What does a plumber do?

Plumbers install and repair pipes that supply water and gas to, as well as carry waste away from, homes and businesses.

Plumber career snapshot

Median pay

$59,880 ($28.79/hr)

Required degrees

None

10-year job growth

5% (Average)

What is a plumber?

A plumber is responsible for installing, maintaining, troubleshooting, and repairing plumbing systems. Plumbing systems include, but are not limited to plumbing fixtures, potable water, sewer, gas, and HVAC condensate.

What do plumbers do?

The main job responsibilities of a plumber include:

  • Prepare cost estimates
  • Read blueprints
  • Understand local, state, and national building codes
  • Install plumbing fixtures and associated piping
  • Inspect and test plumbing systems
  • Troubleshoot plumbing systems
  • Maintain and repair plumbing systems

Types of plumbing jobs

Within the Plumbing industry, there are several types of plumbers, each slightly different in terms of workplace and daily responsibilities. 

Commercial plumbers

Commercial plumbers work primarily with large public systems and are responsible for the systems in commercial buildings. This includes settings like schools, hospitals, shopping centers, and systems connected to large industrial equipment. A notable difference between a commercial and residential plumber is that the commercial plumber will often work with a higher number of pipes and outlets within one system. In addition to that, they may encounter more than two floors as well within a system. 

Within the commercial space, the plumbing can get more involved than fixing a faucet or leaky pipe. As a Commercial Plumber you may work with extensive waste removal systems and water systems are common for large businesses. This includes working with connections into local water main and sewage systems. 

Residential plumbers

Residential plumbers are those who work primarily on residential buildings, both existing and new construction. 

These roles are essential when it comes to personal water and sewage systems. Common tasks include troubleshooting and diagnosing issues with plumbing mechanisms within a residential home. That can be anything from water pipes to bathroom systems. Homeownership often requests regular yearly maintenance and preemptive maintenance, keeping the residential plumber working year round. 

Service and repair plumbers

Service and repair plumbers are a bit more specialized than the previous descriptions. If you are a Service and Repair Plumber, it is you who is called when a business or home owner is reporting an issue. Service and Repair Plumbers have technical training and experience working with systems commonly found in businesses and homes and excel in diagnosing and problem solving on the individual job site. In this role you must be personable, as you’ll work directly with the client, which other plumbers do not do quite as often. 

Plumbers vs fitters

While plumbers and fitters have their own specific set of tasks, their roles do overlap in some aspects. They all will be responsible for installation of equipment that will carry water, gas, and other substances. They will have to determine what materials will be required, work with those materials, and test to make sure systems are air and watertight. 

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters may use a variety of different materials, all depending on the specific job. This could include the use of copper, steel, or plastic for residential water systems or using large steel pipes needed for industrial plant systems. 

Plumbers 

As a Plumber you will work primarily within homes, businesses, and factories. In addition to systems, you’ll work with fixtures like bathtubs, toilets, appliances, and specifically items that you’d find within a home. You will also clean, de-clog, and repair or replace drains, pipes, and fixtures. 

Pipefitters and Steamfitters

These roles may also be called just “Fitters'', and differ from a plumber due to work with systems that move chemicals, acids, and gases. Because of the materials being moved, fitters often work in manufacturing, commercial, or industrial settings. This would also include systems found in power plants, as well as HVAC systems in large commercial buildings. Steamfitters specifically specialize in systems designed for high pressures. 

>> Learn more: Plumber Career Paths

Where do plumbers work?

One of the best things about working as a plumber is that you have the ability to work pretty much anywhere in the country. Every modern building and house is equipped with a plumbing system, and that means that every building and house will eventually need a plumber when something inevitably goes wrong. 

Additionally, every new building and house will need one or more plumbers to install the plumbing as it is being built.

>> Learn more: Plumber Work Environment

Pros & cons of a plumbing career

Some pros of working as a plumber are as follows:

  • Good pay
  • Good job outlook
  • Work in almost any location
  • Hands-on work
  • No college degree required

Some cons of working as a plumber are as follows:

  • Physically demanding
  • Long hours
  • Steep learning curve
  • Often work in isolation

Plumber salary & job outlook overview

The median annual salary for plumbers in May 2021 was $59,880. The lowest 10% made $36,700 annually, while the highest 10% made more than $99,920.

The job outlook for plumbers is promising for the next 10 years. Employment of plumbers is expected to grow 5% from 2020 to 2030. About 51,000 job openings are projected each year during this time period.

>> Learn more: Plumber Salary Guide & Plumber Job Outlook Guide

How to become a plumber

Here is a quick look at the steps it takes to become a plumber:

  1. Earn a high school diploma or GED
  2. Get appropriate training
  3. Obtain licenses, certifications, and registrations
  4. Apply for jobs and get to work

>> Learn more: How to Become a PlumberPlumber Education & Training Requirements