How Good Is Your Plumbing Vocabulary?

EMPLOYMENT

By: Ian Fortey

7 Min Quiz

Image: Unsplash by tian kuan

About This Quiz

What do you think qualifies as plumbing, anyway? When our ancient ancestors discovered that digging a hole could lead to clean water and made the first wells, was that plumbing? That's been going on for over 8,000 years. Various forms of crude indoor plumbing that allow clean water in and take wastewater out have existed for about 5,000 years based on some archaeological evidence. The details of who and how and why aren't super important, but what is important is that people have been trying to keep the water flowing for a very long time. That means plumbing is a pretty ancient profession, and it's had a very long time to develop its own special vocabulary.

Most of us don't have a reason to use too many plumbing terms in our day to day lives, but it's possible you know more than you realize. After all, when it comes to making sure you have hot water or that your basement isn't flooding or that your shower isn't wasting 100 gallons of water every morning, you need to know at least one or two handy terms. So let's find out what you know and what you don't in ou plumbing vocabulary quiz.

Which of these should you have under your sink and near your toilet?

You should have a stop valve installed on the line near any sink or toilet to allow you to shut down the flow of water before it reaches where it's going. This ensures that, if you need to fix something, you don't need to turn the main water off for the entire building.

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What do you call the curved length of pipe found under your kitchen sink?

Any fixture like a sink or basin should have a p-trap under it that gets its name because it's a p-shaped bend in the pipe. Water gets trapped in the curve when the faucet is off, and that prevents sewer gases from flowing back up the line and stinking up the place.

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Do you know what a plumber needs plumber's putty for?

Plumber's putty is used any time you need to seal around a fixture to make sure it's going to be watertight. It looks a lot like Play-Doh, and it tends to be applied pretty liberally when doing any kind of fixture work.

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On what fixture is a plumber most likely to use an earthquake strap?

Earthquake straps aren't too hard to figure out; you use them to secure things to the wall in case of an earthquake. In plumbing, they're a necessity for water heaters, which you need to properly secure for an added layer of safety in case disaster strikes.

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Everyone should have one of these plumbing tools in the bathroom. What is it called?

A plunger is the most basic tool in a plumbing arsenal and pretty much the only one commonly used by everyday citizens. The suction cup creates a vacuum in a toilet or over a drain to loosen clogs.

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Do you know what it means to bleed a pipe?

You can bleed the lines of excess air in a building by opening all the faucets to allow the air out. Why do you care about air in your pipes? An excess of air can lead to very noisy pipes that can actually rattle and shake in the walls.

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Can you tell us what an anode rod does?

Your anode rod lives in your water heater and exists solely to be destroyed. It's a steel rod covered in a metal (like aluminum or zinc), and through the magic of electrolysis, the rod will corrode over time rather than the inside of your water heater.

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Which of these things would a plumber use to seal and pack a cast-iron pipe fitting?

Oakum is generally made of old rope fibers, sometimes hemp rope, and it should be tarred in some way. The oakum is forced into the space between a cast-iron pipe in the fitting to fill the gap and then molten lead is poured in to finish the seal.

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What exactly does a grease trap do?

A grease trap is a key component for many large-scale commercial kitchens that traps the grease flushed down a drain and prevents it from flowing out into the main sewer line. Grease traps have to be emptied regularly.

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Which substance do you need to apply to a copper pipe that you're soldering?

Flux is a compound necessary for soldering a joint that helps them "sweat" together. The flux, as it heats up with the torch, helps pull the solder all the way into the joint to ensure proper coverage.

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What's the proper plumbing term for a tap like you have on your bathroom sink?

A lot of people call them taps, but it's just the faucet you have to allow water to flow out. You have a faucet in the kitchen, the bathroom, the tub and probably the laundry room and outside somewhere as well.

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What exactly is pipe bursting?

Pipe bursting is a way of replacing pipes called trenchless pipe replacement. A new pipe is run through already-buried pipes that need replacement with a head that literally bursts the old pipe as the new pipe replaces it. This saves time and money and ensures you don't need to dig up your lawn.

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How does a plumber rough-in a building?

You rough-in a building during the construction process by running lines and pipes through the framework as the building is being built but not connecting everything. This will be done before the walls are built so the pipes are in place and fixtures can easily be installed later.

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How would you connect pipes of two different sizes?

A reducer is a handy fitting that will be able to connect pipes of two different sizes. One end may be 1.5 inches and the other end will be perhaps 2 inches or whatever size you need. Generally, the difference isn't too dramatic to prevent clogs in the line.

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The formal name for this is cross-linked polyethylene. What do most people call it?

PEX pipe and tubing is a flexible plastic pipe that is being used much more often in place of copper in modern buildings. It's easier to use since it doesn't require soldering and, being flexible, it is easier to transport. Plus, it's cheaper.

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Where are you most likely to find a flapper in your house?

If you've ever looked in the tank of your toilet when you flush it, you've likely seen a small, round valve that gets pulled up on a chain when you push the handle down. That's called the flapper, and it's what keeps the water in your toilet tank until it's flushed.

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What kind of toilet lets you flush with different amounts of water?

Dual-flush toilets are all the rage in most parts of the world that use flush toilets, though they haven't fully caught on in North America yet. The mechanism allows for using two different amounts of water so that less can be used for flushing when a larger amount would be wasteful.

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Can you tell us what a stack is?

