Plumbers, Pipe-fitters, and Steamfitters


Quick Facts: Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters
2017 Median Pay $52,590 per year 
$25.28 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Apprenticeship
Number of Jobs, 2016 480,600
Job Outlook, 2016-26 16% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 75,200

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Plumber, Pipe-fitters, and Steamfitters Career, Salary and Education Information

What Plumbers, Pipe-fitters, and Steamfitters

Plumbers, pipe-fitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipes that carry liquids or gases to, from, and within businesses, homes, and factories. They all install pipes and fittings that carry water, steam, air, or other liquids or gases other systems, such as those in power plants, carry the steam that powers huge turbines.

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Plumbers, Pipe-fitters, and Steamfitters

duties of Plumber's, piper-fitters, and steamfitters

Plumber's typically do the following:

  • Prepare cost estimates for clients

  • Read blueprints and follow state and local building codes

  • Determine the material and equipment needed for a job

  • Install pipes and fixtures

  • Inspect and test installed pipe systems and pipelines

  • Troubleshoot malfunctioning systems

  • Repair and replace worn parts

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, pipe-fitters, and steamfitters install and repair these pipe systems.

Although plumbers, pipe-fitters, 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.


Work Environment for Plumbers, pipe-fitters, and steamfitters

Plumbers, pipe=fitters, and steamfitters held about 480,600 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of plumbers, pipe-fitters, and steamfitters were as follows:

Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors: 62%

Self-employed workers: 13%

Government: 4%

Heavy and civil engineering construction: 4%

Manufacturing: 3%

Plumbers, pipe-fitters, 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.

Work Schedules for Plumbers, Pipe-fitters, and Steamfitters

Most plumbers, pipe-fitters, 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.


How to Become a plumber, pipe-fitter, or steamfitter

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.

Education

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.

Training

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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

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.

Important Qualities

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.


salaries for plumbers, piperfitters, and steamfitters

The median annual wage for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters was $52,590 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. 

The median annual wages for plumbers, piperfitters, and steamfitters in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Manufacturing: $58,040

Government: $53,780

Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors: $51,570

Heavy and civil engineering construction: $50,800

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.


Job Outlook for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters

Employment of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is projected to grow 16 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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.

Job Prospects for Plumbers, Pipe-fitters, and Steamfitters

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.

Employment projections data for Plumbers, Piperfitters, and Steamfitters 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 480,600

Projected Employment, 2026: 555,800

Change, 2016-2026: +16%, 75,200


Careers Related to plumbers, piperfitters, and steamfitters

Boilermakers

Boilermakers assemble, install, maintain, and repair boilers, closed vats, and other large vessels or containers that hold liquids and gases.

Construction and Building Inspectors

Construction and building inspectors ensure that construction meets local and national building codes and ordinances, zoning regulations, and contract specifications.

Construction Laborers and Helpers

Construction laborers and helpers perform many tasks that require physical labor on construction sites.

Construction Managers

Construction managers plan, coordinate, budget, and supervise construction projects from start to finish.

Electricians

Electricians install, maintain, and repair electrical power, communications, lighting, and control systems in homes, businesses, and factories.

General Maintenance and Repair Workers

General maintenance and repair workers fix and maintain machines, mechanical equipment, and buildings. They paint, repair flooring, and work on plumbing, electrical, and air-conditioning and heating systems, among other tasks.

Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers—often called heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration(HVACR) technicians—work on heating, ventilation, cooling, and refrigeration systems that control the temperature and air quality in buildings.

Industrial Machinery Mechanics, Machinery Maintenance Workers, and Millwrights

Industrial machinery mechanics and machinery maintenance workers maintain and repair factory equipment and other industrial machinery, such as conveying systems, production machinery, and packaging equipment. Millwrights install, dismantle, repair, reassemble, and move machinery in factories, power plants, and construction sites.

Water Transportation Workers

Water transportation workers operate and maintain vessels that take cargo and people over water. The vessels travel to and from foreign ports across the ocean and to domestic ports along the coasts, across the Great Lakes, and along the country’s many inland waterways.

Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers

Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers use hand-held or remotely controlled equipment to join or cut metal parts. They also fill holes, indentations, or seams in metal products.

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
BoilermakersHigh school diploma or equivalent$62,260
Construction and Building InspectorsHigh school diploma or equivalent$59,090
Construction Laborers and Helpers$33,450
Construction ManagersBachelor's degree$91,370
ElectriciansHigh school diploma or equivalent$54,110
General Maintenance and Repair WorkersHigh school diploma or equivalent$37,670
Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and InstallersPostsecondary nondegree award$47,080
Industrial Machinery Mechanics, Machinery Maintenance Workers, and MillwrightsHigh school diploma or equivalent$50,440
Water Transportation Workers$55,590
Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and BrazersHigh school diploma or equivalent$40,240

Citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/plumbers-pipefitters-and-steamfitters.htm