How to Become a Plumber in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for plumbers. Get the facts about salary, training requirements and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Plumbing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Plumber Do?

Plumbers install and repair pipes, fittings and fixtures in both residential and commercial buildings. As a plumber, you'll have an understanding of the procedures necessary to work on plumbing systems and fixtures using the appropriate tools. You'll also need to have an understanding of building codes and how to follow them correctly. Business and customer service skills may be required, especially if you are self-employed.

Find out about the typical skills needed to work as a plumber, and learn about the education and training you'll need to enter this profession in the table.

Training Required Apprenticeship, postsecondary diploma or certificate program
Education Field of Study Plumbing
Key Skills Mechanical, attention to detail, troubleshooting, customer service
Licensure Licensure is required by most states
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 12% (for all plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters)*
Average Salary (2015) $55,100 (for all plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Plumber?

As a plumber, you're a skilled trade worker who installs and repairs plumbing and piping systems in residential and commercial properties. You also install fixtures such as sinks, toilets and showers, or appliances such as dishwashers and water heaters. You may manage gas, drainage and waste disposal systems. The sequence of duties you perform during a new installation includes studying building plans and inspecting building interiors; determining material requirements, pipe locations and alternative routing options to avoid obstructions; measuring, cutting and threading pipe; assembling pipe sections; and attaching valves, fixtures and appliances.

Step 1: Take Relevant High School Courses

A number of technical and vocational high schools offer courses in plumbing and heating that teach you to assemble metal and plastic piping while practicing in a controlled setting. Courses in math, physics, computers and shop are helpful if your school doesn't have plumbing courses. You need a high school diploma or GED for admission to an associate's degree or apprenticeship program.

Step 2: Enter an Apprenticeship

Plumbing apprenticeships typically last 4-5 years and provide you with a comprehensive education. They combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction in local plumbing codes and regulations, blueprint reading, technical math and work site safety. The workday portion guides you through basic training in the types and grades of pipe and other materials, including plumbing tools. You can find apprenticeships through union locals and such organizations as the Associated Builders and Contractors and the National Association of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors.

Step 3: Attend a Trade School or Community College

A wide range of community colleges and vocational schools offer 1-year diploma and certificate programs as well as 2-year associate's degree programs in plumbing. All three types combine classroom instruction with labs, where you can practice cutting, threading and welding pipes. Other possible course topics include fabrication methods, piping system design and water distribution.

Step 4: Obtain a Job

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a majority of plumbers worked for building equipment contractors in 2015. Utilities companies, local government agencies and ship-builders are other potential employers.

In the BLS category for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters, approximately 391,680 people were employed in 2015. By 2024, that number was projected to reach 474,100. Employment of plumbers varies with the strength of the market for new construction, but the need to implement water efficiency systems influence growth as well. As of May 2015, the average salary was $55,100, according to the BLS (www.bls.gov).

Step 5: Get a License

A majority of states require you to have a plumber's license. Licensing standards aren't uniform, but 2-5 years of experience and passage of an exam are typical requirements. If you completed an apprenticeship, you have met the experience requirement. Exams test your knowledge of plumbing and local plumbing codes. Some states have reciprocity agreements that enable you to obtain that state's license if you have another state's license.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are interested in having a similar career to a plumber, you may consider becoming a boilermaker or pipefitter. Professional pipefitters install and maintain pipes used for chemicals, acids and gases in settings such as factories or commercial businesses. Boilermakers assemble, install and maintain boilers, tanks or large vats in settings that include large ships and factories.

Both of these careers typically require an apprenticeship or certification and a license.

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