There are times when you need to call a plumber and discuss what’s wrong with your plumbing. That discussion may include terms specific to the plumbing trade and those terms can be confusing if you have never heard them before. The trades use very technical language, and plumbing in particular has a lot of weird names for things. Here are some of the most common terms that you might not already know.
Stop valve – You’ll find these under the cabinets or under the toilet. Right where water comes out of the wall or floor, there’s a little valve you can use to turn the water on or off before it gets to the fixture. Anytime someone mentions a ‘stop’, ‘stop valve’, ‘emergency shutoff valve’, or ‘emergency stop’, they are referring to this shutoff valve located right at the fixture.
P-trap – This is generally found underneath the sink (kitchen sink, bathroom sink, etc.). It’s the funny looking pipe segment right under the drain. Plumbers will say something like, “I need to take the p-trap off to get the object that got stuck in there.” It gets its name because it looks like a P if you take it apart and stand it up on its end. The p-trap’s job is to hold water in order to prevent sewer gas from coming back into your home.
Drain cleaning – This is a term that’s frequently taken for granted. Drain cleaning is not simply unstopping a drain. If you have a stopped-up drain, yes, putting a cable down will unstop it. However, as the name indicates, drain cleaning is where the pipe or drain is actually cleaned. This can be done with a cable or with high-pressure jetting. Remember, when a plumber references drain cleaning, they’re actually referring to something other than just unstopping the drain.
Ball valve – A ball valve is generally a shutoff valve. It has a lever, and is frequently found where the main water comes into your home. When someone refers to the ball valve, they may be talking about that main water shutoff—but not necessarily.
Gate valve – You can differentiate a gate valve from a ball valve by checking whether it uses a lever or a round handle. A ball valve uses a lever, whereas a gate valve will have a round handle.
Fill valve – A fill valve is a component in the back of the toilet tank. The water connects to it, and it’s what fills up the toilet tank so you can flush it.
Flapper – Most people probably know what a flapper is, but there are some who don’t. A flapper is a component located in the back of the toilet tank. When you push down on the toilet handle, the flapper lifts up to allow water to flush the toilet. Sometimes you’ll hear a plumber say, “The flapper is leaking,” or “The flapper went bad.” That means the rubber component in the toilet tank needs to be replaced.
Wall hydrant, hose bib – These devices are located on the outside of your home (generally speaking), where a hose is attached. A wall hydrant is different from a hose bib, because wall hydrants are designed to be frost-free or freezeproof. In other words, they don’t need to be winterized. Wall hydrants go into the home and the water is shut off, preventing ice that would cause the pipe to burst. Hose bibs are much simpler devices that do need to be winterized.
Supply line – A supply line is the water tube that goes from the stop valve at a fixture up to the actual faucet, toilet, or even washing machine. (The lines that go to washing machines are often just called washer hoses.)
Cleanout – This is basically an access point to your drains. Sometimes you might see a plug or cap that can be unscrewed somewhere in your basement, or maybe a crawlspace under your sink. The cleanout is used to allow cables or cameras down the drain.
Water meter – Normally located on the street, a water meter is what the municipality uses to measure how much water you use during a curtain period of time in order to regulate your water bill.
Now that you know these commonly-used plumbing terms, you’ll be able to decipher the Greek language that plumbers use. Hopefully this knowledge comes in handy next time you’re getting service or talking about what’s going on in your home. If you have any questions, contact us or give us a call at 540-483-9382.