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Have you ever wondered what all these plumbing and sewer terms actually mean?
That’s why we’ve put together this handy Dictionary of Plumbing Sewer and Drain Terms.
If you’re ever unsure what something means, you can consult this list.
The sewer, also known as a “sanitary sewer,” is a municipally maintained series of pipes that transports wastewater from local homes and businesses to a wastewater treatment plant.
A mainstay of the modern world, sewer systems are something many people take for granted. The local municipal sewer system allows you to dispose of waste from your toilet and sinks without a second thought.
A drain is any plumbing fixture that provides an exit point for wastewater. In your home or business, you’ll find drains in your sinks, bathtubs, showers, and toilets. In some commercial systems, like pools and water fountains, wastewater is recirculated.
In most sink and shower drains, it’s pumped into the sewer system for proper waste disposal at your local sewer plant. Drainage pipes usually start at 2″ in diameter, and 3″ and 4″ pipes are used to handle heavier-duty water flows.
A septic system is an on-site waste disposal solution consisting of a septic tank, drainfield, and other components that provide an area where waste from your home can safely decompose using natural bacteria. Septic systems are common in suburban and rural areas that may not have access to municipal sewage and waste treatment infrastructures.
The size and capacity of a septic tank can vary, based on how much waste a home or business generates. Smaller septic tanks start at 500-600 gallons, and larger septic tanks can have a capacity of to 2000 gallons.
Sewer backflow is a phenomenon in which a clogged sewer main line causes contaminated wastewater to flow back up into the plumbing pipes of a home or business. In some cases, sewer backflow can cause serious flooding, which also happens to be biohazardous.
Sewer hydro jetting is a method of sewer cleaning that uses streams of water at very high pressures, similar to a pressure washer, to blast away tree roots, organic material, paper products, grease, and other substances that can cause a clog inside your drain pipes or sewer main line.
Typical sewer jetting nozzles can achieve a PSI of around 4000, and nozzles are available in sizes from as small as 3/8″ to around 1 1/4″.
Sewer line inspection uses modern camera equipment, powered by fiber optic technology, to look directly inside your sewer lines.
During sewer line inspection, contractors will lower a camera into the sewer and move it through the pipes, using a monitor to view a video feed to find clogs, broken pipes, and other problems.
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Sump pumps and sewage ejector pumps are designed to force water upward into your outgoing plumbing pipes and sewer main line.
Sewage ejector pumps are generally installed in basements and other low-lying areas, where plumbing fixtures are below the sewer main line.
Sump pumps are also useful in basements, helping you to waterproof your home in case of emergency.
Sewage ejector pump sizing is determined by the number of fixtures it needs to handle, with water capacity measured in GPM (gallons per minute).
For example, if you 12 plumbing fixtures and 2 bathrooms in your basement, you’ll want a sewage ejector pump that can handle 87 GPM.
Trenchless sewer repair methods like pipe lining and pipe bursting can fix or replace sewer pipes quickly and efficiently, without any digging at all.
“Plumbing” is a term that refers to the system of pipes, fittings, drains, and fixtures that conveys water throughout homes and businesses.
The size and dimensions of plumbing pipes can vary significantly, from small 1/8″ pipes up to large 12″ pipes.
A sewage ejector pump is a plumbing device installed in basements and other low-lying areas of a home or business that contain plumbing fixtures.
Because these areas lie below the level of the sewer main line, gravity isn’t enough to ensure that wastewater moves into the municipal sewer system.
Sewage ejector pumps force water upward instead with a pumping mechanism, emptying themselves when the float switches detect an appropriate water level inside the pump basin.
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Like most US states, New Jersey has a set of plumbing codes that help ensure safe plumbing installation that works correctly.
NJ plumbing codes regulate things like the depth of underground water pipes, the size of plumbing pipe fittings, and the location of sewer cleanouts.
DEP stands for “Department of Environmental Protection.” The New Jersey DEP is responsible for ensuring the protection of land, water, and air within the state, along with local fish and wildlife.
The NJ DEP department of water supply and geoscience ensures that clean waste disposal keeps local aquifers, wetlands, lakes, and rivers pure and clean of sewage.
