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What is a Plumber?

A Plumber is a trade professional focused on the assessment, analysis, and installation of systems that carry fluid for various residential and commercial applications.  A Plumber can use a combination of pipes, fittings, valves, fixtures, appurtenances, and tanks to properly convey fluids within Plumbing Technology.  The most common types of systems within Plumbing Technology are:

  • Heating Units
  • Cooling Units
  • Potable Water
  • Waste Removal
  • Irrigation
  • Venting
  • Hydronic

A Plumber can work for a general contractor, corporation, municipality, or be an independent contractor with specialized skills or a general set of plumbing knowledge.   The Plumbing Technology and Plumber degree track prepares students to prudently manage, inspect, and supervise a wide range of projects from small construction projects, high rise buildings, and a variety of associated projects to adhere to applicable codes and regulations.

What Does a Plumber Do?

A plumbing professional helps gas and liquids properly flow through piping.  From drinking water to sanitation, piping is required to keep our modern life moving in a predictable, safe manner.

Plumbers are charged to comply with all local and federal regulations while properly installing pipes and fittings to move gas and/or liquids from one point to another in an airtight and watertight manner.  The tools of the trade include a variety of wrenches, saws, torches, welding torches, fittings, and connectors.

Trade professionals understand the variants in materials from sector to sector.  In other words, the piping for residential jobs will likely differ from an industrial or commercial application.  For example, a residential home will call for water pipes that are comprised of plastic, PEX, copper, and/or steel.  Industrial power plants, on the other hand, utilize a series of large steel piping to move water and steam.

Plumbing professionals are hired as independent contractors or part of a larger organization.  Jobs will vary in size and scope depending on the situation.  Generally, a plumber is hired to perform the following types of tasks: installation of new systems, repair and maintenance of existing systems, construction management, modifying current piping systems, and removing existing piping systems.  Considerations of each type of job include staying within budget, conforming to local and national building codes, passing inspection, adhering to design specifications, ensuring the system works within the existing building configuration.

Why Become a Plumber?

Students seeking a career in the plumbing field enter this industry for a number of reasons.  Primary reasons range from job stability, above average income, satisfying work, and diversity of work to name a few.  In a recent survey, professionals provided a list of top reasons they entered the trade.

  1. Job Stability: Of those surveyed, the top reason for choosing a career in the plumbing field was job stability.  Regardless of the broad economy, this trade has proven to be nearly impervious to market undulations.
  2. Career Opportunities:  In this trade, there are ample opportunities for growth and upward mobility.  Moving from apprenticeship programs to master plumber takes hard-work, dedication, and industry knowledge.  This level of expertise can be translated into substantial career moves affecting title, position, and income.
  3. Respect: The next most common reason students select this trade is the respect they earn from others.  A respected member of a team and within a community provides a sense of self and confidence that is worth its weight in gold.
  4. Affordability:  Earning an online degree in plumbing or a similar certificate from an accredited college takes less time than a 4-year business degree.  Graduating with minimal debt in an above average paying field helps students move ahead financially with smaller student loan bills.
  5. Satisfaction: The inherent satisfaction of taking on a job and seeing it through to completion is a key component of any trade.  Seeing hard work take shape and help others can provide immense satisfaction job after job.
  6. Problem Solving: Being a trained problem solver is a key aspect of any trades person.  Designing solutions to overcome repair and maintenance problems for large commercial projects or small home improvement jobs creates a self-reinforcing cycle for plumbers of all ages.

Top Plumbing Degrees

Degrees and certificate programs in the plumbing trade are plentiful.  While some trade professionals prefer on-the-job experience plus a high school diploma or GED, a formal education  can rapidly accelerate knowledge acquisition and provide for a more versatile career.  High school students across the country may consider certificate and degree programs in the industry.

To help you determine which formal path makes the most sense for you, we have compiled a summary of the most popular types of programs.  Learning more about specific degree programs and accredited colleges is as simple as connecting with schools below.

Online Plumbing Certificate Programs

Online schools offer certificate programs in the plumbing trade via a series of focused, clustered courses to transfer specific knowledge and skills to students.  Plumber courses at the certificate level can be earned as quick as six months up to two-years depending on course load and the requirements of the college.

Some certification programs provide a broad overview of the trade while others teach a set of specific skills.  For example, a trade school may design a certificate program for plumbers that intend to work within a commercial construction business while other programs may be created for those focused on residential work.  In either case, a certificate from an accredited college or university can be a viable path towards a career in the field.

Online Plumbing Associate Degrees

An associates degree offered by plumbing schools are conferred as either an Associate of Science (AS) or Associate of Arts (AA).  How a degree is conferred by a college is dependent upon the contents of the coursework and overall emphasis of the degree.  Students should expect the program to last about 2-years based on full-time study.

You also should anticipate taking a number of general education classes in addition to the required core classes to help build a set of holistic thinking skills.  General education classes may include communications, English composition, philosophy, sociology, economics, and psychology.

