May 27th 2014
History and Facts:
Plumbing is the system of pipes, drains
fittings, valves, valve assemblies, and devices installed in a
building for the distribution of water for drinking, heating and
washing, and the removal of waterborne wastes, and the skilled
trade of working with pipes, tubing and plumbing fixtures in
such systems. A plumber is someone who installs or repairs
piping systems, plumbing fixtures and equipment such as water
heaters and backflow preventers. The plumbing industry is a
basic and substantial part of every developed economy due to the
need for clean water, and sanitary collection and transport of
wastes. The word "plumbing" comes from the Latin plumbum for
lead, as pipes were once made from lead.
Plumbing is usually distinguished from water supply and sewage
systems, in that a plumbing system serves one building, while
water and sewage systems serve a group of buildings.
originated during ancient civilizations such as the Greek,
Roman, Persian, Indian, and Chinese cities as they developed
public baths and needed to provide potable water and drainage of
wastes, for larger numbers of people. Standardized earthen
plumbing pipes with broad flanges making use of asphalt for
preventing leakages appeared in the urban settlements of the
Indus Valley Civilization by 2700 B.C. The Romans used lead pipe
inscriptions to prevent water theft.
Improvement in plumbing systems was very slow, with virtually no
progress made from the time of the Roman system of aqueducts and
lead pipes. Plumbing was extremely rare until the growth of
modern densely-populated cities in the 1800s. During this
period, public health authorities began pressing for better
waste disposal systems to be installed, to prevent or control
epidemics of disease. Earlier, the waste disposal system had
merely consisted of collecting waste and dumping it on the
ground or into a river. Eventually the development of separate,
underground water and sewage systems eliminated open sewage
ditches and cesspools.
Most large cities today pipe solid wastes to sewage treatment
plants in order to separate and partially purify the water,
before emptying into streams or other bodies of water. For
potable water use, galvanized iron piping was commonplace in the
United States from the late 1800s until around 1960. After that
period, copper piping took over, first soft copper with flared
fittings, then with rigid copper tubing utilizing soldered
The use of lead for potable water declined sharply after World
War II because of increased awareness of the dangers of lead
poisoning. At this time, copper piping was introduced as a
better and safer alternative to lead pipes.
of ancient times relied on gravity for the supply of water,
using pipes or channels usually made of clay, lead, bamboo,
wood, or stone. Hollowed wooden logs wrapped in steel banding
were used for plumbing pipes, particularly water mains. Logs
were used for water distribution in England close to 500 years
ago. US cities began using hollowed logs in the late 1700s
through the 1800s.
Present-day water-supply systems use a network of high-pressure
pumps, and pipes in buildings are now made of copper, brass,
plastic (particularly cross-linked polyethylene called PEX,
which is estimated to be used in 60% of single-family homes), or
other nontoxic material. Due to its toxicity, lead has not been
used in modern water-supply piping since the 1930s in Canada,
although lead was used in plumbing solder for drinking water
until it was banned in 1986. Drain and vent lines are made of
plastic, steel, cast-iron, or lead.
The straight sections of plumbing systems are called "pipes" or
"tubes". A pipe is typically formed via casting or welding,
whereas a tube is made through extrusion. Pipe normally has
thicker walls and may be threaded or welded, while tubing is
thinner-walled and requires special joining techniques such as
brazing, compression fitting, crimping, or for plastics, solvent
welding. These joining techniques are discussed in more detail
in the piping and plumbing fittings article.
In addition to lengths of
pipe or tubing, pipe fittings are used in plumbing systems, such
as valves, elbows, tees, and unions. Pipe and fittings are held
in place with pipe hangers and strapping.
Plumbing fixtures are exchangeable devices using water that can
be connected to a building's plumbing system. They are
considered to be "fixtures", in that they are semi-permanent
parts of buildings, not usually owned or maintained separately.
Plumbing fixtures are seen by and designed for the end-users.
Some examples of fixtures include water closets (also known as
toilets), urinals, bidets, showers, bathtubs, utility and
kitchen sinks, drinking fountains, ice makers, humidifiers, air
washers, fountains, and eye wash stations.
plumbing history | facts | plumbers | materials |