How To Become a Plumber, Pipefitter, or Steamfitter

A Plumber, Pipefitter, or Steamfitter has an essential responsibility as they keep the water, gas, and steam flowing in our pipes. 

Whether these types of piping are used for modern conveniences or industrial needs, becoming a Plumber, Pipefitter, or Steamfitter will provide you with a lucrative trade salary, as well as job security. 

Related Article: 40 Highest Paying Jobs With A Trade School Education

Table of Contents


What does a Plumber, Pipefitter, or Steamfitter do?

A Plumber, Pipefitter, or Steamfitter works with piping to install and maintain all types of equipment, ranging from residential plumbing to industrial maintenance. They often estimate cost, read blueprints, install plumbing or industrial fixtures, and repair systems as needed.

They also do preventative maintenance, adhere to all state and local codes, do pressure tests, as well as fix leaky plumbing fixtures, unclog toilets and other drain lines, plus much more! 

How do I become a Plumber, Pipefitter, or Steamfitter?

With a high school or equivalent diploma, you can acquire your training through a vocational school, often offered at your local technical school or community college. Your program will typically last up to two years. 

In addition, you will need apprenticeship training.

What are the levels of plumbers?

Your training will necessitate various levels until you can reach the Master’s level. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect:

  • Apprenticeship status – Lasting between four to five years and at least 2,000 hours of on-the-job training through paid instruction under the supervision of a Master Plumber.
  • Journeyman status – After you complete your apprenticeship and pass the Journeyman exam, you can become a Journeyman Plumber, which allows you to work more on your own while you still operate under the supervision of a Master Plumber. Your Journeyman program will last four to five years.
  • Master Plumber – After you pass your plumbing exam, you can gain your plumbing license; therefore, qualified to supervise and teach others.

What are the differences between a Plumber, Pipefitter, or Steamfitter?

These three positions are very similar in responsibilities and training. The difference mainly falls within the type of liquid or gas that is flowing through the pipes.

Plumbers primarily repair and install plumbing lines; therefore, working with water and sometimes natural or propane gas. They also do other tasks such as installing plumbing fixtures.

Pipefitter and Steamfitter jobs are more alike as they both install pipes that carry liquids; however, installations made by Steamfitters focus on lines that carry steam (or other gases under pressure) to operate equipment in an industrial setting. Pipefitters install pipes that encompass all types of chemicals, gas, acids, and the like.

What kind of salary can I expect in the field of plumbing?

According to the BLS, as of May 2020, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters earned $56,330 per year on average; although, the highest 10% earned upwards of $98,990 or more per year, depending on experience. 

Do I need to be licensed to be a Plumber?

Yes, most states will require you to have the appropriate plumbing license to perform plumbing services at your level of competency. Check with your local codes for your state’s regulations.

Can I start my own plumbing business?

Yes, of course! That’s a great goal to have. After you receive your training and gain some experience, you will need to be licensed… as a Plumber and have a business license.

To begin, you will need to have a business plan, such as estimating your costs and your pricing for products and services. Don’t forget to plan for the cost of insurance.

Devise a marketing plan, and set up all online social media pages to keep your name out there. Make arrangements for administrative duties… and you will well be on your way to starting your own plumbing business. 

Once you get started, you will want to stay abreast of new plumbing techniques and up-to-date on all state and local plumbing codes. 

Is there a job demand for Plumbers, Pipefitters, or Steamfitters?

As of May 2020, the BLS states that Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters can expect a 5% job growth rate between 2020 and 2030. Although slower than average, 51,000 opportunities should be available per year in this field due to replacing retired workers and others who have left the field. 

Are there other similar occupations to consider?

You can locate trade programs in just about any field; however, several other occupations are in the realm of plumbing, ones that are mechanically focused and often require the assistance of a Plumber, Pipefitter, or Steamfitter.

Some options to consider: 

  • Boilermaker
  • Water Transportation Worker
  • HVAC Technician
  • Industrial Maintenance
  • General Maintenance and Repair Worker

What qualities will make me a good Plumber?

Besides excellent technical training, Plumbers must be in good physical health as needed for physical strength and dexterity. 

In addition, you will need good communication, problem-solving, and technical skills. They must be mechanically-minded while adhering to all safety regulations. 

Is being a Plumber a dangerous job?

As with any trade, injuries do happen. The most common include falls from ladders or scaffolding, deep cuts, burns, and particularly, knee and back injuries. Working in raw sewage and being exposed to dangerous chemicals can also present a health risk. Plumbers should always be aware of fallen electrical lines in the water that could cause electrocution and death.

Where do Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters find work?

The largest employer of plumbing personnel is contracting companies offering services, such as plumbing and HVACR services, followed by self-employed Plumbers.

Careers in plumbing can also be found in new construction, manufacturing, and government.

Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters work full-time, approximately 40 hours per week. Although most work a regular Monday through Friday workweek, most must participate in”on-call” rotation for emergency and after-hours calls. After all, a water leak or clogged toilet can happen at any time! 

How stressful is being a plumber?

So, what job doesn’t have some stressful moments, right? For the most part, being a Plumber is not stressful if you are familiar with your trade and know what you are doing.

Are there stressful moments? Yes, of course. Clients can get excited when water is pouring through their ceilings. In some instances, emergency calls can get stressful as you try to help the customer as quickly as possible… and in below-freezing temperatures.

In addition, gas leaks can be dangerous, so immediate attention may be required to get them fixed promptly, thus adding to your stress level. 

Clogged toilets are no fun for anyone… the customer or the Plumber; however, you may encounter raw sewage if called to unstop a sewer line. If you have a weak stomach, this scenario can certainly be stressful!