Plumbing 101: The “Ins and Outs” of Your House’s Plumbing System
When you turn on the kitchen sink tap, the bath, or the shower, your plumbing system is working intensely to provide its magic. And although plumbing has been around for centuries, many people still don’t quite appreciate how it functions.
If you’re one of these persons who want to know how your house’s plumbing functions, we have the answers.
We’ve attempted to streamline the explanation as much as we are able and give you the description of the basic plumbing system. For sure, this might differ a bit between properties, but the most important principles remain the same.
So, why should I even care to know about the “ins and outs” of my plumbing?
For starters, did you know that plumbing leaks in the U.S. waste 1 trillion gallons of water annually? That’s equal to 40 million swimming pools! What’s more, many of these leaks don’t require the attention of a professional.
Armed with a wrench and a few plumbing basics, you can fix some of the most persistent leak problems. Fixing such leaks on your own is obviously economical, but you also need to know when to call in a professional plumber.
That’s why we’ll dissect the mesh of pipes in your plumbing system to their most basics.
Before proceeding, however, we want to take note that Friday, March 11 is World Plumbing Day!
World Plumbing Day is celebrated each year to honor the essential role that plumbing plays in society’s health. Plumbing is, after all, one of the main reasons that our cities and towns are so clean. But unfortunately, all human waste would remain in the city minus appropriate plumbing. This would render an area uninhabitable and result in the spread of fatal diseases that may bring life as we know it to an end.
That’s why, on this day, the occasion is celebrated with events across the world to focus on the significance of good plumbing and sanitation.
People from within and outside the plumbing fraternity gather to learn, share knowledge, build connections, and discover opportunities to join forces to boost quality and access to fresh water and reliable sanitation.
By the way, did you know the word “plumbing” comes from the Latin word for lead, plumbum? This is also why Lead is abbreviated as Pb on the periodic table. Some form of civil plumbing has been around since the days of the Romans. Limited and somewhat crude indoor plumbing dates to the late 1700s. The more contemporary ideas we relate to current plumbing have only been around since the early 1800s, and that was mostly for wealthy households and hotels.
Plumbing fact: The Tremont Hotel in Boston became the first hotel to feature indoor plumbing.
How does your house plumbing actually work?
Home plumbing is pretty straightforward. A cursory glance at the intertwined assortment of pipes and valves may appear overwhelming at first, but please stay with us. Knowing a few plumbing essentials will help you steer through the network like a pro (well, almost).
But first, when you consider plumbing, you might only picture pipes hidden behind walls and under floors. However, a basic plumbing system functions mostly according to natural laws such as gravity, water pressure, and the notion of water seeking equal levels.
Your house plumbing system is made up of two subsystems. One delivers fresh water into your house, and the other takes the wastewater out.
Plumbing fact: Wooden logs were used as “pipes” for water distribution in England close to 500 years ago. Today, most water distribution pipe is made from steel, copper, and plastic.
Water Intake system
This is the first of the two primary subsystems in your house’s plumbing make-up. In most instances, pressurized water comes into your home through a water meter that quantifies the volume of water from a public water main. However, water is often pumped from a private well and through a pressure tank in rural areas.
When the water enters your house, it’s under sufficient pressure to let it journey upstairs, and around corners, everywhere it might possibly be needed. It’s also commonplace that your main water shutoff valve is situated close to the meter or under the kitchen sink.
Knowing where your main water shutoff valve is located is particularly critical as allows you to shut off the water supply if there’s an emergency. In most modern homes, however, there are distinct stop valves expressly for the sink, toilet or bathtub, so you need not turn off your house’s water supply completely if a glitch occurs with only one of these pipes.
Once the pressurized water passes into the house, it can be used instantly if you need cold water. If you want hot water, however, there is an extra step. A dedicated pipe carries the cold water to the water heater. From there, a hot water line carries the heated water to the fixtures and appliances that require hot water.
Plumbing fact: Copper replaced lead as a heightened awareness of lead poisoning that came about after World War II. Lead poisoning is especially problematic in children, as it affects the development of their nervous system and causes permanent changes in behavior and the ability to learn. However, as many as 10 million U.S. households, schools, and care facilities still get their drinking water through lead pipes.
Drainage or Sanitary system
Once the water flows through your house, it turns into wastewater and needs to be discarded. Although pressure powers your water intake system, the drainage or sanitary system is more straightforward – it works due to gravity.
