Plumbing Basics: The Complete Guide to Your Home Plumbing System

Daniel Elizondo

Plumbing Basics: The Complete Guide to Your Home Plumbing System

Posted

June 28, 2024

Featured in:

Share this

Need a professional?

Get a local service call from the team you can trust.

Have you ever wondered how the plumbing system in your home works? Have you faced leaks, clogs, or low water pressure and felt unsure about what to do next? Understanding the basics of your plumbing system can save you time, money, and a lot of frustration. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will take you through the essential components of your home plumbing system, common problems you might encounter, and practical solutions to keep everything running smoothly.

How Does a Plumbing System Work?

Before anything else, the first important thing to know is understanding how a plumbing system works. 

A plumbing system consists of two subsystems: the water supply and drainage systems. The water supply system brings clean water into your home. It delivers this water under pressure to flow easily to your faucets, showers, and appliances. On the other hand, the drainage system takes away used water and waste, using gravity to move it out of your home. 

Here’s a closer look at how each component functions and contributes to the overall plumbing system in your home.

The Water Supply System

The water supply system delivers clean, potable water to your home. It typically connects to a municipal water supply or a private well. Here’s how it works:

  1. Water Source: The water is sourced either from a municipal water supply, treated and regulated by local authorities, or from a private well, which requires a pump and filtration system.
  2. Pipes and Valves: Water enters your home through a main water line and is distributed to various fixtures and appliances via a network of pipes. Valves control the flow of water and allow for maintenance and emergency shut-offs.
  3. Pressure Regulation: Water pressure is regulated to ensure a steady flow. Pressure-reducing valves are often installed to prevent damage from excessive pressure.
  4. Fixtures and Appliances: The water supply system connects to faucets, showers, toilets, washing machines, and other appliances, delivering water for daily use.

The Drain-Waste-Vent (DWV) System

The DWV system removes wastewater and sewage from your home, ensuring that it is safely transported to a municipal sewer system or a septic tank. Here’s how it works:

  1. Drain Pipes: Wastewater from sinks, showers, and appliances flows through drain pipes, leading to larger waste pipes.
  2. Traps: Each fixture has a U-shaped pipe called a trap, which holds water and prevents sewer gases from entering the home.
  3. Vent Pipes: Vent pipes extend from the waste pipes to the roof, allowing sewer gases to escape and maintaining proper pressure in the drainage system.
  4. Sewer Line: Wastewater flows through the main sewer line, which connects to the municipal sewer system or a septic tank.

How The Systems Work Together?

The water supply and DWV systems work together to ensure your home gets a steady flow of clean water and efficiently removes wastewater. Here’s how they interact:

  • Supply and Drainage: When you turn on a faucet, clean water from the supply system flows out, and the used water immediately goes into the drainage system.
  • Ventilation: Vent pipes in the DWV system prevent pressure build-up, ensuring that wastewater flows smoothly and gases escape outside.
  • Cross-Connections: Devices prevent wastewater from flowing back into the clean water system, keeping your water supply safe from contamination.

Understanding these basics helps you appreciate the complexity and importance of your home’s plumbing system. With this knowledge, you can better maintain your plumbing, address minor issues, and know when to call a professional plumber for more complex problems.

Different Types of Water Systems Explained

Different water systems deliver water to your home, varying based on location and water source. Here are the main types you might encounter:

Municipal Water Supply Systems

  1. Water Treatment: Water from rivers, lakes, and reservoirs is cleaned at treatment plants to remove contaminants and make drinking water safe.
  2. Distribution Network: Treated water travels through a network of pipes to reach homes and businesses.
  3. Water Meters: Meters measure water usage for billing and monitoring.

Private Well Systems

  1. Water Source: Water is drawn from underground aquifers via a drilled well.
  2. Pumps: Pumps bring water from the well to the surface and into the home.
  3. Filtration: Filtration systems remove impurities to ensure clean water.

Rainwater Harvesting Systems

  1. Collection: Rainwater is collected from roofs via gutters and downspouts.
  2. Storage: Collected water is stored in tanks or cisterns with filters.
  3. Distribution: Stored water is used for irrigation, toilets, and sometimes drinking (if treated).

