Plumbers can work in homes, businesses, industrial water plants or outdoors. Once trained, they install and repair piping, install fixtures, clean drains and work with septic systems. Plumbers can perform general installation and maintenance work on all plumbing systems or specialize in areas such as design, emergency services, sprinkler systems or public works.
Pipefitters and steamfitters receive similar training but specialize in installing and repairing pipes that carry chemicals, acids or gases. They nearly always work in industrial settings like power plants, submarines or oil refineries.
According to the US Bureau of Labor statistics, the demand for plumbers is continuing to grow steadily. The average plumber in the US makes $56,000 per year. After all, no matter the state of the economy or housing market, there will always be a demand for plumbers. It’s a stable choice for employment because private residences, businesses, cities and industrial complexes all rely heavily on the ability to receive clean water and remove waste water.
A plumber’s title, and related, salary and responsibilities, depend on their education and training. The following are the levels of qualification an electrician can obtain:
- Apprentice- When starting the education of becoming a plumber, you will be an apprentice. This training under a highly qualified plumber will last four to five years and include classroom and field work. An apprentice can not complete any work unsupervised.
- Tradesman- With two years of experience and at least 24 hours of classwork, a plumber can be licensed as a tradesman. While still under the supervision of another plumber, a tradesman can handle most basic plumbing tasks.
- Journeyman- A journeyman has at least 8,000 hours of on-the-job training, 144 hours of classroom work and has passed a test. He or she can work unsupervised, but can not train others or manage a job site. A journeyman may not be qualified for very complicated tasks and is still subject to the supervision and inspection of a plumber.
- Master plumber- This highly-qualified pro has been a journeyman for a number of years and passed a written and practical exam. They can work independently and can be trusted to solve complicated plumbing issues.
There are five main categories of plumbers. Each has unique training and specialization depending on the type of systems they work with. Training for each of these categories is highly specific, so look for a training program that offers the kind of plumbing work you want to do. You can choose from:
- General plumbing- working with water, waste water, drainage and appliances in residential and commercial environments. In some areas, residential and commercial plumbing are separate licenses.
- Pipefitters- working with mechanical systems such as boilers, water tanks and furnaces. They often plan, install and repair systems that heat and cool a building or generate energy.
- Steamfitters- working with pipes carrying high pressured gas and liquid.
- Sprinklerfitters- installing, modifying and inspecting sprinkler systems.
- Pipelayer- laying water, sewer and gas lines in the ground
Education required to become a plumber
Before beginning a program to be trained in plumbing work, you must earn a high school diploma or equivalent. Due to the technical nature of the work, plumbers will benefit from classes in physics, algebra, geometry, drafting, CAD and English.
Trade or vocational school
Starting your education at a trade or technical school may help you more easily find an apprenticeship position. Your classroom learning can count as hours toward your training and may give your an advantage when applying for an apprenticeship since you will already know and understand the basic concepts of plumbing work. Local colleges, trade schools, community college and technical school will likely offer courses in the plumbing and pipefitting that you can access as a low cost.
Depending on your state, a plumbing apprenticeship lasts four to five years. You can find an apprenticeships through the plumbers union or with a master plumber in your local area.
- Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors Association- They can connect you with local in-person training or virtual programs. In addition to licensing programs and apprenticeships, the PHCC offers courses for service and repairs, construction management, soft skills and more.
- United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry- This union has existed for 135 years and has a comprehensive five year training program for plumbing of all kinds. Each state has several local chapters that can help you find trainers to study with.
- Find a licensed plumber local to you that is qualified to train. He or she may be willing to take on an apprentice which will give you the experience and knowledge you need to pass your exam.
- Trade schools often have connections with local apprentice programs. Since apprenticeships are highly competitive, taking some classes first will give you an advantage and show that you are committed and a good choice as an apprentice.
To be able to work independently as a plumber, you will be required to pass an exam. Each state’s licensing requirement vary, but generally, after completing the required number of hours as an apprentice, you will be able to take the exam to receive your license. Most states, require plumbers to renew their licenses every three to five years. Find your state’s exact requirement for a plumbing license here.
In addition to a standard plumber’s license, with additional training and testing, you can specialize in certain areas of plumbing. This increases your reputation in the field and can command a higher price for your services. Some of the specialized areas available for additional training include:
- Energy efficiency
- Plumbing design
- Water conservation
Look for courses in the specific area of expertise you want to pursue. The American Society of Plumbing Engineers offers certifications in plumbing design and green plumbing design. Other local programs use the ASPE standards to create their coursework. To be a steamfitter or pipefitter, you may also need to become a certified welder. This can be done through American Welding Society programs.
Becoming a master plumber
A certified master plumber has seven to ten years of experience in the field, taken additional classes and has passed an advanced test. A master plumber can supervise apprentices, handle any and all plumbing related tasks in construction and repair and own their own plumbing business.
Many plumbers choose to continue their education to become a master plumber. Not only does it keep your skills sharp, but it helps you gain new customers and justify a higher wage for your services. You will also have the ability to grow an entire business around your skill set and eventually train the next generation of plumbers.
Plumbing is a great career choice since there will always be a demand for qualified plumbers. Training programs and apprenticeships will prepare you to provide routine services and tackle complex pipe design and problems. Apprenticeships give you the opportunity to earn while you learn, increasing your income as you increase your skills. Within four to five years, you can be a licensed journeyman plumber.
Trades.org wants to see you succeed in your career. We make it easy for your next customer to find you when we highlight your skills and reputation on your website, social media accounts and trade-specific profiles. We’ll help you develop the fulfilling business that provides for your family and gives you opportunities to advance throughout your career.