Post details: Know Your Plumbing System


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Know Your Plumbing System

Plumbing System

With so many pipes and fittings running unseen inside walls and floors, a plumbing system can seem complicated and mysterious. But plumbing is actually a straightforward matter of distributing incoming water to where it's wanted and facilitating the outflow of waste. Here's an overview of how household plumbing works.

In case of a burst pipe or other emergency, be ready to shut off the main water supply quickly. Let members of your family know where the main shutoff is. Clear away boxes and furniture so it is easy to get at. If it takes a special tool to shut off your water, keep it handy.

Supply, drain, and vent systems

The supply system brings water into your house, divides it into hot and cold water lines, and distributes it to various fixtures (sinks, toilets, showers, tubs) and appliances (washing machines, dishwashers, water heaters, heating system boilers).

The drain system carries water away from the fixtures and appliances, and out of the house. The vent system supplies air to the drain pipes so waste flows out freely. Because drains and vents use the same types of pipes and are tied together, they often are referred to as the drain-waste-vent system, or DWV.

Locating the water meter and main shutoffs

The first step toward gaining mastery over your house's plumbing system is to locate the water meter and, more important, the main shutoff.

Look for the place where water first enters your house. Usually, you'll find a pipe an inch or so thick, called a water main, coming up through the floor in your basement or first floor. If you have metered water, the pipe will enter and exit a round gauge, the water meter. This has either a digital readout that looks like a car's odometer or a series of five or six dials. The meter tells how much water passes into the house. If you have a well, or if your bill does not change no matter how much water you use, you don't have a meter.

Near the place where the water main enters your house, look for one or two valves that you can turn on and off by hand. This is the main shutoff for the house. You may have an additional shutoff outside the house, buried in a cavity sometimes called a "buffalo box." To find it, look for a round metal cover in the ground near the street or the edge of your property. It may be overgrown with grass. Pry it up and look inside with a flashlight. There may be a valve that you can turn by hand, or you may need a special long-handled "key." Older homes in warm weather locations sometimes have an exposed valve just outside the house.

If you have an older home, don't depend entirely on the inside shutoff; it can break, leak, or stop shutting off completely. If you'll have to shut down the system often during a project, learn where your outside shutoff is and use it to shut off the water.

Where your responsibility ends

The water meter is the continental divide when it comes to assigning responsibility for plumbing repairs. The water meter and pipes leading away from the house are the responsibility of the water company. They should fix them for free. Anything on the house side of the meter is your responsibility. However, if you will be adding new fixtures (not just replacing old ones), your municipality may require a larger water main coming into the house. If so, you'll have to pay for it. Check when you get your permit.

The new and the old

In the old days, plumbers installed cast-iron drain lines. They had to pack each joint with tarred oakum, then pour in molten lead -- a practice dating from the time of the Romans. For supply lines and smaller drain lines, they used galvanized pipe, which is strong but can rust and corrode over time.

Plastic drain lines and copper supply lines are superior to the old materials. They last much longer and are easier to work with. However, it took many years for different localities to make the switch to modern materials. In some places, for instance, cast-iron was required by code well into the 1980s. And to this day, some municipalities require that supply lines be made with galvanized pipe.
If you have old pipe, there's no need to rip it out. Many products are available that make it easy to connect the new to the old. These products often use rubber gaskets that will remain leakproof for many decades.

Better Homes and Gardens




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