Grease traps are specialized plumbing devices that are often installed in restaurants, cafeterias, and other businesses and commercial buildings that deal with food service.
Grease traps strain out cooking grease, which can clog sewers and drain lines.
Commercial grease traps need to be emptied periodically, and the grease itself can often be recycled. Grease trap sizing must be carefully calculated.
Lead Pipe Line
Lead pipe lines were commonly used in the 18th and early 19th century for plumbing.
In fact, the term “plumbing” comes from the Latin word for “lead.” Lead, a hard and durable metal with good water resistance, was used for years as the go-to material for plumbing and sewer pipes.
By the mid-1980s, however, lead’s toxicity to humans was well established. Most lead piping has been removed from New Jersey homes and businesses, and replaced with nontoxic materials like copper or PVC.
Many home and commercial plumbing pipes and sewer main lines are made from copper.
Unlike lead, which was used until the mid- to late 20th century, copper is safe and nontoxic. However, it is susceptible to several problems that stem from regular long-term exposure to flowing water.
Copper can corrode due to ongoing erosion by water. It’s also susceptible to cold water pitting. Eventually, you may need plumbing pipe replacement or sewer line replacement if your home has copper piping.
PVC pipe is made from polyvinyl choloride, a lightweight synthetic plastic material whose durability and water resistance have made it a popular choice for plumbing and sewer pipes.
In the United States, 66% of plumbing pipes and 75% of sewer pipes are made of PVC.
PVC pipe is easy for plumbers and sewer repair contractors to work with, and tends to be lower in cost than alternatives like copper piping.
Pressure valves are used in plumbing and heating systems to ensure that water stays at a safe and consistent PSI.
Typical water pressure should be around 30-60 PSI inside your plumbing pipes. Elevated water pressure can increase the risk of a burst pipe, as well as wasting water and raising energy bills.
Toilets are sanitation fixtures designed to safely and hygienically dispose of human waste through the sewer system.
Although there are several types of toilets found worldwide, nearly all home and commercial toilets in the United States are flush toilets.
Toilets are available in a range of sizes, and their heights can vary. Typical toilets are 14-16″, although the ADA mandates up to 18″ heights for toilets accessible to disabled persons.
A sink is a bowl-shaped plumbing fixture used for washing one’s hands, dishes, and other items.
There are several styles of sink, including top-mount, bottom-mount, and more exotic styles like vessel sinks.
Kitchen sinks tend to be around 22″ by 30″, with a depth of around 10″.
Some homeowners prefer a larger or deeper sink, and sink size can often depend on the countertops, sink style, and general interior design considerations.
A type L drain line is thicker than DWV and M pipes, and is standard for water lines and drains.
Type L drain pipes’ thickness and durability make it ideal for outdoor applications.
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A u-trap is a curve piece of pipe fitted below a plumbing fixture. Water pools inside the U-trap, creating a barrier that keeps out unpleasant odors in toilets, kitchen sinks, and other plumbing fixtures.
They can also trap large objects that make their way into a sink or drain, helping prevent clogs. Invented in 1880 by Sir Thomas Crapper (yes, that’s his name), U-traps are a mainstay of modern plumbing.
The Safe Water Drinking Act mandates that all plumbing pipes must be lead-free pipe, which has been instrumental in the effort in the late 20th century to remove and replace dangerous lead plumbing.
Specifically, pipes and pipe fittings must contain less than 0.25% lead by weight. Prior to 1996, the maximum was actually 8% lead, but subsequently, that much lead was determined to present a health risk.
A toilet’s flush valve controls water release from the tank into the toilet bowl when the toilet is flushed.
Toilet flush valves can vary from 2″ to 4″, depending on the toilet’s make and model. A standard flush valve is generally 2″, but larger flush valves allow for better, faster flushing and drainage, while consuming less water.
High Efficiency – Dual Flush Toilet
Dual flush toilets are designed to use water as efficiently as possible, saving both water and money for New Jersey homeowners.
They’re equipped with two flush options: a light flush of around 1 gallon for liquid waste, and a heavier 1.5-2 gallon flush for solid waste.
