History of Plumbing

The modern term “plumbing” is derived from the ancient Latin plumbum which translates literally into what we know as the periodic element Lead (Pb). This is due to the fact that the Romans found lead to be easily malleable and ideal for the manufacture of pipes.

The Romans were master plumbers in every since of the word. They constructed massive aqueducts to carry water for many miles into the cities of the empire where it was then distributed. Their mastery of plumbing goes far beyond the ability to move ground water from one point to another. They invented the modern hot tub in the form of the Roman baths.

They were also master plumbers when it came to extreme high pressure plumbing. They would damn a small creek near the top of a mountain and then allow the water to fall by force of gravity into ever smaller pipes. At the end of this system they would install large jets which would blast high pressure water against the mountain side releasing gold deposits. In one region of the Gaul they completely obliterated an entire mountain range. The resulting devastation is still visible today. This type of gold mining was used again in the United States during the Gold Rush.

The Middle Ages saw little advancement in plumbing. The next great advancement in plumbing came with Sewers of London in 1859. By 1858 the Thames River has become nothing less than an open sewer due to swelling population  of Victorian era London. It was in this year that the Great Stink occurred. Due to unusually high temperatures the stink of the rotting sewage in the Thames permeated all of London.

The British Parliament was quick to react to the crisis, and in 1859 Joseph Bazalgette was given responsibility for creating a massive underground sewer complex. He used many of the smaller rivers that fed the Thames as the basis for his design. These became known as “London’s Lost Rivers.

The interconnecting sewers, built between 1859 and 1865, were fed by 450 miles of main sewers that would convey the contents of 13,000 miles of smaller sewers. Construction of the sewer system required 318 million bricks, 2.7 million cubic meters of excavated earth and 670,000 cubic meters of concrete. The innovative use of Portland cement strengthened the tunnels, which were in still good shape 150 years later.

Plumbing Terms & Glossary

Air Admittance Valve: The most common of these is called a STUDOR vent, these valves are designed to allow air into a drainage system with out using a vent. It opens to allow air to equalize pressure in the drainage system but closes to stop sewer odors and gases into the living space.

Anode Rod: These sacrificial anode rods are installed at the top of a water heater tank and are generally made of magnesium or aluminum with a steel core. Simply put, through electrolysis the anode rods will corrode before the exposed metal in the tank. If the anode rod has been corroded the water begins to attack the exposed metals in your water heater which will eventually cause it to fail.

ANSI: The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a not-for-profit, non-government organization that oversees the creation and use of voluntary health and safety standards for products and businesses across nearly all sectors of the U.S. economy.

Automatic compensating valve: A valve that is supplied with hot and cold water, and provides a means of automatically maintaining the water temperature selected for an outlet. Automatic compensating valves are used to reduce the risk of scalding and thermal shock.

Backflow: A flowing back or reversal of the normal direction of wastewater from homes and buildings, leading to the possible contamination of potable water systems.

Backflow Preventer: Any mechanical device designed to automatically prevent backflow.

Backwater Valve: A valve that is installed on the house sewer that prevents water from backing up into the house. The most common use for a backwater valve is in situations where the city sewer is combined waste and storm. In these cases during torrential rain the city sewer runs full with only one place to go, back into the house or businesses connected to it, a backwater valve is installed in this situation.

Brass: An ancient alloy, composed primarily of copper and zinc, used in the manufacture of faucets and other plumbing fittings. Brass is also the term for a faucet finish, also known as polished brass.

Copper: One of the basic elements (Cu), copper is used for plumbing piping. It comes in various grades and pipe sizes. It is also instrumental in the manufacture of high quality faucets and fittings.

Dip Tubes: Usually a plastic tube that is inserted into the inlet side of a domestic water heater. The tube forces the incoming water to the bottom of the heater, (closest to the heating elements) whereby the water is more evenly heated throughout the tank.

Ejector Pumps: A device manufactured to elevate water, sewage (suspended solids) or liquid waste from a lower level to a point of discharge where it can be drained away by gravity into a sewer or drain.

Expansion Tank: A tank usually installed on a closed hot water line used to absorb excess pressure due to thermal expansion.

Fill Valve: Most commonly referred to as a Ball Cock, the fill valve controls water to the tank of a tank type toilet. The fill valves is operated by means of a float. Most fill valves also have an anti siphon device or vacuum breaker to ensure there is no cross contamination from the water in the tank to the potable water supply.

