Plumbing System & Components

  • Your plumbing system should need only minimum maintenance if cared for properly.
  • If any problems do develop, attend to them immediately to prevent larger, more costly problems.

Supply Lines

The three most common materials used for supply lines are galvanized steel, copper, and plastic.

Galvanized Steel:

  • Galvanized steel piping was used almost exclusively prior to 1950. The life expectancy, depending on several conditions, is typically forty to sixty years.
  • One of the most common problems with this material is corrosion. Rust may accumulate on the inside of the pipe, resulting in poor water pressure and flow.
  • Eventually the pipe will rust through, usually at the joints first, resulting in leakage.
  • One of the oddities with steel piping as it corrodes, is that it may rust through in one spot and begin to leak. The rust may then form a scab over the leak and seal itself. This generally means that the piping is near the end of its useful life.


  • Copper piping has been used residentially since about 1950 and almost exclusively since the mid 1950’s. The life expectancy of copper piping is indefinite unless unusual water conditions or manufacturing defects are present.


  • Most plastic pipe applications have been made by the do-it-yourselfer. The pipe is easy to work with and connections can be made without soldering. The most common types of plastic used today are:
  • CPVC – Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) is a thermoplastic produced by chlorination of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resin which is significantly more flexible and can withstand higher temperatures than standard PVC. Uses include hot and cold water pipes.
  • PEX – PEX pipe is a cross-linked polyethylene tubing offers the fastest way to plumb any project. PEX pipe is made from cross-linked HDPE (high density polyethylene).
  • Polybutylene (PB) – Polybutylene piping was removed from the Uniform Plumbing Code in the U.S. in 1989 as an approved water distribution material. In some instances, fitting failure has occurred possibly resulting from faulty installation.If this type of plumbing is found in the home I always recommend it be replaced.

Drain Piping

The three most common materials used for drain piping are cast iron, copper, and plastic.

Cast iron: 

  • Cast Iron was used prior to the 1950’s. Cast iron piping generally fails in one of two ways. The pipe can rust through, typically in a pin hole pattern or you may notice splitting along the seams (especially horizontally). The life expectancy is fifty years and up.


  • Copper drain piping was used primarily from the mid 40’s until the mid 1960’s. In residential use it has become rare. This is due to the fact that plastic piping is much less expensive to purchase and install. The life expectancy is indefinite.


  • Plastic waste piping has been used almost exclusively since the 1960’s. The piping is inexpensive, easy to work with and, very durable.

Drainage, Waste & Vent System (DWV)

  • Unlike the supply system, which uses pressure to deliver water throughout the house, the drainage system depends on gravity to take wastewater away. All of the water used in the sinks, toilets, and tubs throughout the house must flow down to the sewer or septic line in the basement via a network of increasingly larger drainpipes.
  • This system is called the drainage, waste, and vent (DWV) system.
  • Larger pipes allow water to drain quickly. The larger the diameter of the drain pipe, the more water it can handle. In fact, drainpipes are even larger than supply pipes. But its not just because they handle water, waste disposal also requires space for air and gas buildup, too.

Venting the System

  • Venting gives gas pressure a better way to escape your drainage system than backing up into the home. Each appliance has a drainpipe connected to a still larger drainpipe that eventually descends to the basement. The same original drainpipe is also connected to a vent pipe that runs into a still larger vent pipe extending through the roof of your house. These roof vents (some homes have more than one) provide an alternate route for the escaping gas within your drainage system.
  • Vents also allow air to enter the system for without air the wastewater would not be able to flow out. Think of a gas can or juice can: The liquid inside cannot flow out unless a vent hole is opened to allow air in to keep it flowing. Your home vent system works by the same principle. For wastewater to move freely through the network of drainpipes and out to the sewer, there must be a way for air to get into the system. Otherwise, the drains would empty slowly, if at all. In fact, adequate venting is so important that a partially blocked roof vent can slow your drains to a standstill.

