6 and a Half Things You May Not Know about Your Plumbing

Written by Juan Jimenez
Updated June 4, 2014
water heater
Having yearly inspection and cleaning from a qualified plumber can keep the water heater running efficiently and prolong its life. (Photo by Summer Galyan)

Many of us take our home's plumbing for granted. Here's what you should know.

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Plumbing is something that many of us may take for granted. As long as it’s working, it can be easy to forget about. However, to avoid something going wrong, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on your home’s plumbing system. Below are six and a half things you should know about your plumbing system.

1a. The trap beneath the sink is not for your expensive jewelry.

Although this is a much-appreciated secondary benefit to your sink traps, this is not the intended purpose. Your sink drains are connected to the sewer, which means noxious sewer gasses have direct access to your home. 

The gasses can make you sick and some are explosive. The traps actually collect and hold water that acts as a seal that the gasses can’t pass through. This also stops icky, creepy sewer crawlers from going up your sink as well.

1b. The water seals can evaporate.

If you have a bathroom that you don’t use frequently, a floor drain that hardly gets used, or a drain that only gets used during certain times of the year, the water seal in the trap can evaporate. This can allow the sewer gasses into your home. 

If any of these scenarios exist in your home, we recommend having a qualified plumber install a trap primer, which will automatically refill the water seal. Alternatively, you could set yourself a reminder to fill the trap with water or pour mineral oil into the trap that reduces the chance for evaporation.

2. Those white pipes sticking out of your roof are plumbing vents.

You know that thing you do with your straw? When you put your straw in your drink, place your finger on top, and pull the straw out of the drink, the soda amazingly stays in the straw. Releasing your finger allows air into the straw and the soda flows back into the cup. 

The plumbing vents on your roof allow air into your plumbing system so the water can flow into the sewer pipes. Without them, water and waste would drain slowly. They also allow the noxious sewer gasses a place to escape since you are trapping them at your fixtures.

3. Water heaters are not maintenance free.

A lot of homeowners put off maintenance and service calls for their equipment, but they are usually aware that it’s needed. Most homeowners seem to be unaware that their water heaters need regular service as well. 

The tanks can fill with sediment, the anode rods will corrode and deteriorate, one of the elements could be burned out, and the TPRV might not be functional. Having yearly inspection and cleaning from a qualified plumber can keep the water heater running efficiently and prolong its life.

4. You can save a lot of money with your toilet.

Older, inefficient toilets generally use between three to five gallons per flush, with some as high as seven gallons. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that flushing toilets accounts for over a fourth of all residential water use. 

Upgrading your toilet to a high efficiency WaterSense toilet can save you more $2,000 over the life of the toilet. Personally, I recommend dual flush toilets that save water by allowing you to flush less water when you only have liquid waste.

5. There is no such thing as a hot water heater.

Despite popular belief, they aren’t actually called hot water heaters. It’s just a water heater. I am not sure why anyone would want to heat hot water.

6. Plumbing is an art.

Sadly, an unfortunate stereotype of plumbers has been ingrained in us, and “plumber’s crack” jokes are all too common. At the origins of the plumbing industry, people respected the idea that plumbers were protecting the health of the nation. 

Plumbing is an art, and properly draining waste, protecting homes from noxious gasses and providing adequate plumbing ventilation is a refined skill. There are enough plumbers to perpetuate the new stereotype, but qualified professional plumbers do exist.

As of June 4, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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