This article defines plumbing vent system terms, distances, and functions, and other specifications and code requirements. We explain how plumbing vents work on buildings, why plumbing vent piping is needed, and what happens to the building drains when the vent piping is not working.
We define the soil stack, waste stack, wet vents and dry vents, and we summarize the distances permitted between plumbing fixtures and their vent piping. We also explain how sewer gas odors m may be traced to plumbing vent problems. Contact Us by email if you are having trouble finding the information you need.
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Our page top sketch of a plumbing stack vent and other sketches included below are provided courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates.
The plumbing vent system is part of the building plumbing drain system and serves two basic functions:
1. Allow building drains to flow freely by allowing air into the drain system, avoiding the vacuum and slow drainage that would otherwise occur at fixtures.
Imagine a full soda bottle with its cap off, turned upside down: the soda does not flow nicely out of the bottle. As some soda spills out, the spillage has to nearly stop to let some air into the bottle to fill the vacuum created by the soda leaving.
Now perform the same experiment, but punch a hole in the bottom of your soda bottle just before you turn it upside down. Because air can easily enter the bottle the soda flows nicely out of the bottle mouth.
2. Allow sewer gases to be vented safely outdoors. Because sewer gases may flow back up into the building drain piping from a public sewer or private septic system, and because some sewer gases are included in building waste flowing through the piping, the plumbing vent system needs to carry these gases outside, usually above the building roof, where they are disposed-of safely and without leaving unpleasant, or possibly dangerous smells and gases inside the building.
The basic plumbing vent terms are shown in the sketch at left. In these notes, the plumbing stack vents and other sketches included below are provided courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates.
[Click to enlarge any image]
Above, a Studor® Redi-Vent Air Admittance Valve from IPC Corporation. Where a conventional plumbing vent system is not available or not feasible the local plumbing inspector may permit an air admittance valve to be installed.
An AAV is basically a one-way valve that allows air to enter the drain to satisfy the vacuum caused by water passing down the drainage system, but that prevents sewer gases from backing up through the vent into the building. While the term "studor vent" is widely applied to describe an air admittance valve, Studor Mini-Vents as well as Redi-Vents are products of Studor Inc. & the IPS Corporation and are a brand name.
Details about Studor Vents® / AAVs (Air Admittance Valves) are found at AIR ADMITTANCE VALVES AAVs
One-way valve designed to allow air to enter the plumbing drainage system when negative pressures develop in the piping system. The device shall close by gravity and seal the vent terminal at zero differential pressure (no flow conditions) and under positive internal pressures. The purpose of an air admittance valve is to provide a method of allowing air to enter the plumbing drainage system without the use ofa vent extended to open air and to preventsewer gases from escaping into a building. - UPC 2006
Carson Dunlop Associates' sketch above illustrates an air gap at a clothes washer drain hose connection. [Click to enlarge any image]
A piping arrangement in which a drain from a fixture, appliance or device discharges indirectly into another fixture, receptacle or interceptor at a point below the flood level rim and above the trap seal. - UPC 2006
The unobstructed vertical distance through the free atmosphere between the outlet of the waste pipe and the flood level rim of the receptacle into which the waste pipe is discharging. - UPC 2006
The unobstructed vertical distance through the free atmosphere between the lowest opening from any pipe or faucet supplying water to a tank, plumbing fixture or other device and the flood level rim ofthe receptacle. - UPC 2006
A common example of an air gap in a drainage system is found at the connection of a clothes washing machine to a vertical standpipe connecting the washer to a drain line. Air conditioning condensate pump drains and water softener regeneration/backwash drains also often connect using an air gap or air break.
To understand why an air break or gap is essential to avoid contaminating a building water supply see CROSS CONNECTIONS, PLUMBING
Also see TUNDISH used in PLUMBING
Backflow is defined as
Pressure created by any means in the water distribution system, which by being in excess of the pressure in the water supply mains causes a potential backflow condition.
A backflow preventer is a device or means to prevent backflow.
