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Career Information: Plumbing / Pipefitting

Specialty Plumbing / Pipefitting

Official Resource Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors–National Association --

Short Definition
Plumbers and pipefitters install and repair pipe systems that carry water, steam, air, or other fluids or gases.

Expanded Information
Plumbers and pipefitters install and repair pipe systems that carry water, steam, air, or other fluids or gases.

Plumbers and pipefitters are considered a single trade. However, workers usually specialize in one area. Plumbers install and repair water, waste, and gas systems in homes and commercial buildings. Pipefitters install and repair pipe systems used in manufacturing. They also work on pipe systems that generate electricity and heat and cool buildings. Some pipefitters specialize in one type of system. Steamfitters install pipe systems that move liquids or gases under high pressure.

Though the systems they work on are different, all three types of plumbers have many tasks in common. First, they study blueprints and inspect buildings to determine what materials to use. They select pipe sizes and types according to requirements. They also select other materials, such as supports or hangers. Next, plumbers lay out the job. This means they try to fit piping into the building with the least amount of waste. They measure and mark areas where pipes will be installed. They also check for things that are in the way, such as electrical wiring. They must be sure to plan the layout around such obstructions. Then, plumbers cut holes in walls, ceilings, or floors where the pipes will go. For large pipe systems, such as those in manufacturing, they may hang steel supports from ceiling joists.

The next step is to cut and bend the lengths of pipe, using saws, pipe cutters, and pipe-bending machines. Plumbers then assemble the pipe system, using different methods. For plastic pipe, they use glues to join pipe with fittings. For copper pipe, they slide fittings over the end of the pipe and solder the fitting in place with a torch. Finally, plumbers install the pipe, fixtures, and appliances. They connect the system to water, gas, or sewer lines. They also check the system with pressure gauges to be sure it is free from leaks and operates properly.

Plumbers also repair and maintain plumbing. They replace defective fittings and broken pipes. They open clogged drains. They also modify existing pipe systems and maintain related equipment. Sometimes plumbers operate pump equipment to remove water from flooded areas, such as basements or manholes. For large jobs, plumbers may direct other workers in cutting, assembling, and installing pipe systems.

Work Activities
The following list of occupational tasks is specific to this career.

  • Study blueprints and inspect structures to determine materials and layout.
  • Select pipe sizes and types and related materials, such as supports, according to needs.
  • Lay out job to fit piping into structure of building with least amount of waste.
  • Measure and mark areas where pipes will be installed. Check for obstructions and plan layout around them.
  • Cut holes in walls, ceilings, and floors, or hang steel supports from ceiling joists.
  • Cut and bend lengths of pipe. Use saws, pipe cutters, and pipe-bending machines.
  • Connect pipe with fittings, using glues (plastic pipe) or soldering torch (copper pipe).
  • Install assembled pipe, fixtures, and appliances.
  • Connect system to water or sewer lines.
  • Check system to ensure proper fit and operation, using gauges.
  • Repair and maintain plumbing. Replace defective fittings and broken pipes or open clogged drains. May also modify pipe systems and maintain related equipment.
  • Operate motorized pump to remove water from flooded areas.
  • Direct other workers in pipe cutting, pre-assembly, and installation.

People in this career perform the following list of tasks, but the tasks are common to many occupations.

  • Handle and move objects.
  • Perform activities that use the whole body.
  • Get information needed to do the job.
  • Inspect equipment, structures, or materials.
  • Repair and maintain mechanical equipment.
  • Identify objects, actions, and events.
  • Monitor events, materials, and surroundings.
  • Organize, plan, and prioritize work.
  • Evaluate information against standards.