Which Plumbing Terms Should You Know

Matt Marandola
Written by Matt Marandola
Updated June 17, 2021
plumbing pipes under sink
Melissa Ross / Moment via Getty Images

Whether you're renting an apartment or own multiple properties, there are a few key plumbing terms that everyone needs to know

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In the very unfortunate event you come home from work to find a pipe burst or the toilet won’t stop running, you may not want to wait around for a plumber—and even if you call one, being able to talk shop can help streamline the repair process. By the end of this article, you should know what items like a shut-off valve, an auger, and even a flapper are. But don’t worry, there’s no quiz.

Bathroom Plumbing Terms

Bathroom plumbing terms relate to, you guessed it, the bathroom. The place where you can finally get some peace and quiet—until you realize that the shower faucet is falling off the wall or your toilet won’t stop cycling.

These are the terms you’ll need to know to tackle emergencies or complete DIY plumbing tasks.

Shut-off Valve

The shut-off valve is the piping valve that stops the flow of water in the pipe. You’ll find this next to the toilet or under the sink. Kitchen and laundry room sinks also include shut-off valves.

This valve will have a knob either on the pipe or next to the wall. Turn it clockwise to shut off the water.


Augers are flexible metal rods that clear clogs in a toilet or drain. While plungers tackle most issues, the auger is there for anything heavy-duty.


While you’ll find flappers in many piping systems, the one most people need to know about is in the toilet. When you press down on the toilet handle, it raises the flapper to start the flushing cycle. If the flapper doesn’t seal correctly, you might experience a running toilet.

Float Valve

Another common item you’ll find in your toilet, the float valve automatically shuts off the water at a certain level. You can often change the desired toilet water level with a knob attached to the float valve.

Overflow Drain

Ever forget to shut off the water to the bathtub, but it didn’t flood? Thank your overflow drain. The overflow drain in sinks and tubs prevents water from flowing over the edge. They look like an opening in a sink basin but often feature a more appealing metal cover.


Everyone needs a plunger in their home (and it turns out there are many types of plungers to choose from). A standard sink or tub plunger tackles clogs there, while a toilet plunger works better at an angle and forms a seal in the toilet.


The faucet controls the temperature and water flow, but not all faucets are the same. Some have two handles for each temperature. Others have a single handle that you can change directions to control the pressure and temperature.


A drain is any opening that removes wastewater. It brings water to the main drainage pipe to send back to your water treatment facility.

Kitchen Plumbing Terms

Many bathroom plumbing fixtures also appear in the kitchen, but here are a few that tend to be found exclusively here.

Energy Star Certification

ENERGY STAR certification indicates an appliance meets energy efficiency benchmarks set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Oftentimes, ENERGY STAR certification means a product will use less energy than its non-certified counterparts, saving you on utility bills over time.

Faucet Screen

Some dishwashers and faucets have a faucet screen, which prevents debris from going down the drain and damaging the system. However, you may need to clean these often if food tends to pile up.

Garbage Disposal

Garbage disposals exist within the kitchen sink drain system. They chew up the food into smaller pieces so that it passes down the drainage system easier. When garbage disposals break, it poses a hazard to the rest of the home, so you’ll want to get it repaired ASAP.

Reset Button on Garbage Disposal

You’ll also want to know where the reset button is on the garbage disposal. The button resets the motor on the system after an overload failsafe is activated (aka, you tried to shove too much down there). The failsafe prevents damage to the motor and fire hazards.

Plumber Repairing Pipe
Gualtiero Boffi / EyeEm via Getty Images

Plumber Terms

Plumber terms refer to the different types of plumbers and what they do. There are also a few terms they use you’ll want to understand.


A plumber has a license issued by your state to work on plumbing-related issues. Apprentice plumbers don’t always need a license, but will have a journeyperson or master plumber to watch them. You can hire a plumber near you to make any repairs on existing items or to help you install new ones.


A journeyperson has operated and served others as a plumber for around four to five years.

Apprentice Plumber

Apprentice plumbers are those that are just starting their careers. They train underneath a master plumber or journeyperson.

Master Plumber

Master plumbers have completed their journeyperson phase and have 10 to 15 years of experience. They must pass a test to receive their title.


Gallons per minute (GPM) is a measurement used to determine how much water an appliance uses in a minute.

Water Pressure

Water pressure is the amount of force a water system produces. You measure water pressure in pounds per square inch.


Parts per million (PPM) refers to the level of concentration of chemicals found in the water system. Chemicals need to exist in an acceptable PPM range for safety.


pH refers to the potential of hydrogen. Plumbers use pH as a measurement to determine the acidity or alkalinity of a substance.

Piping Terms

There are more pipes in your house than you realize. Pipes are located in many places, they’re made out of different materials, and they each serve a different purpose.

Here are the common piping terms you should know.

Copper Piping

One of the most common types of piping, copper pipes are known for their long lifespans.


Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) piping is made of plastic and used throughout the house for both hot and cold water.

Galvanized Steel Piping

Another common home piping, galvanized steel contains zinc to stop corrosion.

Main Drainpipe

The main piping system carries wastewater out of the home and into an underground piping system or the home’s septic tank.


Found underneath sinks, the p-trap holds a small amount of water to prevent any unpleasant odors from entering your humble adobe.

PEX Piping

PEX piping is a relatively new product, where the tubes are flexible and easy to install. They’re great for handling tight corners where plastic or metal would prove challenging.

Pipe Threads

The threading at the ends of a pipe allows you to couple two fixtures together. You might also find them on faucets.

Pressure Tank

A pressure tank ensures that water comes out of the faucet when you turn it on. Without it, there would be no way to force the water to the right location.


Tanks refer to any water-holding container. This includes the back of the toilet and your water heater.

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