. for faster delivery times.
We have not found a single faucet on LightInTheBox that is legal to sell or install in the U.S. or Canada. Some are identified as certified to U.S./Canadian standards but these claims have uniformly proven to be false.
AliExpress & DHGate
AliExpress is an Amazon-like e-tail shopping mall selling Chinese products to consumers outside China. Launched in 2010. It is already one of the largest Internet retailers in the world. It's parent, Alibaba Group, controlled by founder Ma Bun (ala Jack Ma), is an experienced e-commerce Leviathan that also operates the even more massive business-to-business website, Alibaba.com, and two Internet shopping malls for Chinese consumers: Taobao and the more upscale TMall. According to the Wall St. JournalNote 9, Alibaba handles 80% of China's online shopping and its gross sales in 2013 were $248 billion (US), one-third more than Amazon and e-Bay combined. Alibaba's initial public offering in 2014 was the biggest in history, raising $25 billion U.S. dollars.
AliExpress is reportedly considering allowing non-Chinese sellers on its site but so far only merchants from China are given access.
DHGate, started in 2004 as a business-to-business portal connecting small and medium-size Chinese manufacturers to overseas buyers has very quickly become a source for consumer purchases by adding retail-friendly features such as easy international credit card payments, prices stated in U.S. dollars and U.S.-based product distribution. By 2015 it listed nearly 40 million products from 1.2 million Chinese suppliers.
Only Mainland Chinese sellers are allowed to list on the site.
One commonality among these Chinese-hosted sites is that, with rare exception, all of the faucets sold on the sites are untested and completely illegal to sell in the U.S. or Canada.
Until 2011, while Chinese sites were the primary source of black-market faucets in North America, the problem of contraband faucets was a minor blip. Taken together the illegal sellers made up just a tiny fraction of the 6% market share claimed by Asian-made faucets. Two developments lead to illegal faucets appearing in larger quantities:
Before hosting websites, fewer than two dozen major Chinese faucet factories had virtually monopolized the U.S. and Canadian markets. The larger scale of Chinese manufacturers like as well as Taiwanese factories such as NCIP enabled them to offer pricing and servicing attractive to U.S. and Canadian importers that smaller firms could not match. Smaller factories viewed selling through hosting sites as an opportunity to break the monopolies tacitly imposed by the large manufacturers.
As a result, the number of off-brand faucets offered on U.S.-based hosting websites has increased explosively in just five years. In 2011 just a dozen or so of these faucet brands were being sold by third-party retailers on Amazon. Today more than 70% of the sink faucets shown on Amazon are offered through independent, hosted sellers operating as what Amazon calls "storefronts", selling preciously unknown brand names such as KES, Beatifaucet, CO-Z, Rozin and Grenbspring.
The same is true of Sears.com where most faucets are not direct sales but third party sales through hosted vendors. And, of course, on eBay all sellers are hosted third parties. Wayfair sells more goods directly but 25% of the faucets sold on the site are illegal, and all of these are being offered by third-party sellers.
There are two major problems with these third-party off-brand faucets: Very few have been tested and certified to U.S./Canadian faucet standards and there is usually no effective after sale support, which means that there is no source for replacement parts and little likelihood of making a successful claim under warranty — even if the faucet has a warranty, and most do not.
Faucet Testing and Certification
Because of their potential for harm to persons and the environment, faucets, like automobiles, are strictly regulated products in the U.S. and Canada; subject to what are called "mandatory standards". You cannot sell a new car that does not meet minimum emission and safety standards, and not just anything with a shiny finish used to control the flow of water can be legally sold as a faucet. It must first be tested and certified by one of seven accredited testing organizationsNote 10 to meet North American safety and reliability standards that are among the strictest in the world.
here are three basic faucet standards in effect in North America:
• ASME A112.18.1/CSA 125.1 ("Plumbing Fixture Fittings"), which is the joint U.S. and Canadian standard that ensures the safety, reliability and durability of faucets;
• ANSI/NSF 372 ("Lead Free Plumbing Products") which limits the amount of lead in a the parts of a faucet that touch water,Note 11 and
• ANSI/NSF 61 ("Drinking Water System Components - Health Effects"), which ensures that water passing through a faucet does not pick up lead and other toxic materials from the faucet.
ANSI/NSF 372: Lead Content
The ANSI/NSF 372 standard is very strict. It permits no more than a "weighted average" of 0.25% (one quarter of 1 percent) lead in the parts of a faucet that come in contact with water. This is often called the "content standard".
