Our guide to plumbing
Jade O'Donoghue

Our guide to plumbing

First published date August 24 2013 Amended date September 02 2014

Want to be able to unblock that sink that won't drain? Or like the idea of being self employed? Whether you’re hoping to embark on a full time career as a tradesperson or just need to pick up some DIY skills to use in the home, a plumbing course will equip you with the knowledge you need. 


Different types for different pipes

Depending on what you want to get out of the course, you can learn all about plumbing at many different levels. If it's a career you're after, have a look at plumbing apprenticeships or courses with recognised professional qualifications. However, if you just want a bit of an introduction, there are many part time evening courses that will teach you how to do the basics. 

There are also plumbing courses for builders already working in the construction industry who want to master some new skills but already have a broad knowledge of the subject.


Getting your hands dirty

Being a plumber is not a job for the faint hearted. You may have to work on people’s toilets and kitchen U-bends, digging out unpleasant material, so it's worth thinking about whether you're cut out for this before embarking on professional training.

Even if you're just learning to be more handy around the house, you can expect to get your hands dirty on your course as it's a very practical subject, where you will learn by doing rather than jotting down reams of notes.


Getting technical

There's a lot of specialist knowledge required in plumbing and you'll be learning how to use different tools to do different jobs. You will also touch on health and safety to ensure that you're not putting yourself or others at risk in using such tools.

Knowing your measurements is integral to good plumbing too and you will learn how to ensure everything adds up and fits perfectly. This might involve working with a tape measure or a spirit level, which sounds simple enough but if you get things even an inch out, there could be water everywhere, so it's important to master.


Down the drain

One thing plumbers have to do a lot of is unblocking. Whether it's a toilet overflowing because something is caught in the pipes or a sink that's had too much food shoved down the plug and is starting to smell. While this seems a pretty disgusting part of the job, it can actually be quite interesting since you'd be surprised what you might find. Common things that have been found in plumbing systems include toys, underwear and bathroom toiletries. However, one of the most popular things plumbers are asked to pull out of drains are engagement rings!


Things you'll hear on a plumbing course

Stop cock - this is the name given to an isolating tap valve which can turn water off at the mains and stop it entering a building.

Washer - in order to create a water tight seal, a plumber will use round rubber fittings between metal. These are called washers.

Trap - a trap is the name given to the pipe under the sink that carries away waste water.

Airlock - an airlock is caused when air gets trapped in a pipe. It might create unusual noises and stop radiators from functioning properly.

Cistern - this is the name given to a tank used for storing water (there's one behind your loo!).


Impress your fellow plumbers

Plumbing as we know it came about in the 1800s when cities began to become more densely populated however the history of plumbing is quite interesting…

- Back in the Roman times, plumbing pipes were made of lead. They're now mostly copper to avoid lead poisoning through water.

- In the 16th century pipes would sometimes be made of wood.

- In 1885, Thomas Twyford invented the flushing toilet as we know it today. Though it was the result of lots of different flush developments, this was the first single piece one.

- Thomas Crapper is one of the most famous plumbers in the UK as he and his plumbing company made the flushing toilet popular and he also invented the ballcock.

- King George II died falling off a toilet in 1760.

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