In 2019, the plumbing industry in the United States reached an estimated revenue of $112.7 billion. During that year, there were 120,749 active plumbing businesses. In total, the US plumbing sector employed more than half a million people.
Moreover, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the industry will see a growth of 14% up until 2028. That’s almost three times faster than the national job growth rate average of 5.2%.
Plumbing jobs, after all, are services that the White House itself identified as “essential”.
So, if you’ve been looking for a career that will make you a “critical worker”, you may want to look into becoming a plumber.
The question now is, what exactly does it entail to become a plumber? What will your roles be and what can you expect when you dive into a plumbing career?
We’ll have these questions (and more!) answered below, so be sure to keep your eyes glued to this page!
What Exactly Do Plumbers Do?
Fatbergs, which are gross congealed fats, oils, grease, and trash, cost the US millions each year. For instance, New York City has already shelled out over $18 million to clean up fatberg clogs. Fort Wayne, IN also spent half a million dollars to get grease out of its sewers.
Consumers themselves contribute to these appalling mass of congealed mess.
In fact, according to the EPA, up to 65% of sewer backups and spills are due to FOG — fats, oil, and grease. Many consumers contribute to this, pouring and flushing “non-flushables” down sinks and toilets. As a result, homes get flooded with not only dirty, used water, but also raw sewage.
In all these cases, governments and consumers turn to none other than plumbers.
Clearing clogs out of plumbing pipes are only a small sliver of the duties of plumbers though. In fact, their presence is necessary before the start of any construction. Their plumbing maintenance services are also crucial in the upkeep of built structures.
Roles in Building Construction
In the US, the construction sector erects almost $1.3 trillion worth of structures every year. As you can guess, many of these are buildings that require some sort of plumbing. The role of plumbers, in this case, is to plan the blueprints for all the fixtures and pipes.
Of course, plumbers also carry out the installation itself of these plumbing essentials. They layout the pipe network and connect these to fixtures. They also install the water supply lines and the main drains to the municipal sewage system.
Contributions In Building Maintenance
Aside from unclogging drains, consumers also hire plumbers to fix water-related issues. For starters, they’re the go-to when there’s no hot water or if a hot water heater tank fails. They’re also the ones who fix water leaks, which waste an average of 10,000 gallons of water each year, per home.
Plumbers also help resolve water hardness issues, which affects about nine in 10 homes in the US. Hard water doesn’t have major health effects, but it can cause limescale formation.
Limescale is the hardened accumulation of dissolved minerals. Not only does it reduce heating efficiency — researchers also say that it can corrode pipes.
That said, plumbers can remove these mineral build-ups using equipment like water jetters. They can even determine where exactly the limescale is using plumbing cameras! Moreover, they can detect leaks through the use of thermal camera technology.
Critical Parts in Preventing Building Damage
Aging infrastructures are prone to sewer backups — in fact, such issues are growing at a 3% rate each year. While backups can occur even in new homes, the most at risk are those who live in older homes. The thing is, of all occupied homes in the US, more than half fit the bill, as they’ve been around before 1980.
Plumbers come to the rescue when plumbing back-ups occur. However, they can prevent these from happening by providing regular drain cleaning services. They also help avert back-ups by installing backwater prevention valves.
The Value Added Benefits Plumbers Provide: Keeping Away Health Problems
10% of Americans have mold-related allergies. Half of these people can then develop ailments caused by their allergies.
The thing is, studies have found that nearly half of the nation’s homes have dampness or mold issues! Water leaks, combined with a humidity level of 70% or more, is a common culprit behind indoor mold growth.
Since plumbers can detect these leaks and fix them right away, molds would have little chance to grow. Moreover, their preventative services reduce the risks of pathogen exposure in wastewater. Since they can put a stop to sewage backups and leaks, they also help ward off pests.
So, in a way, plumbers also help prevent diseases that leaks, wastewater, and pest exposure can lead to.
If you want to become a plumber, you need to get a plumbing license. Plumbing regulations vary by state, but you typically need a high school diploma and specialized training before you can start working as a licensed plumber.
Getting your plumbing license will take a bit of time, but it can be well worth the effort. Select your state from the list below to learn how to become a plumber in your state:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Washington DC
- West Virginia
Breaking Down The Types of Plumbers
Now that you know just how crucial plumbing work is, let’s talk about the main types of plumbers. Many plumbers specialize in one area, but some specialize in two or more categories.
