Each job and each day provides a different set of challenges for a plumber, pipefitter, or steamfitter. In addition to installing or unclogging drains and systems, you must be knowledgeable of drainage systems, piping, and waste disposal mechanisms. These jobs can be located anywhere from residential settings, power plants of various types, factories, and water treatment facilities among other places.
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Plumber Jobs & Responsibilities
As noted above, as plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters you may find yourself doing any/all of the following:
- Prepping cost analysis for clients
- Creating and reading structures’ blueprints
- Following and advising based on both state and local codes
- Assess what materials as well as quantity needed for a job
- Installation of pipes and fixtures
- Inspection of existing systems
- Troubleshooting and diagnosing malfunctioning systems
- Regularly maintaining existing systems
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 vs Fitters
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.
Types of Plumbers
Within the Plumbing industry, there are several types of plumbers, each slightly different in terms of workplace and daily responsibilities.
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 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.
Your salary as a plumber will vary based on a number of factors, including location, years of experience, and the skills you possess. One thing to note, an apprentice will earn less than their fully trained counterparts. Over the course of their apprenticeship, their pay will increase.
National Salary Data
- Median Annual Salary: $55,160 ($26.52 per hour)
- Top 10% Annual Salary: $97,170 ($46.72 per hour)
- Bottom 10% Salary: $32,690 ($15.72 per hour)
Plumber Median Annual Salary (2010-2019)
State Salary Data
- Highest Median Annual Salary: Illinois, Alaska, Minnesota, Oregon, & District of Columbia
- Lowest Median Annual Salary: South Dakota, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, & New Mexico
Plumber Salary by State
Training, Certification, and Licenses
A common career path for plumbers and fitters is through an apprenticeship while on the job. Other options include work study through technical schools as well. Some local governments will require plumbers to be licensed, which varies state by state.
Most plumbers and fitters will be required to have a high school diploma or equivalent prior to employment. Technical school programs will utilize courses in pipe system designs, common tool usage, and safety requirements. Some pipefitter or steamfitter specific courses could go into welding information depending on the program.
While there are academic avenues to training, most plumbers and fitters gain training through 4 to 5 year apprenticeships. As is common in the construction industry, apprentices will work towards accruing 2,000 hours of on-the-job training, accompanied by technical instruction, every year.
If you were to gain an apprenticeship, your technical studies would include the topics listed above, codes and regulations, safety procedures, and blueprint reading skills. Once your apprenticeship period is completed, your next step is to pass a required licensing exam, which specifics varies from state to state.
Once this is completed, your status moves from an apprentice to a journeyman plumber or fitter, but the training still continues.
Types of Plumbers by Certification Levels
Referenced above, there are three different status’ a plumber or fitter can hold. Those are apprentice, journeyman, and master. Below is a description of each.
You will start your career as an Apprentice, meaning you are a plumber or fitter who is sponsored by either a trade union or a specific employer. This typically lasts about four to five years and includes 2,000 hours of on-the-job training with a more experienced plumber (i.e. Journeyman or Master), alongside classroom instruction. Programs require you have at least a high school diploma and are over the age of 18 to be accepted. The conclusion of your apprenticeship includes a licensing exam to gain the status of Journeyman.
Your next step in career progression is as a journeyman plumber. A main difference is you’re now able to go out on service calls independently. With experience from apprenticeships, you as a journeyman plumber are well versed in fittings, pipes, and fixtures and will often be tasked with installing, maintaining, and repairing plumbing and drainage systems. This period of your career lasts five years, at which point you become eligible to advance to a master plumber with the completion of another licensing exam.
The final stage of your career is the title of Master Plumber. Once completing additional training and education, along with another exam, you can advance from journeyman to master plumber. As a master plumber, the role becomes more focused on leadership and supervising other journeymen and apprentices. With the title of master plumber, your work focuses on creating schematics and plans in accordance to codes and permits as well.
The outlook for the field of plumbing and fitting is considered excellent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment is expected to grow by 15% by 2026. This growth is faster than the average for all occupations.
Plumber Job Growth (2010-2019)
Plumber Knowledge and Skills
Your work as a plumber and fitter does require specific skills, traits, and abilities in order to conduct common actions while on the job.
- Communication Skills: Day to day practices require you to be able to work directly with others. This may be with fellow plumbers on site, directly reporting to employers, client updates, or others within related fields of work.
- Dexterity: Plumbing is in the manual labor industry. You must be able to efficiently control tools, often in a limited space.
- Mechanical Skills: Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters choose from a variety of tools to assemble, maintain, and repair pipe systems. You will need the mechanical knowledge to effectively navigate these tasks.
- Physical Strength: Similar to the need for dexterity, you will be required to move items and equipment within the work site that calls for physical strength.
- Problem Solving Skills: Every job, whether it be installation or repair or maintenance, will call on different sets of skills due to different problems present. You will be asked to find, diagnose, and repair problems and to do so must possess strong problem solving skills almost every day.
Because work for Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is found in both residential and commercial spaces, work sites are found in factories, homes, businesses, and other places where there are pipes and related systems. Within the site, they will be required to lift and move heavy items, calling on physical strength daily as well. Some will also travel often, even every day to get to their sites. This work can be outside as well regardless of the weather present.
How to Become a Plumber
Most states will require you to be licensed in order to operate. The specifics to the license can vary from state to state, but it is common that they require you to have between two and five years of work experience through apprenticeships and the passing of an exam to be able to work independently.
In addition to work experience and exam completion, optional certifications can be obtained to broaden your career opportunities. This includes certifications in plumbing design and other knowledge around code requirements.
Other opportunities for career advancement branch into roles of supervision and project management. Many plumbers also start their own business as an independent contractor based on the knowledge base they have built up to that point.