Plumbing Terms You Need to Know

This article is by Angi


Apprentice plumber: An entry-level plumber, learning the trade. State requirements may include a high school diploma or GED, an aptitude test and that the applicant is 18 year of age or older. Apprentices may work with a journeyman, under the supervision of a master plumber.

Auger: A flexible metal rod, usually made of spring material, with a cutting or clearing device on one end. It is used to clear clogs in drains. Closet augers, also called toilet auger, have a tubular guide to permit entry through the toilet trap design. Larger, longer augers are used to clean underground drain lines and may be motor driven.

Copper piping: Water line made of copper or a copper alloy. Copper pipe is usually rigid; tubing is flexible. Copper will not rust and has a long life cycle, but it can corrode, especially at solder joints, which could cause leakage. It is primarily used for potable (drinkable) water.

CPVC: Chlorinated poly-vinyl chloride pipe, a type of plastic. CPVC can be used in both hot and cold potable water piping.

Discharge drain: A drain that discharges water into a drain system or into the ground through a channel. French drains are one example of a discharge drain.

Drain: The opening to a piping system that is used to remove wastewater from a fixture or system and transport it elsewhere for treatment or reuse. Most drains are open, but floor drains may have a protective grate over them.

Energy Star: An international standard for energy efficiency that originated in the United States. Electrical appliance must conform to certain standards in order to qualify. Dishwashers and washing machines are two of the appliances that can be Energy Star Rated.

Faucet screen: A small metal screen used to catch small debris in the water system, found in the faucet arm nozzle. Water hoses for washing machines may also have a screen to prevent debris from damaging the water valves.

Faucet: A sink fixture that controls water flow. Most sink faucets have a mixing valve that allows the user to modify the temperature of the water by changing the ratio of hot to cold. Faucets may come with either two handles, one for hot and one for cold, or with a single lever handle that changes the mix ratio.

Flapper: The hinged, movable part of a type of shut off valve that prevents or shuts off flow. A common type of flapper is found at the bottom of a toilet water tank. It is raised to start the flush cycle and closes when the tank is empty, allowing it to refill.

Float valve: A type of control valve that shuts off water at a predetermined level or capacity. A float valve controls the water in a toilet tank. One form of operation has a hollow ball, mounted by a connecting rod to the valve. As the ball rises with the water level, the valve closes until water flow is completely stopped.

Galvanized steel (piping): A type of steel water piping, coated with a zinc compound. The zinc acts as a sacrificial metal, slowing down the corrosion process.

Garbage disposal: An appliance attached to the drain system, usually under the kitchen sink, that chops up food waste, allowing easier flow through the drain system.

GPM: Gallons per minute. Usually used when describing how many gallons of water a fixture uses to operate.

Hose: A flexible rubber or plastic tube for carrying water. Garden hoses have special fittings to connect to the hose bibb and attachments.

Hose bibb: External or internal valved water fitting to which a water hose is connected. It is also called a spigot or faucet. Internal hose bibbs are found in the laundry area for washing machine hook up.

Journeyman: A plumber who has completed apprenticeship requirements. Ongoing training is still required, although more responsibility is given to the journeyman. Normally the journeyman must hold that license for 4 to 5 years before progressing to the master level.

Licensed, insured and bonded: Three business certifications that a plumbing service should have to do business. Licensed means that the plumber has passed regulatory requirements of the governing body. Insured means that the plumber has obtained insurance to cover employee injuries and damages on the jobsite. Bonded means that the plumber has obtained additional insurance through an outside agency in case of extenuating circumstances, like the company going out of business or an employee theft on the jobsite. Certain jobs, such as work being done for a government or state agency, require bonds.

Low-flow: A water fixture that produces a lower water flow at the outlet.

Main drainpipe: The piping where the dwelling’s drain piping system enters the septic system or underground drainpipe.

Master plumber: A plumber who has completed both the apprenticeship and journeyman phase. A master plumber usually has ten to fifteen years of experience and must pass a state plumbing exam, including tests on plumbing codes and practices. The master plumber is responsible for business operations, planning and bidding on plumbing jobs.

Outdoor faucet: A hose bibb located outside the home or building. The connection threads will usually be designed to accept hose fittings.

Overflow: A type of drain used to prevent overfilling of a fixture. For example, the small hole near the top of the bathroom sink connects to the sink drain, preventing the basin from flooding onto the floor.

P-trap: A sink drainpipe designed in the shape of a “P.” It runs from the sink and down through the floor to the main drain piping. The shape is designed to trap a small quantity of water in the pipe, preventing sewer odors from entering the dwelling. An S-trap is similar, but exits the room through the wall instead of the floor.

PEX (piping): A newer type of flexible tubing, used to replace the potable water piping in a dwelling or building. PEX tubing uses hose barb connections and compression rings, thus it requires less labor to install. It installs easily around corners, omitting the need for the elbow fittings needed when installing copper or galvanized piping.

pH: Potential of hydrogen. Measurement used to determine acidity or alkalinity in a given substance.

