Do You Know All of These Things a Good Plumber Should Know?

Zoe Samuel

Image: GregorBister / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Plumbing is something we do not see and do not think about most of the time, but living without it would be a nightmare. Plumbing is in many ways the yardstick of civilization. Great cultures build waterfronts. Great empires build canals. Great civilizations have plumbing. Plumbing means indoor toilets, showers and sinks, which freed mankind from thousands of years of waste being thrown into the streets, where disease spread. It virtually eliminated the use of night soil, which spreads disease. It allowed indoor heating to exist without the use of an open flame, putting an end to a centuries-long cycle of cities burning when someone's fireplace got out of control. Plumbing gave us the gas oven, which, until the microwave, was the biggest leap in improving the safety of cooking in the home.

Obviously, safeguarding these epoch-making innovations is a big job. Today, not only must plumbers toil with the weight of all of these conveniences on their shoulders, they have to do it with other technological innovations, as well as civil laws and regulations meant to ensure safety and quality of service. Plumbers may not be given much respect as a profession, but they are highly skilled, well-paid technical experts, and being one isn't easy. Do you know what a good plumber should? Take this quiz to find out!

What is the correct term for a stick with a suction cup on the end?

A plunger is a tool usually found in the bathroom, behind or beside the toilet. Plungers are tools used to unclog stopped-up toilets by using suction to force free the blockage inside the pipes under the toilet.

What might one use to turn a pipe?

Pipe wrenches are like monkey wrenches, except for two major differences. First, pipe wrenches are used in plumbing, and that's all. Pipe wrenches have to be able to hold a tight grip and apply leverage so plumbers can install pipes. Second, their name isn't as fun as "monkey wrench".

What should you make sure to do with your outside water pipes in winter?

In the winter, exposed pipes filled with water will freeze, rupture and leak. By the time the weather warms up, the pipes will be knackered. To ensure this does not happen, you should do one of two things. First, if you aren't around, you should turn off the water and leave the valve open so the pipe empties out. If you plan to be around, wrap the pipe in insulation to keep it from freezing, otherwise you'll be in big trouble.

What is "effluent"?

Effluent may sound like something a language student might use to refer to their mastery of French, but it isn't. It's a fancy word for wastewater, and by wastewater, we mean water drained from sinks, showers, toilets and urinals.

What's the best place to look for evidence of leaky pipes?

The basement is almost always the best place to look for evidence of a leak. Basements will usually show the leak in the form of buckled ceilings, droplets of water coming from the ceiling, puddles on the floor or mold.

What does warm air coming from under the sink probably mean?

Warm air under the sink is often a sign that there is warm water leaking from somewhere. This could be due to a clog, or something else. Either way, it needs addressing.

If you think your radiator is leaking, what should you do?

You don't want the water leaking out of the radiator, so by pushing the valve back, you ensure that the condensation that becomes the leak will just roll back into the pipes from whence it came.

What does standing water around the water heater mean?

Standing water in the basement is never a good sign, but if it is under your water heater, then it's a sign of major damage to the device. While it may be possible to fix this, if this is a chronic problem, replacing it is often cheaper than fixing it, both long term and short term.

What needs to be replaced every 2 to 3 years?

Washers wear out, and when they do, the effects of their failure can cascade through the system. If a washer goes, you could wind up with a leak, but that leak could get into a confined space and freeze, expanding and creating cracks in the structure of your home. Keep track of when things are installed so you know when to replace the washers, and make sure you buy duplicates when you install the first ones.

What does ABS stand for?

ABS, or acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene, is a plastic used to make, among other things plastic pipes used in plumbing. The pipe is usually black, and is used in a variety of applications.

What device uses the force that makes pipes knock to move water uphill?

The hydraulic ram is a device that uses the explosive force of water hammer (pressure surge due to changing the direction of liquid) to force some water in a direction chosen during the setup of the hydraulic ram, usually uphill. The only drawback of the hydraulic ram? It wastes a lot of water that it needs to generate force, but it doesn't pump uphill.

What might a plumber think of when they hear of a "wafer"?

A wafer check valve is a kind of check valve used for one of two reasons: Either there isn't much space in the location where the valve is installed, or there is motive to save weight.

Who is Clevis?

A Clevis hanger is a piece of simple engineering used the world over. Normally, pipes would have to snake along a surface, pass between walls, or lay atop a large grid of wire to have the support needed to cross long distances. In order to install pipes in large spaces where a pipe needs to snake along a ceiling without support from walls or a floor, U-shaped Clevis hangers are bolted to the ceiling to support the pipe.

What unique type of industrial space usually has a sink faucet, coffee maker and refrigerator, thus needing special plumbing consideration?

"Coffee Station" may sound like a place to refuel the USS Enterprise, but it's a technical term for the sort of break room where there is a coffee maker, sink and fridge. Different municipalities have different rules around how these spaces must be set up, though, so don't think for a second that things in the coffee station were set up in a haphazard way.

What is a combo sewer?

A combo or "combination" sewer is a sewer that allows both wastewater from buildings and domiciles and floodwater from storm drains. You see them less and less these days, as various problems arise from them, and building two separate sewers has become much cheaper than it was when the combo sewers were built!

What is the difference between a bathroom and a core toilet room?

All core toilet rooms are bathrooms, but not all bathrooms are core toilet rooms. Core toilet rooms are rooms in office buildings that are designed to handle several toilets at once, a requirement which necessitates a different setup for pipes going into and out of the room.

