Plumbing and pipefitting are regarded as separate trades, but some individuals have skills in both fields. These trained workers assemble, install, maintain and repair pipe systems utilized to transport water, air and other types of liquids and gases. They install plumbing fixtures such as toilets and bathtubs. They also install refrigeration and heating units. Their work can be complex and challenging, and it is carefully regulated. Plumbers and pipefitters train for years to perform the work properly.
Day in the Life of a Plumber or Pipefitter
On a typical day, a plumber might perform tasks at these work settings:
New construction sites
- Work with architects and contractors to make a blueprint of the plumbing system so that it meets all applicable building codes
- While installing piping in a new home or building, a plumber reads and follows blueprints that show the intended location of appliances and plumbing fixtures
- Bend and cut pipe and affix components through fittings, soldering or adhesive
- Use testing equipment such as pressure gauges to ensure proper functioning of the system
Existing plumbing sites
- Diagnose the source of a plumbing problem using knowledge and special tools or gauges
- Make the necessary repairs, including replacing pipes and parts as needed
- Use testing equipment to ensure proper functioning after repairs have been made
On a typical day, a pipefitter might perform any of these tasks:
- Inspect equipment, structures, or materials to identify the cause of any errors, defects or other problems
- Cut, thread or hammer pipes to specifications using tools such as saws, cutting torches, pipe threaders or pipe benders
- Lay out full-scale drawings of pipe systems, supports or related equipment according to blueprints
- Assemble or secure pipes, tubes, fittings or related equipment according to specifications by welding, brazing, cementing, soldering or threading joints
- Measure and mark pipes for cutting or threading
- Inspect, examine or test installed systems or pipe lines using a pressure gauge, hydrostatic testing, observation or other methods
Important Characteristics for Plumbers and Pipefitters
Successful plumbers and pipefitters have certain traits that help them in their work. They need physical strength and flexibility, as well as fine motor dexterity, to do their job. Having mechanical ability and being math-minded gives them an advantage. Also helpful are critical-thinking skills, good communication skills (both listening and speaking), complex problem-solving skills, sound judgment and decision-making ability as well as good time management.
Most plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters meet plumbing education requirements through jointly administered apprenticeships or from community colleges and plumbing and pipefitting schools. Plumbing career training programs incorporate education in core technical subjects such as mathematics, applied physics and chemistry or architectural drafting. In addition, training in plumbing programs covers the components, tools and materials you will need to learn about in order to become a plumber and pursue plumbing certification.
Apprenticeship programs usually provide the most thorough training for these occupations. Most of these programs are managed jointly by union locals and their affiliated companies or by nonunion contractor organizations.
For example, the Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada, and the United Association of Journeymen sponsor plumber and pipefitting programs. These five-year apprenticeships take place around the country and combine field work with classroom instruction. Apprentices are employed by a contractor, allowing them to earn wages while in training. At a certain point in the program, apprentices choose a specific curriculum to pursue with the aim of becoming a plumber, pipefitter, or other service technician in the industry. Contact your local union to find out about apprenticeship programs in your area that meet plumbing education requirements.
Plumbing certification is required in most states and communities. Most localities require workers to have two to five years of experience along with passing an examination that tests their knowledge of local plumbing codes and their knowledge of the trade before they're allowed to work independently. In a few states, pipefitters need to be licensed. Several states require a special license to work on gas lines.
The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association in partnership with the GreenPlumbers USA train and certify plumbers nationwide on energy efficiency and water-saving technologies. This certification can help workers trained in this area to acquire more jobs and advance in their careers more quickly.
- Summary Report for Plumbers, O*NET OnLine, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/47-2152.02
- Summary Report for Pipefitters and Steamfitters, O*NET OnLine, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/47-2152.01