This saves water when dealing with liquid waste, while still emptying the bowl and preventing a clogged toilet when disposing of solid waste.
Water Purifier Dispenser
Water purifiers and dispensers filter impurities out of household tap water, providing drinking water that’s both safer and better tasting than unfiltered water.
A water purifier/dispenser is more economical, and more environmentally friendly, than buying large amounts of bottled water.
Water filters use physical barriers or chemical processes to remove impurities from water.
Household water filters are an easy, economical way to get cleaner, safer, better-tasting water.
Many point-of-use filters for home use are built with granular-activated carbon, which is porous and has a large surface area for removing impurities.
Clogged Low-Flow Line
Low-flow toilets can save a substantial amount of water, making them more economical and environmentally friendly than traditional high-flush toilets.
Unfortunately, they’re also prone to clogging more easily. NJ homes with low-flow toilets often end up with a clogged drain line. In some cases, drain pipe replacement with PVC, instead of older cast-iron pipes, can help mitigate this problem.
A water heater (water heater service nj) is an appliance that provides a supply of hot water for a home or commercial building.
Most water heaters use a storage tank to hold heated water until it’s needed, and may be powered by either electricity or natural gas.
Tankless water heaters are an alternative that provide hot water only when it’s needed, rather than storing it inside a tank for later use.
A septic tank is part of small-scale septic systems used to dispose of waste from homes or commercial buildings that don’t have access to municipal sewer lines. Inside of the septic tank, waste materials are broken down by bacteria.
Then, wastewater is pumped to a drainage field where further bacterial decomposition occurs.
Gallons per Minute
In the US, water flow rates in plumbing are measured in gallons per minute. For example, if it takes one minute (60 seconds) for water from a pipe line to fill a 5-gallon bucket, the GPM is 5.
Pipe relining is a trenchless sewer repair method in which a new “pipe within a pipe,” made from a blend of resin and other materials, is pulled into a cracked or damaged, but structurally intact, section of pipe. The pipe liner is flexible, and when it’s in place, heat or UV radiation is used to harden it.
Trenchless sewer repair is a set of methods for fixing or replacing sewer lines without the need for excavation.
Some techniques, like pipe relining, work best for moderately damaged pipes that still retain most of their structural integrity.
Other methods like pipe bursting and moling are used to replace more severely damaged sewer lines.
A storm drain is a designated drain located outdoors, and generally feeds into the municipal sewer system.
Storm drains are designed to prevent flooding during heavy weather by providing a place for water to flow into, rather than pooling in low-lying areas.
Sewer line replacement is used when a pipe is collapsed or severely broken, such that routine sewer repairs aren’t enough to salvage it.
In many cases, trenchless techniques like pipe bursting can be used to replace a sewer line without extensive, intrusive digging.
Drain Access Point (Drain Cleanout Plug)
A drain access point, also known as a drain cleanout plug, is usually located on your property somewhere between where the sewer main line leaves the house, and where it connects to the municipal sewers. It’s generally a 3-6″ pipe with a cap on it, either flush with the ground or extending slightly above it.
Municipal Sewer & Water
If you live in a town or city, you have access to municipal sewer and water services.
This includes a supply of potable, clean water for drinking and bathing, as well as sewer treatment for wastewater that exits through the sewer main line.
In rural areas, many homes and businesses opt for a septic system due to the lack of municipal sewers.
During the winter, frozen pipes are a common problem in New Jersey. When the water solidifies inside a pipe when temperatures dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it expands.
This puts pressure on the walls of the pipe, often resulting in a burst pipe.
Sewer cameras are used by sewer service contractors to inspect a clogged or broken sewer line.
These camera systems use fiber optics, and the camera itself is mounted on a long, flexible extension that can be lowered through the access point into the sewer line.
On a laptop or monitor, contractors can view a high-resolution video feed, providing an up-close look at the problem.
The drain flies are a taxon of true flies, or “diptera,” grouped under the suborder “nematocetera.” They’re quite small, usually less than 2mm, and they’re drawn to damp habitats in human dwellings.
Because their bodies are covered with water-repelling “hairs,” drain flies do not drown, and they’re even resistant to water-born toxins like bleach and ammonia.