A backflow connection is any arrangement whereby backflow is possible. - UPC 2006
Let's convert these circular-sounding definitions into plain talk.
We don't want water in the water supply system to ever flow backwards out of the building into the water supply source such as back into a drinking water well or back into the municipal water supply system because we can't guarantee our neighbors that water in our building piping, fixtures, toilet cisterns, etc. has remained sanitary and safe to drink.
How might this happen? Suppose the building water supply system pressure is sitting at 70 psi on the building-side of a water pressure regulator at the incoming water supply line. And suppose the municipal water supply system temporarily loses its pressure. Unless a backflow preventer or check valve has been installed, building water may flow backwards into the supply system.
Similarly we don't want wastewater in the drain system to ever flow backwards from the sewer or septic system back into the builiding because a sewage backup is unsanitary, nasty, gross, and a mess to clean-up.
Backflow can occur due to
We prevent these backwards flowing water or wastewater problems by installing the proper type of check valve at the proper locations in the building water supply or drain system piping.
Definition of CRITICAL LEVEL (C-L).
An elevation (height) reference point that determines the minimum height at which a backflow preventer or vacuum breaker is installed above the flood level rim of the fixture or receptor served by the device. The critical level is the elevation level below which there is a potential for backflow to occur. Ifthe critical level marking is not indicated on the device, the bottom ofthe device shall constitute the critical level. - UPC 2006
Details are at CHECK VALVES, WATER SUPPLY
A device or valve installed in the building drain or sewer pipe where a sewer is subject to backflow, and which prevents drainage or waste from backing up into a low level or fixtures and causing a flooding condition. - UPC 2006
A backwater valve is found on a drain pipe so it's technically not part of the building vent piping system but we included it here in response to reader questions. Also see backflow preventers and check valves used both drain systems, water supply systems, and mechanical systems such as heating boilers. - Ed.
Also see CHECK VALVES, WATER SUPPLY
A vertical measurement of distance, 8 feet (2438 mm) or more in developed length, between the connections of horizontal branches to a drainage stack. Measurements are taken down the stack from the highest horizontal branch connection. - UPC 2006
A vent connecting one or more individual vents with a vent stack or stack vent. - UPC 2006
A vent that connects to a horizontal drainage branch and vents two traps to a maximum of eight traps or trapped fixtures connected into a battery. - UPC 2006
Basically,larger piping diameter allows longer distances between a plumbing fixture and its vent stack. If a plumbing fixture is located too far from the main building vent stack, then its own drain pipe must have its own vent stack connection piping.
But if a plumbing fixture is close enough (five feet or less) to the main waste stack pipe (vent), the fixture does not usually require its own plumbing vent piping, and it is considered a direct-vented plumbing fixture.
Of course this rule presumes that the drain piping between the fixture trap and the waste stack is properly installed and properly sloped.
The usual slope on the fixture drain piping is 1/4" of slope per 12" (foot) of horizontal distance or "run" of piping.
(Feb 1, 2016) firstname.lastname@example.org said:
Explain the difference between a re-vent and a relief vent please. Thank you
A re-vent or revent pipe in a plumbing drain-waste-vent or DWV system is an auxiliary vent that is attached to the drain pipe close to an individual plumbing fixture. The re-vent or revent pipe is routed upwards above the fixture and then horizontally over to a tee that attaches it to the main stack vent pipe. At the fixture the revent pipe can connect immediately behind the plumbing fixture or it may be connected close to the fixture along a horizontal drain line that serves that fixture.
Relief vents are defined in the model plumbing codes as follows:
917.3.2 Relief vent. Where the horizontal branch is located more than four branch intervals from the top of the stack, the horizontal branch shall be provided with a relief vent that shall connect to a vent stack or stack vent, or extend outdoors to the open air.
The relief vent shall connect to the horizontal branch drain between the stack and the most downstream fixture drain connected to the horizontal branch drain. The relief vent shall be sized in accordance with Section 916.2 and installed in accordance with Section 905. The relief vent shall be permitted to serve as the vent for other fixtures.
Also see AIR ADMITTANCE VALVES AAVs.