Greywater Recycling Systems

  1. Collection: Greywater from sinks, showers, and washing machines is collected.
  2. Treatment: Greywater is treated to remove impurities for safe reuse.
  3. Distribution: Treated greywater is used for irrigation and flushing toilets.

Types of Plumbing Systems

Knowing about the different plumbing systems in your home can make it easier to keep everything running smoothly and spot problems quickly. Here are the main types of plumbing systems you might find:

Potable Plumbing System

This system brings clean drinking water into your home. It includes all the pipes and fixtures that carry water from the source (like a city water supply or a well) to your faucets, showers, and appliances. This ensures you have safe water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning.

Sanitary Plumbing System

The sanitary plumbing system takes away used water and waste from your home. This includes water from sinks, showers, toilets, and appliances. It consists of drain pipes, traps, and vents that carry waste safely to the sewer or a septic tank. This system is key for keeping your home clean and free from bad smells.

Stormwater Plumbing System

The stormwater plumbing system manages rainwater and runoff from your property. It includes gutters, downspouts, and drainage pipes that direct rainwater away from your home’s foundation to prevent flooding and water damage. Proper stormwater management protects your home from water-related issues and protects your property.

What Types of Plumbing Pipes Should You Use?

Selecting the right plumbing pipes for your home can greatly impact efficiency and durability. Each type of pipe has its unique strengths and weaknesses, making it suitable for different applications.

1. Stainless Steel Pipes

Stainless Steel Pipes

Stainless steel pipes are strong and resistant to rust and corrosion, making them very durable. 

Best Uses: Ideal for areas exposed to moisture, such as kitchens and bathrooms. Great for both hot and cold water supply. 

Not Ideal For: Budget-sensitive projects, as they are more expensive. Also, installations require lightweight materials.

Pros:

  1. Highly resistant to corrosion and rust.
  2. Durable and strong, with a long lifespan.
  3. Suitable for both hot and cold water supply.
  4. Aesthetic appeal for exposed plumbing.
  5. Less prone to contamination compared to some other materials.

Cons:

  1. More expensive compared to other types of pipes.
  2. Requires specialized fittings, increasing installation costs.
  3. Difficult to cut and install without special tools.
  4. Heavier than many other pipe materials.
  5. It is not as widely available as other pipe types.

2. Copper Pipes

Copper Pipes

Copper pipes are known for their longevity and ability to handle high temperatures and pressures without corroding.

 Best Uses: Perfect for hot and cold water supply lines. Commonly used in both residential and commercial plumbing. 

Not Ideal For: Areas with acidic water, which can corrode copper. Also, it is not ideal for cost-sensitive projects due to higher material and installation costs.

Pros:

  1. Excellent corrosion resistance.
  2. Long lifespan, often exceeding 50 years.
  3. Can handle high water pressure and temperatures.
  4. Does not release harmful substances into the water.
  5. Recyclable and environmentally friendly.

Cons:

  1. Expensive material and installation costs.
  2. It can corrode if water is highly acidic.
  3. It requires soldering for connections and skilled labor.
  4. Susceptible to theft due to high scrap value.
  5. It can be noisy when water flows through.

3. PVC Pipes

PVC Pipes

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) pipes are lightweight, inexpensive, and easy to work with. They are resistant to corrosion and chemical damage. 

Best Uses: Great for cold water supply, drainage, and waste lines. Often used in irrigation systems and vent pipes. 

Not Ideal For: Hot water applications, as they can warp or melt under high temperatures. Also, prolonged exposure to sunlight can make them brittle.

Pros:

  1. Lightweight and easy to install.
  2. Inexpensive and widely available.
  3. Resistant to corrosion and chemical damage.
  4. A smooth interior reduces friction and improves water flow.
  5. Available in various sizes and thicknesses.

Cons:

  1. It is unsuitable for hot water applications (it may warp or melt).
  2. It can become brittle over time when exposed to UV light.
  3. Less durable than metal pipes.
  4. It can release harmful chemicals if burned.
  5. Joints and fittings can weaken and leak over time.

