Plumbing Basics: A Beginner’s Guide to Plumbing

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Reviewed by: Hady Makhmalbaf Ph.D., PE, Sr. Mechanical Engineer

Did you know that plumbing is one of the most important aspects of your home? Understanding what plumbing is and how it all works is essential for keeping a home in good condition. This article will cover the plumbing basics every homeowner should know to properly understand and maintain their home plumbing system.

What is plumbing?

Plumbing is the system of pipes and fixtures that is used to carry water and waste throughout a home or commercial building. The term “plumbing” can also refer to the trade of installing and repairing these systems 1.

plumber is a tradesman who installs and repairs these plumbing systems. When you call a local plumbing business, they will send a plumber to your home or office to assess your plumbing issue. The plumber will then provide you with a quote for the repair or installation.

Note: The word “plumbing” comes from the Latin word plumbum, which means lead. This is because early plumbing systems were made of lead pipes.

What is plumbing?

Think of plumbing as a continuous cycle:

  1. The first step in the plumbing cycle is drawing water from a source, such as a well or a city water supply.
  2. The water is then delivered to the home through a system of pipes. Hot water is produced by a water heater and delivered through separate piping.
  3. Once the water arrives at the home, it enters the fixtures, where it is used for tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and bathing.
  4. After the water has been used, it drains back into the pipes and is transported to a septic tank or sewer system.
  5. From there, the water is treated and discharged into the environment.

Why is plumbing important?

Plumbing is important for a variety of reasons. It ensures that clean water is available for cooking, cleaning, and drinking. It also prevents sewage and contaminated water from leaking into homes and causing health problems. In addition, plumbing systems transport stormwater from a building to the environment.

Without plumbing, many of the modern conveniences that we take for granted would not be possible. For example, people would have to travel to the nearest body of water often if they needed a drink or wanted to bathe. They would also need to transport that water back to their home, which can be physically straining.

In addition, plumbing has paved the way for plumbing companies to establish a presence in many cities and towns. This presence provides people with easy access to plumbing services, which can be very convenient when something goes wrong. It also provides job opportunities for those looking to become a plumber.

Some general plumbing basics can go a long way to maintaining your home’s plumbing system. This includes understanding how water flows through pipes, being able to locate and turn off the main water supply, knowing how to prevent and address clogs, and being able to fix leaky faucets and toilets. It is also important to know when to call a professional plumber for more complicated issues.

What are the types of plumbing systems?

There are several different types of plumbing systems that exist:

  • Drain-Waste-Vent System – A drain-waste-vent system is used to remove wastewater from a home or building and vent gases out of the plumbing system.
  • Water Supply System – This system provides clean water (hot and cold) to a home or building.
  • Storm Drainage System – This system helps to prevent flooding by draining excess water away from a home or building during a storm.
  • Sanitary Sewer System – This system carries wastewater from a home or building to a treatment plant.
  • Gas Supply System – This system provides natural/propane gas to a home or building.
  • Systems that transport other fluids – In commercial projects, plumbing systems can also include the transportation of other fluids like compressed air, oils, chemicals, etc.

What are the components of a plumbing system?

A plumbing system consists of several different components, all of which work together to ensure that water flows where it is needed and that waste is properly disposed of.

Pipes

Plumbing pipes are the vessels that bring water into and out of the home. There are two main types of pipes:

Supply pipes – These pipes carry clean water from the water source into the home.

Drain pipes – These pipes take wastewater out of the home.

pipe plumbing basics

These plumbing pipes can be made from different types of pipe materials, which include:

  • ABS
  • Copper
  • Black Pipe
  • Cast Iron
  • Clay
  • CPVC
  • Galvanized Steel
  • Kitec
  • Lead
  • PEX
  • Polybutylene (PB)
  • PVC

Pipes such as lead 2 and polybutylene are being phased out of new construction projects due to health and safety concerns, while other newer materials like PVC and PEX are becoming more popular. Each of these different types of pipes has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, so be sure to consider your options before choosing a material for your home plumbing system.​

Plumbing pipes can also come in many different sizes, depending on the amount of water they need to carry. Pipes will typically have two main measurements: the inside diameter and the outside diameter. The inside diameter is the measurement of the hole in the pipe, while the outside diameter is the distance from one side of the pipe to the other.

Plumbing Fixtures

Plumbing fixtures are the devices that are used to actually use the water in the plumbing system.

