Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair piping fixtures and systems.
What they do
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters typically do the following:
- Prepare cost estimates for clients
- Read blueprints and follow state and local building codes
- Determine the materials and equipment needed for a job
- Install pipes and fixtures
- Inspect and test installed pipe systems and pipelines
- Troubleshoot malfunctioning systems
- Maintain and repair plumbing systems
Although plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters have distinct responsibilities, they often have similar duties. For example, they all install pipes and fittings that carry water, gas, and other fluids and substances. They determine the necessary materials for a job, connect pipes, and test pressure to ensure that a pipe system is airtight and watertight. Their tools include drills, saws, welding torches, press fitting tools, and drain cleaning tools.
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters may use different materials and construction techniques, depending on the project. For example, residential water systems use copper, steel, and plastic pipe that one or two plumbers install. Industrial plant water systems, in contrast, are made of large steel pipes that usually take a crew of pipefitters to install.
Journey- and master-level plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters frequently direct apprentices and helpers.
Master plumbers on construction jobs may help develop blueprints that show the placement of pipes and fixtures. Their input ensures 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 created digitally with Building Information Modeling (BIM), which allows workers in several occupations to collaborate in planning a building’s physical systems.
Some of the specific tasks performed by these workers are as follows:
Plumbers install and repair water, gas, and other piping systems in homes, businesses, and factories. They install plumbing fixtures, such as bathtubs and toilets, and appliances, such as dishwashers and water heaters. They clean drains, remove obstructions, and repair or replace broken pipes and fixtures. Plumbers also help maintain septic systems—large, underground holding tanks that collect waste from houses that are not connected to a sewer system.
Pipefitters and steamfitters, sometimes simply called fitters, install and maintain pipes that may carry chemicals, acids, and gases. These pipes are 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. Steamfitters specialize in systems that are designed for the flow of liquids or gases at high pressure. Other fitters may specialize as gasfitters or sprinkler fitters.
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters work in factories, homes, businesses, and other places where there are pipes and related systems. Plumbers and fitters lift heavy materials, climb ladders, and work in tight spaces. Some plumbers travel to worksites every day. Outdoor work, in all types of weather, may be required.
How to become a Plumber, Pipefitter and/or Steamfitter
Most plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters learn on the job through an apprenticeship. Some also attend vocational-technical school. Most states and some localities require plumbers to be licensed.
A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required to become a plumber, pipefitter, or steamfitter. Vocational-technical schools offer courses in pipe system design, safety, and tool use. They also offer welding courses that are required 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 technical instruction, each year. Technical instruction includes safety, local plumbing codes and regulations, and blueprint reading. Apprentices also study mathematics, applied physics, and chemistry. Apprenticeship programs are sponsored by unions, trade associations, and businesses. Most apprentices enter a program directly, but some start out as helpers or complete a pre-apprenticeship training programs in plumbing and other trades.
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters complete an apprenticeship program and pass the required licensing exam to become journey-level workers. Journey-level plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters are qualified to perform tasks independently. Plumbers with several years of plumbing experience who pass another exam earn master status. Some states require master plumber status in order to obtain a plumbing contractor’s license.
Most states and some localities require plumbers to be licensed. Although licensing requirements vary, states and localities often require workers to have 2 to 5 years of experience and to pass an exam that shows their knowledge of the trade before allowing plumbers to work independently.
Plumbers may also obtain optional certification, such as in plumbing design, to broaden career opportunities. In addition, most employers require plumbers to have a driver’s license.
Some states require pipefitters and steamfitters to be licensed; they may also require a special license to work on gas lines. Licensing typically requires an exam or work experience or both. Contact your state’s licensing board for more information.
The median annual wage for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters was $55,160 in May 2019. 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 $32,690, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $97,170.
Employment of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as 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 sprinkler fitters is expected to increase as states continue to adopt changes to building codes that require the use of fire suppression systems.
Similar Job Titles
Equipment Service Associate (ESA), Fire Sprinkler Service Technician, Journeyman Pipe Fitter, Journeyman Pipefitter, Machine Repairman, Pipe Fitter, Pipe Welder, Pipefitter, Sprinkler Fitter, Steamfitter, Commercial Plumber; Drain Cleaner, Plumber; Drain Technician; Journeyman Plumber; Master Plumber; Plumber; Plumber Gasfitter; Plumbing and Heating Mechanic; Residential Plumber; Service Plumber, Fire Sprinkler Installer
Boilermaker, Heating and Air Conditioning Mechanic and Installer, Millwrights, Maintenance and Repair Worker, Rough Carpenter, Sheet Metal Worker
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Fire Sprinkler Association
- American Welding Society
- Home Builders Institute
- International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
- Mechanical Contractors Association of America
- National Association of Home Builders
- National Fire Protection Association
- National Fire Sprinkler Association
Magazines and Publications
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters keep civilization in running water, sanitation, and heat for comfort and cleaning. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipe systems to transport water, chemicals, and waste. They use saws to make holes in floors and walls and pipe cutters to size pipe accurately. Plumbers work on water, drainage, and gas pipes in homes and businesses. They also install plumbing fixtures and appliances. They rescue homeowners from leaks, clogged drains, and malfunctioning septic systems. Pipefitters install and repair pipes that carry chemicals, acids, and gases— usually in power plants and industrial settings. Some install fire sprinkler systems. Steamfitters install pipe systems that move steam under high pressure; most work at college campus facilities and natural gas power plants. With high rates of injury on the job, precautions must be taken with common tasks such as lifting heavy materials, handling tools, and climbing ladders. Work schedules are full time, and may include nights, weekends, and emergency calls. A 4- to 5-year apprenticeship is typically required, combining paid on-the-job training with classroom study. A license is generally required for plumbers, and some states license pipefitters and gas line workers. Helpers assist experienced trades professionals, haul tools and materials, and clean work areas. They typically have a high school education and learn on the job.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org