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Plumbing Fixtures: What Are They?
If you ask any person what a plumbing fixture is, they will probably reply, faucet. In fact, prior to researching this article, I thought that too! However, imagine my surprise when I discover that in general plumbing terms, a plumbing fixture can be any device that is connected to a plumbing system and interacts with water (whether it be delivering the water or draining it).
Each plumbing feature will be designed for a particular use, and while the core design will be the same for many of these items, the use and design can vary; depending on the device, they can be practical or ornamental and generally are designed with one function in mind.
Did You Know?
- In Waverly, North Dakota, it is illegal for Horses to sleep in bathtubs.
- The Titanic had Turkish baths and electric baths.
The Most Common Fixtures in a Household: Bathtubs
A bathtub is a large container that is filled with warm or hot water and allows a person to bathe while fully immersed in the water. Modern bathtubs are made from fiberglass and acrylic, but more expensive and often more durable baths are made from enamel, cast iron, steel and for the opulent waterproof wood.
The bathtub is commonly found in the bathroom, and often has a shower attachment that allows the person to stand in the bath and take a shower, thus giving the common bath more versatility.
Most modern baths have overflows, drains and faucets (taps) that assist in the delivery and draining of water – in days gone by, water was often heated in a kitchen and placed in the bath using buckets. As manufacturing techniques have advanced, the number and variety of tubs available has increased. The most common bathtubs are:
- Western-style bathtubs: These are the modern tubs that are in the majority of households. They are long and generally fairly thin and allow the bather to be fully immersed. Generally, they are attached to the wall and covered by a cabinet so there is no plumbing shown.
- Eastern-style bathtubs: Shorter and deeper than the western tub thus allowing for the person to bathe standing up.
- Claw-foot tub: This late 19th century luxury item is the predecessor of the modern tub. While antique claw-foot tubs are made of cast iron, the modern claw-foot tubs are made from modern materials such as acrylic and thus are less expensive. Claw-foot tubs generally hold more water than a standard tub and are designed to stand alone without any need for a cabinet or to be attached to the world. They add a certain elegance to any bathroom.
- Whirlpool tubs: Many newer homes come installed with whirlpool tubs. These are often designed for two people and incorporate nozzles that force air (or sometimes water) out to provide a relaxing massage. They are usually bigger than a standard bath but require cabinets. They are usually attached to a wall.
- Hot tub: Essentially, a hot tub is a very large bath for up to 8 people. It is usually installed outside and keeps the water at a constant temperature (usually around 98 degrees Fahrenheit). With the use of chemicals and filters a hot tub can use the same water for 3 months or more and can even be used in winter. A hot tub can have different configurations, with different types of nozzles and seats.
Sinks: Kitchen, Bathroom, and Utility
A sink is a bowl shaped plumbing fixture that is usually used for washing hands, dishes and other small objects (including my Chihuahua!). Often called a basin there are usually several sinks in every household.
The sink will have a faucet (or faucets) that provide both hot and cold water, and sometimes come with a spray that allows a sustained strong stream of water. Sinks usually have drains and sometimes integrated soap dispensers.
Sinks often become clogged due to debris, soap and gunk that gets trapped in the piping; often you can clear the clog yourself (see How to unclog a bathroom sink) although in extreme cases you may have to call in a professional plumber. Sinks come in many shapes and varieties. The most common sinks are:
- Self-rimming sinks: These are often used in kitchens and sit in a ‘hole’ that is cut into the countertop. They are suspended by the rim and when installed correctly the seal between the sink and countertop is watertight.
- Bottom-mount sinks: These sinks are clamped underneath the countertop; the hole, therefore, must have a finished edge. It is generally harder to keep the seal waterproof. Bottom-mount sinks are more expensive (including the additional cost of ‘finishing’ the hole) but are considered more contemporary and classy than the self-rimming sinks.
- Solid surface sinks: Modern methods allow sinks to be made in the same material as the countertop and glued underneath, providing a seamless connect between top and sink; some of these come in stainless steel and these are welded in place.
- Butler sink: These are generally seen in bathrooms and consist of a rectangular sink with a rounded rim that is set into a wooden cabinet or wooden surface. They are smaller than kitchen sinks.
- Stand-alone sink: These sinks are finished on all sides and usually the sink is mounted on a ‘leg’ or piece of furniture. These are the most adaptable sinks and allow for a huge variety of design. Often they do not provide any under-the-sink storage. From my experience these are often harder to maintain (especially removing clogs) as the plumbing is often housed in a very small ‘leg’ and you essentially have to take the whole sink apart to get to the plumbing.
Did You Know?
- The most common accident in the bathroom involves falling into the toilet when the seat is left up!
- One in four women use toilet paper to dry their children when they cannot find the towel.
The Weirdest Public Toilets I've Been To
I am not a prude and will use public conveniences when I need to. Once, while in France, I felt the need to pee so looked for the public convenience. Scanning around I saw a bus stop and a few stores. Hang on, as I looked back I realized it wasn't a bus stop but was actually a public toilet.