A plumbing fixture is a device that is connected to the plumbing system and uses water. Some examples of fixtures include:

  • Toilets
  • Sinks
  • Showers
  • Tubs
  • Washing machines
  • Dishwashers

Valves

A plumbing valve is a device that regulates the flow of water, gas, or wastewater in a plumbing system. Valves are used to control the water pressure in a system, as well as to direct the flow of water to different parts of a plumbing system. There are several different types of valves, including:

  • Butterfly Valves
  • Pressure Reducing Valves (PRV)
  • Ball Valves
  • Gate Valves
  • Globe Valves
  • Check Valves

Valves are an essential part of a home plumbing system and are used to ensure that water flows through a system in the correct direction and at the correct pressure. Without valves, a plumbing system would not be able to function properly.

Drains

A drain is a device that is used to remove wastewater from a home or building. Drains are usually located at the end of a section of pipe and are connected to a sewer system. There are several different types of drains, including:

  • Floor drains – Floor drains are located in the floor of a room and are used to remove water from the room.
  • Sink drains – Sink drains are located under sinks and are used to remove water from the sink.
  • Toilet drains – Toilet drains are located under toilets and are used to remove wastewater from the toilet.
  • Shower drains – Shower drains are located in the floor of a shower and are used to remove water from the shower.

Drains are an essential part of a plumbing system and are used to ensure that water is removed from a home or building in an efficient way. Without drains, water would build up in a home or building and would eventually cause damage to the structure.

Pipe Fittings

Pipe fittings are the connectors used to join two or more sections of pipe together, commonly made from metal or plastic materials. They are used to create a watertight seal between two pipes, allowing fluid to flow through the system in an efficient manner. Here are some common types of pipe fittings:

  • Elbow 
  • Coupling
  • Union 
  • Tee 
  • Reducer/Adapter
  • Flange
  • Nipple
  • Cap
  • Barb
  • Plug
  • Wye
  • Bushing
  • Cross
  • Trap

Each fitting has its own specific properties and advantages. For example, some fittings offer a faster or more secure joint than others, while others may be better suited for certain types of pipe materials.

How are plumbing systems designed?

The plumbing system in a home is a complicated network of pipes and fixtures that work together to provide clean, potable water and remove wastewater. Plumbing systems must be carefully designed to ensure that they are effective and efficient.

A variety of factors, such as the layout of the home, the water pressure, and the climate, must be taken into account when designing a home plumbing system. Based on the consumption rate of each fixture, the engineer of record must calculate the size and type of each branch. Factors like cost, fluid speed inside the pipe, and pressure drop are taken into account to properly design the plumbing system.

Computer-aided design (CAD) software is often used to create detailed plans of the plumbing system. Once the plans are complete, the plumbing system can be installed by a qualified professional. MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) engineers are often involved in designing and installing plumbing systems.

How are plumbing systems installed?

Although the exact procedures will vary from one project to another, the general steps involved in installing a plumbing system are similar.

The first step in installing a plumbing system is to map out the piping layout. This involves determining where the water lines and sewer lines will run, as well as the location of any fixtures.

Once the layout is complete, the next step for most one-story buildings is to excavate the trenches for the pipes. The depth of the trenches will vary depending on the type of pipe being used.

After the trenches are dug, the pipes can be installed and connected to the water supply and sewer lines.

Finally, any fixtures such as sinks, toilets, and showers can be installed and connected to the plumbing system. For floors above ground, project architects and plumbing engineers will coordinate to find the best locations (like chases, thick walls, risers, etc.) to route the plumbing and distribute the pipes to the fixtures. With careful planning and execution, a plumbing system can be installed with minimal disruption to your daily life.

Note: For multi-story buildings, houses with crawl spaces, and other cases, the procedure will be different.

How are plumbing systems maintained?

Plumbing systems are subject to a constant cycle of wear and tear. Both the pipes that transport the water and the fixtures that distribute it can become damaged with regular use over time, requiring regular maintenance.

There are two main components to successful plumbing system maintenance. The first is identifying signs of damage or defective parts before they cause serious problems. This involves checking for signs of leaks or blockages, as well as cleaning filters regularly and inspecting all hardware for excessive corrosion or damage. The second key component is knowing when these early warning signs require professional intervention, whether by calling in a plumber or replacing certain parts yourself.