Here we show the main building vent pipe, the plumbing stack vent, connecting inside plumbing drains to a vent pipe that extends above the building roof in order to let needed air into the drains and to vent sewer gases harmlessly above the building.
[Click to enlarge any image]
Below we explain how building plumbing vent systems work and why plumbing vents are needed for drain function and plumbing drain safety.
Above the roof plumbing vent height: vent pipes should extend to outdoors above the building roof and should terminate vertically not less than 6" above the roof surface (nor more than 24") and must be at least 12" from any vertical surface (such as a nearby sidewall).
(UPC (i) 906.1 and 906.2). Note that there are other restrictions: for a roof that is also used as an occupied space, for example, the vent has to extend at least even feet above the surface and be secured with stays.
Above roof plumbing vent diameter: in areas exposed to snow or freezing or temperatures below 0 degF., that can block a plumbing vent, the vent pipe should be at least 2" in diameter beginning at least one foot inside the building in an insulated space before the vent passes through the roof.
Where there is a snow-cover risk (snow can block the plumbing vent) the vent should extend 24" above the roof surface.
The soil stack pipe, as shown in Carson Dunlop's sketch, carries waste from toilets to the house trap (if one is installed) and there connects to the sewer line extending outside the building and on to a public sewer or private septic system.
The soil stack is the large-diameter main vertical waste pipe or building drain, or vertical portion of the "main drain" in the building.
The soil stack pipe is normally extended outdoors above the building roof, as shown in the page top sketch.
Other main building drain piping sections that slope closer to horizontal are connected to the soil stack but move waste horizontally where needed in a building.
The waste stack pipe shown in the sketch refers to any other vertical drain piping in the building that does not carry soil (sewage) from a sanitary fixture (toilet). Typically waste stack piping carries drainage away from sinks, tubs, and showers.
A standard plumbing vent pipe is always dry; water runs down the drain line but the vent portion of the piping is dry. NO water runs in it.
In contrast with a classic or standard "dry" plumbing vent pipe, a wet vent is a combination drain line and vent line. To work successfullly, the wet vent piping must be large-enough in diameter that it will never fill with water, thus allowing air to enter the drain system simultaneously with the passage of wastewater draining from fixtures connected to the wet vent system.
In many buildings we find that the toilet is located quite close (within 5 feet) of the main building waste stack. This makes sense because the toilet needs really effective venting. Our sketch above shows a toilet located close to the waste stack - an installation that should work fine.
When you flush a toilet it sends a sudden large volume of waste and wastewater into the building drain waste vent (DWV) piping. This surge of wastewater can certainly create a vacuum problem in the waste line if the vent piping system is inadequate, blocked, or missing entirely.
It is exactly this condition that produces the gurgling or even siphonage out and loss of water in nearby sink or tub traps when you flush a toilet in a building where the vent piping is inadequate. See Plumbing Drain Noises.
A toilet that is located too far from the soil stack can be wet vented as shown in Carson Dunlop's sketch. The drain piping for a sink (basin) or other fixture located closer to the soil stack than is the toilet can provide a pathway to let air into the horizontal waste piping used by the toilet to carry waste to the soil stack.
But a wet vented fixture requires a larger drain pipe diameter in its wet portion as we show in the sketch. This diameter increase helps assure adequate air flow into the drain system in the event that the sink basin (in this example) happens to be draining at the same moment that the toilet is flushed. (908.2.3.)
Also note that wet vented fixtures (toilet, bathtub, shower, or floor drain) are permitted for bathrooms on the same floor level, not between floors.
On tall buildings (often considered 11 stories or higher), prevent drain venting problems that could occur due to pressure variations in the stack vent system. A yoke vent, basically an offset relief vent, may be installed on every 5th floor from the top floor downwards.
