How Plumbing Works – The Science Behind Indoor Plumbing

Have you ever dreamed of living in ancient times?  You might, until you realize that far more of man’s history has occurred without modern plumbing, than with it.

The word, “plumbing” comes from the Latin word for lead, plumbum. Some form of civil plumbing has been around since the days of the Romans. Limited and somewhat crude indoor plumbing dates to the late 1700s. The more recent idea we associate with modern plumbing has only been around since the early 1800s, and that was mainly for rich households and hotels.

Plumbing is generally understood as, not only the intake of potable water from outside the household to the inside, but also sending waste water from inside the household to the outside. Eventually, plumbing systems became more complicated, bringing cold water to multiple structures. This included private homes, commercial or government buildings throughout cities and many rural areas. That system evolved soon after to include special tanks for heating water. Additional channels and valves delivered that hot water to other areas of the building, including the kitchen, bathroom and laundry spaces.

Plumbing System Components and How They Work

When you think of plumbing, you might only imagine pipes hidden behind walls and under floors. A basic plumbing system usually has little or no mechanical parts and works primarily according to natural laws such as gravity, water pressure, and the principle of water seeking equal levels.  A complete plumbing system is made of several components which utilize these principles:

  1. Water intake from a public or private source
  2. Fixtures
  3. Drainage systems

Water Intake Source

This is the first of the two main subsystems in your larger plumbing configuration. In most cases, pressurized water comes into your home through a meter which measures the amount of intake from a public water main. In rural areas, water is pumped from a private well and through a pressure tank. In both cases, pressure drives the water upwards and out and is controlled by valves throughout the building until it’s allowed to escape via a specific faucet or appliance. Water intake has a main shut-off valve, as well as specific shut-off valves for individual fixtures.

Plumbing Fixtures

Fixtures can include anything from a tub, shower, sink, water heater, outdoor spigot, toilet or even an appliance such as a washing machine, dishwasher or icemaker. Many fixtures have both water inflow and water outflow through the drainage systems.

Drainage Systems

Unlike the water intake system, a drainage system doesn’t rely on pressure. Instead, it utilizes gravity and the pitched angle of pipes to draw wastewater down toward the sewer or septic system. These pipes under a sink, tub and built into the toilet have curvature to allow water to escape, while leaving just enough water in the bottom of a curved pipe to trap waste gases, preventing them from rising through the fixture. These traps can often be accessed to remove accumulated hair, grease and debris.

Your home or building’s plumbing system has several components that must work properly together. Most people take our modern plumbing for granted, but trouble with any aspect of your system can leave your home or business in utter chaos and present possible health hazards. A working modern plumbing system facilitates health and convenience such as our ancestors would envy. Have a plumbing question? Reach out to Home Angels for answers!