Skip to content
Home >> Plumbing >> Types Of Plumbing Systems – A Beginner’s Guide to Plumbing

Types Of Plumbing Systems – A Beginner’s Guide to Plumbing

Sanitary drainage, storm drainage, and water supply are the three primary objectives of plumbing. This is according to the definition of plumbing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So, in that regard, what are the types of plumbing systems?

There are three types, according to our analysis.

  • Storm drainage: Manages rainwater and surface water
  • Sanitary drainage: Removes and disposes of wastewater
  • Portable water system: Supplies clean and safe drinking water

Seemingly, each system serves a specific purpose and has its unique characteristics.

We’ll examine each plumbing system, including its role and features. Also, we’ll dig more into plumbing to discuss primary plumbing elements, transport systems, and pipe systems.

3 Types of Plumbing Systems Explained

The 2 plumbing types used in buildings, most especially residential buildings, are sanitary drainage and potable water systems. Storm drainage is an extra, more especially for areas that experience high rainfall.

Apparently, each system is important for the proper functioning of a building or home. So, understanding their purpose and unique characteristics will ensure they’re installed and maintained correctly.

1. Potable Water Plumbing System

The potable water system supplies clean and safe drinking water using a network of pipes and valves. These pipes transport water from the source to the building and then to different fixtures and appliances like faucets, showers, and toilets. Usually, the water is treated and disinfected for safe consumption.

A potable water system will often have strategic valves for flow and pressure control. Moreover, fittings like couplings and elbows are mainstream for preventing leaks. Other times this system will incorporate filters and sediment traps to ensure the safety and quality of the water supply.

2. Sanitary Plumbing System

It mainly has to do with wastewater disposal. Primarily, it uses pipes to remove and dispose of wastewater from fixtures and appliances. It can be toilets, sinks, washing machines, or dishwashers.

The sewage or liquid waste ends up in a septic tank or a treatment facility. Backflow prevention devices are an integral part of sanitary plumbing systems. Essentially, their goal is to keep sewage from flowing back into the building.

3. Stormwater Plumbing System

Think of it as a system for controlling the flow of rainwater. Primarily, the end goal is to prevent flooding and erosion.

At a basic level, a typical system would comprise gutters and downpipes. But it can also be grates and storm drains that channel water from pavements around the building into underground pipes or drains.

The storm drainage network directs the water into a retention pond or reservoir for treatment. You can then reuse this water for non-potable applications like irrigation or flushing toilets.

Major Elements of Plumbing Systems

Each plumbing system has its unique features. Nevertheless, there are parts that define most plumbing systems. According to research on building plumbing systems, there are four primary elements in a plumbing system.

  1. Fixtures and traps
  2. Water supply and distribution pipes
  3. Drains and sewers (septic tank)
  4. Waste stack, soil stack, and vent stack

Certain terminologies are frequent and, therefore, essential to understand. In this table, we define common plumbing terminologies.

TrapA U-shaped pipe that prevents sewer gas from entering a building by collecting water to form a seal
PipeA tubular conduit that carries water or gas, made from materials such as copper, PVC, or iron
FixtureAny device that controls the flow or direction of water, including taps, showers, and toilets
DrainA pipe or series of pipes that carry wastewater away from a building
StackA pipe that runs vertically within a building and connects to the plumbing system’s main horizontal drain line
SewerUnderground pipe system that carries waste and sewage away from a home or building
Soil pipe (soil stack)A vertical pipe that carries black water (wastewater from toilets and urinals)
Waste pipe (waste stack)A vertical pipe that carries grey water (wastewater from sinks, showers, appliances, etc.)
Vent pipeA pipe that runs vertically from the drainpipes to the roof to allow air to enter the drainage system to maintain equal pressure levels

Plumbing Transport Systems

Pumps, valves, and gravity are the primary transportation systems in plumbing. What they do is help move water or sewage.


Pumps move water or sewage through pipes, especially where you can’t rely on gravity. You can use centrifugal pumps for potable water systems.

  • Displacement pumps work great for sanitary plumbing systems.
  • Chopper pumps are a good example of grinding sewage into slurry for easy transportation.
  • Sump pumps will be a good choice for stormwater systems. These pumps are great for dealing with excess flooding.

