Plumbing is any system that conveys fluids for a wide range of applications. Plumbing uses pipes, valves, plumbing fixtures, tanks, and other apparatuses to convey fluids. Heating and cooling (HVAC), waste removal, and potable water delivery are among the most common uses for plumbing, but it is not limited to these applications. The word derives from the Latin for lead, plumbum, as the first effective pipes used in the Roman era were lead pipes.
Cast iron and ductile iron pipe was long a lower-cost alternative to copper, before the advent of durable plastic materials but special non-conductive fittings must be used where transitions are to be made to other metallic pipes, except for terminal fittings, in order to avoid corrosion owing to electrochemical reactions between dissimilar metals (see galvanic cell).
Specialized plumbing tools include pipe wrenches, flaring pliers, pipe vise, pipe bending machine, pipe cutter, dies, and joining tools such as soldering torches and crimp tools. New tools have been developed to help plumbers fix problems more efficiently. For example, plumbers use video cameras for inspections of hidden leaks or problems, they use hydro jets, and high pressure hydraulic pumps connected to steel cables for trench-less sewer line replacement.
Pipefitters, sometimes simply called fitters, install and maintain pipes that carry chemicals, acids, and gases. These pipes are used mostly in manufacturing, commercial, and industrial settings. Fitters install and repair pipe systems in power plants, as well as heating and cooling systems in large office buildings. Some pipefitters specialize as gasfitters, sprinklerfitters, or steamfitters.
Plastic pipe is in wide use for domestic water supply and drain-waste-vent (DWV) pipe. Principal types include: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) was produced experimentally in the 19th century but did not become practical to manufacture until 1926, when Waldo Semon of BF Goodrich Co. developed a method to plasticize PVC, making it easier to process. PVC pipe began to be manufactured in the 1940s and was in wide use for Drain-Waste-Vent piping during the reconstruction of Germany and Japan following WWII. In the 1950s, plastics manufacturers in Western Europe and Japan began producing acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) pipe. The method for producing cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) was also developed in the 1950s. Plastic supply pipes have become increasingly common, with a variety of materials and fittings employed.
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The word "plumber" dates from the Roman Empire. The Latin for lead is plumbum. Roman roofs used lead in conduits and drain pipes and some were also covered with lead, lead was also used for piping and for making baths. In medieval times anyone who worked with lead was referred to as a plumber as can be seen from an extract of workmen fixing a roof in Westminster Palace and were referred to as plumbers "To Gilbert de Westminster, plumber, working about the roof of the pantry of the little hall, covering it with lead, and about various defects in the roof of the little hall". Thus a person with expertise in working with lead was first known as a Plumbarius which was later shortened to plumber.