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Plumber Career Guide

What is a plumber?

A plumber is an essential trade professional who installs, maintains, and repairs plumbing systems in residential, commercial, and industrial settings. They ensure the proper functioning of systems dedicated to potable water, sewage, drainage, and gas. By maintaining the integrity of plumbing systems, these professionals contribute to public health, safety, and overall well-being. They hold a significant role in construction projects, contributing to the design, installation, and rectification of plumbing infrastructure.

Duties and responsibilities

A plumber is responsible for a wide range of tasks associated with plumbing systems. These include interpreting blueprints and building specifications to map layouts for pipes, drainage systems, and other plumbing materials. They install pipes and fixtures for water, gas, steam, air, or other liquids, along with installing supports for pipes, equipment, and fixtures before installation. They also diagnose plumbing problems and work to resolve any issues, performing repairs and preventative maintenance on plumbing systems and fixtures.

Additionally, they are tasked with determining the materials and equipment needed for individual projects or tasks. They collaborate with other construction professionals, contributing to the construction or remodeling of structures, which includes drilling holes in walls and floors to accommodate the passage of pipes.

Work environment

Plumbers work in a variety of settings, depending on the nature of the project. They may work in residential homes, businesses, industrial sites, or outdoor spaces when involved in a public infrastructure project. The work can be physically demanding as it often involves carrying heavy material, working in cramped areas, and dealing with inclement weather conditions. It is a role that requires substantial physical agility and strength since dealing with heavy pipes and fixtures is a common task.

The work environment may also pose some risks, including exposure to harmful materials or severe weather conditions; therefore, following safety protocols is fundamental to prevent accidents. This role often requires cooperation with other trades and construction teams and good teamwork skills.

Typical work hours

Plumbers typically work full-time, but this can often include evenings and weekends, particularly for those who provide emergency repair services. Overtime is common, especially for self-employed professionals or those in residential repair, as issues can occur at any time of the day or week.

They might have a more consistent schedule when working on construction projects, typically during daytime hours. However, deadlines and project complexities can necessitate longer hours. Some plumbers are on-call and must be ready to work at any hour to handle pressing issues that affect a building’s infrastructure.

How to become a plumber

This career guide section outlines how to become a plumber. The pathway involves a blend of education, hands-on training, and certification that helps equip individuals with the necessary skills and knowledge for this profession.

Step 1: Complete high school

Completing high school or an equivalent qualification such as GED is a primary requirement. It provides a strong foundation in science, math, and communication skills, which are essential in plumbing.

Step 2: Obtain vocational training

Vocational training can be achieved through community colleges or trade schools, providing practical insights and theoretical knowledge about the field. Courses cover pipe system design, safety protocols, sanitation standards, and local plumbing codes and regulations.

Step 3: Complete an apprenticeship

Most training occurs during an apprenticeship, typically lasting four to five years. Apprentices combine classroom instruction with paid on-the-job training under the guidance of experienced plumbers. Requirements may vary by state, but generally, an individual needs to be 18 years old and physically fit to handle the demanding work of plumbing.

Step 4: Obtain licensure

Most states require plumbers to be licensed. To attain licensure, an individual must pass an exam that tests knowledge of plumbing work. Some states also ask for proof of a certain number of hours worked in the field before granting the license.

Step 5: Pursue continued learning

Even after becoming licensed, staying in tune with new technologies and regulations is important. Many choose to attend seminars, workshops, or classes to stay up to date. Along with this, growing areas such as renewable energy systems or water reclamation systems offer new avenues for education and specialization.

How much do plumbers make?

Plumber salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. The level of skills, the nature of the plumbing work, such as residential, commercial, or industrial, and the need for emergency services or specialized certifications can also impact their compensation.

Highest paying industries

  • Natural Gas Distribution – $82,680
  • Motor Vehicle Manufacturing – $79,140
  • Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution – $76,230
  • Chemical Manufacturing – $73,670
  • Oil and Gas Extraction – $69,620

Highest paying states

  • Illinois – $86,120
  • Alaska – $79,610
  • Minnesota – $74,220
  • New York – $73,820
  • Massachusetts – $71,800

Browse plumber salary data by market

Types of plumbers

This career guide section highlights the various career types and areas of specialization for plumbers. Below, we highlight the unique attributes and responsibilities of each job title.

Commercial plumber

When engaging with large-scale operations, one may consider a career as a commercial plumber. These professionals typically operate as part of a team and focus on plumbing in commercial situations such as office buildings, shopping centers, and apartment complexes. Their responsibility often extends to installing and servicing extensive pipe networks, commercial water heaters, and large plumbing fixtures.

