Do You Know All of These Terms That Plumbers Use Daily?


By: Torrance Grey

6 Min Quiz

Image: deepblue4you / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Who do you call when water's shooting from a pipe, or the toilet is backed up far worse than can be unclogged with a plunger? The plumber, of course! These heroes of home repair command high prices for their service -- and earn every cent, performing wet, messy, difficult jobs, sometimes under the home or in tight spaces. 

Make no mistake: Plumbing installation and repair is a skilled trade, and there's a lot to learn. Maybe you're handy with the plunger and the adjustable wrench -- but could you really pass yourself off as a professional plumber? Do you know, for example, what kind of plumbing fixture you'd use a "closet auger" on? Or what "vitreous china" is? Plumber need to learn the names of a vast variety of fixtures, fittings and tools. They need to know about septic systems and sewer systems, so they can keep dangerous pathogens out of drinking water. And they need to know how to control water pressure and flow, to keep pipes bringing us clean water without breaking under the strain. 

Think you have what it takes to at least talk the talk of the professional plumber? We've got a quiz to help you find out. No toolbox necessary -- just a good vocabulary!

What is the definition of "valve"?

Valves control the flow of fluids. In plumbing, it's water -- but you also have valves in your heart, which control the flow of blood.


What does "GPM" stand for?

"Gallons per minute" is a simple measure of water flow. You'll usually see it abbreviated.


What does a "mixing valve" do?

You find mixing valves in many household fixtures -- kitchen sinks, bathroom sinks, washing machines, showers and baths. There are few places in the house where you don't want some control over water temperature.


What is a "snake" used for?

A "snake" is named for its flexibility. This long, jointed tube can bend with pipes, finding its way to clogs and pushing them out into the sewer or septic tank.


What is "backflow"?

"Backflow" is pretty much what it sounds like -- wastewater backing up into fixtures. Needless to say, this is something to be avoided.


The movable seal on a toilet's flush valve is called a ______.

The flapper -- a cheery term that might remind you of the 1920s -- is the part of a toilet's works most likely to wear out. Replacing it in a timely fashion will save on your water bill.


What is the name for the upper part of a toilet?

A toilet has two main, visible parts. They are the tank and bowl. Pro tip: When your water supply is cut off, you can refill the tank manually, by removing the lid and pouring water directly in.


An "auger" is a similar tool to a what?

Augers are more commonly used in construction. But in plumbing, they drill through clogs in drains. The creation of a sizable hole in a clog allows for the renewed flow of water, and often causes the rest of the clog to wash away.


What is the term for used water that's being drained away?

Every plumbing system has two main purposes. The first is supplying clean water; the second is carrying away wastewater, which is sometimes called "graywater" by people who reuse it for watering plants, etc.


What are "threads"?

Threads allow pipes to screw onto each other, or apart. You find the same thing on bottlenecks and bottle caps.


What is a "bushing"?

A bushing is a small plumbing fitting that joins pipes of different sizes. It has threads on both the inside and the outside.


What process does "leaching" refer to?

Pipe metals like copper and zinc can leach into water over time. Too much of this is obviously unhealthy.


Which of these has a "leaching field"?

We learned about "leaching" in general in another question. In the specific case of a "leaching field," organic materials from the septic tank are allowed to seep into nearby land for disposal. Sounds disturbing, but done properly, it's entirely safe.


What does an "aerator" do?

Aeration is sometimes used to reduce water consumption in drought-prone areas. But it also keeps water from splashing excessively off sink basins.


The metal crosshatching over a drain that catches hair and small items is called the _____.

Though it acts something like a sieve, the correct term is "grate." Larger ones cover drain openings on city streets.


True or false: "Fixture" and "fitting" are interchangeable terms.

Though they are used interchangeably by some, plumbers rarely make this mistake. Fittings are smaller parts like valves, faucets and spigots.


The term "plumbing" itself comes from which metal?

Lead is resistant to cracking, and therefore was once thought to be the best material for plumbing. That's why the Latin word for lead, "plumbum," lent itself to the practice of making pipes and controlling water flow in ancient times. It's no longer used for pipes carrying potable water.


A "spigot" is a faucet that is usually found ...

You'll usually hear the word "spigot" used to identify outdoor faucets, like in yards, at campsites, et cetera. As such, they are the rare plumbing fixture that has no drainage system -- if not channeled into a hose or caught in a receptacle, the water simply flows onto the ground.


What would a plumber use a "closet auger" on?

This term is left over from the days when toilets were called "water closets." If you're using one where you store your clothes, something has gone very wrong.


Where would you find a "drain plate"?

The drain plate is high on the basin, underneath the faucet. It allows air into the pipes, so you'll need to block it before plunging the drain to clear a clog.


A fixture that uses less water than federally mandated would be called _____.

Such a toilet is consistent with the Energy Policy Act of 1992 -- which could be abbreviated "EPA," though that term usually refers to the Environmental Protection Agency. But the two common terms are the ones above, "low-flow" or "low-consumption."


What is "porcelain enamel" for?

Enamel is a decorative finish. It isn't for pipes or repairs.


The central line of a plumbing system, where the lesser branches connect, is called the ...

A broken water main is something to see. Grab an umbrella if you're going out!


What is an "augerino"?

OK, we're just having fun here. The "augerino' is a mythical creature in Western U.S. lore, which supposedly drilled little holes in river dams. Hence the name, which is clearly derived from "auger."


A vertical pipe that holds a supply of water in a multi-story building is called what?

When you're in a tall office building, you might see signs referring to the standpipe. It has several functions: It maintains sufficient water pressure for the upper floors to have usable plumbing, and it holds water for the fire-sprinkler system.


Water that is safe for drinking is called ______.

It's pronounced with a long O, "pote-ables." You might have known this one from the recurring Jeopardy category, "Potent Potables."


The plumbing industry's version of the "EnergyStar" program is called ...

If you've been shopping at a store like Home Depot, this is probably a familiar term. It marks particularly water-efficient fixtures.


Which of these is an old-fashioned term for a faucet?

This term has fallen out of use. But there's still such a things as a "ball-and-cock" faucet, which is a specific type in which the handle revolves on a ball joint.


A toilet that delivers a fixed amount of water with every flush has a "_____ flush."

"Metered" is a term that means "measured out." You might be familiar with it from the traffic metering lights that release cars onto a crowded freeway at regular intervals.


Toilets are often glazed with _____ china.

"Vitreous" is related to the Latin word for glass, and vitreous china is a particular hard and glossy kind. Fun fact: Continuing the trend of plumbing terms being shared by anatomy (see "valve" above), you also have "vitreous humor" in your eye.


What appliance does an "air gap" serve?

An air gap allows air and water to escape during the workings of the dishwasher. It's located on the sink, just adjacent to the dishwasher.


When a plumbing system carries away wastewater, this is called _____.

There's a supply system and a drainage system in every building with plumbing. "Drayage," though it sounds similar, refers to the hauling of goods.


What does the word "chemical" mean when applied to drinking water?

If anyone tries to sell you water filters by warning you about "unhealthy chemicals" in your tap water, ask them which chemicals, and what they do in the body. It's likely they'll draw a blank. The word "chemical" has become a catchall term used to frighten consumers.


The term "septic," as in "septic tank," means what?

You'll also hear the term "septic" in medicine -- it's the state of affairs when a patient's body is overcome with infection (sepsis). The opposite, of course, is antiseptic.


What is a "fixture"?

"Fixture" is a very common term. Sinks, washing machines and toilets are all fixtures.


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