A pipe connecting upward from a soil or waste stack to a vent stack for the purpose of preventing pressure changes in the stacks. - UPC 2006
A yoke vent is any pipe that connects upwards from a soil stack or vertical waste stack to a higher location in order to prevent pressure changes in the stack pipe. Those pressure changes could prevent proper drain venting. In a typical arrangement, a yoke relief vent or yoke vent is constructed by using a 45 degree wye on a soil pipe or waste stack. The wye points upwards and connects using a second 45-degee connecting wye to a separate vertical vent stack pipe at a point higher in the building and usually above any other branch vents that connect to the same vent stack.
The yoke vent pipe diameter is typically the same as (per code below) or one pipe size smaller (per local authority) than the drain and vent stacks to which it connects.
917.3 Offset Reliefs Such offsets may be vented by installing a relief vent as a vertical continuation of the lower section of the stack or as a side vent connected to the lower section between the offset and next lower fixture or horizontal branch. The upper section of the offset shall be provided with a yoke vent. The diameter of the vents shall be not less than the diameter of the main vent, or of the soil and waste stack, whichever is the smaller. - 2000 UPC
See ISLAND SINK PLUMBING VENTS for an illustration of and a discussion of the application of yoke vents.
As we discuss at DRAIN NOISES, if the horizontal distance between a plumbing fixture and the vertical vent piping is too great, the fixture may not drain properly, producing slow drainage or gurgling noises.
Poor drainage is not just an annoyance, it can be unsafe since there is also the risk that the poorly-vented plumbing fixture will lose the water from its plumbing trap, then permitting sewer gases into the building.
As we show in Carson Dunlop's sketch, the distance allowed between a plumbing fixture (actually the fixture plumbing trap) and the vertical vent piping varies between a minimum and maximum as a function of the pipe diameter.
Below our tables 1 and 2 summarize common plumbing code specifications for fixture venting and vent pipe sizes and distances that a plumbing fixture can be located (horizontally) from the vent stack. You'll see these distances also in our sketch at left. [Click any image to see an enlarged, detailed version.].
|Table 1. Plumbing Drain Pipe Sizes|
|Drain Pipe Diameter||Vertical Drain Pipe, Maximum Number of Fixtures||Horizontal Drain, Maximum Number of Fixtures|
|1-1/2" dia||2||1 (or 2 sinks)|
|Note: you can see from this table that at common home drain pipe sizes, if your pipe is 2" or larger you're unlikely to run into drain capacity trouble.|
|Table 2. Vent Pipe Distances|
|Drain Pipe Size||Vent Pipe Size||Distance |
|1-1/4" diam||1-1/4" diam||2-1/2 feet|
|1-1/2" diam||1-1/4" diam||3-1/2 feet|
|2" diam||1-1/2" diam||5 feet|
|3" diam||2" diam||6 feet|
|4" diam||3" diam||10 feet|
 minimum diameter of the vent pipe
 Critical distance between the plumbing fixture and the vent pipe. You can see that for vent pipe diameters under 4" you need to be vigilant about locating a plumbing fixture too far from its vent pipe/stack
Within the building the plumbing vent routing is generally unrestricted. That is, dry vent piping carrying only air, sewer gas, or moisture to above the roof line is unrestricted. However the piping does need to be protected from nails - use nail plates to protect vent and drain piping both where where piping passes through studs, joists, or rafters.
Special routing and connections are required for proper venting of plumbing fixtures such as kitchen island or peninsula sinks or dishwashers - plumbing fixtures that are located where a direct vertical vent stack connection is not possible.
See ISLAND SINK PLUMBING VENTS for details.
The table below gives required clearance distances to various building features and cites pertinent model plumbing codes.
Required Distance from Plumbing Vent Termination to Building Feature
|Roof Surface, distance to Plumbing Vent||6-inches above nearest roof surface||"nearest" accommodates sloped roof - i.e. measure from the "up-roof" side.|
|Nearest vertical surface, distance to plumbing vent||12-inches from nearest vertical surface||such as the side-wall of an upper story on the building|
Nearest window, door, opening, air intake, or ventilation shaft: distance to plumbing vent.
|10 ft (120-inches) from nearest window, measured horizontally
- OR -2 ft. (24-inches) above nearest window [or other opening listed at left], measured vertically
|We interpret this rule to apply to the required separation distances between a plumbing vent and nearest chimney on the building - Ed.|
|Distances are measured horizontally unless we indicate otherwise|
Quoting the IRC model plumbing code
12.4 VENT TERMINALS
12.4.1 Extension Above Roofs
Vent pipes shall terminate not less than 6 inches above the roof, measured from the highest point where the vent intersects the roof. EXCEPTION: Where a roof is used for any purpose other than weather protection, vents shall extend at least 7 feet above the roof and shall be properly supported.