Pilot light: A small gas flame used to ignite a larger burner when a gas valve is turned on. If the pilot is always lit, it is called a standing pilot. On demand pilots are ignited by a sparking device when needed.

Pipe threads: A spiral flute cut into the end of a pipe, allowing pipes to be coupled to fixture or pipe couplings. Pipe threads should have Teflon pipe tape, pipe thread compound or a combination of both applied to the threads to prevent leakage under pressure.

Plumber: A technician that specializes in plumbing installation and repairs. Plumbers are usually licensed by the state or other governing authority, have been educated in various aspects of the plumbing industry and are qualified to make repairs or handle new installations. Plumbers may work on all types of plumbing or may specialize in certain areas, such as residential, commercial or industrial plumbing. They should be licensed, bonded and insured.

Plunger: A cupped, suction device on a handle that is used to clear a clogged drain.

PPM: Parts per million. Used as a measurement of concentration.

Pressure gauge: A measuring device used to determine the pressure in a piping system.

Pressure tank: Part of a well pump assembly that reserves water for use. The tank contains a bladder that puts pressure on the water in the tank. When a faucet or spigot is opened, the pressure forces the water through the piping. Through gauges and switches, the tank monitors the water pressure and starts the pump when pressure lowers to a predetermined level. When the valve is closed, the pump continues until the water has reached the upper pressure limit.

PSI: Pounds per square inch. Used as a measurement of pressure inside a given object.

Rain barrel: A tank or container used to collect rainwater or roof runoff water for various uses.

Reset button (garbage disposal): A button on the bottom of the garbage disposal used to reset an overload device on the disposal. The overload trips when the disposal becomes locked up, preventing motor damage and potential fire hazards.

Sanitary sewer system: The system of drain piping that carries wastewater from the dwelling’s sinks, tubs and toilets to the city or municipality sewer system.

Septic field: The system of pipes that discharge bacterially treated wastewater from the septic tank and discharges it into the soil for natural decontamination.

Septic system: The complete system of sewage removal, including the septic field, septic tank and associated piping. There is no connection to a municipality or commercial sewer system.

Septic tank: An underground tank wherein sewage is broken down in an anaerobic bacterial process. Usually composed of two chambers, the septic tank receives the wastewater from the dwelling in the first chamber, which allows the solids to settle to the bottom. The liquid component of the wastewater flows into the second chamber, where further settling takes place. Water then flows into the piping of the septic field, where it is absorbed into the ground and naturally filtered and cleaned.

Sewer connection: The place where a dwelling sanitary sewer system connects to the city or municipality sewer system.

Shutoff valve: Any piping valve that stops the flow of water in the pipe. Water meter shutoff valves are located underground in a cabinet and use a quarter turn valve rotation. Shutoff valves in the home are usually found under the sink or beside the toilet to shut off water supplied to those fixtures and faucets. They are usually a gate valve that requires several turns to fully close.

Sink basin: The bowl of the sink. Many kitchen sink basins are comprised of two connected basins to allow for washing and rinsing. Bathroom sink basins will include an overflow drain in their design, molded onto the underside of the basin.

Sink plunger: A type of small plunger that fits over a sink drain, used to unstop clogs.

Solar water heater: A water heating system that uses piping that is coiled through heat collectors on the roof. An energy saving device, solar water heaters use the sun for all or part of the water heating process and can be tied into a conventional water heater for backup.

Spigot: A common term for a hose bibb.

Storm water sewer system: A drainage system, separated from the main sewer system, that collects rain and runoff water and transports it to a natural water source. This water contains no sewage and does not need to be treated.

Sump pump: A pump used to remove water from a collection pit.

Tank: A water holding container that reserves a portion of the water supply for future, anticipated use. Toilet tanks hold water

Tankless water heater: A newer style of water heater that does not contain a holding tank. Water is heated on demand after the unit detects water flow. These units are usually heated by natural gas burners.

Toilet plunger: A plunger with a flexible end, shaped to be inserted into the drain at the bottom of the bowl. This increases efficiency.

Touchless faucet: A faucet that does not require the user to turn handles to use. The valve is electrically operated and is controlled by a motion sensor or photo eye.

Vent stack: Also called vent pipes. These pipes permit equalization of the pressure in the drain system with the atmospheric pressure. This prevents vacuum conditions that can interfere with the natural flow of the drain piping. The pressure on both sides of drain traps is equalized, assisting in proper flow.

Wastewater: Any water that is used in a process or sewer system becomes wastewater or graywater and must be treated before reuse.

Water heater gauge: Gauges used to indicate either the temperature or the pressure of water in a water heater, or both.

Water heater: An appliance used to raise the water temperature in a water system.

Water meter: A gauge used to measure the amount of water flow in a system, measured in gallons.

Water pressure: The amount of force, measured in pounds per square inch, that a water system produces.

Water softener: An appliance designed to remove hardness chemicals, such as calcium, from the potable water supply.

Water supply: The potable water supplied to a residence or commercial building.

Well pump: A pump used to pull water from an underground natural water supply.

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