A Quick Reference Guide: How to Talk “Plumber” – Traps, Snakes, and Waste Stacks

Plumbing isn’t another language—it’s more of a dialect. But when it comes to giving and getting information from your plumbing technician, it can really pay to educate yourself on some basic terms with our Quick Reference Guide. That way, you can communicate problems to your tech faster, and he or she can hopefully diagnose the problem faster and more accurately too.

If you need quick plumbing service anywhere in the Richmond, VA region, including Goochland, don’t hesitate to contact us today!

Plumbing Terms

Here are some of our favorites that relate to common problems and fixes, are terms you hear all the time, or are just plain funny or interesting. Your education in consumer plumbing begins now with our Quick Reference Guide!

  • 1/8 Bend Offset: Even though it sounds like directions you might hear while driving (“…then you take the 1/8 Bend Offset to Duluth…”), this is actually a plumbing fitting used for positioning a pipe around an obstacle, such as another pipe or something structural. Great to know if you’re retro-fitting stuff.
  • Arconitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS): A type of plastic used to make plumbing pipe—as opposed to PVC, copper, or galvanized steel pipes. More on that discussion later, or just call us at the office if you really need to know.
  • Air Gap: Despite the fact that it sounds like some sort of cool move that our favorite VCU basketball players might have used on the courts recently during “March Madness,” the “air gap” is actually the vertical, unobstructed distance between the flood level in a plumbing fixture and the lowest water supply inlet, such as the distance between the rim of the tub and the faucet.
  • Back Vent: The situation created when a plumber’s pants ride down. Just kidding! All RPS plumbing techs wear belts. A back vent is a plumbing fixture’s separate vent in a building drainage system. This is actually a very important and very sophisticated part of any plumbing system that helps maintain the right pressure throughout the system and keeps non-potable waste water from flowing back into your system and mixing with the clean water.
  • Branch Drain: A drain from any plumbing fixture (think faucet) to the main drain line.
  • Coupling: It’s not what you think. While this term may sound exciting at first, it really just refers to a type of fitting with two female ends that receive the smaller ends of piping or tubing, making a connection. Coupling also refers to a mechanical device or part for joining parts together to make a joint and a type of fitting used to join plumbing pipes.
  • Ell, or Pipe Ell: Plumbing fitting, shaped like an elbow, which allows water to flow in a curve. Also referred to as an elbow, it is designed to use with pipe, tubing, conduit, or duct and is available in 90 to 45 degrees.
  • Finish Plumbing: The best part of the plumbing! When you’re done! Not to be confused with Finnish Plumbing (plumbing done in Finland), it’s the installation of fancy plumbing fixtures to make the system usable (AKA so you can turn on the water and use it).
  • First Draw: Water that has been sitting in pipes or plumbing fixtures overnight and is first drawn when taps are opened in the morning. For instance, if lead is present in your plumbing, this water will have the highest levels of lead contamination. First draw water is typically also the wrong temperature for whatever you want it for—too hot if you want cold water to drink in the summertime and too cold if you want hot water first thing in the morning.
  • Fixture: The product that you use to get at your water—sinks, toilets, tubs, faucets, etc.
  • Fixture Branch: Pipe that carries wastes from non-toilet plumbing fixtures (like your kitchen sink, for example) directly to the building drain. It is also called a waste pipe, wet vent, or fixture drain.
  • GPM: Gallons per minute—a key measure in how energy efficient your fixtures are and of how healthy your plumbing system and water pressure are. Used in a sentence: “You would be amazed by the gallons per minute that are wasted, when you run the water while you brush your teeth.”
  • GPH: Gallons per hour—another key measure of appliance energy efficiency and of the overall health of your plumbing system. This is the unit of measurement many parents use to measure how much water their teenage daughters use during a shower.
  • Increaser: Plumbing drainage fitting that enlarges the diameter of a straight-line run by virtue of its larger size on one end and smaller on the other. If it is used for the reverse, to make the diameter of a straight-line run smaller, it is called a reducer. Also the punch line to the popular joke, “What does a farmer do if he wants more bacon from a pig? Increaser (increase her)!”
  • Plumber: Tradesman who installs and repairs plumbing systems, AKA Gary.
  • Plumbing: If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably already figured out what plumbing is, but just in case, it is a collective term for the pipes and fixtures, etc., involved with the movement of fluid throughout a building. (At Heinz Stadium where the Steelers play, their plumbing carries beer—no joke!)
  • Plumbing Snake: Thin, flexible length of spiral-wound metal, which is inserted into a drain and rotated to clear anything that is clogged in the pipes. Much different from the variety found on planes, and more useful.
  • Pressure Head: Pressure in a plumbing system. The unit of measure which is the vertical force exerted by water at a depth of one foot.
  • Rough In Plumbing: Plumbing system installation that prepares for but does not include the installation of fixtures.
  • S-Trap: See also, “Trap.” A plumbing trap that takes the shape of the letter S and is used where a waste pipe feeds into the floor instead of the wall, which uses a P-Trap. Disallowed in many parts of the country, they can create a siphoning situation, pulling water out of the trap. And that’s just something that none of us really wants to think about.
  • Sewer: A system of pipes, containment and treatment facilities for the disposal of plumbing wastes…that houses alligators if you live in Florida.
  • Stops, or Supply Stops: Those little valves under your sink or toilet that shut off the hot or cold water from flowing to your faucet or toilet. A really great thing to know about if you ever have water flowing uncontrollably from a faucet or toilet and need to shut the water off immediately.
  • Sweat: What RPS plumbing technicians do on a hot day. Also, a soldered pipe connection.
  • Trap: If you’ve ever smelled a funny, rotten-smelling odor coming from your sink, even after you’ve cleaned it, you may be smelling sewer gases, which can contain methane and sometimes hydrogen sulfide gas. The trap is just that—it traps those types of gases. It’s a curved section of drain line that prevents sewer odors from escaping into the atmosphere. There are many different types of traps that use different designs and seals to trap the gases. An air trap is a u-shaped pipe filled with water and located beneath plumbing fixtures to form that seal. A drum trap is a plumbing fixture shaped like a cylinder that retains water as a seal, with an outlet at its top and an inlet at its base. It’s used in plumbing fixtures that are too low to the floor to install a P-trap. And then there are P-traps and S-traps. All fixtures that have drains must have a P-trap installed. A toilet is the only plumbing fixture that uses an S-trap.
  • Vitreous: Surface material on some plumbing fixtures derived from or consisting of glass. It usually has a translucent quality and is low on porosity.
  • Waste Stack: A vertical pipe in a plumbing system that carries the discharge from any fixture. A very important stack, indeed.

See? Plumbing isn’t nearly as boring as you thought. It’s actually quite sophisticated, when you think about the delicate balance between water, pressure, direction and pipes. It’s something we think about and respect every day.