Understanding Plumbing Terms

Understanding Plumbing Terms

If you’ve spent any time in a technical industry, you will already know that these environments seem to have a language of their own. As you begin a career, it can be hard to understand important concepts and the terms used to describe them. Plumbing is no exception, there are many terms such as branch drains and blowbags that you may have never heard before. There may be some terms you’ve heard, but you lack a full understanding of their full implications. In this article, we will look at some common plumbing terms and explain their meaning.

Why Bother Learning Plumbing Terms?

This is a good question, after all, if you don’t have any plumbing knowledge you may simply hire a local professional plumber to work for you. In fact, even if you have good DIY skills, there are still many complex plumbing tasks that are best left to a plumber. But, when you want to describe a problem to a plumber or if they are explaining a potential fix, it’s a good idea to know some basic terms. This can help you make some better informed decisions for your home plumbing system. Let’s take a look at some common plumbing terms that your plumber may use.

Blow Bag

This is a very common tool used throughout the plumbing industry. This is a flexible water carrying bladder and a nozzle that can be connected to a standard garden hose. The blow bag can force water through a clog under pressure to clear it out of a drain.

Branch Drain

A branch drain is the drain pipe that is directly connected to your sinks, bathtubs, toilets, shower floor, dishwasher, washer, and other plumbing fixtures. The purpose of the branch drain is to connect these fixtures to the main drain pipe. This drain then carries the waste and wastewater to the main sewage line located under the street outside your home.

Drain Field

Under your yard, there is an entire network of connected pipes that lead to the septic tank. The drain field is where the septic tank is cleared of any contaminants before they can enter the soil. If the drain field is compromised it can lead to contamination in the local water table.


This is a friendly euphemism for an unpleasant facet of life that we all deal with on a daily basis. In short, this is the raw sewage that’s expelled from the toilet during each flushing action. Another use for this term is wastewater that can be trapped in your toilet when the drain becomes clogged. Removing blackwater is an unpleasant task but it may be necessary to clear a toilet clog or make an essential repair.


This is the dirty wastewater that flows out of your drains in every other location than your toilet. Some eco-friendly homes have systems that harvest greywater to water plants and it can be recycled. But, most homes simply flush greywater away into the main sewer system.


This is a strange term that refers to the sealant that’s applied to a fixture thread to make a pressure-tight connection that will not leak. Dope is a thick paste, it’s a different option to plumbers tape which is a thin film that can be stretched multiple times around the thread.


This is a connection part used to connect two different pipes together. There are many types of fittings to make various connections and a plumber will always have a number on hand to solve problems.

Gallons per Flush (GPF)

GPF is an acronym for Gallons pe Flush which is a handy concept when you want to monitor and lower your water consumption. In fact, federal law now states that a new toilet cannot have a GPF higher than 1.6.

Trap Seal

Every drain connected to the main sewer line has a curve in the pipe. This is known as a trap and it prevents any bad odors from traveling back up into your home. The trap always contains a certain level of water and if the water dries away you may notice bad smells in your home. The water is referred to as the trap seal because it prevents the passage of gases.


As the name suggests, this is a T-shaped plumbing fitting that can connect three pipes together. This is usually used by professional plumbers to create a branch drain line from the various drains in your home.

Hard Water

Most homes receive a supply of hard water which can cause a number of problems ranging from dry skin to a buildup scale in pipes and more. Hard water contains an elevated level of minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and iron. Water is a solvent and these minerals are added as a natural process as the water passes through various strata of rock and soil.

Water Softener

This is a device that can remove the hardness from the water coming into your home. There are a number of methods but the most reliable is an ion-exchange system. The minerals ions that cause the hardness are exchanged with sodium or potassium ions that are kinder to you and your plumbing system.

Potable Water

This is a very old term that has been used throughout history to describe water that is safe for human consumption. The original meaning referred to water that had been cleaned and stored in pots for drinking. Of course, in a modern home, we have no need to store water in this manner but the term has stuck with us. You can hear the term potable water used in the plumbing, medical and legal fields when the safety of water is under discussion.


The plumbing augur or “snake” is a tool that’s used to break apart clogs in the drain. This is a flexible rod with a crank near the handle and a drill bit at the business end. The snake is fed into a clogged drain until it bumps up against the clog. The crank is then turned and the drill bit bites into the clog to break it apart. Then the tap is turned on and the water flushes the pieces of clog into the main drain line. Your local professional plumber will always prefer a manual clog removal over caustic chemical drain clearing products that can harm pipes.

If you have any problems with your plumbing system or you want to schedule an inspection, contact your local certified plumber today.