12.4.4 Location of Vent Terminal
a. Vent terminals shall not be located where vapors can enter the building.
b. No vent terminal shall be located directly beneath any door, window, or other ventilating opening of a building or of another building, nor shall any such vent terminal be within 10 feet horizontally of such opening unless it is at least 2 feet above the top of such opening.
c. Where a vent terminal is within 10 feet horizontally and less than 2 feet above a ventilation opening described in Section 12.4.4b and the line-of-sight from the vent terminal to the ventilation opening is interrupted by the continuous ridge of a roof, the ridge shall be at least 2 feet above the top of the opening. Otherwise, the vent terminal shall comply with Section 12.4.4b.
d. Where a vent terminal is within 10 feet horizontally and less than 2 feet above a ventilation opening described in Section 12.4.4b and the line of sight from the vent terminal to such ventilation opening is interrupted by a solid wall or solid barrier, the top of the wall or barrier shall be at least 2 feet above the top of the ventilation opening and the shortest travel distance around the wall or barrier from the vent terminal to the nearest edge of the ventilation opening shall be at least 10 feet. Otherwise, the vent terminal shall comply with Section 12.4.4b.
904.1 Roof extension. All open vent pipes that extend through a roof shall be terminated at least [NUMBER - typically 6 ] inches (mm) above the roof, except that where a roof is to be used for any purpose other than weather protection, the vent extensions shall be run at least 7 feet (2134 mm) above the roof.
904.2 Frost closure. Where the 97.5-percent value for outside design temperature is 0ºF (-18ºC) or less, every vent extension through a roof or wall shall be a minimum of 3 inches (76 mm) in diameter. Any increase in the size of the vent shall be made inside the structure a minimum of 1 foot (305 mm) below the roof or inside the wall.
904.3 Flashings. The juncture of each vent pipe with the roof line shall be made water tight by an approved flashing.
904.4 Prohibited use.Vent terminals shall not be used as a flag pole or to support flag poles, television aerials or similar items, except when the piping has been anchored in an approved manner.
904.5 Location of vent terminal. An open vent terminal from a drainage system shall not be located directly beneath any door, openable window, or other air intake opening of the building or of an adjacent building, and any such vent terminal shall not be within 10 feet (3048 mm) horizontally of such an opening unless it is at least 2 feet (610 mm) above the top of such opening.
904.6 Extension through the wall. Vent terminals extending through the wall shall terminate a minimum of 10 feet (3048 mm) from the lot line and 10 feet (3048 mm) above average ground level. Vent terminals shall not terminate under the overhang of a structure with soffit vents. Side wall vent terminals shall be protected to prevent birds or rodents from entering or blocking the vent opening.
904.7 Extension outside a structure. In climates where the 97.5-percent value for outside design temperature is less than 0ºF (-18ºC), vent pipes installed on the exterior of the structure shall be protected against freezing by insulation, heat or both.
Watch out: while the 2015 IPC is the most-recent version of the International Plumbing Code, while the 2018 IPC is under development. To understand which generation of the model building code or plumbing code applies to your specific project you will need to check with your local building official. For example many jurisdictions are on the 2012 IPC or still older versions.
Continue reading at PLUMBING VENT REPAIR or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES.
Or see AIR ADMITTANCE VALVES AAVs - Studor Vents Explained
Or see PLUMBING VENT FAQs - questions & answers about plumbing vents
Or see PLUMBING DRAIN NOISES where we explain the basics of proper plumbing vent piping and how errors cause trap siphonage, odors, and noises
Or see PLUMBING VENT DEFECTS & NOISES - home
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