Residential plumbers work in residential settings, such as homes and apartments. They install, maintain, and repair residential plumbing systems.
Then there comes the industry-specific skills that you’ll learn such as how to install pipes, how to properly measure pipe fitting, and how to test piping systems. You’ll also learn how to safely replace worn-out parts and specify which material is needed for the job.
Any experienced residential plumber will tell you that there are occasionally situations they haven’t come across in their career. In those situations, it’s important to remain calm and use your plumbing knowledge to find the root of the problem.
What is a Residential Plumber?
Their work involves installing pipes, setting up hot water systems, and cleaning drains. They also fix problems with residential septic or sewer systems. They also install, service, and repair water fixtures and water-using appliances.
Residential plumbers are those that are called in to inspect and repair issues within a residential home. Some common issues include a clogged sink, toilet dilemmas, and broken piping.
They’re also used to fix dilemmas in the septic and sewer systems of a home, as well as install different water fixtures that the client might request.
How to Become a Residential Plumber
First things first, you’ll need to have graduated with a high school diploma or something of equivalent education.
Next, in order to learn the proper skills for the job, you’ll need to apply to attend a technical or plumbing school. There you’ll learn things such as welding, pipefitting, and begin learning about local codes.
The technical school classes should only take no more than a year to complete, then you’ll move on to an apprenticeship with a local expert. The apprenticeship takes 4 or 5 years to complete and requires up to 2,000 hours of training each year.
Luckily, that training is required to be paid, so you’ll be making a fair living while you build your career as a residential plumber!
Click here to browse residential plumbing jobs.
Commercial plumbers specialize in handling plumbing work for commercial structures. These include stores, office buildings, multi-family dwellings, hotels, and restaurants among others. As they work in larger structures, their work is also often more complex.
What is a Commercial Plumber?
As for the type of tasks they do, commercial plumbers handle common plumbing issues on a larger scale than their residential counterparts. This includes installing pipes, repairing leaks, and maintaining plumbing appliances.
How to Become a Commercial Plumber
Commercial plumbers are more educated when it comes to larger plumbing networks and pipes. For instance, they undertake training for swimming pools, sprinkler systems, and multi-zoned water and heating appliances.
This extensiveness in jobs is why many states differentiate them from residential plumbers. An example is Arizona, which grants separate licenses for residential and commercial contractors. The state further differentiates commercial contractors by “general contractors” and “small general contractors”.
Click here to browse commercial plumbing jobs.
Next up, we have the industrial plumbers who deal with humongous pipes. These pipes are those found in industrial buildings, such as factories and plants.
Some industrial plumbers also need diving licenses, as they may work underwater.
Cross-Categorical or General Plumbers
These plumbers have had training for residential, commercial, and industrial plumbing work. As such, they can do most of what these other plumbers.
However, some still choose to concentrate on a specific area. For instance, they may work 75% of the time with residential consumers. They may then work on 15% commercial jobs and 10% industrial.
The Career Path of a Plumber
As with most other sectors that have specializations, plumbers also follow a “hierarchy”. The very first step to becoming a plumber is to either become a plumbing student or an apprentice. Reigning among them — and most other plumbers — are the master plumbers.
The Apprentice or Plumbing Student
Before one becomes a master plumber, one must become an apprentice or a student first. Some get their apprenticeship under a union plumber, while others attend school. Many colleges offer certificate or associate programs in plumbing.
Either way, this first step involves training to read and draft plumbing blueprints. Apprentices and students learn building codes, workplace safety, and yes, math and science! Some of the concentrations include geometry, chemistry, and physics.
Aside from in-class learning, they also have hands-on training. They learn the various types of pipes, plumbing tools and materials, and equipment. They also learn the core and the basics of plumbing installation, upkeep, and repairs.
After completing the apprenticeship or program, “graduates” can start to assist a journeyman. Through these plumbing apprentice jobs, they gain experience in actual work settings.
Click here to browse plumbing apprentice jobs.
The Entry-Level Plumber
As state licensure laws vary, some start off their career as entry-level plumbers. They work under the supervision of a licensed journeyman or master plumber.