So being a brave Englishman I ventured inside. There were three urinals on the wall. The wall had gaps above and below of about 2 feet - so essentially you could pee and people could walk past and see your legs and head - quite a few people said 'Bonjour' as I did my business.
Even stranger, as I peed, a cleaning lady came in and started cleaning the toilets— she said 'Excusez moi' as she went passed me to the next urinal!
Toilets: Loo, Bog, John, WC, etc.
A toilet is probably the most important plumbing fixture of them all unless you love nature and enjoy spending your time in the woods! The modern toilet has a flush system that moves waste to a septic tank or a community sewerage system.
The bog (a term often used in England to describe the toilet) is one of the more complex plumbing fixtures with a complex system to refill a tank used to flush the toilet, complex plumbing to ensure proper flow of waste and the most confusing element of all – the humble toilet lid – men all around the world still have not worked out how to use this properly!
There are many forms of toilet, the most common are:
- Flush toilet: This is simply a ‘squat’ toilet that allows you to sit while you ‘go’ and then flushes the waste. Modern toilets have flush systems designed to reduce water waste. These are the most common toilets in modern society although they have humble beginning going back to 'holes in stone' in ancient Greece.
- Urinals: These are designed to allow a man to stand and ‘pee’ – they are not normally installed in homes, but are more common at public conveniences. The design of these can vary from single urinal per man, to one long urinal for multiple men. As many men can testify, these are very useful and can be strangely fun - I have even seen some with targets painted on them!
- Dry toilets: These are often used as portable toilets at rock concerts, constructions sites etc. They are used where there is no access to water – the idea is simple – all waste goes into a large ‘pit’ via a ‘hole’. The pit holds chemicals to increase decomposition and allow for long use of the toilet.
- High tech toilets: The modern new fangled toilets are auto-flushing, often auto-cleaning and sometimes even provide a water jet that will ‘clean’ your bits (similar to a bidet). Some toilets even check blood pressure, body temperature and blood sugar levels. I have even heard there are some interactive toilets that allow you to play games as you go - apparently aim is an important factor here!
Did You Know?
- The blood in the bath seen in Psycho was actually chocolate syrup.
- It takes 25 to 50 gallons of water to take a shower.
The standard shower has remained mostly unchanged since the late 19th century. A shower is a simple plumbing fixture that uses a nozzle to stream hot (or cold) water over a standing person. The ‘shape’ of the nozzle can be changed to produce different effects and different pressures, but essentially the concept is unchanged.
Showers can be part of the bath or can be a stand-alone stall. The standard types of shower are:
- Water shower: The standard shower common to most households showers the person using one (or more nozzles). It uses the house’s water pressure to propel the water.
- Electric shower: Similar to the water shower, this uses an ‘on-demand’ heating system to provide an instant hot shower. Some of the more expensive electric showers also can increase the pressure of the water stream.
- Air shower: Not common in households, this shower uses a pressurized air stream to blow of excess dust from people – this is used in ‘clean room’ environments mostly.
- Steam shower: An expensive version of the water shower that streams humidifies steam around a person’s body.
- Bucket shower: An outside shower that simply allows cold water to stream out of a small hole from a bucket.
- Beach shower: Usually a simple faucet that allows cold water to be streamed over a person to assist in washing sand away.
Faucets, Spigots, and Taps
The tap is a plumbing fixture that has many uses within and outside the household. Essentially a valve, it is used to control the flow of water (and other substances such as beer, gas etc).
Faucets vary from country to country – for example, the US generally has two taps connected to one ‘outlet’ so that the flow and temperature of water can be controlled; in many older house there will be separate taps for hot and cold water. Taps are very common fixtures used in the household, and not just for plumbing – the most common taps are:
- Water taps: These allow a user to pour hot and cold water into the sink or bath. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and some are even electrically controlled. From my experience it is worth spending a little extra to get quality taps and faucets as they are the most used plumbing fixture in the house and tend to have the highest failure rate.
- Valves: Often there will be a tap that allows someone to shut of the entire water flow – this is an important part of home plumbing. Often there will be stop-taps close to toilets etc so that you can quickly cut of the flow of water to avoid spills.
- Water spigot: These are generally external taps that allow you to attach a hose pipe to them—the piping is usually inside so that the adverse weather doesn’t freeze the water in the pipes causing cracks and leaks. It is important that you drain house pipes and turn the water off to an outdoor spigot during the winter - I've found that even though most of the piping is inside, the piping that is in the wall will freeze and you'll end up replacing the spiggot.
- Other taps: You will find taps on beer barrels and gas fixtures. These taps are essentially the same as water taps, and control the flow of the liquid or gas using the same principle.
Less Common Plumbing Fixtures
While most of you will have heard of most of the fixtures I’ve highlighted already, there are some fixtures that are not very common in modern society and often are only find in Hollywood or Hotels. Here are some of the uncommon plumbing fixtures:
- Bidets: This is a fixture that is prevalent in many European hotels. It is used to assist in hygiene after going to the bathroom. For those who are interested or want to know more, check out my How to use a Bidet article.
