Plumbers are skilled tradespersons who install, maintain, and repair a number of pipe systems for residential, commercial, and industrial clients. They primarily install and repair water and gas pipes, drainage systems, waste disposal systems and often heating and air systems within small and large scale jobs.
Plumbers also create the piping systems which move water from municipal water reserves and treatment plants to residential, commercial, or public buildings. They install or replace fixtures and appliances, like bathtubs, showers, sinks, toilets, dishwashers, garbage disposals, and water heaters.
Plumbers must follow blueprints, instructions from supervisors, and all building code regulations to safely and efficiently lay out and utilize materials to complete a project. They are increasingly involved in the design layout processes of new construction or remodeling projects and must be informed of means of meeting codes while maximizing efficiency and operations of plumbing systems.
Plumbers use a variety of saws, pipe cutters, and pipe bending equipment to assemble and connect pipe systems. Plumbers also erect steel supports to fasten pipes in place. Plumbers use a variety of methods to secure, weld, glue, or attach different types of piping, like copper or plastic, to ensure maximum operation of the water, steam, or gas systems.
Plumbers are required to possess physical stamina and frequently work in remote, cramped, or outdoor locations. Many plumbers are on call, working more than 40 hours per week to be able to assist with night or weekend emergencies. Plumbers are highly skilled and possess a high mechanical aptitude, strong math skills, manual dexterity, and great critical thinking/problem solving skills in order to be successful. Most plumbers gain the skills and knowledge necessary to establish their careers through professional training programs, apprenticeships, or by completion of a college degree. High school students within an interest in becoming a plumber may prepare by completing courses like: mathematics, computers, physics, physical education, English, business communications, shop, drafting, and blueprint reading. Students may also work as an assistant to an experienced plumber to gain hands on training and experience. Some high schools provide instruction in plumbing through vocational school programs.
Most formal training programs require students to possess a minimum of a high school diploma or G.E.D. in order to qualify for studies. Many individuals participate in a two to six year apprenticeship program to gain the skills and education necessary to establish a career as a plumber. Apprenticeship programs provide students with comprehensive training and the ability to gain the technical skills through coursework and apply skills within hands on experiences. Individuals within apprenticeship programs work closely under the supervision of more experienced plumbers and feature courses in technical and basic industrial skills, mathematics, measurement, pipefitting, mechanics, chemistry, electricity, ventilation, safety, material selection and handling, tools and applications, drilling tools, welding tools, grinding tools, power and hand tools, tool care and safety, print reading, dimensioning, sketching, codes and regulations, and design. Individuals who complete an apprenticeship often qualify as journeyperson and advance to employment or two year programs.
Trade or vocational schools and community colleges often provide 2 year formal training programs to individuals seeking the education and skills necessary to advance to careers as plumbers. Courses within 2 year programs include: introduction to refrigeration, print reading and interpretation, HVAC Automated Design, mechanical systems, career mathematics, technical Algebra and trigonometry, college Algebra and trigonometry, communications, English composition, building materials application, HVAC/electricity, mechanical systems, mechanical systems lab practices, acetylene and electric welding, water supply and drainage systems, piping, venting, fittings, and valves. Most technical school programs provide graduates with the certifications necessary to advance to employment or continue studies within related degree fields.
Plumbers are required to complete and maintain certification offered through national organizations and unions. The Mechanical Contractors Association of America and the National Association of Plumbing, Heating, and Cooling Contractors offer continuing education and certification processes necessary to meet state or employment regulations. There is no standard of education or uniform licensing requirements though many employers and states require plumbers to complete the combination of formal training, gain 2 to 5 years of professional work experience, and demonstrate their knowledge and abilities thorough examinations. Many plumbers work independently within self owned and operated businesses or within plumbing contracting businesses. Many plumbers upon gaining experience may advance to related fields like construction management or building inspection.