This is often the case for those who wish or need to gain more experience before taking the journeyman exam. Many entry-level plumbers also serve directly as a journeyman’s assistant.
The Journeyman Plumber
After years of supervised work, plumbers may take their journeyman licensure exam and work towards becoming a journeyman plumber. In states that require a journeyman plumber license, you need to pass the licensure exam. The eligibility for the exam — and licensure — depends again on the state.
In Maine, for instance, you must have at least two years of 4,000-hour work experience as a licensed trainee. You must have also worked under a licensed master plumber. You may also take the state exam if you’ve completed 2,000 hours of plumbing installation work.
In Maryland, on the other hand, you need at least 7,500 hours of work under a licensed master plumber. You also need to have at least 32 hours of training in testing backflow prevention devices.
The Master Plumber
Finally, we have the master plumbers, who in most cases, are the role model of every plumber. Most plumbers, including journeymen, dream of reaching this top-level position.
Master plumbers, after all, are the supervisors of journeymen, entry-level plumbers, and apprentices. Journeymen can only become a master plumber when they work under master plumbers.
Most master plumbers are also the boss of their own, as they have their own plumbing business. They employ many journeyman plumbers and entry-level plumbers.
As with journeyman plumbing licensure, master plumbers must also sit for a state exam. Master plumbers who want to run a contractor business also need proof of insurance.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Plumber?
In general, it takes about 10 years to become a licensed master plumber in any state. There is no minimum training requirement to work as a plumber, meaning you can start a plumber helper or entry level apprentice job with no experience.
That being said, each state has different training and experience requirements. It takes about two years to complete plumbing school, or 3 – 5 years to complete a plumbing apprenticeship and become a journeyman plumber.
At this point, you can become a master plumber after about two more years of journeyman experience along with proven expertise in blueprinting, management, and higher-level plumbing tasks.
How Much Does it Cost to Become a Plumber?
Over the course of a plumber’s career, it costs around $5,000 to become a plumber. These costs include plumber training and schooling, equipment, and licensing.
How Much Plumbers Make On Average
In May 2022, plumbers, along with pipefitters and steamfitters, had a mean yearly wage of $55,160. The highest 10% earners, most of whom are master plumbers, made over $97,170 a year. Entry-level plumbers earned less, but their pay gets better with more experience. For more info, check out our plumber salary guide.
The Best Ways To Find and Secure Plumbing Jobs
The first step is to complete the educational requirements. You don’t have to complete a four-year degree to get plumbing jobs, but you do need a high school diploma.
After high school, you can then choose to get your training directly under a licensed plumber. Or, you can enroll in a state-certified vocational or certificate program.
After your studies, here are some of the things you should do to help jumpstart your career.
Find a Mentor Who You Can Really Look Up To
The journeyman or master plumber you’ll apprentice for should also be your role model. They should be more than a “classroom” teacher — they should also instill the pride of being a plumber in you. Aside from the basics, they should also teach you ethical plumbing practices.
Build a Network Early On
Your mentor can help you kickstart your career by introducing you to their contacts. For instance, they can have you work from time to time under another plumber who works in another field. Of course, make sure that you do stellar work under whoever you’re apprenticing for.
Continue Your Education
All self-respecting plumbers further their education through seminars and trades events. Even if you’re still apprenticing, you should attend as many of these as you can fit into your schedule. These will all help you stay up-to-date on the latest innovations in plumbing.
More than that, you can list all these seminars and events you’ve attended on your resume.
Get Yourself Listed on Plumbing Directories
Once you’ve obtained your license, you can then list your services both offline and online. Online plumbing directories are a great way to get your name — and your expertise — out. Don’t forget to have your online platforms ready too, such as a website and social media.
Subscribe To Online Classified Ads
Another great way to find plumbing jobs near you is to join a mailing list. These are much like classified ads, except that they’re digital platforms.
Keep in mind that 90% of Americans now use the Internet. Take advantage of this so that you can reach out to more consumers in need of a reliable plumber.
Take The First Step To a Fulfilling Plumbing Career Now
There you have it, the ultimate guide to plumbing jobs and the steps involved to become a plumber. While it does take time to reach the master plumber status, you should still aim for this top position. The more plumbing work and experience you gain, the closer you will be to reaching this goal.
Interested in learning more about apprenticeships? Then please feel free to check out our extensive list of plumbing job listings!