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The Homeowner's Guide to Plumbing Terms

Updated on November 22, 2017

When engaging with any professional, there are times when they refer to something that isn't immediately recognizable by name. During a service visit, they might request the location of something the homeowners may never have even come across before, or just never realized they had. To get a jump on the problem and find out exactly what it is they're talking about, here is a quick guide to frequently used terms and expressions used by plumbers.

Access Panel: Generally a covered opening in a wall or ceiling near a fixture that allows access to plumbing or electrical systems during service. Not every fixture will have an access panel, but it is important to be aware of their location and inform your plumber when one is available.

Aerator: A part screwed onto the end of faucet spouts which mixes air into the water. This process, called aeration, can dissipate pollutants into the air and creates a smoother flow of water that minimizes splashing.

Anode Rod: A "sacrificial" metal rod installed in a water heater to protect the lining of the tank from corrosion. It is usually made of either aluminum, magnesium or a combination of aluminum, zinc and tin. It generally last about five years but must be replaced when it is to corroded to be effective. Therefore, it is important to be aware of its age and condition.

Drain Valve: A device generally found near the base of a water storage tank that allows drainage for inspection or repairs. Though these may be found on other devices, plumbers will most often refer to the drain valve on a water heater.

Dual Flush: Most often a referencing to toilets, those with dual flush capabilities provide the option to select the type of water usage based off of the type of waste. With these, liquid waste utilizes less water which helps conserve water.

Effluent: Liquid waste which can be potentially hazardous. Plumbers that use this term are generally referring to liquid from a septic tank.

First Draw: This refers to water that has been sitting in the pipes overnight and is first drawn in the morning. This may be a term used during investigative questioning to diagnose a problem.

Flange: An extending rim or edge at one end of a pipe shaft that may give it both support or a finished appearance. The most recognizable type seen in the home is called an escutcheon.

Flapper: The hinged part of a shut off valve that prevents or shuts off water flow. The most common found in the home is at the base of toilet water tank. It is pulled open to start the flush cycle and closes once more once the tank is empty to refill the water.

Gray Water: This is waste water from almost all fixtures with the exception of the toilet. It is sometimes recycled to use on the home landscaping, even without extensive chemical or biological treatment.

House Bibb: Also called a spigot, this generally refers to an outdoor or garden faucet with an external, threaded outlet for accepting hoses. These can also be found indoors being used to supply water to washing machines.

Hydro Jetting: This service provided by plumbers is the process of clearing blocked pipes by using high pressure water as a boring and flushing mechanism. The speed of the water propels the fixture head at the end of the hose down the pipe and clears materials attached to the pipes along the way.

Main Line/Drain: The primary artery of either the supply or drain system which smaller pipes branch out from or feed into the home. It is good to be aware of where this is located.

O-Ring: A circular, rubber ring used to create a watertight seal, often found in mixer taps and waste pipe fittings.

Relief Valve: A relief valve prevents water in a water heater from overheating. It responds to either excessive temperature or pressure through a thermostat and discharges the overheated water. This prevents pipes from bursting when they reach their pressure or temperature limit. It is almost exclusively referred to with standard water heater systems.

Septic Field: In a septic system, the pipes that discharge bacterially treated wastewater from the septic tank and discharges it into the soil for natural decontamination. It is vital to be aware of the location not only for catching warning signs when the system is failing but to avoid damage from weighted items, like vehicles, in the area.

Sediment: The substance that settles on the bottom of the water tank or pipes. It is also referred to as lime.

Sump Pump: A sump is a pit or pool for draining, collecting or pouring generally undesirable water which is typically found in the basement of a home. A sump pump is installed to remove water from the area to keep the building dry and prevent flooding.

Trap: Also referred to as a bend, these are drainpipes under baths, sinks and other fixtures that are designed to trap a small quantity of water in the pipe. This helps to prevent sewer odors entering the building. There are three types named after the shape of the pipe: P, U and S.


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