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Standard Plumbing Maintenance Terms

What You Need to Know About Standard Plumbing Maintenance Terms

Being familiar with standard plumbing terms and what they mean can help you when it is time to do plumbing maintenance. It is also useful when you need to check for water leaks, as suggested by Austin Water, to save money on your water bill. 

Here is what you need to know about standard plumbing maintenance terms, broken down by areas where they are likely to arise. 

In and Above a Sink

When you are looking at a sink from above, you will see the faucet, basin, water controls/handles, drain, and tailpiece. The faucet is the piece where the water comes out and the water controls are what you turn to adjust the hot and cold water. You may also have a separate spray hose.

A kitchen faucet consists of several parts. Such as the lever (water control) and spout that turns to direct the water. The aerator filters the water at the bottom of the spout and the escutcheon is the faucet's base.

The lever sits on top of a cartridge and a dome which allows it to get rotated. Between these pieces are o rings and washers which can break down causing a leak.

The basin is the part of the sink where the water gets stored while using the sink. At the bottom of a kitchen sink basin, you will see the drain and tailpiece. In a bathroom sink basin, you will also see a stopper that can get lowered to fill the sink with water.

The drain and tailpiece are the beginning of the path for water leaving the sink towards the sewer drain. 

Below a Sink

Under a kitchen sink, you will find your garbage disposal. This device grinds up food before getting sent down the drain. 

There will be two water supply lines, one for hot water and one for cold water. If you have a dishwasher, the dishwasher's drain hose will also be under the sink. 

The drain line consists of a p-trap and a drain stub out. The trap is a U shaped pipe that has a cleanout plug for access in case the trap gets clogged. The trap and stub out connect to the pipes leading the water out to the sewer line. They get connected together by washers, lock nuts, coupling nuts, and gaskets, which need plumbing service if they leak.

Both your kitchen sink and your bathroom sink will have their own water shut off valves. If you aren't sure where they are, look for them now. You will need to turn them off in a hurry if your sink begins to leak. 


The bowl is the area that holds the water inside the toilet. The tank is on the back of the toilet. The tank holds the water for refilling the bowl after flushing.

Under the toilet is a floor flange that secures the toilet to the floor. Between the flange and the toilet is a wax seal. The wax seal is to help prevent leaks.

Outside the tank, you will find the flush handle. There is a tank o ring seal located between the tank and the toilet to prevent leaks.

Inside the tank are some parts that are helpful for learning how to unclog a toilet. A bowl refill tube connects to the water supply. A fill valve sits on the top of the refill tube and connects to the arm of the float. The float is a ball-shaped piece of plastic that raises and lowers with the water level inside the tank.

When the flush handle gets pressed, the float arm lifts up the float. When the float rises up, it pulls up the flapper too since it is connected by the flush valve chain. When the flapper raises up, it lets the water in the tank flow into the toilet bowl.

Behind the toilet is a supply tube that brings water into the tank. There is also a shut-off valve in case you need to turn the water off to the toilet, which is very important to know if you have a leaking toilet

Water Heater

Your water heater has lines for bringing cold water in and hot water out. To heat the hot water, there is a gas supply line that connects to the gas burner under the heater. There is a thermostat to adjust the heat to the desired temperature. 

Inside the tank, there is a dip tube that brings cold water from the supply to the bottom of the water tank. There is a flue that runs up the center of the tank to direct gases, such as carbon monoxide, from the gas heater to your chimney or vents leading outside your house. 

There are two separate shut-offs for your water heater. One is for the gas coming in and the other is for the cold water coming in. If you need to empty the water out of the water heater, there is a drain valve located at the bottom side of the tank.

Standard Plumbing Pipes

Pipes come in a variety of materials that have their preferred uses, so you may have more than one type in use. Some not mentioned here are obsolete and should be replaced.

Copper pipes come in both rigid and flexible types. Rigid copper pipes bring clean water into your home. Flexible copper pipe gets used when the pipe needs to bend.

PEX pipe (cross-linked polyethylene) is also used for clean water supply lines. Unlike rigid copper pipes, PEX pipes are more flexible, which allows them to get used in places where rigid copper isn't.

Galvanized steel used to be widely used for all kinds of piping, so you may have some of these pipes in your home. It is no longer getting installed in new construction.

PVC pipe (polyvinyl chloride) and ABS Pipe (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) are mainly used in drain lines and vents. 

Cast iron is another widely used pipe, so you may have these pipes in your sewer or drain lines. They are prone to rust, especially old pipes. When this happens, your plumber will likely suggest replacing it with newer materials. 

Get Leaks Repaired

Standard plumbing maintenance involves inspecting your plumbing for signs of leaks, rust, corrosion, or other damage. Catching these minor plumbing issues early can save money and possible damage to your home later.

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