Plumbing Terminology to Help You Better Understand Your Home's Plumbing System

Plumbing terms aren’t the easiest thing to master, especially when you don’t work in the plumbing industry! Fixtures and plumbing systems have so many components, it’s hard to keep them straight. It’s even harder to decode plumbing terms when you’re frazzled, working with a plumber to perform emergency repairs at your Louisville area home!

The expert Louisville plumbers of Jarboe’s have taken the time to explain some common plumbing terms below to help you learn the ins and outs of your home’s plumbing system.  It doesn’t matter if you have planned a remodel for months or just called an hour ago for emergency help – having some knowledge of plumbing terms helps you feel more comfortable when talking with a plumber.

We want you to have a good understanding of what you get when we work on your job. Our plumbing technicians always take the time to answer your questions, but our plumbing terms guide helps you become familiar with the lingo a plumber may use in conversation. Know what to expect and feel confident when you tackle your plumbing projects with Jarboe’s – contact us today to get started!

General Plumbing Terms

To start, first, we go over some common plumbing terms that have the potential to come up in conversation when you chat with your Louisville plumber about any type of plumbing work.

  • Backflow: The wastewater in your home’s drain lines is supposed to flow in a certain direction – when flow reverses, this is called backflow. Backflow is wastewater moving through drains in the wrong direction. This serious problem has the potential to contaminate potable water at home.

  • GPM: Gallons per minute measures the amount of water a plumbing fixture uses – find this measure commonly with showerheads and faucets.

  • Graywater: This is wastewater that comes from any water appliance or fixture in your home except toilet wastewater.

  • Low flow: Low flow is used to describe various water-efficient fixtures which consume less water to do their job. You’ve likely heard of low-flow toilets, faucets, and showerheads, and may even currently use them.

  • Main line: The main line is a home’s main water supply line, which carries water to the home from municipal water delivery lines or the home’s well.

  • Rough-in: When moving the location of a plumbing fixture or undergoing a remodel, rough-in is an installation term that involves the running of various plumbing lines to the fixture’s location. This includes water, waste, drain, and vent lines.

  • pH: Potential of hydrogen shows the water’s alkalinity or acidity – you hear this term most commonly when discussing installation of a water filtration system in the home.

  • Potable: Potable is the plumbing term used for safe drinking water. Potable water is also safe for cooking and other uses around your house.

  • Shutoff valves: Plumbing systems and individual fixtures have shutoff valves, which allow you to stop water flow to the fixture or through the system. Shutoff valves are used in emergency situations such as water leaks to protect against water damage and water waste. Shutoff valves for sinks and toilets are usually located below and behind the fixture, while the main line’s shutoff valve is typically found at the main intake point to the home.

Plumbing Terms Covering Materials

Plumbing systems are made up of all sorts of different materials, largely dependent on the age of your Louisville home and what plumbing work has been performed in the past. These plumbing terms cover the types of materials used in plumbing systems. You are likely to hear your plumber drop these plumbing terms as you discuss plumbing line repairs or plumbing system upgrades.

  • Cast iron: Cast iron was quite popular in home plumbing systems prior to 1960, as it offered a service life of 80 to 100 years! Depending on the age of your Louisville home, it may be time to replace cast iron plumbing components. While no longer the material of choice in residential plumbing system piping, cast iron tubs are making a big comeback as a luxury item popular in bathroom remodels.

  • Copper: Copper and copper alloy piping was greatly used in homes throughout the 1950s and 1960s, but can also be found in newer homes for potable water lines. Copper was popular because it is rust-free, though corrosion is a possible risk, especially at solder joints between pipe sections.

  • Coupling: Couplings are used to connect sections of plumbing pipe.

  • CPVC: Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride plumbing pipes are a plastic material. This piping type is used for a home’s potable hot and cold water lines.

  • Galvanized steel: Another common choice in the past, galvanized steel plumbing pipes were used in the late 1800s through about 1960. Their zinc coating protects the pipe material from corrosion to lengthen service life.

