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Plumbing Basics: This Is How Your Home Plumbing System Works


How Your Home Plumbing System Works

Are you curious about your home plumbing system? Most of us take our pipes for granted until a toilet overflows or the kitchen sink backs up.

For some homeowners, plumbing feels intimidating. It’s a labyrinth of pipes that somehow delivers fresh water and removes waste. Content to let the plumber figure out why the toilet gurgles, most people don’t worry about how plumbing works.

If you’re curious though, you’ve come to the right place! Read today’s post, and next time you need your plumber, you’ll impress them with your understanding of plumbing basics.

Two Systems Working Together

We talk about the home plumbing system, but when you get down to the pipes, you’ll find two systems. Think of them as sub-systems.

One system delivers clean water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. The other removes dirty water, which includes bathroom waste.

It’s critical to know the two systems work together to handle water, but you sure don’t want them getting mixed up! What you want them to do is connect.

All plumbing systems rely on a series of pipes and supply lines to ensure the delivery of clean water and the removal of wastewater.

How Water Supply Lines Work

When you look at a schematic for a home plumbing system, you’ll find two types of supply lines. One carries clean water, and the other delivers hot water.

Clean water supply lines bring cold water into your home from the municipal water supply system.

Water comes from the city supply system through your home’s water main. Pumping stations send pressurized, treated water to your home through the water main.

Once water enters your water main, it moves through the buried supply line and into your house.

You also have a hot water supply line, which carries water from your water heater to sinks, showers and tubs, dishwashers, and washing machines.

All water comes in through the main water line, which connects directly to your water heater. Right before the connection with the water heater, the main water line splits. Now, you have two separate pipe paths—the cold and hot water service lines.

Two Types of Plumbing Pipes

Working alongside your supply lines, your plumbing system uses a series of pipes.

Waste Pipes

These pipes remove gray water and sewage. Gray water comes from fixtures and appliances such as your sinks, showers, and washing machine. Think of gray water as clean, although you cannot drink it!

Waste pipes carry gray water and sewage to the main sewer line. From there, they flow into the city sewer system, and on to your city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Vent Pipes

Plumbing vent pipes extend from the waste pipes, often through the roof. They allow sewer gases to escape to the outside of your home. You don’t want sewer gas inside your home because if it builds up, it can pose health and safety issues.

Vent pipes also allow oxygen to enter your waste pipes, allowing the aerobic breakdown of sewage.

Your Drain System

Now that you understand supply lines and pipes, let’s take a look at another critical component of your plumbing system—drains.

In between your waste pipes and each of your water-using appliances and fixtures stands a drain. Between the drains and the pipes, you’ll find drain traps.

All wastewater moves through these U-shaped traps to get to the sewer system. Traps hold standing water, but they also prevent sewer gas from getting into your home.

Drain systems work by using the force of gravity to ensure wastewater moves downhill through your plumbing pipes. Gravity prevents water and sewage from backing up in sinks and tubs.

Other Essential Plumbing Components

Along with the main system components we’ve just discussed, plumbing systems use a variety of parts, which ensure the system works smoothly.


Plumbing systems use different types of valves, and each one has a unique role. You should stop right now and find your shutoff valves. There’s one that shuts off water to your entire house and one to shut off the water supply for each toilet and sink.

Clean Out Plug

Your drain system has a clean-out plug located either inside or outside your home. Sometimes when you can’t move a stubborn clog, your plumber will need to open the clean-out to get to the clog. All plumbers offer drain and sewer line cleaning services!


Faucets control the water flowing into your sinks, showers, and tubs. Faucet failure can result in a complete halt to the flow of water!

Water Meter

Locating your water meter means looking outside your house. Installing the meter outside gives your meter reader easier access. Some cities are upgrading to meters they can read remotely.

Don’t forget plumbing pipe fittings! Also called pipe connectors, they work to attach pipes. Fittings also divert water and help manage water flow. Fittings come in a range of sizes designed to fit each type of pipe.

How Plumbing Works When There Is a Problem

Most of the time, the plumbing system in your home works smoothly, and you won’t think much about it at all. When the system gets off-kilter, you’ll want to have at least a few DIY skills to help get things moving again.

Most homeowners can use a plunger to deal with clogged sinks and toilets. If you’ve learned a few advanced plumbing skills, you could even fix minor issues with your water heater or your washing machine.

The more complicated issues, like burst pipes and breaks in your sewer line, need the help of a plumbing professional. Even water heater leaks aren’t usually something homeowners should tackle without help.

Plumbers use a variety of specialized tools to move stubborn clogs and repair or replace other plumbing components. Sometimes it’s just best to let the experts in on the problem!

Need Help With Your Home Plumbing System?

We hope reading this post on plumbing basics helps you gain a better understanding of the way the plumbing system in your home works.

Understanding the basics can help you deal with minor and major plumbing emergencies until your plumber can get to your home. It also makes for great conversation—who doesn’t feel impressed by someone who can talk with ease about drain traps, supply lines, and wastewater pipes?

If you need help with your home plumbing system, contact us today. We’ve been on a mission to help our customers keep the water flowing for almost 20 years, and we’re happy to help you too!

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