Pipe material choices

  • DWV pipes are not under great pressure and can be made from a variety of materials. In newer homes, the entire DWV system is typically constructed of either ABS (Acrylonitrile-Butadiene Styrene) or PVC (polyvinyl Chloride) plastic pipes.
  • Since it is durable, cheaper than metal, and often easier to work with, plastic is vastly superior for most DWV applications.
  • Always consult local codes before making any additions to your DWV system.
  • Water moving through a drainpipe also displaces air that’s already in the pipe. If the air has no place to go it will cause a pressure bubble inside the pipe. This pressure buildup will stop additional drain water from entering the pipe. Venting the pipe allows the pressure from the displaced air to escape, again keeping it all flowing.

DWV System Design

  • There is no such thing as a horizontal waste pipe. All waste pipes must run vertically or have enough downward pitch or slope to allow gravity to do its job and pull the water quickly through the pipe.
  • Drainpipes cannot snake around obstacles within walls, either. Twists and turns can cause slowdowns or backups within the system, so be sure there is enough room for drainpipes to drop on their way to the waste stack or main drainpipe. After all, the last thing you need is a drainage system that doesn’t drain.

The Waste Stack

  • The large, collecting drainpipe inside the wall slopes horizontally downward and joins a larger, vertically descending drainpipe called a waste stack.
  • The waste stack receives drainage pipes from other appliances as it descends through the interior wall space. When it reaches the basement, the waste stack connects to the main sewer or septic line that exits the house through the foundation.

The Roof Vent

  • The other end of the waste stack ascends vertically through the roof of the house, becoming a roof vent. At each point in the wall where an appliance is joined to a larger drain line, it is also connected to a vent pipe.
  • These secondary vent pipes, formed at the junctions where appliances run into the collecting drains, are connected to the roof vent. Since every appliance must be vented, there may be two or more roof vents in a given house.
  • Vent pipes from lower floors must join the roof vent above the upper floor appliances to avoid backups in the system. Unlike drainpipes, vent pipes can run horizontally since gas-air pressure is drawn upward by the lower atmospheric pressure outside the house.

Traps and Sewer Gas

  • Waste deposited into the sewer line decomposes, producing noxious gases. Traps prevent these gases from backing up and being released into your house. A trap typically is a U-shaped bend of pipe that traps a small amount of water inside it every time you use the appliance.
  • The trapped water acts as a barrier between your house and the sewer gas inside the drain network. Every plumbed appliance in your home is required by law to have a trap.
  • Sink traps are easy to spot; toilet traps are contained within the toilet, and are less obvious. Although these traps are very effective barriers, the sewer gas pressure building up inside the drains would eventually overcome them if the system were not vented.

My yard is a mess, where do I start?

  • Shutoff valves control water flow to a particular appliance.
  • Shutoff valves can usually be found under sinks and toilets and behind clothes washers, water heaters and other appliances.
  • The location of the main water shutoff valve is something every family member should be aware of.
  • Periodically examine each shutoff valve for signs of leaks. Look for water, green crust or water stains on the valve, surrounding pipes and floor underneath. If the valve leaks, you can tighten the valve fittings with a wrench. Do not over tighten. If the leak continues, call a professional plumber.


  • Each plumbing fixture in your house has a drain trap. This U-shaped piece of pipe is designed to provide a water barrier that prevents air-borne bacteria and the odor of sewer gas from entering the house. Any fixture that is used infrequently should be turned on at regular intervals to replace evaporating water and insure that the barrier remains intact.
  • Because of their shape, traps are also the source of most clogging problems.
  • Clogged drains are discussed in the Plumbing Emergencies section of this website.
  • Common sense can prevent your drains from clogging. Don’t pour grease down a drain. Keep your drains free of hair and other debris. Do not use lye or its derivatives. It can damage your plastic drain pipe.
  • “Flush” your drains once a month to prevent residual grease and soap from clogging drains. Run hot water through the drain. Add three tablespoons of baking soda. Add a little more hot water. Let stand for 15 minutes, then “flush” again by running more hot water.

