Plumber  What They Do

Just the Facts

Plumbers Career Video

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dotHave you ever considered what might happen if our homes and workplaces didn't have plumbing? No running water, no flushing toilets. It wouldn't only be inconvenient. We would all be in danger due to the spread of disease.

"Without plumbers we would have a collapsed society because we wouldn't have any clean drinking water and we could go back to the Dark Ages," says plumbing apprentice Michael Bouchat.

dotPlumbers repair and install pipe systems for water distribution and waste disposal in homes and other buildings. They also install plumbing fixtures, appliances and heating and refrigeration units.

Usually plumbers specialize in one of three areas: residential, commercial or industrial.

dotPlumbers work in every kind of building imaginable -- from residential homes to sports stadiums. "Plumbers don't just put pipe together," says Karen Freidenberger. She's been a plumber for NBC Studios in California for more than 20 years. She's also a plumbing instructor.

"There's hydraulics (the mechanics of how water moves) that's involved," says Freidenberger. "I always tell my class, 'Now, there are 'pipe putter togetherers,' and then there's plumbers. And the plumber knows how to do things the right way, hydraulically the correct way, code-wise the safest way. We protect the health of the nation.'"

dot Plumbers need strength and mobility to lift heavy equipment and to get into tight spaces. Their work can be dangerous -- they can fall from heights or get hurt by machinery on construction sites.

The work is active and strenuous, so you'd better be in pretty good shape. And all that physical work will take a toll on your hands.

"It's very, very hard on your hands," says Freidenberger. "If you want to have pretty hands, forget it."

Plumbers and pipefitters in construction work a 40-hour week. Those who do maintenance may have to work evenings or weekends.

dotNew construction and renovation of existing buildings will fuel much of the demand for plumbers, says the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Water conservation efforts are also keeping plumbers busy, especially in dryer regions. Plumbers are needed to retrofit existing systems (modify them with new parts).

"I would say [those interested in the field] can be pretty confident (of getting a plumbing job), but they need to go to school to be above and beyond the people who just put pipe together," says Freidenberger.

Just the Facts

Want a quick overview of what this career is about?Check out Just the Facts for simple lists of characteristics.

At a Glance

Keep the water flowing

  • Be prepared to get dirty
  • You need strength and mobility
  • An apprenticeship is mandatory for your journeyperson's ticket