The wastewater exits your property because waste piping is fashioned to go downwards. It’s gravity that moves this water down, and it continues flowing until it arrives at a sewage plant or septic tank. Sounds rather simple, doesn’t it? Well, not quite.
Your drainage system also requires vents and traps. The plumbing vent helps control the air pressure in your system. Just as drainage pipes remove wastewater from your house, the plumbing vent pipe eliminates gas and odors. Plumbing air vents are positioned on the house’s roof, clear of windows or air conditioning units, so the fumes can simply disperse. These vents also let fresh air into the plumbing system to help the wastewater flow more easily through the drainage pipes.
Traps are also a vital part of your drainage system. If you’re wondering what they appear like, merely open the cupboard under your sink. It’s that curved or s-section of pipe under the drain. Water flows out through the trap with sufficient force to go through it and the drainage pipe, but an adequate amount remains in the trap to form a seal that prevents sewer gas from finding its way into your house. Every water fixture in your home must have a trap, although toilets are self-trapped and don’t need another one.
All mechanisms must be in reliable working order for wastewater to flow as it should and exit your property.
Obviously, if you want a more thorough understanding of your water system, now’s the time to go around and investigate those pipes, valves, and traps around your house (without trying to disconnect them, of course).
Plumbing fact: Since 1963, there has been enough copper piping installed in American homes to wrap around the Earth 200 times, about 5.3 million miles worth.
One more thing. A bridge between the supply and drainage system is called a fixture. Plumbing fixtures include anything from a tub, shower, sink, water heater, outdoor spigot, toilet, or even an appliance such as a washing machine, dishwasher, or ice maker. If something pulls in fresh water and rids of wastewater, it belongs in this category.
The great thing about fixtures, as just mentioned above, is that some of them have individual shutoff valves, so you don’t have to close the main shutoff for repairs.
What does your outdoor plumbing entail?
Outdoor plumbing is perhaps the most overlooked part of your house’s system. Whether it’s your sewer main, landscape drain, or septic tank, the chances are slim that homeowners think about taking care of these components.
After all, they’re outside, so you’ll be less likely to be concerned about them. However, they are just as subject to damage as indoor plumbing. As an example, your home’s sanitary sewer lines can easily become clogged with grease, hair, and debris flushed down toilets.
Fact is, outdoor sewer lines are frequently broken by tree roots in search of openings and loose joints in your these pipes. A video inspection of your sewer line is the most precise method for uncovering such complications with these pipelines.
If your home is on a septic system, it can also become blocked. Having the system pumped on a consistent basis is the best thing you can do to extend its life.
Landscape drains become blocked with leaves and silt that wash down into the lines. All landscape drains ought to be fitted with screens to catch large debris.
To protect your system as a whole, never pour grease down sinks. Even with the garbage disposal, most food should be discarded in the trash can. Also, installing hair traps in showers and sinks will help stop hair and other foreign objects from ending up in your drainage system.
Fixing exterior plumbing problems is no less vital than fixing interior ones. If you notice an issue with your outdoor plumbing, J&A South Park can help you to diagnose and repair it.
Plumbing problems are inevitable, despite how well the plumber installed the piping when the house was built. While some issues, such as leaking faucets, are small, major plumbing issues can bring about high costs if walls, floors, or roofs need repair.
The fact is you don’t realize how much you count on plumbing until you begin having problems. A leaking tap here, a slow drain there – as your house grows older, it’s common to have some plumbing-associated issues.
Being aware of the everyday plumbing problems and solutions will help you recognize when to grab your plumbing toolkit to deal with the problem on your own and when it’s time to contact your local plumber.
Here are several of the issues that demand the expertise of a licensed residential plumber.
- Burst pipes: As mentioned in a previous blog, freezing of water in pipelines can lead to cracks as the water expands. Best to turn to a professional.
- Sewer line issues: These are best handled by licensed plumbers. Any postponements or mistakes could end up costing you significantly more dollars in repair costs.
- Drain line repair: True, it’s easy to rid of small clogs, but for a major blockage, you require the services of a reliable plumbing company.
- Slab leaks: A leak in the plumbing under or within the slabs is best repaired by a professional plumber. A DIY attempt might solve the issue for a short period, but if the root cause is not properly addressed, the problem will persist.
- Water leaks and water damage: A silent leak in the roof can ultimately lead to thousands of dollars in repair costs if you end up having to repair not only the pipes but also the structural elements that were damaged. Such leaks are best left to the experts.