- Drinking Fountains: These are prevalent at malls and areas where there are likely to be large crowds. The provide cool drinking water. Pressing a small button pumps a small spout of water into the air to allow you to bend down and drink.
- Other valves: While a tap is considered a valve, there are many other valves used in pipe fitting. Generally, when a valve is open, water will flow from high to low pressure.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Louise89 on June 19, 2019:
Great info, thanks!
Ruby S. on December 03, 2013:
You cited all plumbing fixtures. Excellent reference to understand what plumbing is all about.
Veronica on September 04, 2013:
Depends on where the house is located. In the north, inoodr plumbing started to appear during the 1800 s, and was fairly standard by 1875, though it was earlier for people with the money to make the modifications. I considered buying a house built in the 1700 s that had the original inoodr plumbing connected to an artesian well in the basement. In the south, or in camps and summer homes, the plumbing was often added to the outside of the building because the danger of freezing was much less. Even here near the Canadian border, there were houses 60 years ago that still had no electricity and used outhouses. The first house I bought was build in the 1860 s with no inoodr plumbing except for a kitchen pump connected to a point well in the basement (fairly typical). There was an outhouse. Later, after electricity was installed (c 1910) part of a bedroom was converted to a bathroom and an electric pump installed to pump water from the well to the bath and kitchen. The kitchen hand pump remained until the 1960 s when the old man died and the kitchen was modernized.And, of course, the Romans had inoodr plumbing 2000 years ago and Medieval castles had inoodr water closets and well houses connected or incorporated into the building.
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on December 10, 2012:
Congratulations on Hub of the Day!
Well done article, and very thorough. That old tub in ancient Herculaneum sure has a modern-looking form doesn't it? Not all that much has changed over the centuries, when it comes to bathtubs.
As a "handy-gal," raised helping dad around the house, and later partnering with my husband in a handyman/repair/remodel service, I'm very familiar with all these kinds of things, and I must say, you did a bang-up job with your descriptions.
Voted up, interesting and useful.
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on December 10, 2012:
Congratulations on hub of the day. I am no expert on plumbing but had to learn a bunch when I purchased an old, old home years ago and the plumbing needed to be 'replumbed.' O, my. this is great info I wish I had known then. :) ps
ignugent17 on December 10, 2012:
Congratulations hub of the day!
Lucy Jones from Scandinavia on December 10, 2012:
Awesome hub. Loved it. The French toilette extérieure or squat toilets are messy and dare I say pong - to say the least. But speaking of wash basin and toilet germs - ever thought about how many there are on a shopping trolley handle ?! Have a great day and thanks for a great hub. Voted up naturally.
Simon Cook (author) from NJ, USA on September 07, 2011:
Mrs. Menagerie: LOL never really thought about that! Although it could be in France - as DzyMsLizzy's husband with the unisex toilets!!!
Mrs. Menagerie from The Zoo on September 07, 2011:
Look at that pervert dude watching the "ladies on bidets..." hahaha
Wow, awesome hub, really nicely done and congratulations!
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on September 03, 2011:
Great job explaining all the types of plumbing, including the ancient Greek and Roman fixtures. As a history buff, I've seen those before, and there certainly is a "yikes" factor involved in sitting to do your "buisness" while carrying on perhaps other business trans actions!
LOL @ your experience in France. My husband tells of having been there many years back, and found that the 'facility' was unisex...as he stood at the urinal, along came a woman who stood right next to the men, lifted her skirt and used the urinal like it was nothing. I dunno about that..with my luck, I'd probably end up peeing on my shoes!
Voted up and interesting!
Simon Cook (author) from NJ, USA on September 02, 2011:
It's actually one of the most amazing scenes ever filmed. With the strict censorship they could show no nudity and had to be very careful about the violence - the end result is one of the most compelling and scary scenes of movie history!
FloraBreenRobison on September 02, 2011:
Regarding Psycho-this is one of the reasons why it was filmed in black and white. And the slashes into Janet were actually slashes into a watermelon.
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on September 02, 2011:
Air showers! Dry toilets! I've learned so much from this Hub!! I love the "Did you know..." sections, too. This is a fantastic Hub!
Simon Cook (author) from NJ, USA on September 02, 2011:
Hroger: thanks! Yep I was amazed when I discovered that fact out - makes you think eh!
Snakeslane - thanks for the kind words - and yep Yikes!
K8keystrokes: thanks! I enjoyed researching the 'did you know' sections!
India Arnold from Northern, California on September 01, 2011:
SimeyC! This is awesome, and I just love the "Did you know..." sections. What a great article on the different plumbing fixtures! You got my vote!
Verlie Burroughs from Canada on September 01, 2011:
This is really well done, as usual. 100,000 germs per square inch! Yikes! Who knew!
HRoger from Online where I can be! on September 01, 2011:
Amazing Article! I really enjoyed the fun facts and the amazing pictures!! Truly inspiring. Great work! I would have never guessed or thought that a sink would have over 100,000 germs for every square inch!!! WOW!!