Do You Know All of These Common Plumbing Terms?


By: Jacqueline Samaroo

6 Min Quiz

Image: sturti / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Get with the flow! Show you are no novice when it comes to the language of plumbers!

Ever since the industrial revolution, modern civilization has come to rely heavily on the knowledge and skills of plumbers. The plumbing profession plays a vital role in the setting up of systems which ensure that potable water is available for residential and commercial use. Plumbers are also key players in the safe and efficient removal and disposal of generated wastewater. In short, they make an invaluable contribution to public health!

One very interesting aspect of the plumbing profession is the lingo which has developed around it. Just like their specialized tools and skills, plumbers have their very own jargon which some people outside the profession might find a bit challenging to understand. For instance, did you know that pipe fittings are denoted by gender? If you did, then it's quite fitting for you to give this quiz a go!

Expert plumbers are sure to be overflowing with all the correct definitions for these terms. Will you have a flood of right answers, too, or will you be a piping hot mess? Don't waste time - channel your knowledge of plumbing into the quiz!

Can you identify the plumbing term used for a very handy “slithering” tool used to unblock a drain?

The drain snake is a flexible coil which is usually put to work when stubborn blockages cannot be dislodged by a plunger. Technically referred to as a drain auger, the drain snake is also called the plumber’s auger because it gets put to plenty of use in the profession.


Do you know the plumbing term which is reserved for a component which has threading on the inside?

Threads are differentiated by whether they are on the outside or inside of a component. Internal threads are referred to as female threads and can typically be found on nuts, as well as on some fittings, such as tees and elbows. External threads are male threads and they fit into female threads.


Which of these terms refers to the way in which some plumbing traps are curved?

The term S-bend is another name for the S-trap, which is found in some drain systems. S-traps are mostly used with toilets as they are not permitted in some areas to be used with most other plumbing fixtures.


Do you know which term plumbers use when only a toilet and sink are present?

Despite its name, there is no bath in a half bathroom – just a toilet and sink. In contrast, a full bathroom has a toilet, sink and bath, although in some cases there is a shower instead of or along with the bath. A half bathroom is often used as a guest bathroom and is sometimes called a powder room.


A blockage in a fixture’s drain can cause which of these things to happen?

A backup is never a welcome sight, but it can happen at any plumbing fixture such as tubs, showers, sinks and toilets. The most common cause of a backup is a clog in the drain pipe. It can also be caused by tree roots damaging the pipes or by older metal and clay pipes breaking due to deterioration.


Can you say which of these terms refers to a type of pipe used in water supply systems?

CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl chloride) pipes are very similar to the original PVC pipes, but offer some advantages to plumbers. For instance, CPVC is stronger, more heat-resistant and more flexible than PVC. It is, however, more expensive.


A plumber who is ranked between apprentice and master is known by which of these terms?

As with other skill areas, many plumbers start out as a supervised apprentice to an established plumber. With experience and certification, an apprentice may become a professional plumber (known as a journeyman). The journeyman can work on his own without supervision.


Which well-known plumbing term applies to items such as a sink, tub or toilet?

A plumbing fixture is any device which is connected to a plumbing system and is able to deliver and dispose of water. These include tubs, toilets, sinks, bidets, showers urinals and water coolers. Pipes and faucets are also considered to be plumbing fixtures.


Can you spot the term used for an area of land where treated waste water is disposed of?

An absorption field allows for the disposal of effluent (treated liquid waste) from a septic tank. Pipes take the wastewater out into the specially prepared field, where it is allowed to seep into the ground. Absorption fields, are also known as leach fields and septic drain fields.


Which of these terms do plumbers use as reassurance to their clients?

A license shows that the plumber is competent and has been certified to work in a particular area. A plumber being bonded ensures that a customer can receive compensation if a valid complaint is filed against the plumber. Insurance is necessary so that the customer does not have to pay for injuries the plumber sustains on the job.


Which of these terms refers to a part of the drainage system typically found under a sink?

The P-trap is shaped like a letter P turned on its side. It is the most common type of trap used on drain systems as it has superior ability to keep sewer gases from flowing up through the pipe and into the building.


Do you know which term is used to indicate the primary pipe which supplies water to a building?

The term “main” is used for the primary pipe supplying water, usually referred to as the water main or mains. The primary pipe in a drain system is also called the main, but in this case, it is often distinguished by the name “main vent.”


What is the term for the toilet tank device which sends excess water into the bowl when the shutoff mechanism fails?

The overflow tube is a vertical tube which is usually designed as a part of the flush valve. It helps to prevent flooding in the bathroom and resulting water damage in cases where the tank’s ballcock fails to shut off the water once the tank is filled.


What is the term plumbers use when this very common liquid has a high mineral content?

Hard water has a high mineral content (usually calcium and magnesium) and can cause a buildup of deposits in plumbing fixtures. The opposite of hard water is soft water (e.g. rainwater) which is low in both calcium and magnesium. Hard water can be softened by chemicals.


What do plumbers call a lubricating sealant which they use very regularly?

Dope (or pipe dope) is a paste which acts as both a lubricant and a sealant. It is applied on threaded pipes before they are connected and helps to create a watertight seal. A similar substance is plumber’s putty which is used around drains and faucets


A device for regulating water flow into a toilet goes by what clever name?

