How to Decode Your Plumber’s Lingo

What is Your Plumber Saying?

So, you call your plumber up on the phone or you’re having a conversation in your kitchen, but there’s only one problem: you have no idea what he’s saying. You might be wondering how you’re supposed to check to see if the pilot light is on if you’re not even sure what it is. Or how can you make sure the flapper on your toilet is working properly if you’re not sure where to find it.

While your plumber understands that not everyone is an expert on plumbing terms, we understand that it can be a little frustrating when you aren’t exactly on the same page. We’d like to help you make your next conversation with a plumber go a little smoother by going over some of the most common plumbing terms.

Learn more about some of the most frequently-used plumbing terms below.


In plumbing, backflow happens when any amount of water flows in the opposite direction of what it’s supposed to do. This can be caused by too much pressure in the plumbing system or not enough pressure, in some cases. Because backflow can cause unclean water to make its way into your clean water, it can be a serious health problem. To avoid this issue, plumbing systems often have backflow prevention devices in place.


A backup occurs when a plumbing fixture—a sink, shower, or toilet—overfills or overflows due to a block within the drain. When a backup happens in one fixture, it’s likely because of a clog close to that drain. This can usually be fixed with a plunger or plumber’s snake. When a backup happens in multiple fixtures at once, it’s likely a problem within the main sewer/drain line. In these cases, you’ll need a plumber to fix the problem through hydro jetting or sewer line services.


A flapper is the rubber flap within your toilet tank that’s attached to the flush lever. When you flush the toilet, it prompts the water to drain from the toilet and then seals to refill the tank.


A plumbing gasket (or seal or wax ring) is a flat, circular device that allows for a watertight seal in between metal joints within your plumbing system.

Hard Water

Hard water is water that is high in minerals (like calcium and magnesium). While not a dangerous issue, hard water can prevent your plumbing system from working as efficiently as possible. If your home has hard water, you may notice soap scum in your sinks and tubs, spots on dishes, increased water heating costs, and reduced effectiveness of soap.

Journeyman Plumber

A Journeyman plumber is a licensed and trained plumber who has completed an apprenticeship under the supervision of a master plumber. For example, at Stephens Plumbing, all of our technicians complete four years of apprenticeship and are required to earn their Journeyman’s licenses.

Pilot Light

A pilot light is a small gas flame that stays lit at all times, becoming larger when it’s needed. If your water heater is powered by gas, it will have a pilot light. Should you ever be without hot water, the first thing to do would be to check your water heater to see if the pilot light has gone out.

Plumber’s Snake

A plumber’s snake is a flexible auger that is used to break up clogs within your plumbing. It is typically the next step after a clog does not respond to a plunger.

Potable Water

Potable water is water that is safe for consumption.


Sediment occurs when minerals build up within your plumbing system. It’s especially common within water heaters. Sediment can lead to higher water bills or a lack of hot water, as it prevents the water heater from working as efficiently.

Shutoff Valve

You can find shutoff valves underneath sinks and toilets, which allows you or a plumber to turn off the water supply if a repair or replacement is ever necessary.


A trap is a curved part of the drain pipe (typically “P” or “S” shaped) that prevents sewer gases from making their way into your bathroom.

Need a plumber? Learn more about our services below.

[button src=”” size=”medium”]LEARN MORE[/button]