Lead content in brass can be measured several ways, most of which are destructive of the test sample. The most common non-destructive method, and easiest to use, is X-ray fluorescence in which high energy electrons striking a brass sample cause it to emit x-rays. A detector identifies the elements in the brass by anally zing the energy spectra of the x-rays, showing the results on a screen. Early detectors were the size of a small car, and required considerable expertise to interpret the results, usually displayed on a graph. Modern detectors are hand-held and display the results as numeric values requiring no interpretation.
ANSI/NSF 61: Drinking Water Safety
The ANSI/NSF 61 safe drinking water standard restricts the amount of lead and a wide variety of other harmful contaminants that may be absorbed by water as it passes through a faucetNote 12. The limit of lead absorption is a maximum of 5 parts per billion (ppb).
To determine the level of abortion of lead and other contaminants, faucets undergo a rigorous three-week course of testing in which the faucets are exposed to typical household water formulations, including various blends of mineral-rich water, designed to extract specific types of contaminants. If any are found in concentrations above what is considered a safe level, the faucet fails and is not certified.
A faucet that passes is as free of lead and other toxic materials as current technology allows.
The lead and toxic materials standards in other countries are much less rigorous. The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) has been working toward a common European standard for a number of years but has found it difficult to find agreement among its member countries with widely varying water systems. The strictest national standard is probably Germany's which allows 10 ppb of lead in drinking water.
In China, where most black market faucets originate, testing standards (GB18145) do not include a lead contamination limit for faucets.
Shi Hongwei, Deputy Director of Quality Supervision for China's National Building Material Industry, Inspection and Testing Center promised in 2013 that China would implement standards for heavy metal content in plumbing fixtures in 2014. But, 2014 has come and gone without action by the Chinese government.Note 13.
Lead in brass makes the material more malleable and easier to form. Its safer substitute, bismuth, is ten time more expensive, so Chinese manufacturers tend to prefer brass with a relatively high lead content to keep costs down.
ASME A112.18.1/CSA 125: Faucet Safety and Reliability
The North American reliability and safety standards contained in ASME A112.18.1/CSA 125 are also very rigorous. Faucets are required to function at pressures of 20 to 125 at temperatures between 40°F and 160°F. The flow rate of the faucet may not exceed 2.2 gallons per minute at a water pressure of 60 PSI. The faucet must be designed to be serviced — to replace worn parts, for example — from the top of the faucet without being uninstalled. Sprays that can be pulled out out or down far enough to touch water in a sink must include backflow prevention in their design so contaminated sink water cannot be drawn back into the household drinking water.
A faucet is tested for resistance to corrosion and thermal stability (so the faucet does not spontaneous change water temperature, which could result in scalding). It must show no effects after prolonged contact with soap and household cleaners or mild abrasives. Its bending strength is tested to ensure that it cannot be deformed under even rigorous household use.
Faucet valves and cartridges are tested for long life and durability. The standard test requires operating the faucet through 500,000 off/on cycles under 60 psi of water pressure without a single failure. At about two cycles per second, the test takes three days to complete.
Five hundred thousand cycles is equivalent to about 70 years of ordinary kitchen faucet use, which means that the faucet is very robust. But, some manufacturers voluntarily test their faucets to even stricter standards. The new Diamond Seal Technology® ceramic cartridge used in Masco's faucets were tested to 4 million cycles while under development in Germany.
In other countries the standard is much less rigorous. The European (EN 817) and Chinese (GB18145) requirement is just 70,000 cycles.
The Consequences of Failing to Certify Faucets
Failure to certify a faucet's compliance with U.S. and Canadian faucet standards can have some serious legal consequences.
The first is that the faucet is not lawful for installation in any drinking water system in the U.S. or Canada. Every plumbing code in effect in North American requires that only certified faucets may lawfully be used in a household water system.Note 14
The Energy Policy and Conservation Act limits water flow from sink faucets to a maximum of 2.2 gallons per minute (GPM) at 60 PSI, and requires each faucet be tested to by an accredited testing organization to determine whether it meets the flow limit, and its compliance certified by filing a statement with the Department of Energy. The Act prohibits faucets that have not been tested and certified from being imported, sold, held for sale, offered for sale or delivered after sale in the U.S.Note 15
The penalty for importing, selling or offering to sell a faucet that does not meet maximum flow limits or that has not been certified is $440.00 per day for each non-compliant faucet distributed in commerce. The DOE can look back to the day the faucet was first placed in commerce in the U.S. and assess retroactive penalties of several hundred thousand dollars. For a second "willful" offense, the penalty is criminal prosecution, a $50,000 fine and six months imprisonment for each offense. Each day a non-compliant faucet is offered for sale in the U.S. is a separate offense. A seller that offers 10 illegal faucets for sale for ten days commits 100 separate offenses, so the penalties can pile up quickly.