Residential plumber

An individual focused on closer interaction with homeowners might be drawn to working as a residential plumber. Dealing primarily with private homes, their key duties include installing, maintaining, and repairing various home plumbing fixtures and systems, from sinks and showers to water pipes and drains.

Service and repair plumber

Helping clients with existing problems is the main focus of a service and repair plumber. These professionals are skilled at troubleshooting and rectifying various plumbing issues, such as leaks and blockages. They perform maintenance checks and offer important advice to homeowners regarding the state of the plumbing system.


Pipelayers focus on installing pipes carrying water, drain waste, or transport gas. Principally, they work at construction sites, connecting pipelines and setting up sewer lines. Physical endurance and a good understanding of safety protocols are integral to this job.


A pipefitter works mainly with high-pressure piping systems that carry hazardous materials like chemicals. Their expertise lies in the installation, alteration, and repair of these systems in settings like power plants and industrial factories. Proficiency in reading blueprints and interpreting technical instructions is essential for this role.

Top skills for plumbers

This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as a plumber. These traits and skills encompass various aspects, from technical plumbing knowledge to customer service and physical endurance.

Technical knowledge

Mastering the technical aspects of plumbing is vital, involving understanding the components and mechanisms of various plumbing systems. Plumbers must also be knowledgeable about the installation, inspection, maintenance, and repair of fittings and fixtures. Knowledge of local plumbing codes and the ability to read blueprints is also necessary for this profession.

Problem-solving skills

As they often encounter issues ranging from simple to complex, these professionals need excellent problem-solving skills. They must be able to identify plumbing problems, figure out the best solutions, and apply the right techniques to resolve them quickly and efficiently.

Physical endurance

Plumbing work can be physically demanding. It may require working in cramped spaces, lifting heavy objects, and standing or kneeling for extended periods. They should possess a good level of physical stamina and strength.

Customer service skills

Since plumbers often interact directly with clients, they should have strong customer service skills. This includes clear communication, understanding customer needs, and maintaining a professional and polite demeanor, even under challenging conditions.

Business and administrative skills

For those who own a plumbing business, necessary skills extend to business and administrative tasks. This can include scheduling jobs, managing employees, tracking inventory, and overseeing business finances and taxes.

Plumber career path options

Once comfortably situated in the field of plumbing, many opportunities await. One popular career progression path involves advancement to a master plumber role. This highly esteemed position demands a certain depth of experience, additional exam success, and, frequently, a well-rounded understanding of local plumbing codes and regulations. Master plumbers often oversee significant projects, supervise teams of plumbers, and run their own businesses.

Evolving expectations and continually advancing technologies also suggest a promising future with opportunities for specialization. Certain plumbers may become experts in emerging fields such as water conservation, green plumbing, and sustainable energy technologies. Specific training may be required, but this investment often results in notable career differentiation and potential job security.

For those interested in following a leadership or managerial route, plumbers can aim for roles such as project manager or construction manager. These roles generally involve overseeing complex plumbing projects, supervising teams, cooperating with different stakeholders, and maintaining stringent safety standards. Experience and additional education in project management or similar disciplines can be advantageous in securing such roles.

Plumbing, due to its broad applications, opens doors to teaching positions in trade schools and apprenticeship programs. Experienced plumbers can transition into education, training the next generation, thus giving back to the industry while enjoying a change of pace. Similarly, others might find rewarding careers in the public sector, ensuring adherence to laws and regulations related to plumbing.

Lastly, entrepreneurial professionals may find satisfaction in starting their own business. With enough practical experience and a solid network of contacts, these self-starters can provide services directly to consumers or other businesses, enjoying the freedoms and challenges of business ownership.

The plumbing profession has been influenced by the industrial interest in green technologies. These trends have created opportunities for plumbers proficient in installing and maintaining water-saving and energy-efficient systems, such as low-flow toilets and solar water heaters. Sustainable plumbing is a growing area that is not only beneficial to the environment but also cost-effective for consumers and businesses.

Digital advancements have shaped the field, increasing the use of software for project management and customer relationship management in plumbing businesses. This calls for plumbers to have basic computer literacy. As remote work becomes more popular, plumbers might use video conferencing tools to diagnose problems and advise clients on minor repairs. The rise of smart homes has also led to a demand for professionals skilled in connecting water systems to home automation devices.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for plumbers is projected to grow 2 percent through 2032. The need is linked to the requirement for new building construction and the necessity to maintain and repair existing residential and commercial plumbing systems.

