Plumbing is the most volatile system in the home. You use water daily to take showers and baths, to flush toilets, to wash clothes, to cook with, and to water the yard in the spring and summer.
Because water is distributed throughout the home it touches many locations and surrounding areas — bathrooms, counters, kitchens, floors, refrigerators, the laundry room, and outside. With so much daily use and many touch points, there’s greater potential for things to go wrong that at some point you’ll need to call a plumber or plumbing contractor.
Plumbing is the one system in your home that can malfunction at any time, in any number of places, for any number of reasons.
For comparison, your air conditioner cycles on and off a several times a day. Your only real interaction with the AC is setting the thermostat and remembering to change the air filter, unless it’s time for seasonable maintenance and service. As long as homeowners use a professional contractor for checkups once or twice a year, the AC should hum along nicely.
But that’s not the case with residential plumbing. There are so many "touch points" for plumbing in your home that any problem can arise at any time. A running toilet. Leaky faucets. A pipe that bursts.
Most of the time residents are unaware that their behavior and activity may be causing plumbing problems, which remain unseen until something happens that warrants a call to an area plumber or plumbing contractor for emergency repair.
Most people know little about the plumbing in their homes. Turn the spigot on, water comes out. Turn on the dishwasher or washing machine, water comes out. Flush the toilet, waste goes away, fresh water fills the bowl.
In this post we look at the Basics of Plumbing, helping homeowners understand what’s going on behind the scenes in their kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms.
A basic understanding of how residential plumbing works will allow homeowners to make dozens of fixes or repairs themselves or — just as important — to know when to call a professional plumber or plumbing contractor for help.
In future posts we’ll dive a little bit deeper into he nuances of residential plumbing, but for now it’s just the basics.
Before we go too much further introducing homeowners to the world of residential plumbing, here’s a handy dandy Plumbing Glossary of Terms.
These are mostly commonly-used terms, although a few may be more advanced. These may come in handy for homeowners trying to solve problems or make repairs to their home’s plumbing, or when they’re talking with professionals for problems or renovations beyond their expertise.
ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)
Rigid black plastic pipe used mostly for drain or waste lines.
A material that is used to hold gases, liquids or solids or suspended solids on its surface or inside pores. The most common absorbent used in the plumbing world is activated carbon.
This is a seeping field designed to disperse the liquid waste from a septic tank through a filter bed. The septic tank fills with liquid and solid waste and the liquid waste drains off to the absorption field leaving the solid waste behind.
An opening in the wall or ceiling near a fixture that allows access for servicing the plumbing/electrical system. Whirlpool tubs, for example, often have access panels on a nearby wall, or possibly on an adjoining closet wall. If you use your whirlpool tub frequently, it’s not a bad idea to know where the access panel is and how to turn off the supply line if needed.
A very strong and hard thermoplastic used as a surface material for bathtubs, shower bases, tub or shower surrounds. When used in bathtubs and showers acrylic is usually back with fiberglass to add strength and rigidity. Acrylic is also used to make plexiglass shower doors.
A fitting that unites different types of pipe together, e.g. ABS to cast iron pipe. There are types of pipe that should not be fitted together. If you are making repairs and are uncertain about types of pipes, ask a plumber or sales rep at a plumbing supply house or even a knowledgeable sales associate at a home improvement center in the area.
An adjustable rod or strap that forms the connection between the lift rod and the ball lever assembly of the drain.
A method to introduce air with water to help in releasing dissolved gasses that contribute to foul odors or unpleasant taste. Aeration can be done in several different ways, air can be bubbled up through the liquid, liquid can be sprayed into the air or the liquid can be agitated oxygenating it by bringing the surface water in to contact with the air.
A type of fitting installed on a plumbing fixture that mixes water with air. These fittings help with water conservation and reduce splashing.
Air Admittance Valve
The most common of these is called a studor vent, these valves are designed to allow air into a drainage system with out using a vent. It opens to allow air to equalize pressure in the drainage system but closes to stop sewer odors and gases into the living space.
A vertical air filled pipe or manufactured spring coil installed above the waterline in a potable water system that absorbs pressure fluctuations when valves are turned off, i.e. a shower is turned off or a fill valve in a toilet slams shut. The pressure absorbing devices reduce water hammer. Having air chambers on plumbing fixtures with water connections is code for most municipalities.
Angle Stop or Angle Valve
Angle stops are named because they are manufactured at a 90 degree angle, they are used as shut off valves at the water intake of plumbing fixtures or appliances. They usually have an oval handle or can have a removable handle when vandalism or theft is an issue. They are not meant to be used in high pressure situations.
Apron (or Skirt)
The decorative portion of a bathtub that covers the rough-in area of the tub. It is most easily recognized on a whirlpool tub, the apron is most often removable to be able to service the tubs plumbing and or motor.
The valve by which the water enters a tank type toilet (water closet), fills the tank and shuts the flow of water off when the water reaches a predetermined height in the tank.
A tool that only has one real use, it’s inexpensive (easily found at home improvement centers and plumbing supply stores) and pretty easy to use. A basin wrench actually looks like a steel bar with a curved head with teeth on one end. The other end has a T handle. Obviously turn the water off before using. Go under the sink and position the head at a 90 angle catching the nut, turn in the appropriate direction to remove and your all set. If the sink faucet is too high to reach you may have to pull out the extended handle.