Where to Find Asian Faucets that are Legal to Sell and Install in North America
A great many wholly reputable companies sell Asian-sourced faucets that fully comply with all of the many regulations that faucets are required to meet in order to be sold and installed in North America. Among these are:
These companies sell faucets that are not just legal but often of exceptional quality. Many of these brands can be found on hosting websites like Amazon and Wayfair but most are sold primarily through plumbing supply sites and your local plumbing supply house. (To find out about these brands, and many others, in detail, visit our Faucet Reviews & Ratings.)
But, while reputable importers comply with the laws and regulations governing the manufacture and sale of faucets, some cheat in order to create a competitive advantage for themselves. The cost of complying with U.S. and Canadian faucet regulations can be substantial, and there are those who decide to pocket the money compliance would have cost. Among the most blatant offenders are:
None of the faucets sold by these companies are legal for sale or installation in the U.S. or Canada.
The difference between these sellers and those that sell as third-party "storefront" retailers on hosting websites such as Sears, Amazon, and Wayfair is that they are more than just a name on a virtual store. They sell through venues other than hosting websites. And, they have some substance: an actual mailing address, or at least an e-mail address; an telephone number, customer support of some kind, and a proprietary website. In other words, they have an investment in the enterprise for advertising, inventory, marketing and warehousing, and so on. It may not be much of an investment but it is, at least, something.
The federal Safe Drinking Water Act has similar provisions. A faucet that does not meet the lead-free standard cannot lawfully be "introduced into" commerce in the U.S.which means that it is illegal to sell the faucet or offer the faucet for sale.Note 15 The statute provides substantial penalties for doing so.
Similar restrictions apply in Canada. Canadian law prohibits the "sale or lease" of uncertified faucets in that Country.Note 16
If the federals want to get really nasty, they can also charge mail and wire fraud under 18 U.S.C. §63 and 18 U.S.C. §1343 as these "instrumentalities of interstate commerce" are typically used to "facilitate" violations of the Energy Policy and Safe Drinking Water Acts. The penalty for mail and wire fraud is more serious: up to 20 years imprisonment, and each phone call, letter, e-mail or Internet transaction is a separate offense.
At the state level, every sale of an uncertified faucet is statutory fraud as well as false advertising and a deceptive business practice, all of which can result in some very serious jail time and hefty fines.
So, one would think with all of these substantial legal penalties looming, third-party sellers would be a little cautious about selling uncertified faucets. But, the problem is that many, if not most, of the illegal sellers are out of reach, safely ensconced behind the Bamboo Curtain, where U.S. and Canadian law enforcement cannot easily get to them. And, both the EPA which enforces the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Department of Energy, responsible for the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, have been starved of funds by Congress, and simply do not have the resources needed to go after these violators. So, the legal risk to sellers of illegal faucets is minimal.
For hosting sites, the situation is a little different. U.S.-based sites and Chinese sites with facilities or operations in North America can easily be found by law enforcement and probably can be held liable for the illegal faucets sold on their sites. They are in the position of a flea market operator who knows that illegal goods are being sold but turns a blind eye to the practice. Their liability is called "intermediary" or "secondary" liability (as opposed to the third-party seller's "primary" liability). Secondary liability arises when a hosting website facilitates the illegal sales ("contributory liability") or has the ability to control illegal sales but does not take reasonable measures to do so ("vicarious liability"). Generally, a website operator that makes a "good faith" effort to prevent the sale of illegal merchandise will not be held liable, even if the good faith effort fails.
Unfortunately, with most of these hosting websites, there is no indication of any effort, good faith or otherwise. Only Walmart seems to have taken some of the steps necessary to verify that faucets sold by third-party hosted vendors are certified and legal.