Plumber career tips

Understand building and safety codes

Every plumbing task requires knowledge of building and safety codes. Those familiar with these governing rules can efficiently identify the correct solutions for different situations. Staying updated on these regulations is also key to ensuring all systems pass code inspections and comply with state and local plumbing standards.

Invest in quality equipment

High-quality equipment is worth the investment for plumbers. As professionals who rely on durable and reliable tools, investing in premium gear can make tasks easier and improve job efficiency. It may lower the financial burden in the long run when fewer repairs and replacements are required.

Stay physically fit

Plumbing is a physically demanding job often involving heavy lifting and working in cramped spaces. Maintaining physical fitness can help your body cope with these rigorous demands and decrease the risk of on-the-job injury.

Build a professional network

Networking is an essential component of success in the plumbing industry. It can lead to job opportunities and potential partnerships. Join industry-specific associations or online communities to connect with others in the field.

  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC)
  • United Association (UA)
  • American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE)

Continuous learning

The plumbing industry is constantly evolving with new tools, technologies, and practices. Continuous learning ensures that you stay up-to-date with these advancements and can provide the most effective service to your customers.

  • Attending plumbing seminars and workshops
  • Reading industry magazines like Plumbing & Mechanical, Contractor, and Plumber Magazine
  • Familiarizing yourself with new plumbing tools and technologies
  • Completing additional certifications like the Certified Plumbing Design Technician (CPDT) certification or the Certified in Plumbing Design (CPD) certification

Where the plumber jobs are

Top employers

  • Roto-Rooter
  • Benjamin Franklin Plumbing
  • American Residential Services
  • Delta Mechanical
  • Comfort Systems USA

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Pennsylvania

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • Monster
  • LinkedIn
  • CareerBuilder


What are the daily tasks of a plumber?

A plumber’s day-to-day responsibilities can vary based on the type of project they work on. Typical tasks might include diagnosing plumbing problems, installing pipes and fixtures, repairing leaks, and conducting maintenance on plumbing systems. They also provide cost estimates to clients and interpret blueprints and building codes.

What skills should a person have to succeed as a plumber?

Successful plumbers tend to exhibit strong problem-solving skills to diagnose issues and determine the best course of action. They are also physically fit as they handle heavy tools and equipment and often work in tight spaces. Other essential skills are a deep understanding of mechanical systems, thorough knowledge of plumbing codes and regulations, and excellent customer service abilities.

What makes a good plumber, and how does this differentiate from an average one?

A good plumber stands out through exceptional technical knowledge, commitment to safety, and outstanding service. They are distinguished by their consistent dedication to upskilling – staying updated with the latest tools, techniques, and industry regulations. Adherence to safety protocols, meticulous attention to detail, and providing high-quality customer service also sets them apart from mediocre practitioners.

What level of physical fitness is necessary to be a plumber?

Plumbing requires a moderate level of physical fitness. It often involves carrying heavy tools and equipment, spending time in awkward postures, and maneuvering in tight spaces. Their responsibilities may include climbing ladders or working outdoors in various weather conditions. Therefore, basic physical strength, stamina, and flexibility are necessary.

Is there any required certification or license to work as a plumber?

In most states, plumbers are required to have a license to work independently. These licenses typically involve passing a written test and demonstrating sufficient practical plumbing experience, usually achieved through an apprenticeship. Some states also require continuing education to maintain licensure, ensuring they remain updated with changes to building codes and advancements in their field.

Do plumbers need insurance?

Yes, plumbers typically need insurance to cover potential risks, such as property damage or injuries incurred at work. The type and amount of insurance required may depend on the nature of the plumbing work, whether they have employees, and the state in which they operate.

What type of plumbers are there?

There are several types of plumbers, primarily categorized by the nature of their work. Some examples include residential plumbers who work on home plumbing issues, commercial plumbers who specialize in larger scale systems found in businesses, service plumbers who focus on repairs and maintenance, and pipefitters and steamfitters who handle more specialized pipe system installations and repairs.

What are the most common plumbing issues a plumber handles?

A plumber often handles clogged drains, leaky faucets, broken pipes, toilet issues, low water pressure, water heater problems, installation of new fixtures, and sewer line blockages. Note that the frequency of these issues can largely depend on the nature of their specialization and work environment.

What is the work environment like for a plumber?

The work environment of a plumber can be highly variable, depending on the job at hand. They could be working inside homes, businesses, or construction sites. Conditions can sometimes be cramped, damp, and dirty. They often work on-call, meaning they could be working evenings or weekends and might need to respond to emergencies at short notice.