4. Galvanized Pipes

Galvanized pipes

Galvanized pipes are steel pipes coated with a layer of zinc to prevent rusting. 

Best Uses: Suitable for high-pressure applications and outdoor plumbing. Often found in older homes. 

Not Ideal For: Modern homes, as they can corrode and rust over time, leading to water discoloration and reduced flow. They are also heavy and difficult to work with.

Pros:

  1. Durable and strong, used in older homes.
  2. Can handle high water pressure.
  3. Less expensive than stainless steel.
  4. Thick walls reduce the risk of damage.
  5. Provides good structural support for the plumbing system.

Cons:

  1. Prone to corrosion and rust over time.
  2. It can cause water discoloration and reduced water flow.
  3. Heavy and difficult to work with.
  4. Shorter lifespan compared to modern materials.
  5. It can leach lead and other metals into the water.

5. Brass Pipes

Brass Pipes

Brass pipes are made from an alloy of copper and zinc, offering excellent durability and resistance to corrosion. 

Best Uses: Good for hot water distribution and large-scale plumbing projects due to their long lifespan and reliability. 

Not Ideal For: Areas where the small amount of lead content might be a concern for drinking water. More expensive compared to PVC and PEX.

Pros:

  1. Corrosion-resistant and durable.
  2. A smooth interior surface reduces friction and improves water flow.
  3. Long-lasting, often exceeding 70 years.
  4. Easily threaded, making installation simpler.
  5. Suitable for hot and cold water supply.

Cons:

  1. More expensive than PVC and PEX.
  2. Contains a small amount of lead, which may be a concern for drinking water.
  3. It can be susceptible to dezincification (loss of zinc).
  4. Limited availability in some regions.
  5. Requires skilled labor for proper installation.

6. Cast Iron Pipes

Cast Iron Pipes

Cast iron pipes are extremely durable and have excellent noise-dampening properties. 

Best Uses: Their strength and durability are ideal for drainage and sewer systems. Commonly used in multi-story buildings. 

Not Ideal For: Situations where weight is a concern, as they are very heavy and hard to install. Prone to rust and corrosion over time.

Pros:

  1. Extremely durable and long-lasting.
  2. Excellent noise-dampening properties, reducing pipe noise.
  3. Ideal for drainage and sewer systems.
  4. Resistant to fire and high temperatures.
  5. Can handle heavy loads without damage.

Cons:

  1. Heavy and difficult to install.
  2. Prone to rust and corrosion over time.
  3. Expensive to repair or replace.
  4. Joints may leak if not properly sealed.
  5. Limited flexibility, making installation challenging.

7. PEX Pipes

PEX (Cross-linked Polyethylene) pipes

PEX (Cross-linked Polyethylene) pipes are flexible, resistant to scale and chlorine, and easy to install. 

Best Uses: Excellent for both hot and cold water supply lines. They are ideal for retrofitting and tight spaces due to their flexibility. 

Not Ideal For: Outdoor use, as UV rays can damage them. Also, they require special fittings and tools for installation.

Pros:

  1. Flexible and easy to install, even in tight spaces.
  2. Resistant to scale and chlorine.
  3. Suitable for both hot and cold water supply.
  4. Does not corrode or develop pinholes.
  5. Energy efficient, reducing heat loss.

Cons:

  1. It cannot be used outdoors (susceptible to UV damage).
  2. Requires specialized fittings.
  3. Some types may be sensitive to chemical leaching.
  4. Not as recyclable as metal pipes.
  5. Installation requires special tools and knowledge.

8. PPR Pipes

PPR Pipes

PPR (Polypropylene Random Copolymer) pipes are lightweight, durable, and resistant to corrosion and scaling. 

Best Uses: Suitable for hot and cold water supply, including high-pressure applications. Common in commercial plumbing. 

Not Ideal For: Installations requiring flexibility, as they are less flexible than PEX. Also, they require specialized welding for connections.

Pros:

  1. Resistant to corrosion and scale build-up.
  2. Can handle high temperatures and pressures.
  3. Non-toxic and safe for drinking water.
  4. Lightweight and easy to transport.
  5. A smooth interior surface prevents friction losses.