Most U.S.-Based hosting websites (but not Chinese sites) already have written policiesNote 17 of some kind prohibiting the sale of illegal and unsafe goods, in no small part designed to reassure customers that the site's products are safe to buy. Amazon's policy, for example, is the following:
"Products offered for sale on Amazon must comply with all laws and regulations and with Amazon's policies. The sale of illegal, unsafe, or other restricted products listed on these pages, including products available only by prescription, is strictly prohibited." (Emphasis supplied)
But, while the sale of contraband is "strictly prohibited", the ban is not strictly enforced. In fact, it's barely enforced at all. Hosting sites make very little effort to ensure that products for sale do, in fact, "comply with all laws and regulations". If these rules were merely enforced, the black market faucet problem would go away. But, they're not. The sites have the ability to enforce the bans. Many illegal products are effectively banned: home-made music CDs, firearms, prescription pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs, for example. But many other illegal products, like contraband faucets, are ignored. Third party faucet sellers are seldom required to demonstrate in any way that their faucets are legal for sale or installation in the U.S. or Canada in order to be listed on these hosting websites.
It's not that the effort would be particularly burdensome. Most plumbing supply websites do a good job of keeping illegal faucets from being sold on their venues, as do some general merchandising hosting sites such as Jet.com, on which we have yet to find a single illegal faucet. So, it's entirely possible to ban illegal faucets if the effort is made.
After-Sale Support: Warranty and Replacement Parts
"Where can I get parts?" is the most common question we see on Amazon, eBay and other hosting sites about broken off-brand faucets. The short answer is: "You can't. There are no parts."
Most hosted sellers do not provide any warranty on the faucets they sell. But, even if they do it is not worth much. A warranty is a promise by the seller to help fix a broken faucet, usually by providing a replacement or the parts necessary to do so. But, a seller's promise is only as reliable as the seller, and good only for as long as the seller still exists. Hosted sellers are notorious for not honoring their warranties and seem to disappear with alarming frequency. Few last as long as two years. They almost never have a replacement parts system of any consequence. For the first year or so they can scavenge parts of other faucets but when the faucets are no longer on the shelf, there is no longer a source for parts.
So, if your off-brand Amazon, Sears or Wayfair faucet starts to leak one year, five years or ten years down the road you are unlikely to get any help from the third-party seller, even if the seller still exists, and even if you can find it (and good luck with that! Even our experienced researchers cannot identify many of them, and they know how). Third-party sellers are virtual businesses that may not have an actual legal existence. They are often little more than a name in a digital file. The requirements to become an hosted seller are very minimal: just a business name, a tax-ID number, a credit card or electronic account, a telephone number, and a product to sell are usually all that is required. A physical address, an actual bank account, or even a website are not usually needed. So, finding a hosted seller can often be impossible except through as subpoena to the hosting website.
Faucet retailers are usually not set up to provide after-sale support. They rely on faucet manufacturers for, warranty, replacement parts and technical support. With most North American-based faucet companies, this works very well. If you have a problem with a faucet that your bought at Harvey's Hardware Heaven, you don't call Harvey, you call the 1-800-BUY-MOEN to reach Moen's technical support hot line to get it solved. If you need parts under warranty, the Moen provides you with the parts — not the retail store.
If the faucet manufacturer is not located in North America then the product support solution gets a little trickier. Major foreign faucet manufacturers that sell in North America usually operate through a local subsidiary that provides the necessary support for North American buyers.
to name just a few of many, all handle post-sale support issues through customer service organizations based in the U.S. or Canada.
Certain Asian faucet manufacturers have established service centers in North America to handle back-end support for the retail chains that buy their faucets for private branding. both provide warranty and parts support for the U.S. and Canadian retail stores that buy and re-brand their faucets. These include well-known retailers such as faucets from a number of smaller Asian manufacturers, has taken a different approach. Instead of providing post-sale service itself or relying on its several manufacturers to supply parts and take care of warranty issues, it simply hired a third party warranty service company, Mecanair, to support its Asian-made faucets. A call to RONA's warranty number connects directly to Mecanair, which stocks and inventories the a massive number of parts.
Unfortunately, however, the Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers providing off-brand faucets to hosted sellers do not maintain parts operations in North America and are not set up to offer post-sale support from their factories in China or Taiwan. If you could find out which Asian company actually manufactured a particular off-brand faucet, contacting the manufacturer would be a total waste of time. As far as they are concerned it is up to the retailer to arrange for product and parts support. Once they deliver the faucets a freight forwarder, their job is done.
