Job Duties

Plumbers work with water, gas, and waste systems that include pipes, fittings, and fixtures. They assemble, install, and repair these systems within the codes and specifications of the plumbing occupation. They may install sinks, tubs, and other products and connect them to local water and sewage systems. In addition to the installation work, plumbers service and repair these products. Plumbers with experience, particularly those at the journey level, may give written estimates to customers. Plumbers who work in new construction use blueprints to ensure the plumbing lines are installed in the correct positions. After determining which size pipes to use, they lay it out and cut it to the correct lengths. They then connect and fit the pipes together with valves. Pipes are usually made from copper, glass, lead, plastic, ceramic, cast iron, or steel.

After connecting the pipes together, plumbers connect the pipe system to a water supply and sewage system and test the setup to make sure everything is in working order and free of leaks. Then they must wait until the floors and walls are finished, at which time they return to install sinks, bathtubs, showers, and other fixtures. They also test these new fixtures to ensure they are leak-free. Plumbers who do maintenance work on existing plumbing systems are responsible for locating the source of the problem or leak and then correcting it. They may open clogged drains and pipes, thaw frozen pipes, replace parts, or extend pipe systems.

Job Skills

Plumbers must be in excellent physical condition. They need to have a mechanical aptitude and good manual dexterity. They need to be able to think logically and solve problems effectively. They must be good at working independently, and they must have good customer service skills.


Earnings for plumbers vary greatly depending on the size of the company they work for, their location, and whether they belong to a union. Those with little experience and no union membership may earn between minimum wage and $17 per hour. Non-union apprentices earn between minimum wage and $37 per hour. Those with experience and no union membership earn between $9 and $38 per hour. Journey-level union employees earn between $30 and $39 per hour. Most plumbers work between 35 and 40 hour per week. When they work overtime, they usually make double their normal wages.

Training and Education

Most plumbers are trained through formal apprenticeship programs that last between 4 and 5 years. These apprenticeship programs include classroom training and full-time on-the-job training. Classroom courses include drafting, blueprint reading, mathematics, and local plumbing codes and regulations. After they complete the program, apprentices take a test from the union and licensing test from a State agency. In order to be admitted to an apprenticeship program, applicants must have a high school diploma and pass certain aptitude tests. Licensing requirements vary from community to community. Journey-level plumbers can advance to supervisor or superintendent. Others may open their own plumbing businesses. Visit this page about trade schools for more information on related careers.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, employment of plumbers is expected to increase about as fast as the average. This will be due to overall growth in the economy as well as population growth and an increase in the rate of new construction projects.