Flushometers are more likely to be found on tankless commercial toilets than on residential toilets which tend to have tanks. Apart from conserving water, flushometers eliminate the wait period between flushes as there is no tank to refill.


Do you know the rhyming term plumbers use when referring to a fixture which uses considerably less water than normal?

Low-flow plumbing fixtures have become quite popular, since they allow householders to conserve on water and save on their utility bill. Furthermore, these modern fixtures function just as well as non-low-flow ones.


Which of these terms is used for a cleansing bathroom fixture?

A bidet is a floor-mounted fixture which is typically placed next to toilet. It is made up of a basin, faucet and sprayer and allows users to perform personal cleansing after using the toilet.


Which well-chosen term refers to a device which captures oils in wastewater and prevents them from entering sewer lines?

Grease traps prevent grease, oils and solid food particles from entering a septic tank or treatment facility and lowering its efficiency. They are particularly useful on the wastewater systems of large kitchens, such as those in restaurants and cafeterias, since they release much more grease in their wastewater than the average home.


What is the term for a simple but effective circular component which helps to form a watertight seal?

An O-ring is a type of gasket – it helps to create a watertight seal between two components. It is very similar to a washer and some people use the two terms interchangeably.


What term do plumbers use when referring to liquid waste from a septic system?

Effluent is either treated or untreated wastewater which comes from a treatment plant, sewer system or from industrial sources. The term is sometimes used to specifically refer to wastewater which is released into a body of surface water, such as a stream, river or lake.


Can you name the skill level which comes after journeyman?

A master plumber is a tradesman who has gone through the apprentice and journeyman stages of the profession. He is officially licensed as a master plumber and has the authority to supervise other plumbers.


Do you know the term for the rubber disc which flips up and down to seal and open the outlet of a toilet tank?

The flapper is an integral part of the mechanism found inside the tank of a flush toilet. It is a rubber, watertight seal which is raised when the toilet’s handle is pressed to allow water to enter the bowl. The flapper is automatically lowered once the flush cycle is complete so that the tank may refill.


Can you spot the term for a device which stops contaminated water from mixing with potable water?

A back flow preventer is a safeguard used so that wastewater does not flow in the wrong (reverse) direction. If it does, then this could possibly lead to contamination of potable water in a pipe.


Do you recognize the acronym for a type of tubing used for water supply lines?

PEX (short for cross-linked polyethylene) is a type of plastic like both PVC and CPVC. PEX pipes are more flexible than either PVC or CPVC, however, which is why it is sometimes referred to as a tube instead of a pipe. Its flexibility and strength make it simpler and cheaper to install.


A stub-end pipe which collects condensation in a gas line goes by what term?

A drip leg is used to catch condensation and small solid particles which might be in the gas line leading to a water heater or furnace. A sediment trap is similar to a drip leg and serves the same basic function. The difference between the two is where on the gas line they are placed.


What is the term for a component with threading on the outside which is designed to fit inside another component?

Fittings which are designed to fit inside of another component typically have external threads on them and are referred to as male fittings. Connectors such as bolts and screws which have their threading on the outside are male, as well.


Do you know the term for a device which is mounted on an existing pipe to tap into its water supply?

A typical use of a saddle valve is to connect the water tube leading to a refrigerator’s icemaker to a water supply pipe. It can also be used for a humidifier or similar low-demand appliance. The saddle valve is sometimes called a needle valve since it contains a needle which punctures the water supply pipe once it is installed.


Which simple term gets used repeatedly in plumbing and refers to a curved section of a drain pipe?

Traps are a crucial part of a drain system, as they help to prevent noxious sewer gases from rising up through the pipes and back into the building. A trap is simply a bent sections of a drain pipe which allows water to settle in the pipe and block the flow of the gases. Solid objects, such as jewelry, can also get caught in (and retrieved from) a trap.


What is the plumbing term for a small connector with female (internal) threading at both ends?

Couplings and nipples are very similar – both are short connectors with threading at both ends. Couplings, however, have internal or female threading whereas nipples have external or male threading.


Which term refers to smoothing the edge at the end of a piece of pipe to ensure a better connection?

Chamfering is recommended for pipes (such as PVC) which are used in plumbing. It involves beveling or smoothing the edge of the pipe so that it has a gentle slope. Chamfering not only creates a better fit but also ensures that when one pipe is placed inside another, its edge will not push the applied sealant out of the way.


Which term refers to a basin which sits on top of the counter?

A vessel or bowl sink is generally easier to install when compared to traditional drop-in sinks. It can be less stable, however, when the design calls for the drain hole to be the sink’s only point of contact with the countertop.


The load noises created by shock waves in pipes go by what plumbing term?

Water hammers are actually powerful hydraulic shock waves which are set up when water traveling in a pipe is suddenly stopped (as when a faucet is closed). The waves hit against the sides of the pipe, producing the characteristic loud, banging noise. Water hammer can be strong enough to damage pipes.


Can you identify the term for an underground structure which helps to carry away ground water?

A French drain is a covered trench or ditch which is filled with permeable material, such as sand or gravel, and may also contain a porous pipe. When constructed along the side of a building, a French drain can help to lead surface and ground water away from the building’s foundation.


Which of these terms applies to liquid waste from sinks and tubs?

Gray water is household wastewater from the laundry room and kitchen, as well as from bathtubs and bathroom sinks. It is considered to be less contaminated than black water (which comes from toilets, bidets and urinals).


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