Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipes that carry liquids or gases to, from, and within businesses, homes, and factories.
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters typically do the following:
The movement of liquids and gases through pipes is critical to modern life. In homes, water is needed for both drinking and sanitation. In factories, chemicals are moved to aid in product manufacturing. In power plants, steam is moved to drive turbines that generate electricity. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair these pipe systems.
Although plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters perform three distinct and specialized roles, their duties are often similar. For example, they all install pipes and fittings that carry water, steam, air, or other liquids or gases. They determine the necessary materials for a job, connect pipes, and perform pressure tests to ensure that a pipe system is airtight and watertight. Their tools include drills, saws, welding torches, and wrenches.
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters may use many different materials and construction techniques, depending on the type of project. Residential water systems, for example, use copper, steel, and plastic pipe that one or two plumbers can install. Power plant water systems, by contrast, are made of large steel pipes that usually take a crew of pipefitters to install. Some workers install stainless steel pipes on dairy farms and in factories, mainly to prevent contamination.
In addition to performing installation and repair work, journey- and master-level plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters frequently direct apprentices and helpers.
Master plumbers on construction jobs may be involved with developing blueprints that show the placement of all the pipes and fixtures. Their input helps ensure that a structure's plumbing meets building codes, stays within budget, and works well with the location of other features, such as electric wires. Many diagrams are now created digitally with the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM), which allows a building's physical systems to be planned and coordinated across occupations.
The following are examples of types of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters:
Plumbers install and repair water, drainage, gas, and other piping systems in homes, businesses, and factories. Plumbers install plumbing fixtures such as bathtubs and toilets, and appliances, such as dishwashers and water heaters. Plumbers also maintain septic systems—the large, underground holding tanks that collect waste from houses that are not connected to a sewer system.
Pipefitters, sometimes simply called fitters, install and maintain pipes that carry chemicals, acids, and gases. These pipes are used mostly in manufacturing, commercial, and industrial settings. Fitters install and repair pipe systems in power plants, as well as heating and cooling systems in large office buildings. Some pipefitters specialize as gasfitters, sprinklerfitters, or steamfitters.
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters hold about 480,600 jobs. The largest employers of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters are as follows:
|Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors||62%|
|Heavy and civil engineering construction||4|
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters work in factories, homes, businesses, and other places where there are pipes or septic systems. Plumbers and fitters lift heavy materials, climb ladders, and work in tight spaces. Some plumbers travel to a variety of worksites every day. A few work outdoors, even in bad weather.
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Cuts from sharp tools, burns from hot pipes and soldering equipment, and falls from ladders are common injuries.
Most plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters work full time, including nights and weekends. They are often on call to handle emergencies. Self-employed plumbers may be able to set their own schedules.
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Although most plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters learn on the job through an apprenticeship, some start out by attending a technical school. Most states and localities require plumbers to be licensed.
A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required to become a plumber, pipefitter, or steamfitter. Trade schools offer courses on pipe system design, safety, and tool use. They also offer welding courses that are considered necessary by some pipefitter and steamfitter apprenticeship training programs.
Most plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters learn their trade through a 4- or 5-year apprenticeship. Apprentices typically receive 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training, as well as some classroom instruction, each year. In the classroom, apprentices learn safety, local plumbing codes and regulations, and blueprint reading. They also study mathematics, applied physics, and chemistry. Apprenticeship programs are offered by unions and businesses. Although most workers enter apprenticeships directly, some start out as helpers. The Home Builders Institute offers a pre-apprenticeship training program in plumbing and other trades.
After completing an apprenticeship program, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters are considered to be journey workers, qualifying them to perform duties on their own. Plumbers with several years of plumbing experience may earn master status by passing an exam. Some states require a business to employ a master plumber in order to obtain a plumbing contractor's license.
Most states and localities require plumbers to be licensed. Although licensing requirements vary, most states and localities require workers to have 2 to 5 years of experience and to pass an exam that shows their knowledge of the trade and of local plumbing codes before they are permitted to work independently. In addition, most employers require plumbers to have a driver's license.
Some states require pipefitters to be licensed; they may even require a special license to work on gas lines. Licensing typically requires an exam, work experience, or both. Contact your state's licensing board for more information.
Communication skills. Plumbers must be able to direct workers, bid on jobs, and plan work schedules. Plumbers talk to customers on a regular basis and need to understand and communicate problems and directions.
Dexterity. Plumbers must be able to maneuver parts and tools precisely, often in tight spaces.
Mechanical skills. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters use a variety of tools to assemble and repair pipe systems. Choosing the right tool and successfully installing, repairing, or maintaining a system is crucial to their work.
Physical strength. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters must be strong enough to lift and move heavy tools and materials.
Troubleshooting skills. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters find, diagnose, and repair problems. For example, pipefitters must be able to perform pressure tests to pinpoint the location of a leak.
The median annual wage for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is $51,450. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,430, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $90,530.
The median annual wages for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors||50,750|
|Heavy and civil engineering construction||49,320|
The starting pay for apprentices is less than that of fully trained plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters, but they receive pay increases as they learn to do more.
Most plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters work full time, including nights and weekends. Plumbers are often on call to handle emergencies. Self-employed plumbers may be able to set their own schedules.
Compared with workers in all occupations, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters have a higher percentage of workers who belong to a union.
Employment of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is projected to grow 16 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Most demand for plumbers will stem from new construction and the need to maintain and repair plumbing systems in existing residences and other buildings. Employment of sprinklerfitters is expected to increase as states continue to adopt changes to building codes that require the use of fire suppression systems.
Overall job opportunities are expected to be good, and many plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters will be needed to replace those who are expected to retire over the next 10 years. Workers with knowledge of Building Information Modeling (BIM) should have the best job opportunities as integrated building-planning abilities increase in demand.
As with other construction workers, employment of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is sensitive to fluctuations in the economy. On the one hand, workers may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, shortages of workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity.
However, maintenance and repair of plumbing and pipe systems must continue even during economic downturns, so plumbers and fitters outside of construction tend to have more stable employment.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2016||Projected Employment, 2026||Change, 2016-26|
|Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters||480,600||556,400||16||75,800|