The Ultimate Plumbing Quiz

Torrance Grey

Image: fstop123/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

If you're lucky enough to be a homeowner, you've probably got a big wish list for improvements. A fresh coat of paint for the exterior or interior walls, planting a Japanese maple in the yard, installing a skylight ... but the plain truth is, nothing trumps plumbing on a homeowner's list of priorities. If the stove or oven break, you can always order takeout, and if the lights go out, you can fire up some candles and call it "mood lighting." But when the toilet isn't working, life gets really unpleasant. (Especially if you've got a one-bathroom place). It can really come in handy to know some things about plumbing and plumbing repairs, and this is true whether you're an owner or a renter. Even if plumbing issues are ultimately the landlord's problem, that doesn't help much when water is shooting out of a broken pipe!

So if you think a flapper is a vivacious 1920s woman in a short dress, you might be in trouble. And you certainly won't ace this quiz. But if you give our quiz a shot, you're liable to learn a few things that'll start you on your way. Some of the questions you'll encounter are on basic things that a layperson should know. Others will be more complicated, on issues that a professional plumber would handle. But we think you'll enjoy learning a few things about one of the most important types of home maintenance. Ready? No toolbox needed; just your brain!

Every building with plumbing has both _____ and drainage systems.

All this means is that clean water enters the house, and wastewater leaves it. These are separate systems, to prevent contamination.

True or false: Some buildings are not on a sewer system.

There are two kinds of waste disposal systems. A sewer system, found in more developed urban and suburban areas, carries wastewater away to a treatment plant.

The opposite of being on a sewer system is having a _____ setup.

"Septic" means dirty or germ-laden (consider its opposite, "antiseptic"). If you have a septic setup, your wastewater goes to an underground septic tank, where it slowly breaks down over time.

Which of these chiefly makes drainage possible?

For the most part, wastewater drains from your home propelled by nothing more than gravity (with a small amount of force provided, sometimes, by the weight of water above it). This is pretty efficient, given that we have a never-ending supply of gravity!

What do "traps" capture?

A trap is an essential part of every plumbing fixture. You might find lost jewelry there. The rest of the time, the traps are catching your hair, kitchen grease, dirt, et cetera.

Why do traps need to hold some water at all times?

Gas from the sewer or septic tank, being lighter than air, would rise up into the house otherwise, which would be frankly unpleasant. Not-so-fun fact: If a rat is determined to get into a building, it will go through a pipe, and the water in a trap won't stop it.

True or false: If you want to work on a plumbing fixture, you must shut off water at the main valve.

Each fixture has its own small water shutoff. Look for the little oval knob near the wall and low to the floor. This is a lot more convenient than shutting off water to the whole building.

Which of these is NOT a plumbing fixture?

To be a fixture, a machine or appliance must both take in water from the supply system and discharge wastewater. The water heater doesn't do this, though it is closely related to the house's plumbing system, and some plumbers might feel comfortable helping you do maintenance to it.

Which of these can cause a pipe to burst?

The physics here is simple: Water expands when frozen. Weak or cracked pipes can burst under the strain. And if *all* the water in your supply system isn't frozen, this can lead to flooding.

Which of these is a simple way to keep pipes from freezing?

Again, the physics isn't tricky. Molecules in motion don't freeze as easily as those kept still, and this is true of water. It's why, size and volume notwithstanding, ponds freeze more readily than creeks. Letting the water trickle is a short-term defense against freezing pipes. However, in the long term, you should get them insulated.

Which of these "animals" might help you with plumbing work?

A drain snake will root through clogs in your drain that aren't easily reachable with the always-popular bent wire coathanger. It's a jointed, flexible metal tube, named for its shape and bendability.

Which of these does a dripping faucet likely need?

Often, a dripping faucet just has a worn-out washer (a thin, flat ring) and/or valve seat. Replace these two together, or you're likely to have to do the job a second time.

What are "threads"?

When you screw a pipe together, or apart, you're getting the threads to couple or uncouple. You're doing the same thing, essentially, when you unscrew the cap from a bottle.

What kind of tape do plumbers often use?

You might be more familiar with this in cookware. But Teflon tape can wrap around pipe ends and adhere to the threads in such a way that it doesn't interfere with coupling -- which is very handy. Note that this tape doesn't actually contain Teflon, but the name has stuck. (A little tape joke, there.)

What does a toilet plunger have that a sink plunger doesn't?

