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Imagine what the world would be like without experienced plumbers. Plumbers are often a phone call away when homeowners and business owners need help fixing a leaky sink or a clogged toilet.
Learning a trade like plumbing can be an extremely lucrative career path. Everyone needs plumbers at some point in their lives to ensure their home or business is in proper working order, meaning you’ll always have work and will be in high demand.
For those who enjoy interacting with people daily and fixing vital systems for homes and offices with your own two hands, being a plumber may be the career for you. This job offers longevity, steady work and a high income. It requires some specific skills, training and licensing that can take a little while to complete. However, after the training and education, it is well worth it.
Here’s how to become a plumber, along with information on the plumbing industry and career.
What Does a Plumber Do?
Plumbers are responsible for various tasks, including installing, testing and repairing pipes that conduct gasses and liquids in homes and buildings. They also work on heating and cooling systems, sanitation units and other residential or commercial fixtures related to plumbing. Additionally, plumbers may be required to design plumbing systems.
Below is a list of some of the duties and responsibilities of a plumber:
- Keeping their work in compliance with various codes, rules and regulations
- Repairing appliances with plumbing-related issues
- Traveling to residential areas or businesses to assess and make repairs on plumbing problems
- Reviewing or creating blueprints for new plumbing installations
- Measuring, cutting, assembling and welding various fittings, pipes and tubes
- Using testing equipment to diagnose plumbing issues
- Recommending best repair practices for home and business owners for short and long-term fixes
- Offering estimates before making the repairs
- Working in enclosed spaces, like sinks, or overhead areas on ladders and in any element
- Determining the correct materials needed for an installation or repair
- Continuing their plumbing education to learn new technology and techniques within the industry
In addition, plumbers may have to work with other general contractors, manufacturing professionals and electricians, especially when working on a new building. In emergencies, plumbers may have to be on call. They have to demonstrate that they know these skills and have the qualifications to complete each of these tasks.
Other skills a plumber may need include manual dexterity, communication skills, being comfortable with mathematics, and working in various conditions, like cramped spaces or on building roofs.
The Average Salary for Plumbers
If you want to become a plumber, you should know the average salary and ensure it works with your cost of living situation. Will pursuing a plumbing career help you meet your needs?
On average, the median salary for plumbers and other careers associated with plumbing was about $56,000 per year as of May 2020. Lower wages averaged $33,000, and higher wages were almost $100,000.
As you move up in your plumbing career, you’ll gain more knowledge and experience, which can help you earn more money. A plumbing apprenticeship will get you less than fully trained plumbers, but it’s where you need to start as a plumber.
Many plumbers will work full time, including weekends, nights and holidays. A plumbing emergency can happen at any moment, meaning you’ll be on call. However, you could self-employ, meaning you can set your own hours.
Education, Training and Certifications for Plumbing
Almost all plumbers, steamfitters and pipefitters learn how to do their job through an apprenticeship. Others may attend a technical or vocational school. Either way, plumbers need some sort of education, training and certification to become licensed plumbers.
Typically, plumbers need a high school diploma or an equivalent going into the career. After receiving high school education, you can become an apprentice, learning skills on the job. Apprenticeship programs may last anywhere from four to five years. You can find an apprenticeship at a local trade school, plumbing business or union chapter.
Apprentice plumbers receive payments as they go through training, and most of the time, your employer will pay for your coursework. If you would instead go to a technical school program, you have that option, too. A specialized school will teach you through courses about pipe system design, tool use and safety, and welding courses.
Before receiving training, an apprentice has to complete an aptitude exam, which will allow candidates to demonstrate their knowledge of basic skills necessary to excel in the career. If you pass and are accepted into the program, you can start your training. During an apprenticeship or schooling, you would train for the various jobs required of a plumber.
The apprenticeship comes with about 2,000 hours of on-the-job training with some technical classes per year. The technical courses include instruction on local plumbing regulations and codes, reading and interpreting blueprints, and safety training. In addition to the education, an apprentice plumber will also study applied physics, mathematics and chemistry.
Even if you go the vocational school route, you still have to complete an apprenticeship. Following education, you’ll need to receive various licensing, registration and certification.
Licenses, Registration and Certification Requirements
States have different licensing requirements, but in general, you’ll need to be licensed if you plan on pursuing a full-time career in plumbing. This licensing includes a certain number of hours of instruction, hands-on experience and completion of an apprenticeship. Once you complete those, you can take an exam that assesses your knowledge and skill level to obtain a license.
You can also obtain certification, like plumbing design, which will expand your career opportunities and give you a specialization in your plumbing profession. If you are not self-employed, the company you work for may require a driver’s license as well so you can efficiently get to a job site on your own.
Following your licensure, you’ll be a journeyman plumber, where you can practice the trade independently. Then, through at least two years of experience as a journeyman, you’ll become a master plumber as long as you pass an exam.
After you’ve become a master plumber, you can specialize in a particular area, which includes one of five categories:
- Commercial plumber: Commercial plumbers work in schools, office buildings, factories, colleges and hospitals, specializing in industrial equipment. Their responsibilities are more extensive than residential plumbers and often have more knowledge.
- Residential plumber: These plumbing professionals work primarily in homes and other residential buildings. They may only be responsible for small-scale plumbing jobs like toilets, sinks and piping.
- Service and repair plumber: These plumbing technicians work in commercial and residential areas, and often fix leaks, eliminate clogs and clean plumbing fixtures.
- Water supply plumber: Water supply plumbers working with kitchen, bathroom and water tanks, and overhead storage pipes and tanks. They install water supply systems but may complete other basic plumbing tasks.
- Sanitary plumber: Finally, you could be a sanitary plumber. They’re the most common type of plumber hired because many plumbing issues revolve around a home’s sanitary system.
Each of these plumbing specializations is necessary and has equal demand. Knowing these types can help you better decide the route you want to take with your plumbing career.
Benefits of Being a Plumber
Being a plumber comes with many advantages. It is a job in high demand, and with the growing population, cities and towns will need more plumbers to complete various projects and repairs. Additionally, there’s an excellent opportunity for a high salary, especially if you move to a lucrative city. All of your training will be paid for, and there will always be demand for plumbers, even in more challenging economic times.
Should You Learn How to Become a Plumber?
Plumbers have a great responsibility, and they’re needed everywhere. If you’re ready to be part of this career, the first step is to find an apprenticeship and get some training.