Can You Answer All of These Questions About Basic Plumbing?

Torrance Grey

Image: Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd / DigitalVision / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Plumbing: It might be the most basic thing that we need in our homes. After all, water is essential to cooking, sanitation and hygiene. Electricity to run lights and appliances, not to mention cable and WiFi, look like luxuries in comparison! Fortunately, most of us live in a world where we can take an endless supply of running water, and wastewater disposal, for granted. That is, until something goes wrong! Then life can get really unpleasant -- especially if you live in a one-toilet home. 

That's why it's important to know the basics of your home's plumbing system. But you're not a homeowner, you say? It's the landlord's responsibility? Maybe so ... but that isn't much help when there's water shooting out of a pipe, or the toilet clogs up late on a Saturday night. So, homeowner or carefree renter, how much do you know about plumbing basics? If you think a "flapper" is a 1920s party girl, or that a "closet auger" is something you'd use on your clothes closet ... well, your knowledge base might need a little shoring up. Fortunately, we've got a quiz that can help. Even if you don't score high, you're likely a learn a few useful things about the world of plungers, pipe cutters and C-clamps. Are you ready? Let's get started!

Plumbing works like a sink, toilet, shower or bathtub are summed up under the general term ______.

All these things fall under the general heading of "fixtures." You'll see this term a lot in the coming questions.

True or false: Every plumbing system feeds into a sewer system.

Homes in rural or less-developed areas often have septic tanks. One holdup in getting neighborhoods on sewer systems is the expense to taxpayers -- they're expensive to engineer, and property owners often vote against the new tax assessment.

Where is a septic tank usually found?

A septic tank is never found inside a building. It and its "leach field" are found in yards.

What does the word "septic" actually mean?

You probably got this one if you thought of the word "antiseptic," which means "germ-killing." You'll hear the term "septic" in medicine, where it means a body is being overcome with germs or infection.

What is the main force behind drainage in a plumbing system?

Plumbing systems are engineered so that gravity alone allows wastewater to drain away. Pretty convenient, given that we'll never run out of gravity!

If you lose jewelry down a sink, look for it in the ...

The "trap" is so named because it catches many things that go down a pipe. This includes hair, grease, jewelry and more.

Another purpose of a trap is to do what?

Sewer gas smells terrible (unsurprisingly), and being a gas, rises. Traps hold some water at all times, and the water provides a barrier against the gas. Nifty, eh?

Which of these does NOT have a trap?

Virtually every plumbing fixture has a trap. It's an essential part of good plumbing design.

At core, a building has two plumbing systems: _____ and drainage.

This just makes sense. The most basic functions of a plumbing system are to supply clean water to a building and carry used/waste water away.

To work on a plumbing fixture, you must shut off the water at ...

Before making repairs, it is best to shut off the water at the nearest valve. Look for an oval knob, usually close to the floor. Shutting the water off at your home's main supply is only needed for major work.

Is a water heater a plumbing fixture?

A water heater is not considered a fixture, because though it has a water supply, it doesn't drain away wastewater. It only heats water for use in fixtures.

Which of these causes most drain clogs?

Human hair, not pet hair, is the most common cause of clogs. Soap residue sticking to the hair trapped in the drain does compound the situation, though.

Freezing temperatures can result in what?

Water expands when it freezes, and this can crack or burst pipes. This, in turn, can create a flood (as the water in the system is unlikely to all have frozen solid at once).

To keep pipes from freezing, you should ...

Though it might feel wasteful, letting water drip from the faucets can save you from cracked pipes and a big repair bill. Moving water doesn't freeze as easily as water standing still.

A flexible tool for unclogging pipes is called what?

This is a finely-jointed metal tube that bends and curves with pipes as it finds its way to the clog. It's named for its flexibility.

What would you use to tighten up a large bolt or nut?

