A Plumbing Glossary

An auger is a man-eating giant, right? And, PEX, you can get nice ones if you lift weights a lot. No? Well, no. That’s not right at all. “Auger” and “PEX” are plumbing terms.

Plumbing snakes and augers come in all sizes. Some are designed to clear clogs in sinks and others should only be used in a toilet.

Not everyone needs to be fluent in the language of plumbers. But if you know a little of the lingo, the next time you talk pipes with a plumber, you’ll know that ABS is a type of piping and not that area you’re targeting with sit-ups.


ABS: acrylonitrile butadiene styrene is a plastic piping used in drains and vents.

adapter: joins one type of pipe to another.

auger: a flexible rod with a cutting device on one end used to clear clogs in drains. An auger is a type of plumber’s snake.


back flow: water that backs into part of the main distribution system.

back flow preventer: a device that stops back flow, used on pullout faucets, handheld showers and sprinkler systems.

ballcock: toilet tank assembly that releases water into the bowl to start the flush cycle.

black water: waste water from toilets.


CIPP: cured in place pipe, a trenchless method to repair pipes without digging.

cleanout: an opening giving access to a drain line or trap.

code: legal requirements for plumbing work that prescribe safe practices.

compression fitting: a fitting for copper or plastic pipe that is placed and tightened by hand.

CPVC: chlorinated poly-vinyl chloride is a plastic pipe used to make hot and cold water pipes.


dam: a barrier in a toilet trapway that controls water level.

diverter: a valve that directs water from a tub’s faucet to its shower head.

dope: lubricant for pipe threads.

drain-waste-vent (DWV) system: pipes that carry waste from a building to the public sewer or septic tank, also vents sewer gases up through a roof to the outdoors.


effluent: liquid waste from a septic system.

elbow: a curved fitting used on pipes.


flapper: part of a flush valve that seals water into a toilet tank when closed and allows water to exit when open.

flow control valve: valve to reduce the flow of water to a fixture. Used to improve efficiency.

flow rate: rate of water flow in gallons per minute (GPM) and gallons per hour (GPH).

float ball: float connected to ballcock inside toilet tank. The float rises and falls with water level during a flush cycle.


grease trap: captures grease entering a drainpipe before it reaches the sewer, usually used in restaurants. Requires periodic cleaning.

gray water: waste water from fixtures other than a toilet.


hose bibb: an outdoor faucet, also may be used as supply valves for washing machines.


inside diameter (ID): most pipes are sized by their inside diameter.

interceptor: separates grease and oil from drainage systems.


main: primary passage of a supply or drain system to which all other pipes connect.

manifold: a fitting that joins branches of a system to a main.


overflow tube: tube inside a toilet tank that prevents overflow by sending water into the bowl if the ballcock fails.

o-ring: a found washer used in valve stems.

outside diameter (OD): measures the outside diameter of a tube or pipe.


PB: polybutylene, a plastic tubing.

PE: polyethylene, a plastic tubing.

PEX: cross-linked polyethylene, a plastic tubing that is stronger than PE.

plumber’s putty: dough-like sealer used on fixtures.

plumbing snake: thin, flexible length of metal used to clear clogged pipes.

plunger: a rubber cup attached to a handle that uses suction to dislodge clogs from drains.

potable: water safe for drinking and cooking.

PVC:  polyvinyl-chloride, a rigid plastic pipe


reducer: fitting that joins pipes of different sizes.

riser: any vertical pipe.

rough-in: early stages of a plumbing project where supply and drain-waste-vent line are installed.


sanitary sewer:  underground drainage system that carries waste to a treatment plant.

septic tank: reservoir that collects liquid and solid waste before diverting liquid waste to a drainage field.

sewer drain: carries waste from a building to a sanitary sewer or septic tank.

shutoff valve: valve under a sink or toilet that shuts off water supply.

soil stack: vertical drainpipe that carries waste toward the sewer drain.

snake: a flexible rod used to clear clogs in drains. Snakes come in various sizes. Some, such as toilet augers, are designed for a specific type of drain.

solder: technique that fuses metal pieces in a watertight joint.


tailpiece: pipe that bridges a drain outlet and a trap.

tee: T-shaped fitting used to connect three sections of pipe.

trap: section of a fixture drain creates a water seal to prevent sewer gases from entering a home or building. Code requires all fixtures have a trap.


valve: regulates the flow of water in a pipe or fixture.

valve seat: static part of a valve.

vent: vertical or sloped part of a drain pipe that permits sewer gases to exit a building. Required for all fixtures.


water hammer: loud noise caused by sudden stop in water flow, causing pipes to hit against a framing member.

water hammer arrestor: device installed near fixtures or appliances to absorb the shock created by a sudden water shutoff.

water supply system: network of pipes and fittings that supplies pressurized water.

wet vent: a pipe for draining wastewater and venting air.

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