  • PE: Polyethylene is a plastic used for pipes in water and gas lines.

  • PEX: Cross-linked polyethylene is a newer plastic technology popular for potable hot water piping. Less labor is needed to install PEX piping versus copper or rigid plastic. Their flexibility allows a single section of piping to easily fit around corners, eliminating the need for elbow joints.

  • PVC: Polyvinyl chloride plastic makes up the rigid, white piping common in plumbing applications that include vent, waste, underground cold water, drain, sprinkler, and irrigation lines. Flexible PVC is now available for use.

Plumbing Terms for Toilets

The toilets in your Louisville home are made up of several parts. Malfunctions in toilet components cause leaks and other issues with your home’s plumbing. These toilet plumbing terms detail components you may hear about when you have a plumber check out a broken toilet.

  • Closet flange: This is an anchoring ring that allows a toilet’s base to connect to the bathroom floor. The toilet is tightened down on the closet flange with bolts.

  • Flapper: A shutoff valve, the flapper in a toilet tank is a hinged flap located at the tank’s floor. When flushed, the flapper opens to allow water out of the tank. Once shut, the tank refills.

  • Float valve: The float valve, or ballcock, is the toilet part that is most commonly recognizable – the ball on the stick. By floating atop the tank water, it determines when tank water has reached the appropriate level. Once achieved, the toilet tank stops filling.

  • Overflow tube: This is a backup measure that allows excess tank water to move to the bowl. This happens in the event of a float valve error. When water moves through the overflow tube, it creates a toilet’s “running” sound. If you hear this, your float valve needs attention.

  • Priming jet: Tank water moves through the priming jet into the toilet’s bowl to push the waste inside to the trapway.

  • Trapway: The trapway passes between the toilet bowl and the drain. Sometimes called a ball-pass or ball passage, its name comes from the diameter of a ball that could pass through the trapway.

Plumbing Terms for Faucets and Sinks

Sinks and faucets also have different components – it’s helpful to know the plumbing terms for these fixtures in case you need plumbing repairs.

  • Aerators: A cap that sits on the faucet tip, designed to combine air and water for increased volume with less water use.

  • Escutcheon: This often-decorative plate covers the faucet stem and the wall hole it connects through. Escutcheons are also found on other wall plumbing penetrations, such as shutoff valves and shower arms.

  • Hose bibb: Another name for a spigot, hose bibbs accommodate connections to hoses for various uses. They’re most commonly used in laundry room connections and on the exterior of a home for garden hose hookup.

  • P-trap: The p-trap is the piping that runs below a sink, commonly within a cabinet, connecting the sink drain to the home’s drain lines. The curved section of the p-trap holds a minor amount of water to stop drain line odors from backing up through the sink.

  • Pressure balance valve: A mixing valve that evens out hot and cold water pressures for the delivery of steadier temperatures – this is important in a shower.

  • S-trap: The same principle as a p-trap though for drain lines that run behind a wall instead of the floor.

Plumbing Terms for Drains

These drain plumbing terms concern fixture drains as well as drain lines through your home.

  • Cleanout plug: This is a type of trap that sits within drain piping. The cleanout plug permits access into the drain for clog clearing.

  • Drain: Drains are on all water-consuming fixtures as well as sometimes located in areas of the home where water is used. Sink and tub drains typically feature an open design, while a floor drain in a garage or laundry room is topped with a grate to stop any debris from falling in the drain where they pose a risk of forming a clog.

  • Backflow prevention device: A device installed within the plumbing system to safeguard against backflow of wastewater in the home’s drain lines.

  • Vent stack: Also called vent piping, a vent stack keeps pressures in drain lines equal. This helps prevent vacuum conditions in the drain lines, which may stop drainage flow.

Learn More Plumbing Terms from Your Louisville Plumber!

If ever you don’t know what the plumbing terms we use mean, please feel free to ask questions. We take customer education very seriously and are here to help you expand your industry vocabulary with thorough definitions of common plumbing terms.

Ready to begin your home plumbing project? Contact Jarboe’s today to learn how we are able to assist.

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