An adjustable wrench is the kind you probably picture when you hear the word "wrench" -- big and heavy. It also has a rolling knob in the handle that adjusts (hence the name) the width of the jaws.

The spiral ridges on a pipe coupling are called what?

Threads are found on far more couplings than the ones in plumbing. Whenever you screw the cap back onto a flashlight after replacing batteries, you're using its threads.

Which of these tools is the first line of defense against a clog?

When you've got a clog, a plunger is usually the first thing you'd grab. Only after that might you resort to more invasive plumber's tools.

True or false: You should wear safety goggles when plunging a fixture.

There are several reasons for protecting your eyes from a backsplash. If you're plunging a toilet, the water could contain pathogens. In other fixtures, if you've used liquid drain opener, that's a risk as well. In general, there's very little in standing wastewater you'd want in your eyes!

Replacing a washer is likely to fix what issue?

If your faucet is leaking, the issue is likely either a worn-out washer or a worn-out valve seat. You may want to replace both at once, just to keep the problem from recurring.

Septic tanks need to be pumped out approximately every ...

This is not a DIY job! Still, it's unpleasant enough that we're happy, on behalf of the workers who take it on, that it doesn't need to be done very often.

To save water, you might want to install a ______ toilet.

"Low-flow" and "low-consumption" mean the same thing. They are compliant with a conservation act passed in 1992. If your toilet is ADA-compliant, however, the seat is higher than average to accommodate those with mobility issues. It doesn't save any water.

Plumbers frequently use what kind of tape?

Oddly, this tape doesn't actually contain Teflon. But it does adhere nicely to threads without interfering with their coupling.

"Ghost flushing" is usually caused by ...

The flapper is the rubber valve between the tank and the toilet bowl. Either re-seat it, or, if it's old, replace it.

Which of these is NOT a type of faucet?

These are all types of faucets. Your kitchen faucet, for example, might have the popular ball-type joint, in which the faucet rotates like a shoulder in a ball-and-socket joint.

Which of these can save you a big headache when you're taking apart a faucet?

It's that simple -- close the drain before you take anything apart! If one of those very small pieces slips from your fingers and down the drain, you're going to end up taking the trap apart.

Which of these would you NOT commonly use in plumbing repairs?

A multimeter is for testing how much "juice" is left in batteries. You shouldn't be using one in plumbing work -- electricity and water don't mix well!

Which of these might you use white vinegar for?

White vinegar is a cheap, nifty household substance. It removes buildup from spray nozzles of all kinds, and can be used as an eco-friendly cleaner, too. (But don't bother trying to clean your plunger, though).

Which of these is another term for Allen wrenches, often used in plumbing work?

As you might have guessed, "keys" is a synonym for small wrenches. Allen keys or wrenches are often called "hex" instead, because of their hexagonal heads.

One toilet flush generally uses about how much water?

Toilets have become more efficient. Back in the day, they used about 3 gallons per flush, but no more.

On which fixture would you use a "closet auger"?

Confused? The name comes from the days when a toilet was called a "water closet." A closet auger is like a drain snake, but specifically made for toilets.

Which of these is it safest to flush down a toilet?

Plumbers advise against even this, but throwing a bit of hair (like from a comb or brush) into the toilet is unlikely to do damage unless it's in large amounts. Still, the wastebasket is a better choice.

Why might you stuff a rag in a drain plate?

Bathtubs commonly have drain plates; sinks often have smaller versions. If you try to plunge them without blocking the drain plate, you won't get very far, as the pipes will have an alternate source of air, and little suction will be produced.

A projecting rim or "skirt" on a pipe is called a ...

Toilet plungers also have flanges, except in that case, it's an inner ring. This provides an extra seal and better suction, which is needed given the difficult curved shape of the bowl around the hole.

A little bit of water is bubbling up from the air gap of the dishwasher. What should you do?

The air gap is made to release air and water during the washing cycle. However, if a lot of water is escaping, it might be time for professional help.

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