Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

Summary

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters
Plumbers inspect pipes for damage.
Quick Facts: Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters
2016 Median Pay $51,450 per year
$24.74 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 75,800

What Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters Do

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipes that carry liquids or gases to, from, and within businesses, homes, and factories.

Work Environment

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters work in factories, homes, businesses, and other places where there are pipes or septic systems. Plumbers are often on call for emergencies, so evening and weekend work is common.

How to Become a Plumber, Pipefitter, 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.

Pay

The median annual wage for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters was $51,450 in May 2016.

Job Outlook

Employment of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is projected to grow 16 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. New construction and building maintenance and repair should drive demand for these workers, and overall job opportunities are expected to be good.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters Do About this section

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters
Pipefitters install a variety of pipes to move liquids and gasses.

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipes that carry liquids or gases to, from, and within businesses, homes, and factories.

Duties

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters 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, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair these pipe systems.

Although plumbers, pipefitters, 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.

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters may use many different materials and construction techniques, depending on the type of project. Residential water systems, for example, use copper, steel, and plastic pipe that one or two plumbers can install. Power plant water systems, by contrast, are made of large steel pipes that usually take a crew of pipefitters to install. Some workers install stainless steel pipes on dairy farms and in factories, mainly to prevent contamination.

In addition to performing installation and repair work, journey- and master-level plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters frequently direct apprentices and helpers.

Master plumbers on construction jobs may be involved with developing blueprints that show the placement of all the pipes and fixtures. Their input helps ensure 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 now created digitally with the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM), which allows a building’s physical systems to be planned and coordinated across occupations.

The following are examples of types of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters:

Plumbers install and repair water, drainage, gas, and other piping systems in homes, businesses, and factories. Plumbers install plumbing fixtures such as bathtubs and toilets, and appliances, such as dishwashers and water heaters. Plumbers also maintain septic systems—the large, underground holding tanks that collect waste from houses that are not connected to a sewer system.

Pipefitters, sometimes simply called fitters, install and maintain pipes that carry chemicals, acids, and gases. These pipes are used 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. Some pipefitters specialize as gasfitters, sprinklerfitters, or steamfitters.

Work Environment About this section

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters
Plumbers risk getting burned as they solder pipes.

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters held about 480,600 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of plumbers, pipefitters, 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, pipefitters, 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. Some plumbers travel to a variety of worksites every day. A few work outdoors, even in bad weather.

Injuries and Illnesses

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Cuts from sharp tools, burns from hot pipes and soldering equipment, and falls from ladders are common injuries.

Work Schedules

Most plumbers, pipefitters, 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, Pipefitter, or Steamfitter About this section

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters
Most plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters learn their jobs through an apprenticeship.

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.

Pay About this section

Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

Median annual wages, May 2016

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters

$51,450

Construction trades workers

$42,310

Total, all occupations

$37,040

 

The median annual wage for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters was $51,450 in May 2016. 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 $30,430, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $90,530.

In May 2016, the median annual wages for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Manufacturing $55,980
Government 52,660
Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors 50,750
Heavy and civil engineering construction 49,320

The starting pay for apprentices is less than that of fully trained plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters, but they receive pay increases as they learn to do more.

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.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2016.

Job Outlook About this section

Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

Percent change in employment, projected 2016-26

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters

16%

Construction trades workers

11%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

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

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.

As with other construction workers, employment of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is sensitive to fluctuations in the economy. On the one hand, workers may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, shortages of workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity.

However, maintenance and repair of plumbing and pipe systems must continue even during economic downturns, so plumbers and fitters outside of construction tend to have more stable employment.

Employment projections data for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters, 2016-26
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters

47-2152 480,600 556,400 16 75,800 employment projections excel document xlsx

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2016 MEDIAN PAY Help
Boilermakers

Boilermakers

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

High school diploma or equivalent $62,060
Construction and building inspectors

Construction and Building Inspectors

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

High school diploma or equivalent $58,480
Construction laborers and helpers

Construction Laborers and Helpers

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

See How to Become One $32,230
Construction managers

Construction Managers

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

Bachelor's degree $89,300
Electricians

Electricians

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

High school diploma or equivalent $52,720
General maintenance and repair workers

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.

High school diploma or equivalent $36,940
Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration and mechanics and installers

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.

Postsecondary nondegree award $45,910
Industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers

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.

High school diploma or equivalent $49,100
Water transportation occupations

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.

See How to Become One $54,870
Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers

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.

High school diploma or equivalent $39,390

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about plumbers and pipefitters, visit

Mechanical Contractors Association of America

NCCER

Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association

For information about sprinklerfitters, visit

American Fire Sprinkler Association

National Fire Sprinkler Association

For details about apprenticeship or other opportunities in this occupation, contact the offices of the state employment service; the state apprenticeship agency; local plumbing, heating, and cooling contractors or firms that employ fitters; or local union–management apprenticeship committees. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor's ApprenticeshipUSA program online, or by phone at 877-872-5627.

For more information about apprenticeships for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters, visit

United Association: Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, and Service Techs

For more information about pre-apprenticeship training, visit

Home Builders Institute

O*NET

Pipe Fitters and Steamfitters

Plumbers

Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

Suggested 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 (visited November 01, 2017).

Last Modified Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2016

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2016, which is the base year of the 2016-26 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2016-26

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.