A plunger you'd use on a sink or shower drain is called "flat." A toilet plunger is called an open-flange plunger -- it has that inner ring for better sealing and suction.

Which of these is important for when you're using a plunger?

You don't have to plunge away like you're raising the Titanic. But do make sure water comes up over the edges of the plunger's cup, and protect your eyes from backsplash.

About how often do septic tanks need to be pumped out?

This isn't a bit of household maintenance you have to undertake very often. Or, more accurately but wordily, you have to pay to have undertaken very often. This is NOT a do-it-yourself job.

Water-saving fixtures are commonly called what?

To a plumber, these terms mean the fixtures are compliant with the Energy Policy Act of 1992. To homeowners, they mean savings on the water bill.

What is usually the cause of "ghost flushing"?

If you regularly hear your toilet refilling as though someone just flushed it, there's no need to call Zak Bagans. Just make sure the flapper valve is in its proper place. If that doesn't help, replace the flapper altogether.

Compression, ball-type, cartridge and disk are types of what?

These names come from the faucet's interior workings. A ball-type faucet, for example, is the kind where the handle rolls around on a ball-shaped pivot, like your shoulder's ball-and-socket joint.

What's the easiest way to block a vent in a sink or tub while plunging?

This is very necessary to do -- otherwise, you won't get any suction, because the vent provides an alternate air intake. You might be able to seal the vent with a kind of waterproof tape -- but a rag is a lot easier.

Why should you close the drain while taking a faucet apart?

You don't need water in the basin, and if your trap is fine, sewer gas can't come up. But believe us, some of those smaller parts can slip out of your fingers and right down the drain. Better to have the drain cover closed than to take the trap apart looking for them.

Which of these tools is NOT commonly used in a faucet replacement?

A timing light is used in car repair. If your sink has spark plugs that can benefit from the use of a timing light, something is really odd about your plumbing!

What might you use to remove buildup on faucet spouts or showerheads?

If nature itself hadn't created white vinegar, humans would have had to invent it! It removes buildup (from hard water etc) from showerheads and spray nozzles of all kinds.

True or false: Exterior plumbing/pipes need to be winterized.

If you live in an area with cold weather, you probably knew this one. Hardware stores sell covers for exterior faucets and insulation for exterior pipes.

Allen wrenches, useful in plumbing in many ways, are also known as what?

"Hex keys" get their name from their hexagonal heads. These fit into six-sided sockets on the corresponding screws or bolts.

About how many gallons of water are used per toilet flush?

Back in the day, toilets used more than 3 gallons of water per flush. Now, that's gone down significantly -- and you don't have to have installed a "low-flow" toilet to get the savings; it's pretty standard.

What is the most common cause of sink and shower drain clogs?

Yes, hair is the number-one reason for sink and shower clogs. And women's hair is the worse offender, as women have longer hair and groom it more (causing it to come out more easily). Ladies, if your man is complaining about hair in the drain, smile sweetly and offer to get a quarter-inch shaved look like Natalie Portman in "V for Vendetta." He'll likely decide a mesh drain cover is worth the $5 instead!

Which of these can also clear a toilet clog?

A closet auger is closely related to the aforementioned "snake," but is designed especially for toilets. The name comes from the old-fashioned term "water closet."

Which of these items is it safe to flush down a toilet?

All of these items are liable to cause an eventual clog. Some plumbers even advise keeping human hair out of the toilet (for example, if you pull it out of your comb or hairbrush), but small amounts are unlikely to do much damage.

True or false: If it fits, it's OK to slip a snake through the grate of a shower drain.

Even if the snake fits through the grate going down, it probably won't fit coming back up, when it's encumbered with hair and dirt. Take the time to remove the grate before starting.

What does a mixing valve control?

A mixing valve combines the flows of hot and cold water. You fool around with it every time you take a shower or bath.

If a bit of water from the dishwasher is bubbling up through the air gap, you should ....

That's what the air gap is for. A quart or more of water, though, is a sign that something's going wrong and maintenance is in order.

The word "plumbing" itself is derived from the Latin word for what?

Lead used to be considered an ideal material for pipes. It naturally resists tiny leaks. However, because it's also a neurotoxin in higher levels, builders need to be very careful about not channeling potable water through it.

What is the number-one rule of professional plumbing?

OK, we sort of invented this one! But that would be our number-one rule, at least. We hope you enjoyed this quiz, and that your plumbing runs like clockwork!

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!

Explore More Quizzes