Defined as any sort of system that conveys fluids, plumbing is an essential tool of daily living in the modern developed world. The word is derived from the Latin term plumbum, meaning “lead,” since the first functional pipes used by the ancient Romans were made from lead. Plumbing dates back nearly 3000 years, as it was also in use in other advanced ancient civilizations such as Greece, Persia, India, and China in addition to Rome. The construction of public bath houses necessitated a system to provide potable water and remove waste water, with greater amounts of people putting these new bath houses to good use. Unfortunately, the Fall of Rome resulted in the regression of this modern convenience and it would be over a thousand years until improvements in plumbing were made.
The development of densely populated, major metropolitan centres in the 1800s eventually required a better system than merely collecting waste and dumping it on the ground or in the river. In order to quell raging epidemics of disease, the outcry of public health officials eventually led to open sewage ditches and cesspools being replaced by separate water and sewage systems built underground. The large cities of today use sewage treatment plants, where solid waste is piped in, separated, and purified before the treated water is released into streams and other natural sources of water. Although plumbing has its origins in the Roman word for lead, copper piping has actually replaced lead due to the widespread knowledge gained after World War II of the harm caused by lead poisoning.
Because of its association with the Roman word plumbum, a plumbarius — later shortened to “plumber” — originally described anyone who worked with lead, including workmen fixing a lead roof. In our modern world, a plumber is defined as a person who installs and repairs the pipes and fittings of water supply, sanitation, or heating systems. Becoming a skilled and reliable plumber requires years of experience and a variety of skills, interests, and values. After undergoing rigorous training, a plumber has a multitude of jobs and responsibilities ahead of him or her, chief among them the health and welfare of the nation. Their other responsibilities include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Determining the layout of systems related to water supply, waste, and venting
- Installation, repair, and maintenance of domestic, commercial, and industrial plumbing fixtures and systems
- Discovering faults in appliances and systems and figuring out what caused them
- Identifying positions in walls and floors for pipe connections, passage holes, and fixtures
- Measuring, cutting, bending, threading, testing, and joining pipes and fittings, using hand and power tools, machines, and soldering techniques
- Knowledge of legal regulations, safety standards, and building regulations
A plumber must also know how to deal with potable water systems, sanitary waste and vent, acid waste, grease trap interceptors, backflow preventers, storm drains, natural gas, waterless and standard urinals, flush valves, floor drains and sinks, heating and chilling water, and code compliance, among many other priorities. Depending on their location, a plumber may need to acquire a licence to ply his or her trade. In the United States, there is no federal law mandating licences for plumbers, although separate states and regions may have their own licencing and taxing regulations. Across the border to the north, Canadian provinces have pooled their resources to develop the Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Program, which maintains apprenticeship training standards in all provinces. Plumbers in the United Kingdom must pass Level 2 and Level 3 vocational requirements of the City and Guilds of London Institute, while in Australia, a four-year apprenticeship plus minimum experience of two years and a further curricular requirement is generally accepted as a benchmark for licensing.
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