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Basic Plumbing: Know Your Pipes

As a homeowner, you probably have become familiar with certain aspects of your home’s basic plumbing systems; but really knowing your pipes and their intricate infrastructure is a whole other story. Having a grasp on your piping system can help you troubleshoot drainage issues, make simple repairs, and remove and install your plumbing fixtures. Thus, understanding of your home’s piping system can not only save you time, but serious cash when it comes to repair and replacement.

Basic Principles of Plumbing

Your plumbing system may look pretty complex, but in all actuality these systems rely on 2 basic principles to operate properly, gravity and pressure. There are two main plumbing pipe systems that run through your home; namely, sewer and water. The sewer pipes evacuate waste water from your home and the supply water lines bring fresh water in.

The fresh water system uses pressure to pump water into and throughout your home. Before it enters your home’s system it passes through a meter located outside on your property. When performing serious repairs, you must shut off the main water supply line which is usually located near or around your city meter. Your cold water supply runs from city pipe, to meter, into your home system; you hot water supply runs through you hot water heater before heading into your sink, shower, and other hot water outlet lines. If a plumbing appliance needs replacement, there are usually two individual shut off valves located at the appliance’s supply lines. Each should be turned off completely before removing piping from the appliance.

Drainage Systems

Your drainage systems are basically the same whether you have septic or city sewer service. Most of these pipes rely on gravity to flush waste water from your home; therefore, they are pitched downward from the appliance. The drainage systems within your home have several major components that work in conjunction to remove waste water.

One is a venting system which is usually located on the highest point of your home, the roof. This allows air to enter the system and push the waste water downward through your sewer pipes; without vents, waste water would have to be siphoned out of your home.

The traps are one of the most important elements of the drainage system and are located under each plumbing appliance in your home. The bowed design of the trap system evacuates waste water while allowing a small amount of water to remain in the trap. This water “blockage” stops noxious sewer gas from entering your home.

Each trap has a clean-out plug attached at the most aggressive point of their bow. If your appliance becomes clogged or blocked, the clean-out plug can be removed to provide you access to the area in need of repair.

The Supply/Drainage Bridge

Though these systems are separate, they are bridged by your plumbing fixtures. Sinks, showers, and toilets are all bridges that connect these two separate systems without allowing them to overlap. When performing repairs, be sure to turn the water shut off valves completely by turning them counterclockwise.

When you have a few minutes, make your way down to the basement or crawlspace and check out your plumbing pipe infrastructure. Try to identify drain and water supply lines. Keep in mind most drain pipes are composed of PVC and will be larger than supply pipes; supply lines will usually be thin, copper lines with red or blue colored shut off valves. Knowing how your plumbing system works can help you solve your home’s water drainage and supply issues and allow you to make educated decisions regarding plumbing during renovations.