Learn the Lingo: Plumbing Fixtures (Part 1 of 2)

Real Estate Broker/Owner with MBA Broker Consultants CalBRE Broker #00983670

Photos at https://www.pinterest.com/realtyproadvisr/plumbing/

Plumbing Fixtures Can Be a Draining Topic - But Enjoy!

If you can’t see it, then it won’t affect your transaction, right?  Wrong!  A house’s plumbing system and pipes may be hidden behind the walls of your listing, but they can definitely kill your sale with a water leak or pipe bursting.  And as a buyer’s agent, there is always that picky buyer who opens the cupboards and looks under the sink to determine the state of the plumbing pipes.  Most importantly, how do you decipher the home inspection report when it mentions plumbing concerns?  As a real estate agent, you need to learn the basics of plumbing, and know when to recommend an inspection by a licensed plumber.

Residents of a home depend upon clean, fresh water for their daily household survival.  They expect to turn on the faucet and receive clean tap water on demand.  They flush the toilet without a second thought as to the dirty water disposal.  That’s because inside the house’s walls, the complex plumbing system of pipes, valves, and vents operates efficiently and in compliance with the local building codes.


A house’s plumbing is defined as the system of water (intake) and sewer (outtake) pipes, vents, valves, traps, and devices.  The clean incoming water is used for both drinking and washing.  The plumbing system comes from the public water system, inside the property lines, under the house, and into the building.  Rural houses often receive their water from property wells onsite rather than from the city system.

The outgoing sewer water usually flows to the city’s sewer systems for sanitary disposal.  Septic systems, on the other hand, are self-contained within the property lines and privately maintained.

Humans need water; it’s vital to life.  Plumbing pipes distribute clean water and remove dirty water.  For safety purposes, water and plumbing is regulated by local building codes and policed by the city or county building department.  Sources of unhealthy plumbing problems in homes may include tainted water supply, water leaks that cause mold, and clogged septic systems.

House Areas

Water is typically limited to certain parts of a house:  bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms.  The incoming water supply and the water heater are often located near one of these areas.  Although plumbing is not usually installed in the main living and sleeping areas, the pipes often go through the walls of these rooms, so when a pipe leaks it may affect non-water rooms.


The plumbing system has many components including: hot/cold water supply, distribution system of pipes (sanitary/incoming, soil, waste, and ventilation), drains and drainage, valves, sewage disposal, and of course the decorative fixtures that we see (on/off faucet knobs, spouts and nozzles, drain plugs).

Depending upon when the house was built, piping materials consist of lead pipes, brass pipes, copper pipes, galvanized, white PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic, gray plastic (polybuteline), black ABS (aristocraft bristone styrine) or the new PEX plastic.

When we talk to plumbers or read inspection reports, some of the plumbing parts we hear about are traps and P-traps, overflow, vent pipe, vent stack, shutoff valves, supply lines, and drains.  Below are components of residential plumbing systems that real estate agents may need to know to decipher a home inspection report. 


The sewer wastewater from a toilet is referred to as blackwater.  Compare to gray water.



The cleanout is the drain pipe access point where a plug can be removed and the clogged line can be cleaned out.  The cleanout is often seen on a house’s lower exterior back wall.


The drain is the channel or pipe for outgoing water on a fixture (sink, toilet, tub) that empties dirty water into the sewer drainage system.  Other non-plumbing drainage systems include roof gutters, downspouts, foundation drains, and storm drains.


Listed below are various types of fixtures and appliances in a house’s plumbing system.


A regulator valve built into shower or bathtub fixture that automatically prevents the water from getting too hot and burning residents while they shower.


A bathroom appliance similar to a toilet and used for personal hygiene in some cultures.  The bidet (pronounced “bi-DAY”), the washing basin contains a faucet and sprayer that squirt upward.  It is typically installed next to the toilet.


The metal device that allows clean water into a sink or tub, using knobs to turn on and off the fresh water supply lines (both hot and cold).

