Plumbing Careers

Plumbers play an essential role in keeping our water systems running.

Whether it is planning a new piping infrastructure, installing water lines or repairing plumbing fixtures, plumbers have a hand in just about every area of the water supply. Of course, this versatile role deals not only with water but also with gas lines that feed gas to homes and businesses.

Those interested in this career field will find a variety of specialized career paths. Some plumbers opt for careers as pipelayers helping lay pipes for outdoor building projects. Others decide on a career working for industrial plants, installing and repairing high-pressure lines that carry gasses and other chemicals. Some even decide on a career as sprinkler fitters, working on fire suppression sprinkler systems.

Plumbing is a very attainable career that has no formal training requirements. By starting as an apprentice, someone interested in the field can get a paid job while learning valuable on-the-job skills to advance their career. Plumbing is a field that not only offers an excellent salary but is one that has an excellent outlook for future job availability. Plumbers who can utilize building management software will see greatest demand for their skills.

What does a plumber do?

When it comes to dealing with water emergencies big or small, plumbers are first to the rescue. Plumbers help both residential and commercial clients with plumbing issues, such issues as faulty pipes, low water pressure or clogged drains. Not only do they handle repair issues, but they also install the pipes, valves, fixtures and all equipment related to a building’s plumbing infrastructure.

Plumbers spend their days analyzing problems, making recommendations and ultimately performing the appropriate repair. Sometimes the repair requires work in awkward or confined locations, such as a crawlspace. A plumber must be adept at navigating these areas to perform a quality repair in spite of the space limitations.

Additionally, the source of the problem may not always be apparent. In this case, a plumber may spend time analyzing blueprints and architectural drawings to identify specific areas in the plumbing system. Further, plumbers possess the knowledge to address issues with the main water supply that carries water to homes. They also handle problems with pipes that carry waste away from homes and buildings.

However, what many may not know is that the work of a plumber extends far beyond the occasional leaky faucet or clogged toilet. Plumbers also install and repair pipes that provide gas to homes and buildings. When a gas line erupts or the line experiences low pressure, the plumber uses specialized tools to diagnose the problem.

Residential plumbers often work alone. Commercial plumbers, however, often coordinate with other trades personnel. They may need to work with a builder to determine a suitable location for pipes, or they may need to consult with city officials to handle a sewer or main water supply issue. Beyond the actual repair work, plumbers spend a great deal of time consulting with clients. They educate their clients on the nature of the problem and make suggestions on how to avoid the problem in the future.

Field Specialties for a Plumber

The plumbing field has other specialties beyond just general plumbing. For instance, pipelayers are a specialized group of plumbers that install the framework for outdoor plumbing systems like sewers or water mains. They work with architects and builders to determine the location of each component of the system. Pipelayers then grade the land and dig trenches and lays the pipes into place.

While pipelayers focus on outdoor plumbing, pipefitters work on plumbing for industrial plants. This plumbing is usually under high pressure and carry fluids and gasses. Many of these systems use antifreeze, gas or other chemicals and require highly skilled plumbers to work with them.

A pipefitter may weld and solder pipes, install new pipes or repair existing pipes. Due to the high pressure in the pipes, they may wear protective eyewear, a face shield or gloves. Sprinkler fitting offers an additional career path for plumbers. These plumbers install, inspect and repair overhead pipes for all components of fire suppression systems.

Salary and Job Outlook for Plumbers

The median annual salary for plumbers is $52,590, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,470, while the highest 10 percent earned over $91,810. Those working in manufacturing brought in the highest median wage at $58,040.

Apprentice plumbers make less than master plumbers. However, their pay tends to increase with their level of skill and experience. As urban development increases, so will the need for plumbers. Builders will need plumbers to help plan and install plumbing infrastructure.

Changes in local building codes will also require skilled sprinkler fitters to install and modify existing systems to comply with regulations. As technology advances, more and more companies use building information modeling systems to plan plumbing systems. Plumbers who develop their skills by learning to use this technology will be in relatively high demand.

Training and Education Requirements

Those interested in becoming a plumber do not need formal education. Most plumbers start as apprentices. An apprentice works under a more skilled plumber for a specified time. That period can last up to five years. Apprentices must complete a minimum of 246 hours of instruction each year, as well as up to 2,000 hours of hands-on training. Due to the complexity of the job, apprentices must learn about blueprint reading, local building codes and plumbing safety.

Many plumbers choose to begin their career by taking courses at a trade school. Programs at vocational facilities may only take a few weeks to complete. These programs provide a basic level of knowledge for students to begin their career as an apprentice plumber. Some plumbers opt for a two-year degree in plumbing. Degree programs teach more advanced topics such as job estimation, planning plumbing systems, and topics on wastewater systems and main water supply.

Plumbers looking to advance to the title of Journeyman or Master Plumber must complete additional training and obtain additional experience. Journeyman must spend at least five years working under the supervision of a master plumber. Also, they must complete an additional training program. The master plumber has the same skills as a journeyman. The difference between the two is that only a master plumber may operate a business and supervise apprentices and plumbers.

Many states also require plumbers to be licensed before they may perform plumbing work. Plumbers must pass a test demonstrating their knowledge of basic plumbing and local building code to obtain certification.

Skills and Character Traits of a Good Plumber

One of the essential traits of a good plumber is having strong problem-solving abilities. Someone interested in a plumbing career should be able to analyze a situation to devise a solution. They may need to evaluate several options and understand the ramifications of each before attempting to address the issue they are faced with.

Plumbers also must have patience and exhibit good listening skills. Analyzing different situations requires them to interact with the client and listen carefully to extract the right information to determine the problem. They may also need to ask clarifying questions. Once they assess the situation, a good plumber must communicate that information to the client. Thus, they should possess the skill to convey that information in a clear and concise manner.

In addition to communicating with their clients, plumbers who work on big construction projects must often coordinate with other trades workers, such as electricians. Therefore, they must be able to explain their work clearly and collaborate with others.

Some plumbers work for large businesses or construction companies and may need to operate under tight timeframes. Thus, the ability to prioritize tasks and appropriately organize them is vital. Plumbers working on residential projects will require the ability to follow the rules of local codes and regulations.

Honesty and good ethics are also important quality traits of a good plumber. Clients rely on plumbers to solve their problems. They need someone who will give them the best solution and charge them a fair price to solve the problem.

Finally, plumbing systems contain several intricate and interconnected parts. Plumbers must have keen attention to detail to understand each piece of the puzzle.

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