Plumbing Basics Everyone Should Know

Does the plumbing in your home seem complicated to you? You may be surprised to discover that standard plumbing systems are easy to understand once you know the basics.

The principles behind plumbing are simple and straightforward. Water runs downhill, right? Plumbing follows the basic laws of gravity and pressure and if you understand this, you can understand a lot of what goes on in your plumbing system.

Diagnosing plumbing problems that arise and finding the most efficient solution is still best left to a professional plumber but having a grasp of plumbing basics will help you appreciate the care and maintenance that is needed periodically.

The Two Plumbing Systems: Freshwater

Your home has two plumbing systems or subsystems. Freshwater in, and wastewater out. The freshwater comes in under pressure as it needs to be able to rise to where it will be accessed from the point it enters your home. Usually the freshwater pipe comes through your home’s foundation wall near the water meter.

There is also a shutoff valve on this line and if you have an emergency, such as a water pipe bursting, this valve is the one you close to shut off all the water in your house. You won’t always need to shut off the main water in an emergency. Often, the shut off valve under the broken appliance is the only one that needs to be closed.

Incoming water is divided into two lines. The water that comes into your house is cold and is immediately ready for use on one line. The other line routes water to your water heater and a return line carries the hot water to your outlets and appliances that require hot water. The hot water heater is regulated by a thermostat you can adjust if the water is too hot or not hot enough. The usual temperature setting for best economy is 120 degrees Fahrenheit but can range up to 160 degrees.

The Two Plumbing Systems: Wastewater

Water that leaves your house to a sewer line or to a septic field is not under pressure and flows because the waste pipe system is pitched downward and allows gravity to carry the water out. But the waste line, often called the “Drain Wasted Vent system” or DWV, also needs:

  • They are open pipes that rise from your roof to allow proper air into the drain pipes, so a flow can occur.
  • Vital to proper drainage, curved, S-shaped pipes are under every sink. When water drains from the skink, it does so with enough force to pass through the trap but keeps the bend in the pipe filled with water so that sewer gas cannot be released into the home. The trap also collects grease and hair – the two most common substances in a clog – preventing clogs much farther into the system where it would be more difficult to address. Often traps have clean-out plugs to remove the gunk, but even traps without these plugs can be cleaned out relatively easily by removing the trap and flushing it out.
  • These are strategically placed plugs that can be unscrewed so that a snake can get in and remove the trapped sludge. While they are often in the curve of a trap, they can also be straight pipes with caps that allow a long snake to be inserted to clean out parts of the plumbing system that are harder to reach.

Plumbing Fixtures

While the freshwater and wastewater systems are completely separate and do not overlap, plumbing fixtures are where the two systems interact. The simplest way to think of a fixture is that it draws freshwater and releases wastewater.

Many of the most common household plumbing appliances have their own shut off valves but not all of them do – such as tub faucets. Because hot water and cold water come to a fixture as separate lines, there are shut off valves for each under the sink. If you need to work on a fixture, either shut off the appliance water, or shut off the water to entire home if needed.

The Plumbing in Your Home and the Law

Plumbing involves the routing and management of water which can be subjected to a range of contamination or water damage if the plumbing system isn’t laid out right or if the wrong materials are used.

  • Many older houses experience an evolution in plumbing materials over the years. As some part of the plumbing system breaks, is replaced, or is upgraded, newer materials are used. For example, polybutylene pipes were used for water supply from 1978 until 1995 instead of the more expensive and traditional copper. But because they are prone to leaking and rupturing and develop mold, water damage and extensive indoor flooding, these pipes are no longer used for home plumbing systems.

Galvanized steel water supply pipes were also common in the 1950’s, but rusting, sediment buildup on the inside (decreasing the flow of water) and joint corrosion have caused these pipes to be removed from the list of acceptable materials.

Plumbers are subject to regulation under state and local laws, and must be licensed. This is necessary because plumbing materials and technology change over time, and plumbers must follow current regulations and practices. Without laws and licensing, you could be exposed to bargain plumbing services that are dangerous, unhealthy or likely to fail. There are many rules and regulations based on best practices and consumer protection that licensed plumbers must follow. Making any extensive repairs or upgrades without following these regulations, or using an unlicensed handyman, may lead to extensive damage to your home. Also, if you decide to sell your house, non-standard plumbing that does not meet code will get caught by a home inspector and you’ll have to foot the bill to correct it.

Ben Franklin Plumbing

While it is good to know the basics, so you can treat your faucets and fixtures properly and maybe even make some minor repairs yourself, nothing can replace the experience and skillset of a licensed plumber. We come prepared, with advanced plumbing tools and technology. Our ironclad guarantee not only protects your investment, it also ensures we are going to provide you with the best materials and workmanship possible – we take pride in our work and our reputation for exceptional customer care.