What do you call the bumpy thing sticking out of the top of your dishwasher, or coming up from the sink?

This bump does an important job. Inside it, a pipe comes up from your dishwasher, points down and stops, like a faucet. Below this is another pipe's mouth, which catches water from the first pipe. Thus, water can flow out from your dishwasher, but not up from the wastewater stack, into the dishwasher, because the two pipes are not connected: There is a gap between them.

Why wouldn't one want to pour gasoline into a septic tank?

Septic tanks are full of ... well, you know. Human waste. As a result, they contain a lot of explosive gases and toxic chemicals. Do you think that adding gasoline to that cocktail sounds like a good idea? Of course not. This is why septic tank owners are specifically warned not to do this.

What does GPM refer to?

GPM means Gallons Per Minute, which is the most common measurement of rate of flow. Rate of flow is important because it means all sorts of engineering challenges for pressure and water hammer considerations.

What is a major weakness of current smart homes?

One feature of smart homes is that they often come with fancy, high-pressure bathroom fixtures, which can play havoc with traditional plumbing elements. This has resulted in a lot of smart home bathroom flooding and insurance claims as a result.

Why is using chemicals to fix plumbing problems a bad idea?

Products like liquid drain opener are convenient, but often they damage pipes, don't work as effectively as tools like the so-called "snake" and sometimes, they don't even work. Given the option, use a tool, not a chemical.

What are S-traps always used for?

S-traps are S-shaped traps, which are pipes designed to isolate particles so they don't create clogs, and can easily be removed. The one you are likely most familiar with is the one under your sink, but there are other S-traps in places like under your toilet.

What are nipples used for?

The oddly named nipple is a part used to connect two lengths of pipe. It is a smaller piece of pipe, threaded on both ends, so it can screw neatly into both pipes. It's handy, when you have an odd length you need to cover with pipe.

When was the modern manhole cover invented?

The 1800s saw a lot of new manufacturing processes, especially around steel. Steel manhole covers (as opposed to stone or wooden ones) can into existence sometime in the 1800s. It's difficult to say who was first, but there are ads for steel manhole covers dating back to the 1860s.

Where might a vent lead?

Of these locations, the roof is the most likely place for a vent to lead. Vents are like smokestacks, except instead of coming from a steam engine or a fireplace, they come from drainage lines leading to the sewer or the septic tank. Vents prevent the flow of gases, liquids and vermin into the home, but primarily they are there to prevent gases from coming inside. To do this, they channel gases up the "smokestack" and out. Venting, get it?

Why was lead ever used in plumbing?

Lead was used in plumbing for all of these reasons: It is cheap, malleable and does not corrode. It is, at the end of the day, one electron away from being gold. Lead is still used in a few select areas, most notably in making shower pans, which are sort of like mini-tubs that sit under showers, to channel errant water that leaks through the shower floor into the drain.

What is a stop cock?

Stop cocks are a kind of on/off valve that can be manually set in order to stop or start the flow in a pipe, be it a gas pipe or a pipe containing a liquid. There is even a kind of stop cock used in medicine, including a three-way stop cock.

What is a TRV?

A Thermostatic Radiator Valve, or TRV, is a valve designed to regulate the temperature of a radiator by venting it when the temperature goes above the chosen setting. This is handy when you want to stay toasty, but not feel like you're in a bath house.

What is the benefit of a spiral heat exchanger?

Spiral heat exchangers keep themselves clean. How? First, spiral heat exchangers are basically two pipes that form a spiral, like a snail shell, only one pipe lets in cold fluid one way and the other lets in hot fluid the other way. The two pipes, being in contact, radiate heat between the two, making the cold fluid hotter and the hot water colder. Due to solids creating choke points as they build up, the pressure of the fluid will then increase on the solids, pushing them free of the system: self-cleaning.

Where would you find a ball cock?

A ball cock is a type of valve designed to control the flow of fluid into a container. When attached to a floater, it becomes the ball cock you are most familiar with: the one in your toilet tank. In your toilet, when the water level is high, the float keeps the ball cock shut. When the water level goes down (from opening the valve that allows the water to flow into the bowl) the ballcock opens the valve, allowing fresh water to fill the tank.

What is a riser used for?

Risers are pretty common bits of plumbing. They are vertical pipes, either plastic or metal, that connect fixtures such as faucets to the water supply stop valve, which connects to the water supply. There needs to be a stop valve for the riser to be a riser.

What's another name for a plumber's snake?

A plumber's auger (not to be confused with an augur) is a tool used to reach down into a pipe and loosen up and remove clogs. It is colloquially called a snake, because it's basically a handle (electric or manual) that turns a metal snake that is directed down a pipe.

What is a disposal field?

Septic tanks designed to treat sewage don't just hang onto it forever. Instead, they have a valve that allows sufficiently treated sewage to discharge into pre-selected and excavated trenches. This is called a discharge field. Just make sure it's nowhere near your well.

What is an iron filter tank for?

Iron filter tanks are tanks that filter out iron particles in water. This isn't a small feat, but if water is particularly hard, it can be a welcome relief for anyone who wants to take a shower, and for anyone who otherwise has to contend with the residue left in your bathroom.

What does gas smell like?

Gas doesn't smell, which is why mercaptan is added to it. Mercaptan is a gas emitted by rotting blood, flesh, eggs or certain vegetables. It's awful, and that's the idea. If you had a dangerous leak of an odorless gas, you could easily wind up in big trouble. With mercaptan, you will know when something is leaking.

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