Shutoff Valve

Each fixture in the house (sink, toilet, washing machine), has a shutoff valve so the water supply to that fixture can be turned off manually.  Also referred to as a straight stop, angle stop, or supply stop, it is used when repairing the fixture or in case of overflow emergency.


A gravity-operated toilet depends on the downward pressure of natural gravity to flush efficiently.  This necessary bathroom fixture that is often the source of water leaks or constant water running.  Clean water flows into the tank behind the seat and when it is flushed, sewer water leaves the bowl as it is refilled by the clean water in the tank.  Components include handle, flapper valve, rubber stopper, seal, valve, float ball, ballcock valve, arm, floor flange, and flush valve (flushometer).  One of the most important components of a toilet is the wax ring — a large, round, donut-shaped wax piece that is inserted between the floor flange and the toilet to seal it.  The wax ring prevents water leaks from the toilet, and also prevents sewer fumes from coming into the house.

Washing Machine Box

In a home’s laundry room, a washing machine box is inset into the side of the wall.  It houses both the hot water and cold water supply lines that feed into the washing machine.  It also has a drain connection for the dirty water to empty into the sewer pipes.  Older homes built without a washing box have freestanding spigots and drain pipe.




Shutoff Valve

Toilet / Bidet


Washing Machine Box 

Gray Water

The wastewater from fixtures such as sinks, washing machines, bathtubs, and showers is known as gray water.  It can often be retained and recycled for other non-drinking uses at the home, such as landscaping.  Compare to blackwater from toilets.

Hose Bib (Outdoor Spigot)

An outdoor faucet or spigot on the outside wall of a house.  Typically, a garden hose is connected to it and used to water the landscaping and provide water to outdoor areas.  Sometimes a real estate agent’s lockbox is hung securely on a hose bib.

Pressure Reducing Valve (PRV)

On the house’s main incoming water line, the PRV valve regulates the pressure to fit within industry minimums and maximums.  Low water pressure will prevent adequate water flow, while high water pressure may damage pipes and fixtures.  Since home inspectors check the incoming water pressure as part of their inspection, this fixture is often listed on a home inspection reports along with the inspector’s recommendations.  It may need to be repaired or replaced.


Various types of pumps enable water to defy gravity and flow uphill.  Below are 3 types of pumps commonly seen in houses.

Sewage Ejector Pump

For houses that have fixtures below ground level (in a basement or a house built on a slope), a sewage ejector pump forces the wastewater uphill to the main drain.

Sump Pump

For homes with a basement, a sump pump pulls water out and pumps it outside the house.  Water may collect in a sump basin (or sump pit) for areas of the house that are below ground.

Water Pressure Booster Pump

In houses that have low water pressure, a water pressure booster pump will push the water through the pipes, creating a higher pressure circulation.  These are useful for houses with low water pressure or fluctuating pressure.  Often seen in houses built on slopes or steep grades when water must be pumped uphill.  Also may be seen in houses with extra-long pipes as they cause water to lose pressure over the long distance.

Sewage Ejector Pump

Sump Pump

Water Pressure Booster Pump

Septic System

Compared to a city-plumbed sewer system, a private septic system is self-contained on the property.  It disposes of waste into a septic tank that needs to be maintained and cleaned regularly by the home owner.  It is called “septic” because of the anaerobic bacteria in the tank that help decompose the solid waste.  Listed below are some parts of the system.

Absorption Field

In a septic system, the absorption field is a place on the property’s ground where the septic tank drains.  Also known as a leech field or seeping field, it can be identified by the patch of thick, lush grass growing above it.

Septic Tank

In a self-contained septic system, the septic tank collects the sewer from the sewer pipes and processes the solid wastes.  The septic tank is located on the property, often in the back yard.



The dirty wastewater that flows from the fixtures away from the house.  It includes both liquid and solids, and may be separated between gray water and blackwater.