Cons:

  1. Requires specialized welding for connections.
  2. Less flexible compared to PEX, making installation more challenging.
  3. It can become brittle in extremely cold temperatures.
  4. Limited availability in some regions.
  5. Higher upfront cost compared to PVC.

How Does Your Plumbing System Work?

Your plumbing system is a complex network that ensures water flows smoothly into your home and removes waste efficiently. Here’s a look at the key components and their roles:

Water Inflow and Distribution

Water enters your home from a municipal supply or a private well through the main supply line. This water travels through a network of pipes to reach your faucets, showers, and appliances. 

Modern homes often use flexible PEX or durable copper pipes, which help maintain water quality and pressure. Manifold systems can enhance control by allowing you to easily manage water flow to different house areas.

Waste Removal and Venting

Once water is used, it exits your home through the drain-waste-vent (DWV) system. Wastewater flows through drain pipes to the sewer or septic system, while vent pipes allow air to enter the drainage system. This airflow prevents blockages and keeps water moving smoothly. 

Pressure Regulation

Proper water pressure is crucial for a functioning plumbing system. Pressure regulators control the water pressure entering your home to prevent damage to pipes and fixtures. This ensures a steady water flow and protects against leaks or bursts. 

Pressure-boosting pumps can be installed in areas with low water pressure to maintain adequate pressure throughout the house.

Common Plumbing Issues and Solutions

Even the best plumbing systems can encounter problems. Here’s a detailed look at some common plumbing issues and how to address them in simple, easy-to-understand terms:

Leaks

Leaks can happen in various parts of your plumbing system, including faucets, toilets, or pipes in walls and floors. These leaks can lead to water damage, mold growth, and higher water bills if not addressed promptly.

  • Faucet leaks often occur because of worn-out washers, gaskets, or seals within the faucet handle. These leaks can result in a continuous drip, wasting significant amounts of water over time.
  • Pipe Leaks can occur due to corrosion, freezing, or physical damage to the pipes. They might start as small drips but can become major problems, causing water damage to walls, floors, and ceilings. Signs of pipe leaks include damp spots, water stains, or a noticeable drop in water pressure.
  • Toilet Leaks can happen due to a faulty flapper, fill valve or other internal components. These leaks can cause the toilet to run continuously, wasting water and increasing utility bills. You might hear water running constantly or notice water on the floor around the toilet.

Solutions:

  • Faucet Leaks: Turn off the water supply to the faucet. Disassemble the faucet handle using a screwdriver, and identify the damaged parts. Replace the washers or seals with new ones, ensuring they are the correct size and type. Reassemble the faucet and turn the water supply back on to check if the leak is resolved.
  • Pipe Leaks: Turn off the water supply and dry the area around the leak for small pipe leaks. Apply a pipe clamp or wrap epoxy putty around the leak, following the manufacturer’s instructions. These fixes can hold for a short period, but it’s important to call a professional plumber to replace the damaged section of the pipe for a permanent solution.
  • Toilet Leaks: Turn off the water supply to the toilet. Remove the tank lid and flush the toilet to empty the tank. Inspect the flapper for signs of wear or damage and replace it if necessary. Check the fill valve and other components, replacing any worn or broken. Once the repairs are done, turn the water supply back on and test the toilet for leaks.

Clogs and Blockages

Clogs can happen in sinks, toilets, and drains, leading to slow drainage or complete blockages. These can be caused by a buildup of hair, soap scum, grease, food particles, or foreign objects that accidentally enter the drain.

Solutions:

  • Sink Clogs: Use a plunger to try to clear the clog. If that doesn’t work, use a plumber’s snake to break the blockage. To prevent clogs, avoid pouring grease or coffee grounds down the drain. Additionally, regularly clean the sink stopper to remove any debris buildup.
  • Toilet Clogs: Use a plunger first. If the clog is stubborn, use a toilet auger to reach and remove the blockage. Prevent clogs by not flushing items like wet wipes, feminine hygiene products, or excessive toilet paper.
  • Drain Clogs: Pour a mixture of baking soda and vinegar down the drain, let it sit for 30 minutes, then flush with hot water. For tough clogs, use a plumber’s snake. Regularly use a drain cover to catch hair and other debris to prevent clogs.