All drains in a house connect to one main pipe that runs vertically through the building. From the highest point a fixture is connected on down, it's considered a soil stack. Above that point, it's a vent stack. Gases rise up and vent out of the room, and waste flows down and drains into the sewer.

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If water is safe for drinking, what is it called?

You have potable and non-potable water in any plumbing system. Potable is what you drink and cook with, and non-potable is suitable maybe for watering the lawn, flushing the toilet or washing a car but probably not for personal use.

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A plumber might not call it a bathroom sink, so what will they call it?

Basin and sink are often interchangeable, but some plumbers will stick to calling a sink what you have in the laundry room and a basin what you have in the kitchen or bathroom. It often depends on the plumber.

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What does a float valve look most like?

You've likely seen a float valve in a toilet tank; it looks like a ball on a stick. As the water level rises, the ball floats up pushing the stick down, which cuts off the flow of water at a certain volume to ensure it doesn't overflow.

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Do you know where you'd find weeping tile in your house?

Weeping tile is installed around the foundation of a building to allow for the draining of groundwater away from the foundation. Generally, the weeping tile, a porous tile covered in aggregate to allow only water to pass through, then drains into a storm sewer.

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Where does graywater not come from?

Graywater is pretty much any household wastewater except that which is contaminated with fecal matter. In other words, if it comes from any of your fixtures other than the toilet, it's graywater.

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Do you know what a close-coupled toilet is?

Most toilets you'll see in your life are close-coupled toilets. The cistern or tank is a separated but connected piece to the bowl, unlike some much older models of toilets where the water tank was elevated and away from the bowl.

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Can you tell us what is used to stop water from flowing back into your home?

A backwater valve is a key piece of equipment, especially in areas prone to flooding. If water backs up the sewer line, the backwater valve closes to prevent it from flooding back into the house.

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What does WaterSense refer to?

WaterSense is a label you'll find on fixtures like toilets that means they're EPA certified to use less water than traditional fixtures and are therefore more environmentally friendly and responsible to use.

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This process will soften copper pipes to allow them to be bent. What is it?

Annealing copper is the process through which copper is heated so you can make it more malleable instead of it being firm and rigid. An annealed pipe is much more easily bent, shaped, or hammered into whatever position you need it in.

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Any device that controls the flow of liquid or gas through a pipe could be called what?

All a valve does is either allow or prevent the flow of liquid through a system of pipes. An open valve is a straight pipe from one to another while a closed valve will use some kind of ball or other mechanisms to obstruct the flow.

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How is flow rate measured?

The rate of flow in a fixture like a shower is typically measured in gallons per minute or GPM. 2.5 GPM is the federally mandated maximum for a showerhead and has been so since the 1990s.

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Which term describes a fixture that uses less water at higher pressure?

Low-flow fixtures like showerheads and toilets are meant to use less water overall without compromising on the functionality. A low-flow shower, for instance, should force water out at higher pressures, so it functions just as well but saves water overall.

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Do you know which fixture squirts a stream of water at you from below?

A bidet, either on its own or combined with a toilet, is designed to clean you with a direct jet of water. They're not particularly popular in North Ameria, but they're actually much more efficient and environmentally friendly than using toilet paper.

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What does a snake do?

A snake is a kind of auger meant to clean out drain lines, often when a clog is either very deep in the line or so large it's hard to be cleaned by other means. A long metal line is forced down the pipe and usually hand-cranked or mechanically cranked to loosen up any material clogging the drain.

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What's another term for the wastewater from a toilet?

Household wastewater from the toilet is called blackwater and is often separated in drain systems from graywater, which can sometimes de diverted to storm sewers. Blackwater must always go to the sanitary sewer so it can be treated.

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One of these will stop your bathtub from flooding if you leave the water running. What is it?

Often, bathtubs and bathroom sinks will have overflow valves installed, and they're just holes in the basin or the tub under the faucet. When the water level reaches the overflow, it drains out and prevents the water from overflowing onto the floor.

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Which of these transports sewage away from buildings?

Sewage flows from houses and businesses into a sanitary sewer so it can flow to a treatment plant. A storm sewer does not transport sewage and does not have to go to a plant for treatment.

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Sewage stored underground on a property is held in which of these?

Especially in rural areas, sewage from a home will be transported to a septic tank where it can decompose and begin the basic treatment process. This happens most often when a connection to a municipal sewer system is not an option. Septic tanks have to be drained regularly.

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Which of these is a device that allows for a continuous flow of hot water?

A tankless water heater is a device that saves a lot of space by doing away with the large traditional water tank instead of heating water directly in the pipes as it passes through. This way you never run out of hot water, but it can be pricey to set up.

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Do you know what tool a plumber might use to remove a nut that's hard to read?

A basin wrench is designed to work in confined spaces. The head is on a hinge so it can flop from one side to another, letting it operate in a narrow vertical passage like up under a basin.

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This device can remove water that has pooled in the basement. What's it called?

A sump pump generally works with a sump basin below a basement floor. Sump basins collect water sometimes from overflow and sometimes from external drainage systems like weeping tile, and the sump pump forces it out before it backs up to flood the basement.

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Which device do you need if your water has too many minerals like calcium or magnesium in it?

You have hard water if there's too high a mineral content in it. Hard water makes it hard to work up a good lather and get anything clean, but a water softener exchanges the harsh mineral ions for sodium ions and makes your water a little easier to work with.

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