Plumbers Toolkit: Terms To Be Familiar With

Have you ever hired a local plumb­ing pro­fes­sional and then not under­stood what in the hell they were talk­ing about when they got to your home?  Hope­fully not, but if so, here’s a few impor­tant plumb­ing terms to help you understand:

Thread paste. Aka “pipe dope” — thread paste is eas­ily the most widely-used prod­uct in a plumber’s tool­box.  The pri­mary func­tion of thread paste/pipe dope is to seal threaded con­nec­tions by fill­ing in the tiny voids with an epoxy type mate­r­ial.  Apply­ing the paste will also act as a lubri­cant and help to tighten the con­nec­tion a lit­tle bet­ter once the two joints come together.  There’s a ton of dif­fer­ent pastes on the mar­ket, and some con­tain really harsh chem­i­cals.  Good plumbers will under­stand which is good and which is bad, espe­cially in con­cern to the mate­r­ial you are using it on.  Some pastes should not be used on plas­tic threads for exam­ple.  There are a few other sit­u­a­tions that plumbers like to apply the paste, such as on the mat­ing sur­faces of cer­tain kinds of unions, inside com­pres­sion fit­tings, inside flared con­nec­tions, or on the bot­tom of cer­tain types of gas­kets.  Over­all, this stuff gets used alot (so don’t worry if your plumber is talk­ing about “using dope” in your bathroom!)

Plumber’s putty — this is prob­a­bly the most widely “mis­used” plumb­ing acces­sory known to mod­ern man.  Hon­estly, I can’t even count the times that I’ve come across putty being used in place of paste or tape or some­thing, and that is always a sure fire leak.  Putty should only be used on the under­side of some­thing that will be tight­ened or com­pressed down, such as the under­side of sink drains, shower drains, and bath­tub drains.  Novice plumbers will use it under­neath stain­less steel sinks to seal them to the coun­ter­top as well, but this can lead to seri­ous prob­lems. Back in the day, it was used to seal old toi­lets to the toi­let flange.  (Not rec­om­mended, by the way).

PTFE  or (poly­te­traflouroeth­yl­ene) tape aka thread tape — this is com­monly (and mis­tak­enly) called Teflon tape.  There’s noth­ing teflon about it. Teflon is a trade­marked brand of the DuPont cor­po­ra­tion.  This is used on threaded con­nec­tions, and thread tape can be used in place of, or along with, pipe dope.  It’s a mat­ter of pref­er­ence in the pro­fes­sional com­mu­nity, although time to seal is one rea­son I use it in newer homes.  I don’t really have a pref­er­ence either way for older homes.  If it is a con­nec­tion that I most def­i­nitely do not want to have to fix, I will usu­ally use both.  There are also cer­tain devices that will call for tape specif­i­cally because it can be harm­ful if paste is intro­duced into them when the water is turned on — or if for some rea­son, peo­ple are too cheap to fix dis­sim­i­lar met­als and want to just jimmy it for now.  Sure, I’ll tape it, so you can bust it off eas­ier once it’s rusted and screwed for good.  A good plumber will never over-wrap the threads with the tape, this can result in putting too much stress on the female fit­ting and crack­ing it permanently.

Flux - this is what you put on cop­per or brass pipe before it’s sol­dered.  It cleans the pipe and allows the sol­der­ing to flow directly into the fit­ting.  If you are work­ing with this, chances are you are in the mid­dle of a larger job.  Just fyi.  This makes the future plumb­ing work easier.

Caulk — Latex caulk and sil­i­cone caulk are both used fre­quently.  Caulks and sil­i­cones should never be used to seal any pip­ing though.  They should only be used to seal fix­tures, or to seal around areas that should not allow water into them.  Exam­ples include tubs, sinks any out­side pen­e­tra­tions and maybe even faucets. Some sneaky plumbers like to use sil­i­cone on the under­side of sink, shower and bath­tub drains in lieu of plumber’s putty.  Not this guy.  It’s so, so messy and remov­ing it requires super-human strength!

Plumbers grease — I know a few guys who are about as greasy as they come.  All jokes aside, this is used any time a faucet gets taken apart.  This includes O-rings, threads and any mov­ing parts.  Tak­ing it down?  Grease it up!

Ball­cock — This is the fill valve that con­trols the flow of water from the water sup­ply line into a gravity-operated toi­let tank. It is con­trolled by a float mech­a­nism that floats in the tank water. When the toi­let is flushed, the float drops and opens the ball­cock, releas­ing water into the tank and/or bowl. As the water in the tank is restored, the float rises and shuts off the ball­cock when the tank is full. (Okay, this has noth­ing to do with mate­ri­als but it’s fun to work into the conversation)!

As usual, if you have a plumb­ing emer­gency, please don’t hes­i­tate to call us any­time 24/7! Oh, and if you’ve ever wanted more “power” from your toi­let, check here:

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