Plumbing Fixtures

  • A variety of commercial cleaners are available for cleaning sinks, showers, tubs, toilets and other plumbing fixtures.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s directions when using a cleaner.
  • Regular cleaning will prevent soap scum buildup and discoloration. Don’t use abrasive cleaners.
  • Periodically examine each sink and other plumbing fixture for signs of water leaking from the fixture, the water supply or the drain. Look for water, green crust or water stains on pipes, fittings and the floor underneath. You can tighten leaky plumbing fittings with a wrench. Do not over tighten. If the leak continues, call a professional plumber.


  • Overflowing or clogged toilets are discussed in the Plumbing Emergencies section.
  • Never flush hair, grease, lint, diapers, sanitary products or rubbish down the toilet. These wastes can stop up toilets and sewer lines.
  • Inspect the base of the toilet and the water supply line for leaks. If the water chamber appears to leak, the water may only be condensation forming on the outside of the tank.
  • If you think that the toilet is leaking or if you are having other problems, consult a plumbing repair book or call a professional plumber.
  • A loose toilet can weaken the seal between the toilet and the drain pipe. Water can then leak along the toilet’s base and damage the floor. Test the toilet mounts by grabbing the toilet with your hands and try to rock it from side to side. If the toilet moves, tighten the nuts holding the toilet to the floor on either side of the base. Tighten until snug, then test again.


  • Many sinks today have modern, washer-less faucets. The standard compression faucets with a washer are also common. If a faucet leaks or malfunctions, consult a plumbing repair book or call a professional plumber.
  • The only maintenance your faucets should require is to clean the aerators. Aerators add air to the water as it leaves the faucet, eliminating splashing and reducing water usage. To clean an aerator, unscrew it from the mouth of the faucet, remove any deposits, remove and rinse the washers and screens, replace in their original order and put back on the faucet.

Water Heaters

  • There are basically three types of water heaters: gas, electric, and oil. All three tanks operate in a similar manner. When hot water is removed from the tank, cold water enters which activates the thermostat. The water is then heated to a pre-set temperature, usually 140 degrees.
  • To save energy and avoid burns consider setting the temperature between 115 and 120 degrees.
  • Water heaters should be of adequate size to satisfy the needs of the home. A family of four will often find that a forty gallon system is adequate.
  • Many experts in the industry recommend draining a gallon or two of water from the tank monthly to avoid sludge build-up. (Check your manufacturers recommendations.)

My yard is a mess, where do I start?

  • Visit local garden centers or nurseries and talk to experts about what kinds of plants and grasses grow best in your climate. A landscape architect can do anything from a complete makeover for your yard to putting the finishing touches on something you’ve started.

Gas Piping

  • Any gas leak is a life threatening situation.
  • If you smell gas, all occupants should leave the home immediately and call 911 from a neighbor’s house.
  • Do not operate switches, door-bells, telephones or anything else that may cause a spark.

Sump Pump

  • The sump pump is used to lift storm or drain tile water from a low point in the home to a discharge point that extends away from the building.
  • The sump pump is electric, therefore susceptible to interruptions or failure. Since power failures often occur during heavy storms this could be a problem.
  • A water driven or battery back-up system should be installed.

Noisy Pipes

  • Noisy pipes can be more than an annoyance, vibrations accompanying the noise can loosen plumbing fittings and cause leaks.
  • Noise can be caused by a number of reasons, including worn washers, loose parts in a faucet and steam in hot water pipes.
  • You should repair noisy pipes promptly. If you cannot locate the cause of the noise or cannot make the repair yourself, call a professional plumber.


  • Caulking is used to seal around bathtubs, sinks and showers. It is normal for caulking to dry out or crack after several years.
  • Periodically inspect caulking around sinks, showers and tubs. Look for signs of deterioration.
  • Remove the old caulking and replace with fresh caulk.
  • This is a simple do-it-yourself project. If you do not have a caulking gun, caulking material can be bought in applicator tubes or in disposable caulking guns.

Outdoor Plumbing

  • To prevent frozen pipes, remove and store outdoor hoses, drain water from outdoor faucets and pipes, insulate and wrap exposed pipes in heat tape.