The upshot is that if you need warranty service or replacement parts you are usually out of luck. Calling the hosting website's customer service is no help at all. They don't provide warranty service for their hosted sellers, and don't keep replacement parts. So, if you need to make a warranty claim, or to buy a part, or just to get advice on installing your new faucet, you are usually out of luck. The hosting company cannot help you.
How to Buy a Safe, Reliable Faucet
Surprisingly, while these faucets are illegal to sell in the U.S. or Canada, they are not illegal to buy. There are no penalties for owning an illegal faucet. If you want to buy one as a decorative accent to display on your fireplace mantel, it's perfectly legal to do so.
A problem arises, however, if you decide to install it in your household plumbing system. While not illegal to own, uncertified faucets are illegal to install in a drinking water system. They violate every plumbing code in effect in North America.Note 19 Your plumber will probably not install it. And, if you are caught with one at your kitchen sink, you will probably be required to remove it or pay a fine, then remove it. Some localities go so far as to award jail time for violations.
Your insurance company will also be unhappy. Many will not pay for damage caused by an illegal faucet. So, if your bargain brand, no-name Overstock faucet leaks and floods your kitchen, you are on your own replacing your floor and cabinets.
So, where can you buy a faucet that is legal to sell in the U.S. and Canada?
IAPMO Research and Testing (IAPMO-RT). Enter the file number in the search box, and press the search button. Then click on the listing to display the online certificate.
CSA Group (CSA). Enter the file number in the box labeled "File Number", and press the submit button. Click on the listing to display the certificate. CSA uses the same file number on all of a company's certificates, so you my have to search more than one.
ICC Evaluation Service (ICC-ES). Enter the file number in the box labeled "Listing Number", and click the search button. When the listing results appear, click on the link to display the actual certificate.Look for the faucet model name or number in the search results. If the name or number is on the certificate, the faucet is certified. If not, it isn't. If the faucet company cannot provide you with a file number, then you can bet big money that the faucet is not certified and there is no file number to provide.
Our Reviews of Contraband Faucets
The review table below lists some but by no means all, of the hosted seller faucet brands sold on Amazon, Sears, eBay, DHGate, LightIntheBox and AliExpress as of the date of this report. We have picked hosted sellers that seem to sell a lot of faucets but there are hundreds of others. They come and they go, often within months. By the time you read this some will be gone, and others added. Some will have garnered so much bad publicity in user comments that they will have simply changed their name — you have no way of finding out if that happens — no hosting site will help you track name-changers who restart a failing virtual store under a different name and go right back into business selling illegal faucets.
We have provided as much information about each third-party seller as well can find with a few days of research by seasoned volunteer researcher skilled at ferreting out information that faucets sellers may not want you to know. Where we have found contact information such as a telephone number, e-mail address or website, we have included it. For many hosted sellers, the information is simply not available except from the hosting website; and they do not give out the information except in response to a legal subpoena, and even then, its records on the hosted seller may not be accurate or up-to-date.
Hosted, third-party sellers are variously owned. Some of the most active, offering the greatest number and variety of faucets, are owned, or sponsored, by Chinese e-tailers like LightInTheBox or the Chinese or Taiwanese manufacturers that make the faucets. Some are owned by Chinese or Taiwanese trading companies or individuals using hosting websites as a convenient and low cost way of reaching the giant U.S./ Canadian market. Others are based in North America, and a few in Europe. If we can find out the owner and owner's contact information, we have provided it. Many times it is next to impossible to find. A seller operating behind the cloak of obscurity provided by the hosting website's third-party policies can almost be guaranteed anonymity if anonymity is desired, and apparently for many sellers it is very much desired.
In some instances we have not been able to ferret out the manufacturer of the faucets. There are more than a thousand faucet factories in China and Taiwan. Some are very small. And, while we are familiar with the two dozen or so manufacturers that regularly make faucets for export to North American and Europe, a lot of the smaller firms supplying faucets to hosted sellers are completely unknown to us. And, frankly, after examining an assortment of the off-brand faucets they make, we do not think they make very good faucets, which is probably why they are not among the chosen two dozen companies that seasoned North American importers turn to for faucets. If U.S. and Canadian importers won't buy their faucets, how then do they reach the North American market? For some, the answer is to sell on hosting sites through or as third-party sellers. Where we have determined the actual manufacturer of a hosted seller's faucets, we have listed it. If the manufacturer has a website, we have provided a link to it. A surprising number do not own websites, and many that do have Chinese language sites only.