When it comes to renovating a bathroom on a tight budget, the materials you choose are all-important, and you should do your best to find a decent balance between low prices and practical durability in the materials you choose. The materials you choose for your new tapware are no different, and while expensive, high-end materials such as copper and granite may be out of your reach on a restrictive budget, you can still find taps made from strong and attractive materials at a much lower price point.
The traditionalist's metal of choice, brass taps have largely been supplanted by stainless steel in recent years, meaning that these distinctive taps can now generally be picked up for reasonable prices. The great strength of brass is that it is almost completely unreactive to the corrosive effects of water, so you can expect them to have a long service life without undue loss of flow due to internal damage. As an alloy, brass also contains copper, which has various antimicrobial properties which prevent the buildup of bacteria and mould inside your tap housings.
However, choosing brass on a budget will almost certainly involve a few sacrifices, and distinctive polished, brushed or chromed finishes may well be out of your reach. This can leave you with distinctly utilitarian-looking taps, especially if they are not frequently cleaned to prevent surface tarnishing. You should also take care to choose brass taps that have been manufactured recently, as older stock tends to be made of obsolete brass alloys containing small quantities of lead and arsenic.
Providing the durability and tactile weight of metal taps at a surprisingly low price, zinc alloy taps are a popular choice for budget bathroom builds and will serve you well if well cared for. These tough taps can take a real beating, and although the metal itself is a dull grey, taps are available in a wide variety of finishes to suit most bathroom decoration schemes. As long as this finish remains intact, zinc alloy taps will not corrode or lose significant flow pressure.
However, once this finish does wear off, zinc alloy taps can get into difficulties. Unprotected zinc quickly oxidises and corrodes in the presence of moisture, and old or damaged zinc alloy taps can quickly become clogged with oxides and sediments, as well as developing unsightly surface corrosion on exterior surfaces. While these surface treatments can theoretically be replaced, it makes far more economic sense to simply have these taps replaced once they begin to age.
These taps are generally the cheapest of the cheap, but that does not necessarily mean sacrificing form and function. When made from tough, thermoplastic materials such as PVC or PEX these taps can be surprisingly durable, and unlike cheaper metal taps, the aesthetic choices available for plastic taps are practically limitless. Plastic taps generally have modular construction allowing for simple fitting, and some more expensive models have stainless steel internal components to increase durability.
Even PVC and PEX taps cannot hope to rival the durability of brass or zinc taps, however, and you should not expect plastic taps to stand up to much physical damage without becoming damaged or shattered. This generally takes tall mixer tap configurations off the table, as they are too easily knocked and broken. Plastic taps will also perish more quickly in sunlit bathrooms due to UV degradation and can become clogged with sediment quickly in hard water areas.