MontClair Plumbing 101

Have you ever thought about what lurks behind those walls or under your floors?

Having a basic understanding of your plumbing system will help you to better maintain it, enhance communication with your plumber and likely save you some money in the process. Care to learn more? Then please read on...

MontClair plumbing

Drainage, waste and vent system

You may be wondering, if your waste water must drain down a sloping pipe by gravity, then what are all of those funny little pipes doing poking up through your roof? Great question!

Those are your vent pipes and they actually promote proper drainage by helping to equalize the air pressure within the drainage system. They are basically just vertical extensions of your drain pipes. Following is a good example of how they function...

Imagine that you have a plastic, one gallon milk jug filled with water. Now tip it upside down and let all the water drain out. You would notice that it will physically glug, glug, glug and very slowly empty its contents.

Now take the same jug, refill it with water and try again. Except this time poke a hole in the opposite end to let air in after turning it upside down to drain. Notice what happens: now the water pours out quickly and smoothly without all of the glugging! (You may try this on a smaller scale with the old, “finger on one end of the straw” trick.)

This is how your drainage, waste and vent system works. Pipes must be properly sized and vented in order to function properly. If your drains are slow, stopped up or “glugging”, give us a call here at MontClair. We are the experts when it comes to maintaining a healthy drainage, waste and vent system!

Drain traps

Most folks are familiar with plumbing traps or p-traps {named for their shapes): these are the funny, goose-necked-looking pipes located immediately below your sink drains. But do you know their function (other than for occasionally leaking or plugging up)? P-traps actually deserve some worthy mention because they actually help to protect your health and safety. Without the simple, basic p-trap, you could not live in your home! Allow me to explain...

The trap has its curved shape in order to hold water which acts as a seal to protect occupants from the drainage system. Every time you run water, an amount is held back within your trap in order to seal out all of the sewer gas odors, bugs and vermin that would otherwise enter your home. (Yuck!) But it gets even better...

In you live in a large city or municipality and are connected to their sewer system along with thousands of other inhabitants, you can imagine just how nasty this can get. (You may return here after dinner if you like...) The sewer gas odor can be much worse - and extremely dangerous. This is because it’s actually methane gas which is toxic and flammable.

There have been cases in the past for example, where an apartment was vacant for a long period of time and left closed up tight. Subsequently, the p-traps in the unused plumbing drainage system evaporated, allowing sewer gas to escape into the unventilated apartment. Eventually it became so volatile that a large explosion and fire was set off by one of the pilot lights (or was it a maintenance man with a lit cigarette entering the unit...). In any event, you get the picture...

The moral of the story is that if you notice a persistent sewer gas odor, don’t mess around. Ventilate the area and call the pros at MontClair! We can track it down and fix it, whether a leaky p-trap or a broken pipe in the wall.

Tip: Whenever vacating your property for extended periods of times, it would be wise to have your house checked at least weekly and have water run through every drain to keep all of the traps primed. Better yet, especially for vacation or seasonally-used homes, have an expert “winterize” the home: not only is this to protect pipes from freezing, but it also protects traps from evaporating by filling them with a non-evaporating product such as RV antifreeze.

Every plumbing fixture has a trap even though you may not see it. For example, tubs and showers have traps beneath the floor. That’s why if you shine a light down your shower drain you’ll see standing water. Commode traps are molded right into the bowls.

Traps and venting are closely related. Without the proper venting and air circulation within your drainage system, your traps would likely siphon out after emptying the fixture. By now you know that would not have good results! Proper venting of plumbing fixtures protects the traps by breaking any siphoning effects, thus preventing this from happening.

Waste disposal

Lastly is your sewer. All of the drainage piping in your home runs beneath the floors and connects together into one, large main pipe which then connects to the outside sewer line. From there it typically runs to the municipal sewer tap at the street, and then off it flows to the sewage treatment plant (often several miles away). In homes that are a distance from town and any municipal sewer systems, the waste water flows to its own, “private” treatment system - the septic tank. This large underground tank then separates the liquids from the solids via baffles and distributes the liquid (gray water waste) through a drain field in the yard where it soaks into the ground and evaporates into the air. The remaining solids in the tank are then broken down by bacterial action.

Septic tank systems require occasional maintenance to prevent the sludge from accumulating faster than the bacteria can handle it. This can potentially cause a real mess both in the home and the drain field. Depending on the situation, you should have your septic tank pumped out and inspected every 5 years or so for preventative care. Give us a call if you have any questions on this...

Water distribution system

Now that you know all about what happens to the water when it drains, let’s touch on how it’s supplied.

The water source could be a private well, or a municipal water system, depending on location. For those connected to a public (municipal) system, a monthly water bill statement is provided which can fluctuate slightly, depending on consumption. The water is supplied through a water meter, typically near the street, and then flows though a water main to your house connection (this is often a 1” PVC pipe, depending on required volume). Most systems also require backflow prevention devices to protect the public potable water supply.

Once the main feed line connects to the home it will flow through the main water cut off valve. A couple of important notes:

  • Spot exactly where your main cut off is located and how to operate it. In the event of an emergency, this could mean the different between a major annoyance and major flood! If unsure, ask your plumber.
  • You should also shut the water off to your home anytime you are leaving for longer than a weekend to be on the safe side. (This may not be necessary if you have someone check in on a daily basis, especially if it’s to water the pets and plants...)

Once inside the home the water branches off into a variety of pipes in a water distribution system to supply each of the plumbing fixtures and faucets. Pipe sizing depends of number of fixtures per line and volume required. There’s also a similar but totally separate distribution system for the hot water fixtures which originates from the water heater.

As one would expect, it’s important for these pipes to be of the proper size and correct materials as they are usually buried under your floors and running through the walls. Inferior quality materials and/or workmanship could spell disaster.

If piped underground, supply lines should always be properly insulated as they pass upward though the concrete slab. This is to eliminate eventual leaks from the corrosive elements of the concrete and the wearing down of pipes through expansion and contraction when they are not permitted to do so (especially hot lines).

Every fixture in the dwelling is also required to have its own, individual cut-off valve (or supply stop). In the event of leakage or repair, it’s naturally better to isolate the problem than to shut down the entire house.

For more information regarding repiping, slab leaks or leak detection, please visit the appropriate pages.

Fixtures and faucets

What you see is nowhere near what you get! Toilets, tubs, showers, sinks, laundries, lavatories, water heaters and more - all you notice is what you use. Did you find it interesting to learn about what goes on “behind the scenes?” Well, now you know! Drainage, waste, vents and water systems are an integral part of your overall plumbing system - and hidden from view for the most part.

Fixtures and faucets are the final results of all the plumbing efforts and design. Here is where you can get creative with fashion, design, function and flair. From the most basic to designer fashion, there’s something to suite every lifestyle. Whatever route you decide to take, always consider quality and conservation. This will improve your home’s resale value and allow savings and peace of mind in the meantime.

Well, that’s quite a system you have there! Handle with care and you’ll enjoy many years of service. And here to assist you with maintaining your entire plumbing system is MontClair. We know plumbing inside and out and can help with any need. Our plumbers are licensed, bonded, insured and highly skilled. Contact us anytime for free estimates and prompt, courteous service: we’ll keep your system flowing smooth and always leave you with a smile, not a mess!

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Plumbing Services
MontClair, California

  • MontClair Backflow Prevention
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