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Replacing or Updating the Kitchen Sink

After more than ten years with a crappy kitchen sink, it was time for a re-do. You might feel my pain. Worn enamel or porcelain, chips, stains, and rust can really make essential chores like doing dishes downright depressing.

My sink — a porcelain over cast iron double bowl — was old when it was repurposed and installed. It was a sustainable re-design almost 20 years ago. Kudos to the Previous Owner for recycling old house parts before anyone really gave that a thought.

But ... now it's had an extra two decades of use, and while it could probably be refinished again, it doesn't work for me. So what will?

Consider the way you use your sink

The kitchen sink, especially in an old or small house, is used not only for food prep and doing dishes; it's also likely to multitask in ways that sinks in larger houses don't. You might want to use your kitchen sink to do hand laundry, or wash the dog or the baby. (True, some people would blanche at the thought, but me? I'm not afraid of no stinkin' germs. Hot water and soap will kill most everything and besides, it makes us germ-resistant. But that's me.)

Once upon a time, not even that long ago, most kitchen 1928 Kohler kitchen sinksinks were white porcelain. Colors didn't exist at all until the late 1920s. Sinks were wall hung, sometimes with two front legs to support their weight, and frequently sported built-in drain boards. Faucets, cleverly, were wall mounted. An alternate that continues to show up regularly in old houses is the undermounted porcelain and cast iron sink (or it's replacement). These were usually installed with tile counters, contrasting trim, and detailed liner tile.

Fast forward a few decades to the 1950s and you could have stainless steel or colored, double-bowl sinks. Lots of new options for the kitchen of your dreams.

Today, the choices include a huge variety of colors, materials, and configurations. You can literally have almost anything you can imagine.

Before you go sink shopping

Before you plunk down your hard-earned cash, it's worth thinking about what kind of sink you want, your budget, and how you'll use it.

Start with the sink you have. If you love your current sink, it might be as simple as just replacing it. If not, consider the following:

Repair, recycle, or replace?

When I first started writing and researching house stuff years ago, the concept of sustainable design was fairly new to our generation. Repairing things had gone the way of the proverbial dodo. Recycling was strictly the province of the hippy zealot Earth Mother type. Replacing was almost the only option for the mainstream homeowner ... of course, buying or building as big a house as you could was the thing to do, too.

Now, what's new is how to use the old stuff if possible. Reduce and reuse makes sense, especially when you consider quality. A lot of the new stuff just isn't as good unless you have a LOT of money to spend. As long as you examine old house parts carefully for show-stopping wear, you'll find a lot of life left in them.

Find a professional who can resurface your sink if that makes sense for you. It's much less money than tracking a sink down, uninstalling the old, putting the new one in, and all that. The new sink jewelry alone can cost more than the sink, so upgrade your faucet for a new and exciting look ... almost like getting a new kitchen for a pittance.

If you do replace the sink, keep as much as you can out of the landfill. Use Freecycle or Craigslist to sell or give away your old sink. Take it to an architectural salvage yard if you can.

Likewise, once you know what kind of sink you want, check Craigslist, house parts stores and architectural centers. Here in Portland, OR we have Rejuvenation house parts, the ReBuilding Center, and Hippo Hardware for example. Estate and garage sales are also good sources ... you just have to keep looking. I recently scored a single-bowl, stainless steel, 18-gauge Elkay sink that is a full 11 inches deep for less than $100. You can't touch that new for less than $500. Patience is a virtue if you are in the recycling mode.

The key to recycling house parts is two-fold: Know what you are looking for and be flexible when you find something. I found my sink because I had already done my research, knew what I needed, and recognized it instantly when I saw it.

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