7 Terms You Should Redefine for Plumbing

…or you’ll be the homeowner giggling like a fifth grader at the local hardware store!

Plumbing is a complicated process with more terms, gadgets, and appliances than most people can remember, but the following seven terms should be easy to keep in mind since you probably already use them.

Learning to redefine a few of the words in your existing vocabulary can go a long way in increasing your plumbing knowledge.


While not nearly as romantic as it sounds, does involve the joining of two things! In the case of plumbing, a coupling is the short piece of pipe that joins two longer pipes together. Also know as a coupler, it generally has the same style of socket on each end. If each end has a different type of socket, this short pipe is usually called an adaptor rather than a coupling.


Easily confused with its reptilian name-sharer, a snake is actually just a long metal coil that can be inserted into a drain and rotated to remove clogs. The snake is best on moderate to severe clogs and is generally the next step after a plunger fails to solve the problem. Warning: it is best not to tell your spouse you have a snake in the bathroom!


The term bonnet may have you picturing Little House on the Prairie, but in plumbing a bonnet is part of a compression valve assembly. It works by keeping the valve in place and preventing leaks, thus saving you money!


An O-ring is a simple but extremely important piece of plumbing equipment. The name might give you a craving for greasy, fried onions, but an o-ring is simply a circular piece of rubber that is placed around a valve to create a water-tight seal.

This ring should be the first place you check when trying to diagnose a water leak, as replacing it could solve the issue immediately.


Contrary to the word’s historical connotations, don’t expect a woman from the 1940’s to greet you when you head to the hardware store to buy a flapper! In plumbing terms, a flapper is the piece of rubber in the bottom of your toilet tank that lifts to allow flushing and then reseals as the tank refills.

The flapper covers the valve at the bottom of the tank until the flushing lever is activated, at which time the flapper lifts and the water rushes from the tank, through the valve, and into the toilet bowl.


A ballcock is essential to any functioning toilet, although the name may leave you blushing at Home Depot. This mechanism controls the water flow into the toilet tank and prevents overflow. There are several different types of ballcock mechanisms on the market today, so homeowners should do their research regarding the best one for their home.


In plumbing, a nipple is a very short section of pipe that has threading on each end. It is used to join two pipe sections, or even two couplings, together. Despite the funny name, pipe nipples are very common pieces of hardware in plumbing and home construction. They come in a large variety of styles and sizes, so you can feel confident that you will find the one you need at any hardware store.

And just like that, your internal plumbing-dictionary just got a little bit bigger! Learning the ins and outs of home repairs like plumbing can seem daunting, but starting with the words you already know and redefining them in a new setting is a perfect way to start.