Plumbing companies play an essential role in maintaining the health and safety of our homes. They provide a number of critical services, including water line repair, drain cleaning, and fixture installation. Additionally, they specialize in installing and repairing a range of different plumbing systems, from complex sewer lines to basic faucets and showerheads. Technicians at these companies are highly skilled and well-trained, having undergone rigorous training programs to ensure that they are familiar with the latest insights in their field. When you need reliable plumbing services, look no further than a reputable plumbing company.

How often does plumbing need maintenance?

The frequency of maintenance will depend on a number of factors, such as the type of home plumbing system you have, the age of your home, and the local water conditions. However, it is generally recommended that you have your home plumbing system checked at least once a year by a professional plumber.

Common plumbing issues

There are a number of common plumbing issues that plumbers are called to address. These include:

  • Leaking pipes
  • Clogged drains
  • Frozen pipes
  • Water heater problems
  • Sump pump issues
  • Low water pressure
  • Toilet clogs or leaks
  • Installing new fixtures

If you are having any problems with your plumbing, call a professional plumber right away. Plumbing problems can quickly turn into major repairs, and the longer you wait to address them, the more expensive they will be. Knowing the plumbing basics will help you prevent plumbing issues, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. A qualified plumber will be able to assess the problem and provide you with an effective and affordable solution.

Plumbing codes and permits

All plumbing work must be done in accordance with local, state, and national building codes. In addition, some jobs may require a permit from the local authorities. Plumbing codes are designed to protect both the homeowner and the plumber, and they ensure that all work is completed safely and correctly.

Plumbing codes are constantly changing, so designers and plumbers will need to stay up-to-date on the latest code requirements. The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) provides a variety of resources that can help plumbers stay current with code changes, including the international plumbing code.

What is the international plumbing code (IPC)?

The international plumbing code (IPC) is a comprehensive set of regulations that covers all aspects of plumbing 3.

The IPC is used as the basis for plumbing codes in many jurisdictions, and it is an accessible resource for plumbers. To learn more about the IPC and how it applies to your work as a plumber, talk to your local building code enforcement office or visit their website.

Does plumbing require a permit?

Before embarking on any plumbing project, check with your local building department to see if a permit is required. Depending on the scope of the project, a permit may not be necessary for simple jobs like replacing a faucet or toilet. However, if the work involves making changes to the water supply system or drainage system, a permit will likely be required. Most building departments have an online permitting process that allows you to apply for and obtain the necessary permits.

Plumbing insurance

Plumbing insurance is a type of insurance that helps to cover the costs of repairs to your plumbing system. This can include everything from fixing a leaky faucet to repairing a burst pipe. Many homeowners insurance policies do not cover the cost of repairs to your plumbing system, so having plumbing insurance can be beneficial. Plumbing insurance typically covers the cost of labor and materials, up to a certain amount. Some policies also provide coverage for damages caused by your plumbing system, such as water damage to your home. If you are considering purchasing plumbing insurance, be sure to compare different policies and find one that meets your needs.

Plumbing equipment

Plumbing equipment refers to the various tools and devices that are used for the purpose of plumbing. This includes pipe cutters, wrenches, plumbing snakes, etc. Plumbing equipment is used to install and repair piping systems for both residential and commercial purposes.

Plumbing equipment is essential for any plumbing job, whether it be a simple repair or a complete installation. Without the proper equipment, a plumbing job would not be possible.

Plumbing resources

When it comes to plumbing basics, there are a wide variety of resources available to both homeowners and professionals. For the do-it-yourselfer, there are plenty of books and videos that can provide step-by-step instructions for everything from fixing a leaky faucet to replumbing an entire house. There are also online courses that offer helpful tips and advice on all aspects of plumbing. 

Plumbing vs HVAC

Plumbing and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems play a vital role in keeping a house comfortable and functional, but they serve very different purposes. As we previously mentioned, a plumbing system is responsible for bringing fresh water into the home and carrying wastewater out.

The HVAC system, on the other hand, regulates air quality, temperature, and humidity levels inside the home. It consists of a network of ducts and vents that circulate air throughout the house. While both systems are essential to a well-functioning home, homeowners should be aware of the difference between them so they can better maintain their property.

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/publications/books/housing/cha09.htm
  2. https://www.epa.gov/sdwa/use-lead-free-pipes-fittings-fixtures-solder-and-flux-drinking-water
  3. https://www.iccsafe.org/content/international-plumbing-code-ipc-home-page/

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