Low Water Pressure

Low water pressure can make tasks like showering and washing dishes difficult. Things like pipe corrosion, leaks, or sediment buildup in your pipes or fixtures can cause this.

Solutions:

  • Pipe Sediment: Remove and clean aerators and showerheads by soaking them in vinegar overnight, then scrubbing off any sediment with a toothbrush.
  • Leaks: Check for leaks in visible pipes or damp spots on walls and floors. Repair any leaks, or call a plumber for help with hidden leaks.
  • Pressure Regulator: Adjust the pressure regulator by turning the screw clockwise to increase pressure or counterclockwise to decrease it. If this doesn’t help, the regulator might need to be replaced by a plumber.

Noisy Pipes

Noisy pipes, or “water hammer,” happen when water flow stops suddenly, causing pipes to bang. This can also be due to loose pipes, high water pressure, or air trapped in the pipes.

  • Water Hammer: This occurs when a valve suddenly closes, stopping the water flow and causing a shockwave that makes pipes bang. This can damage pipes and fittings over time.
  • Loose Pipes: Pipes that aren’t securely fastened can bang against walls and joists, causing noise. This can happen when water flows through them, especially if the water pressure is high.
  • Air in Pipes: Air trapped in pipes can cause banging noises when water is turned on or off. This is often heard when faucets are turned on after being off for a while.

Solutions:

  • Water Hammer: Install water hammer arrestors near the noisy fixtures. These devices absorb the shock and stop the noise. Turn off the water supply before installation.
  • Loose Pipes: Secure loose pipes with clamps or brackets to stop them from banging against walls or joists.
  • High Water Pressure: Use a gauge to check if your water pressure is too high (above 60 psi). Adjust the pressure regulator or have a plumber install one if needed.
  • Air in Pipes: To remove air from pipes, turn off the water supply and open all faucets to let the air escape. Start with the lowest faucet and work your way up to the highest. Once water runs smoothly from all faucets, turn off the faucets and restore the water supply.

Understanding these common plumbing issues and their solutions can help you keep your plumbing system in good shape and prevent small problems from becoming big headaches.

When to Call a Professional Plumber?

Knowing when to call a professional plumber can save you time money, and prevent further damage to your plumbing system. Some plumbing problems are too complex or risky to handle on your own. 

If you’ve tried fixing a leak multiple times, but it keeps returning, it’s time to call a professional. Persistent leaks can lead to water damage, mold growth, and higher utility bills. Signs of sewer line issues include multiple clogged drains, sewage backups, or a strong odor of sewage around your home. These problems require specialized equipment and expertise to fix. 

If your entire house is experiencing low water pressure, the cause could be a hidden leak, pipe corrosion, or an issue with the main water line. A professional can identify and resolve the issue. Professional plumbers ensure the job is done correctly and safely for tasks like installing a new water heater, replacing a main water line, or adding new plumbing fixtures.

While some plumbing tasks can be handled with DIY effort, others need a professional’s expertise. Jobs involving gas lines, electricity, or specialized tools should always be left to the pros to avoid safety hazards. 

Seek Professional Help for Complicated Plumbing Issues

When a problem seems too complicated, or you’re unsure about the system, it’s safest to seek professional help. Improper repairs can lead to bigger issues, and plumbing repairs can be time-consuming. Hiring a professional ensures the job is done efficiently and correctly, saving time and preventing costly mistakes.

If you are in the Greater San Antonio Area, we invite you to contact Bracken Plumbing for professional and reliable plumbing services. Our expertise can help you address complex issues and ensure your plumbing system runs smoothly. Contact us, and let us handle your plumbing needs with the care and precision you deserve.

You might also enjoy

Fast and Reliable Plumbing Services

Need professional plumbing services? Contact us today.

Experience reliable plumbing services with Bracken Plumbing in San Antonio – where quality meets expertise!