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Plumbing Basics

Plumbing was extremely rare until the growth of modern cities in the 19th century. At about the same time public health authorities began pressing for better waste disposal systems to be installed. Plumbing (from the Latin plumbum for lead, as pipes were once made from lead) is the skilled trade of working with pipes, tubing and plumbing fixtures for drinking water systems and the drainage of waste.

A plumber is someone who installs or repairs piping systems, plumbing fixtures and equipment such as water heaters. The plumbing industry is a basic and substantial part of every developed economy due to the need for clean water, and proper collection and transport of wastes.

The 'straight' sections of plumbing systems are of pipe or tube. A pipe is typically formed via casting or welding, where a tube is made through extrusion. Pipe normally has thicker walls and may be threaded or welded, where tubing is thinner-walled and requires special joining techniques such as 'brazing', 'compression fitting', 'crimping', or for plastics, 'solvent welding'.

Fittings are used in pipe and plumbing systems to connect straight pipe or tubing sections, to adapt to different sizes or shapes, and to regulate fluid flow, for example. Fittings, especially uncommon types, can be expensive, and require time, materials, and tools to install, so they are a non-trivial part of piping and plumbing systems. Valves are technically fittings, but are usually discussed separately.

The major categories of plumbing systems or subsystems are:

  • Potable cold and hot water supply
  • Traps, drains, and vents
  • Septic systems
  • Rainwater, surface, and subsurface water drainage
  • Fuel gas piping

For their environmental benefit and sizable energy savings hot water heat recycling units are growing in use throughout the residential building sectors. Further ecological concern has seen increasing interest in grey-water recovery and treatment systems.

Regulation

Much of the plumbing work in populated areas is regulated by government or quasi-government agencies due to the direct impact on the public's health, safety, and welfare. Plumbing installation and repair work on residences and other buildings generally must be done according to plumbing and building codes to protect the inhabitants of the buildings and to ensure safe, quality construction to future buyers. If permits are required for work, plumbing contractors typically secure them from the authorities on behalf of home or building owners. In the United Kingdom the professional body is the newly Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (educational charity status) and it is true that the trade still remains virtually ungoverned; there are no systems in place to monitor or control the activities of unqualified plumbers or those home owners who choose to undertake installation and maintenance works themselves, despite the health and safety issues which arise from such works when they are undertaken incorrectly - see Health Aspects of Plumbing (HAP) published jointly by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Plumbing Council (WPC). WPC has subsequently appointed a representative to the World Health Organization to take forward various projects related to Health Aspects of Plumbing.

The Plumbing & Drainage Institute (PDI) is an association of American manufacturers of engineered plumbing drainage specialty products. Such products include floor drains, roof drains, sanitary floor drains, cleanouts, water hammer arresters, swimming pool drains, backwater valves, grease interceptors, fixture supports, and other drainage specialties.

The Institute's objective is to promote the advancement of Engineered Plumbing Products through, research and standardization of product requirements; as well as to prepare, edit, and publish Standards relating to plumbing products, and to provide certified testing, rating, and installation procedures for Grease Interceptors and Water Hammer Arresters, in Standards PDI-G101 and PDI-WH201 respectively.

NSF International is a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization that provides standards development, product certification, auditing, education and risk management for public health and safety.

NSF is a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Food and Water Safety and Indoor Environment. Serving companies in over 100 countries

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