Sewer System

A wastewater disposal system operated by a city, county, or other municipality.  The house’s dirty sewer water is drained away from the house and flows to the city’s treatment facility.  At the city sewer plant, the wastes are separated to bio-degrade the solids while the water is processed.  Also known as sanitary sewer system, below are some parts of the system.

Backwater Valve

To prevent sewer water from flowing back into the home, a backwater valve is installed in the sewer line.

Catch Basin

In the gutter of a street, a reservoir that collects trash and other items not intended to be transported to the city’s sewer system.


A house’s lateral sewer lines are pipes that carry wastewater from the home to the city’s public sewer system.  Typically, the homeowner must maintain these pipes, not the city.  It is common to see pipes invaded with tree roots or other blockage, rotting materials, or even collapsed pipes on older homes.  Replacing a lateral pipe can be a major expense for a homeowner.  Also known as a sanitary sewer lateral.


A giant pipe with a cover, typically located in the street, that allows sanitation workers to access the city’s sewer and drainage systems.

Backwater Valve


Catch Basin

Sanitary Sewer Lateral



More Definitions to Come

More definitions of plumbing components, along with a discussion of inspections, challenges and solutions to plumbing concerns, will be presented next month.  Be recognized as the expert real estate advisor because you know the lingo!

Article is also published in The San Diego Realtor® magazine, pages 26-28.


Read more in our "Learn the Lingo" series:

1) Backyard & Outdoor Structures: Learn the Lingo
2) View From the Windows: Learn the Lingo
3) Architectural Styles: Learn the Lingo - Part 1
4) Architectural Styles: Learn the Lingo - Part 2
5) Learn the Lingo: Luxury Bathrooms
6) Learn the Lingo: Fences & Gates
7) Learn the Lingo: Vintage Features of Historic Homes
8) The Kitchen: The Heart of the Home Can Be Gourmet
9) The Gourmet Kitchen: Everything and the Kitchen Sink
10) Open the Door of Possibilities (Exterior Doors)
11) The Difference a Good Door Makes (Interior Doors)
12) Tiles
13) Sustainable and Eco-Conscious Home Features (Part 1)
14) Sustainable and Eco-Conscious Home Features (Part 2)
15) Sustainable and Eco-Conscious Home Features (Part 3)
16) Roof Architecture – Don’t Let it Go ‘Over Your Head’
17) Let There Be Light Fixtures ... And There Are Many!
18) A Discussion of Ceilings Will Have You Looking Up
19) Fireplaces: Literally the Hearth of the Home
20) Learn the Lingo of Walls
21) Apply Your Knowledge to Major Appliances
22) Don't Be Floored By this Topic: It's Right Under Your Feet
23) HVAC / Mechanical Lingo
24) Rural Properties - A Sustainable Life "Off the Grid"
25) Land Usage, and Showing & Selling Rural Properties
26) The Dramatic Effect of Stairs and Staircases - A Flight of Fancy?
27) Electrical Components - Get Wired for Understanding
28) Learn the Lingo: Plumbing Fixtures (Part 1 of 2)
29) Learn the Lingo: Plumbing Fixtures (Part 2 of 2)
30) Swimming Pool and Spa Lingo


Posted by

Regina P. Brown
Broker, Realtor®, M.B.A., e-Pro, GREEN
California DRE # 00983670


Text copyright © 2011-2018 R.P. Brown, All Rights Reserved

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MichelleCherie Carr Crowe Just Call...408-252-8900
Get Results Team...Just Call (408) 252-8900! . DRE #00901962 . Licensed to Sell since 1985 . Altas Realty - San Jose, CA
Family Helping Families Buy & Sell Homes 40+ Years

Again, this is a great series of articles posted here.

Aug 18, 2016 04:56 PM #1
Regina P. Brown
MBA Broker Consultants - Carlsbad, CA
M.B.A., Broker, Instructor

Thank you Michelle Carr-Crowe-Selling Silicon Valley Homes in Top Schools San Jose, Cupertino, Saratoga, Palo Alto-Just Call 408-252-8900 

Aug 18, 2016 09:31 PM #2
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