A device shaped like a cup or a basket with holes or slots that fits inside a drain that allows water to drain out but catches debris before it enters the waste piping.
Waste water from toilet, urinals, bidets or food prep receptacles or waste water from drains receiving chemical waste.
A plug in a trap or drain pipe that provides access for the purpose of clearing an obstruction.
A flexible rod with a curved end used to access the toilet’s built-in trap and remove clogs.
A curved fitting that connects the closet flange to the toilet drain.
An anchoring ring secured to the floor. The base of the toilet is secured to this ring with bolts.
A kind of tubing or pipe connection where a nut, and then a sleeve or ferrule is placed over a copper or plastic tube and is compressed tightly around the tube as the nut is tightened, forming a positive grip and seal without soldering. Also a flexible connector that has a nut and gasket designed to attach directly to an SAE standard compression thread, without the use of a sleeve or ferrule.
Copper Pipe and Fittings
Copper pipe and fittings are material used in drainage, waste and vent pipe as well as potable water piping. Copper is fairly easy to work with, has excellent thermal conductive properties and it is very durable. Copper comes in a wide variety of pipe sizes and can handle water, oil and gas.
A fitting that joins two pieces of pipe.
CPVC (Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride)
Rigid plastic pipe used in water supply systems, where code permits. If you are unsure of local codes, check with a plumber or plumbing contractor. Codes are not to be taken lightly.
Abbreviation for drain, waste and vent.
Drop in Bathtub
A bathtub that is built with an integral lip or ledge that is meant to fit into or be dropped-into a pre-framed area that is to receive the bathtub.
A pipe fitting with two openings that changes the direction of the line. Also called an ell. It comes in a variety of angles, from 22 1/2° to 90°.
The proper slope or pitch of a pipe for adequate drainage.
In plumbing, the devices that provide a supply of water and/or its disposal for sinks, tubs, and toilets. These are parts of the plumbing system that homeowners access most frequently.
The paste that is used in soldering metal joints. Flux aids the process by preventing oxidation of the joint.
Water generated by sinks, showers, bathtubs and clothes washers. It does not contain waste water from water closets, urinals, kitchen sinks or waste from dishwashers.
Hard water is a condition caused by minerals dissolved in water. There are many minerals that can be dissolved in water but the primary are Calcium and Magnesium. 85% of the water in the U.S is considered hard water. Some of the symptoms a homeowner will experience if they have hard water will be spots on their dishware, rings around the bathtub, scale build-up on shower heads and aerators on sink faucets. Hard water also reacts with cleaning products and detergents reducing it’s effectiveness. Hard water treatment comes in several forms the most common is an ion exchange based water softener.
The House Drain is the lowest part of the drainage system piping that receives all of the soil and waste discharge from other drainage piping within a home or building and discharges it to the house sewer that begins five feet outside of the building.
Abbreviation for inside diameter. All pipes are sized according to their inside diameter.
Abbreviation for outside diameter.
Flexible plastic tubing used in water supply systems where allowed by code. If you are unsure of local codes, check with a plumber or plumbing contractor. Codes are not to be taken lightly.
A pliable, popular putty used to seal joints between drain pieces and fixture surfaces. Easy to work with and readily available at home improvement stores throughout our area.
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
A rigid white or cream colored plastic pipe used in non-pressure systems, such as waste and vent systems.
A fitting that connects pipes of different sizes.
A vertical assembly of fittings and pipes that distributes water upward.
In home construction, the portion of a plumbing installation that includes running the water supply lines and drain, waste and vent lines to the proposed location of each fixture. This is done early in the construction process before walls are sheetrocked, for example.
A complete or secondary section(s) of pipe that extend from supply to fixture or drain to stack.
Fitting that joins the assorted pipes in a drain, waste and vent system; designed to allow solid material to pass through without clogging.
Largest vertical drain line to which all branch waste lines connect; carries waste to the sewer line.
A metal alloy that is melted to join or mend metal surfaces; also, the act of melting solder into the joint.
A valve that controls the flow of water to an individual fixture, allowing water supply to be stopped to one fixture without affecting the water supply to other fixtures. It’s important for homeowners to know where all the stop valves are for each fixture in case of emergency.
A T-shaped fitting with three openings used to create branch lines.
Curved section of a fixture drain line, designed to hold water thus preventing sewer gases from entering the house.
Three-piece fitting that joins two sections of pipe, but allows them to be disconnected without cutting the pipe. Used primarily with steel pipes, but never in a DWV system.
The upper portion of the soil stack above the topmost fixture through which gases and odors escape.
A Y-shaped fitting with three openings used to create branch l
The home’s plumbing can potentially develop a number of various leaks, with a toilet leak being a common source of wasted water. Phantom flushing occurs when the toilet spontaneously refills periodically, typically due to an issue with the fill valve or the flapper valve. Furthermore, it may waste as much as 200 gallons of water per day.
Flushing the toilet causes the flapper valve to rise, allowing the water in the tank to flow into the bowl, and providing the flush. Water leaking by the flapper valve can be due to a worn flapper not seating correctly, or an improperly adjusted chain.
Other potential causes of phantom flushing include either a faulty fill valve or one in need of adjustment. The following tips can assist you in determining the cause, or you can contact a Benjamin Franklin plumber for professional repair.