Drain flies can infest homes, living and laying eggs inside of plumbing pipes and drain lines.
A sewer smell inside of a house is often a sign of a clogged or broken sewer line.
When a sewer line clogs, or breakage is preventing water from flowing out into the city sewers, water will begin to back up into the plumbing pipes.
Because the water is contaminated with waste, this can result in unpleasant odors emanating from household drains.
Because they’re a wet location filled with decaying organic matter, sewers are a haven for all kinds of bacteria.
Some of these bacteria can be harmful to humans, like fecal coliform bacteria, so it’s important that wastewater and potable water remain separate, and it’s not safe to handle raw sewage without proper hazmat gear.
Some bacteria can also generate sulfuric acid as a metabolic byproduct, which can cause pipe corrosion.
Sewer pipe corrosion is most common in older cast iron sewer lines.
Exposure to running water, as well as the activities of bacteria that can generate corrosive sulfuric acid, can wear away at the interior of the pipes over time. Eventually, this causes holes that can leak out water, and which also provide a jagged area for materials to adhere and cause sewer clogs.
Sewer Line Insurance
Most basic homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover sewer repair and sewer pipe replacement, but separate sewer line insurance is available for this purpose.
Extensive sewer damage can be very costly, so sewer line insurance is a good idea in case of emergency.
Sewer Line Slope
To ensure proper drainage, it’s important for residential and commercial sewer lines in NJ to be installed at the right slope.
Contractors calculate the sewer line slope using equations. For a standard horizontal sewer pipeline over 8″ in diameter, the minimum slope should generally be about 1/16″ per foot.
Sewer jet services, also known as “sewer jetting,” “water jetting,” or “hydro jetting,” is the primary modern method for cleaning and unclogging sewer main lines.
Water at high pressures, often around 4000 PSI, is used to clear out debris and tree roots.
High pressure water jetting uses streams of water at very high pressures, sprayed through nozzles of various sizes, to clear out clogs from a drain or sewer line.
Water jetting is quite powerful, capable of removing even thick tree roots from a pipe.
Sewer Lateral Line
The sewer lateral line is a large diameter pipe that runs from a house or building to the nearby city sewer lines.
Sewer lateral lines transport wastewater, including solid waste materials, to the sewers. From there, it ultimately goes to the city sewage treatment plant.
“Sewer main” is another term for a sewer lateral line or sewer main line.
In areas with access to municipal sewer systems, rather than a local septic system, every building has a sewer main to move wastewater from the plumbing into the sewers.
Main Sewer Line
“Main sewer line” is a synonym for a sewer lateral line.
The sewer manual is an access point to the main lines of a local municipal sewer system.
The name comes from the fact that sewer manuals provide an entry point where workers can enter the sewers directly for repairs and other city sewer services.
Sanitary Sewer Standard
Your city or local community has a set of sanitary sewer standards, designed to ensure the safe removal of potentially hazardous human waste.
This regulates sewer lines, cleanouts, pipes and pipe connectors, manholes, and other aspects of the sewer system.
Tree roots are surprisingly likely to cause a broken or clogged sewer main line.
Large trees have extensive root systems, which send out shoots in search of moisture and nutrients. When a sewer line already has cracks or other very minor damage, tree roots can grow inside of it, eventually blocking water flow.
Backwater valves (backflow)are installed in low-lying and flood-prone areas to protect against flooding in emergencies like severe weather or a burst water main.
In some locations, a backwater valve may be required by local codes or legislation. It’s important for a backwater valve to be tested annually to ensure that it’s working correctly, especially if the valve is mandated.
A sewer snake, or augur, is a device for manually removing sewer clogs.
Unlike the simple household drain snakes you probably use for clogged sinks and shower drains, sewer snakes are generally machine-powered.
Sewer snakes can extend over 100 feet, and come in different diameters. For small 1″-3″ pipes, a typical drain snake diameter is about 3/8″-1/2″.
Sewer Pipe Heater
A sewer pipe heater prevents the water inside the pipe from freezing during cold winter weather.
There are also septic tank heaters that similarly prevent freezing, and are mounted a few feet from the top of the tank.