Common Plumbing Terms

Do you find yourself confused by the plumbing lingo used by estimators and crew members? You’re not alone. The verbiage can be difficult to understand. To help, here’s a glossary of common plumbing terms you might hear.

~ Backflow – Flow of water or other substances into the distributing pipes of a potable supply of water from unintended sources.

~ Backup – A clogged plumbing fixture due to drain stoppage.

~ Belly – A low spot in the sewer line that creates standing water due to its sinking. Watch a video of it here.

~ Cable Cleaning – The use of a drain cleaning cable of sufficient length to clean the entirety of a drain line. The cleaning is intended to remove blockages and maintain the proper function of the line.

~ Cleanout – A cleanout is an access point that provides access to a drain pipe to clear out obstructions.

~ 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.

~ Fall/Flow – For the purpose of adequate drainage, the accurate downward slope of a pipe.

~ Galvanized Pipe – A type of steel water piping that is coated with a zinc compound. The zinc acts as a sacrificial metal, slowing down the corrosion process. However, over time, this coating can wear away, exposing the pipe to oxygen in the water, which will cause rust.

~ Gray Water – Gray water is waste from sinks, showers, and bathtubs (not toilets).

~ Jet Cleaning – High-pressure water cleaning of a drain line applied through running a high-pressured hose through the line. Watch a video of it here.

~ Leech Field – For the purpose of emptying treated waste, a porous soil with septic tank lines running through it. This is part of a self-contained system that does not connect to a municipal sewer system.

~ 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.

~ Line Locating – The process of determining the location of utility lines including water and sewer lines. In the case of sewer lines, it is also used to mark the location of problems with the line in order to facilitate excavation and repair.

~ Lining – An epoxy resin that lines the pipe and cures in place, thus coating the inside of the pipe. This can be effective for small cracks. This is not usually effective to repair offsets or major damage. Watch a demonstration here.

~ Main – Typically refers to municipal water or sewer systems into which building service lines are connected.

~ 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.

~ Meter – A gauge used to measure the amount of water flow in a system, measured in gallons. Watch a video of a meter getting replaced here.

~ Off-Set – This occurs when one section of a sewer pipe does not line up with the next, creating a gap or reduction in the effective opening of the pipe. See a video here.

~ P-Trap – A drainpipe or fixture designed in the shape of a “P” (on its side) at the fixture outlet. The shape is designed to trap enough standing water in the pipe to prevent sewer odors from entering the dwelling. It looks like this.

~ Pipe Bursting – Also referred to as “trenchless,” this is the process of replacing underground pipe by means of pulling a cone-shaped bursting head through the pipe with the same sized pipe attached, effectively replacing the existing sewer line. Usually, the pipe is fused in one continuous length so that there are only two connections – the beginning and end points. This typically requires much less excavation to accomplish the replacement of the line. Watch our video here and an animated demonstration here.

~ Potable – Drinkable water. Water that is suitable for human consumption.

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

~ Public Right-of-Way – Typically, this refers to streets, sidewalks, alleys, etc. that are maintained by local municipalities. These often contain easements for utilities such as water lines, sewer lines, etc.

~ Saddle Tap – A connection to a main water or sewer line that is attached by means of bands around the pipe that hold the tap in place. Watch a demonstration of an installation here.

~ Sanitary Sewer System – The system of drain piping that carries wastewater from the building’s plumbing fixtures to the city or municipality sewer system. Watch an informative video here.

~ Scope – When a camera goes down a drain line to take video of the line looking for any tree root intrusion, bellies, offsets, breaks, or other problems affecting flow. Watch a demonstration here.

~ 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. Watch how it works here.

~ 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 building’s sanitary sewer system connects to the city or municipality sewer system.

~ Sewage Ejection System – A system designed to provide drainage where the building’s drains are below the main sewer line and cannot properly drain by gravity. This involves the use of a sewage ejector pump in a sealed, airtight collection pit. This is typically installed inside the structure. Watch how it’s made here.

~ Shutoff Valve – Any piping valve that stops the flow of water in the pipe. Main shutoff valves in the home are usually found at the point where the water line enters the structure. They can be ball valves, gate valves, or globe valves. In new installations, ball valves that provide a full opening are now the standard.

~ Spot Repair – This refers to repairing a section of the line, as opposed to replacement of the entire line. It looks like this.

~ Storm Water Sewer System – A drainage system, separated from the sanitary sewer system, that collects rain and runoff water and transports it to a natural water source. This water contains no sewage and typically does not need to be treated.

~ Sump Pump – A pump used to remove storm water from a collection pit. Watch an informative video here.

~ Tap Repair – The repair of the connection from the building main service line to the city or municipal main line. This most often refers to sewer tap repairs.

~ Vault – As it relates to plumbing, this generally refers to a concrete structure that houses meters, valves, etc. Where sewer lines are involved, the term used is usually tank or trap (i.e. septic tank, grease trap, etc.). A vault typically allows for human access as opposed to a pit, which does not.

~ Wastewater – Any water that drains into a sanitary sewer system becomes wastewater and must be treated before reuse. Wastewater most often refers to that which can contain sewage, as opposed to gray water, which does not (or should not).

If you’re like U2 and still haven’t found what you’re looking for, check here and here and here for a more exhaustive list of common plumbing terms.

*Thank you to Angieslist.com, Femoran.com, and Plumbingsupply.com for their glossaries and concise definitions for some of these terms.*