Fitting: A device designed to control and guide the flow of water. Examples include faucets, shower heads, shutoff valves, shower valves, and drinking fountain spouts. Some people call these “fixtures,” but that term means something different to the plumbing industry. The differing usage of “fitting vs. fixtures” can lead to unintended consequences, such as when legislation calls for changes in fixtures, although the true intent involves changes in fittings. (See “Fixtures.”)

Fixture: A device for receiving water and/or waste matter that directs these substances into a sanitary drainage system. Examples include toilets, sinks, bathtubs, shower receptors, and water closet bowls. The term is used erroneously in common vernacular to describe fittings. (See “Fittings.”)

Flapper: The moveable part of a toilet flush valve that releases the water from the tank into the bowl when the toilet is flushed and seals the valve shut when the toilet is not being flushed.

Flush valve: Located at the bottom of a toilet tank, the flush valve discharges the water from the tank into the bowl when the toilet is flushed.

Gallons per minute (GPM): A measure of the rate at which water flows through a fixture or fitting at a certain pressure. It is measured by the number of gallons flowing from the device in one minute at a given water supply pressure.

Gallons per flush (GPF): A measure of the total volume of water required to flush a water closet or urinal, measured in gallons.

High efficiency toilet (HET): A toilet with an average water consumption of 1.28 gallons per flush per flush.

Hot Water Return Piping: Hot water return piping is piping connecting the end of a run of plumbing fixtures and/or appliances back to a hot water source i.e. a water heater or boiler. Most times a hot water return line is installed with a recirculating pump to insure hot water is always recirculating through the hot water supply piping.

Leaching: In the case of plumbing systems, leaching refers to the process of dissolving a soluble component out of a constituent material at a wetted surface. Materials commonly leached into drinking water from water distribution systems include copper, lead, and nickel, but can include toxins and bio-toxins.

Lead: Lead is a neurotoxin that can accumulate in the body in soft tissues, as well as bone. It was used in plumbing systems until its toxic nature was discovered.

Lead: Lead is a neurotoxin that can accumulate in the body in soft tissues, as well as bone. It was used in plumbing systems until its toxic nature was discovered.

Lead and Copper Rule (LCR): A United States Environmental Protection Agency regulation dating back to 1991, LCR requires water systems to monitor drinking water that comes through faucets in homes and buildings. If lead concentrations exceed 15 parts per billion (ppb) or copper concentrations exceed 1.3 parts per million (ppm) in more than 10% of homes and businesses sampled in a regional plumbing system, the system must take actions to control corrosion and leaching. If the action level for lead is exceeded, the system must also inform the public about steps they should take to protect their health, including the possible replacement of plumbing system piping.

Lead-free: Under section 1417(d) of the Safe Drinking Water Act, “lead free” is defined as being no more than 0.2 percent of materials used in solders, and no more than 8 percent of materials used to manufacture pipe, fittings, and well pumps.

NSF: Founded in 1944, NSF International is a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization that develops standards and product certifications in the area of public health and safety.

Point of Use Water Heater: A point of use water heater is installed at or near a plumbing fixture or battery of fixtures and it used to service those fixtures alone. Their capacity to flash heat water is limited. They are mainly used in situations where it is too difficult to tie into and existing hot water source or a small bathroom or sink has been added and has a limited need for hot water.

Pressure-assisted toilets: A toilet that uses a compressed-air device to enhance the force of gravity used to clean the bowl when the toilet is flushed.

Pressure-balancing valve: (AKA pressure-compensating valve) This device is designed to reduce the risk of thermal shock and scalding while showering.  A pressure-balance valve senses the hot and cold water pressures coming in from the supply line and compensates for variations to maintain the water temperature. Such variations can occur when a toilet is flushed or a washing machine started while someone is showering.

Proximity valves: An electronic valve for plumbing fixtures and fittings that enables them to be operated without being touched.

Tankless Water Heater: A tankless water heater flash heats water on demand by pulling water through a heat exchanger. There is no hot water storage although one can be added if the application calls for additional capacity. Tankless heaters are generally thought of to be much more efficient than traditional tank type water heaters. However, real world use has clouded that belief.

Thermostatic valves: Also known as a thermostatic compensating valve, this technology senses the temperature of the water to adjust the mix of hot and cold water. This maintains a safe, comfortable water temperature whether the fluctuation is due to a change in the pressure or the temperature of the incoming hot and cold water supplies.

Valve: A fitting with a movable part that opens or closes one or more passages and thereby allows a liquid flow to be started, stopped, and regulated. In plumbing, valves are used in faucets and showers, and can be called mixing valves because they control the mix of hot and cold water to achieve desired water temperatures.