However, pump systems can be expensive to install and maintain. This makes them less practical for some applications. Also, pumps require a reliable power source to function properly.


This system relies on the natural force of gravity to move water or sewage through pipes. They require no energy and often call for minimal maintenance. Nevertheless, the efficiency of a gravity system depends on the elevation difference between the source and delivery location.

Gravity finds the most application in stormwater systems. We rely on it to keep water off pavements and sidewalks following heavy rain.


We typically use valves in conjunction with pumps or gravity-based systems. The goal is to regulate water pressure, prevent leaks, and control the direction of flow.

Types of Home Plumbing Pipes

types of home plumbing pipes

Pipes are one feature you can’t miss in any plumbing system. Seemingly, pipe material can significantly impact the durability and effectiveness of your plumbing system. From our analysis, copper, PEX, and PVC are the three most popular pipe materials.


Few pipe materials can match copper, most especially for its durability and resistance to corrosion.

  • One standout feature, however, is that copper doesn’t leach chemicals. For this reason, copper has been the material of choice for potable water supply for many decades.
  • Even at that copper pipes are quite expensive.
  • Plus, they require skilled labor to install.


This is a cross-linked Polyethylene pipe.

  • Flexibility, ease of installation, and high tolerance to temperature and pressure are the primary desirable qualities of PEX pipes.
  • Nonetheless, PEX pipes tend to leach chemicals, making them a potential health risk. Still, it’s one of the best materials for water supply lines.


PVC pipes are commonplace for plumbing systems in house design, more especially for drain and vent lines. Most love it for its lightweight and ease of installation. Plus, PVC is fairly inexpensive and durable.

One of the best alternatives to PVC pipes would be chlorinated PVC (CPVC). It’s more durable, especially at higher pressures and temperatures. For this reason, many use it for hot water applications in industrial plumbing.

Be that as it may, there are many other pipe materials for plumbing applications. Here, we have a comparison table of six popular pipe materials and their best uses.

Pipe MaterialBest For
CopperWater supply lines
PEXWater supply lines
PVCDrain and vent lines
ABSDrain and vent lines
Galvanized SteelWater supply lines and drain and vent lines
Cast ironWater supply lines and drain and vent lines

Types of Pipe Systems In Multi-Story Buildings

There are four pipe systems for the distribution of clean water and proper disposal of waste.

  • Two-pipe: This setup has two vertical pipes (a soil pipe and a waste pipe), each with a vent. So, we basically have four pipes. The soil pipe links to the toilets and urinals and connects to the sewage system.

On the other hand, the waste pipe links to basins, showers, sinks, etc., and connects to a stormwater system or a water recycle tank.

  • One-pipe: In this setup, we have one vertical pipe that doubles as a soil pipe and a waste pipe. It has a vent pipe and connects directly to the sewage system.
  • Single stack: It’s more like the one-pipe system, where wastewater from all fixtures and appliances is channelled to one vertical pipe. However, there’s no vent pipe.
  • Single stack with partial ventilation: Think of it as a single stack system. However, in this case, each fixture has its own vent pipe.


Here are three questions related to the types of plumbing systems.

Q. What are the types of plumbing drawings?

The three primary plumbing drawings are for water supply, drainage, and stormwater. Besides these three, we have an irrigation system drawing, though it’s less popular.

Q. What are the basics of plumbing?

Plumbing basics incorporate three primary systems. These are water supply, drainage, and water heating.

Q. What does PPE stand for and what does it include in the Plumbing system?

It means personal protection equipment. Their purpose is to protect you from hazards during the plumbing process. Mandatory PPE for plumbers includes safety shoes, safety clothing, head protection, and gloves.


Portable water supply, sanitary drainage, and stormwater drainage are the three types of plumbing systems in any building’s infrastructure. Each system has its role and unique characteristics. Nevertheless, they all work in tandem to ensure a functional and efficient plumbing system.

However, the choice of plumbing system depends on the specific needs of the building. For instance, some homeowners may choose to forego the stormwater plumbing system. Essentially, it all boils down to your budget, maintenance requirements, and intended use.