Distance learning or online plumbing courses at the associates degree level provide essential tools for the trade.  Classes you may take include technical plumbing program courses that including the following examples:

  • Introduction to Plumbing Fixtures & Technology
  • Basic Plumbing and Heating Principles
  • Fixtures and Appliances
  • Blueprints, Drawings, and Specs
  • Mathematics and Statistics
  • Special Purposes Installation
  • License Law & Regulations
  • Calculations and Procedures
  • Fixtures and Installation
  • Construction Management & Building Inspection
  • Basic Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)
  • Job Estimating
  • Advanced Layout Procedures
  • Plumbing Code

Skills & Abilities Required of Plumbers

  1. Oral Comprehension - The ability to keenly articulate training concepts and design solutions of a project or program.
  2. Speech Recognition - Understand others regardless of accent or speaking inflection on the job site.
  3. Written Comprehension - Ability to read written words, search training documents, and blueprints related to a specific project.
  4. Speaking - Talking clearly and carefully explaining ideas or concepts related to a project or job from start to finish.
  5. Instructing - Directing others on the job-site to help manage work and complete projects on-time and on budget.
  6. Reading Comprehension - Read and understand training manuals, safety concerns, and instructions to efficiently solve work-based queries.
  7. Active Listening - Actively engage with others by asking pointed questions and providing positive non-verbal cues.
  8. Writing - Clearly write numbers and words to record information and document project data.
  9. Speech Clarity - Speak clearly and concisely to convey solutions to job tasks to individuals or working groups of stakeholders.
  10. Oral Expression - Understand overt and covert communication cues through high level, meaningful dialogue.

Employment in Plumbing

Earning a plumbing certification or an Associate's degree in plumbing can set students up for long-term employment.  Students can attend a vocational school or career college that provides exceptional plumbing training with or without a direct hire engagement.  Direct hires are arrangements that employ qualified students directly from school with little to no downtime after graduation.

Students seeking to expand their vocational opportunities in the trade may consider a continuing education programs or jobs in similar trades.  Examples of trades of interest may include any number of the following career tracks: steamfitter, general contractor, pipe fitter, boilermaker, cost estimator, mechanical engineer, specialty contractor, budget analyst, electrician, construction manager, or project manager.

Plumber Careers & Job Outlook

The next decade looks bright for plumbing professionals.  Estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate a growth rate in this industry of 16%.  Compared to the national average of 7%, this trade represents a growth rate in excess of double the national average over the coming decade.  Put another way, the industry is poised to add over 75,000 new plumbing jobs during this time period.  This growth represents ample career opportunities for trained professionals in the plumbing trade.

Similarly, trades in adjacent areas of construction are also projected to be well above the national average.  Specifically, the employment growth of building inspectors is forecast to jump 12% and a 14% increase for electricians.  Coupling an industry growing at a rapid rate and above average income can result in a long-term plumbing career.  In addition, growth is often associated with upward mobility opportunities as plumbing companies expand their operations to take on new work.

How Much to Plumbers Get Paid?

Plumbing professional typically receive a level of income that is well above average.  Career information gathered from the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the average plumbing professional earns nearly $52,000 per year on average.

This average wage represents approximately 38% more than the median annual salary for all jobs across our nation’s economy.  However, it is important to recognize regional differences across the country.

Deeper data reveals that the top 10% of plumbing professionals receive an annual income of $90,530 on average while the bottom ten percent earn just over thirty-thousand dollars annually in pay.

States Employing the Most Plumbing Professionals

  • California   43,040
  • Texas           40,530
  • New York    28,320
  • Florida         23,060
  • Illinois         15,860

Top Paying States for Plumbers

  • New York                          $76,750
  • Illinois                               $75,530
  • Oregon                               $73,960
  • District of Columbia       $71,120
  • Alaska                                $71,030

Job Duties of a Plumber

Exact job responsibilities of a plumber will vary from job to job.  However, a set of general expectations are summarized below to help you understand what to expect as a professional in the trade.

  • Assembling tubes, pipes, and fittings with coupling, solvent, cement, soldering, and welding tools
  • Installing valves, fittings, pipes, and pipe assemblies for small appliances such as hot water heaters or dishwashers toilets, and sinks
  • Keep records of work assignments
  • Ensuring piping and fixtures are in good working order using gauges, visual inspection, and flowing water trough piping to test flow
  • Inspecting, measuring, cutting, threading, bending pipes by hand or with a machine to create proper size and shape for job
  • Analyzing codes, specs, and blueprints to create an estimate of costs, material, sequence, labor, and time involved in a project
  • Installing green plumbing equipment like dual-flush systems, tankless hot water tanks, faucet flow restrictors, and pressure-assisted flush toilets
  • Creating openings in walls or structures to make necessary room for piping and pipe assemblies using power tools or hand tools
  • Installing an array of alternative water sources like graywater reuse water systems or rainwater harvesting systems based on customer request and local building requirements
  • Researching water saving and energy efficient systems to benefit the owner’s use and sustainable practices

Top Resources for Plumbing Students

  1. American Society of Plumbing Engineering (ASPE)
  2. United Association (UA)
  3. Water Quality Association (WQA)
  4. Association of Independent Manufacturers/Representatives (AIM/R)
  5. Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC)
  6. American Water Works Association (AWWA)
  7. International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials (IAPMO)
  8. National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA)
  9. American Backflow Prevention Association (ABPA)
  10. American Supply Association (ASA)
  11. Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI)

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