Informational Guide

Comparing Pipefitters Vs Plumbers

The terms pipefitter and plumber often get used interchangeably, learn the differences between a pipefitter vs plumber in our guide.

by Ian Haynes

The terms pipefitter and plumber often get used interchangeably, but they are different occupations and do different things.

If you want to become a plumber, or a pipefitter, its good to know that these two jobs are separate career paths, so today, we are going to talk about the differences between a pipefitter vs plumber and which job requires which skills.

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Pipefitters are more focused on fitting specialized pipes to deal with pressurized substances, while plumbers typically handle more common residential services like drains and bathrooms.

Whereas a plumber might fix sink drains, garbage disposals, or toilets, pipefitters typically work in a more specialized, industrial context with potentially hazardous substances.

Pipefitter Duties

  • Attaching structures like radiators and pipes
  • Measure and mark pipe lengths
  • Weld and connect pipe sections
  • Map pipe layouts and plan systems
  • Remove and replace worn components
  • Clean piping systems
  • Handle hazardous substances like gas, acid, steam, and more
  • Inspect and test piping structures for safety
  • Observe piping systems and test systems

Plumber Duties

  • Install, maintain, and repair valves, fittings, and pipes
  • Collaborate with contractors and electricians
  • Read blueprints
  • Perform routine inspections
  • Respond to and resolve plumbing emergencies like leaks or clogged drains
  • Prepare budgets and cost estimates for projects
  • Small construction details such as plaster, drywall, carpentry, electrical work, and more as required
What Do Pipefitters & Plumbers Do

Skills of a Pipefitter

Reading and understanding blueprints

Pipefitters need to be able to read and interpret building blueprints so they can plan and inspect piping systems. Blueprints intersect with other important systems in the building that need to interact.

Tool knowledge

Pipefitters need to be experienced and knowledgeable working with several types of tools, such as saws, welding torches, cutters, piping fitters, and more. Pipefitters may need to use multiple tools in the course of a single job.

Mathematical and mechanical knowledge

Pipefitters need to have a thorough understanding of pressure and static mechanics and the mathematics relevant to designing piping systems. This includes physics concepts like hydrostatics, turbulence, and fluid mechanics.

Physical stamina and dexterity

Pipefitters need to be physically fit and capable of moving and orienting heavy objects like valves, pipes, and fixtures. Pipefitters are often on their feet most of the day and must be active and moving the majority of time on the job.

Communication and managerial skills

Pipefitters often work on teams with other construction workers and specialists and must be able to collaborate and work with other people. Pipefitters need to manage projects and have good organizational skills.


Skills of a Plumber

  • Manual Dexterity
    Plumbers deal with a variety of mechanical systems, some with small moving parts. They must have fine motor control, good hand-eye coordination, and high general manual dexterity.
  • Mechanical Knowledge
    Plumbers must know the theory and application of basic hydrostatic principles to plumbing and drainage systems. They must have a grasp of the relevant mathematics, including algebra and geometry.
  • Tool Proficiency
    Plumbers routinely deal with multiple tools while on a single job and must know how they can work together to complete a project. Plumbers must have and know how to use wrenches, cutters, saws, pipes, pliers, power tools, and more.
  • Business Skills
    Plumbers often run their own businesses and so must learn the ins and outs of running a business. Things like accounting, marketing, and management are all important skills that a plumber must learn.
  • Problem-Solving Skills
    Plumbers will often be confronted with novel situations and must creatively look for a solution. Things like unorthodox drain design, odd pipe layouts, and home layouts may call for a creative and unique solution to the problem at hand.

Pipefitter vs. Plumber: Career Comparison

Education and training

Both plumbers and pipefitters must go to vocational school/training and get an apprenticeship in order to work as a professional. You do not have to obtain a college degree to work as either, but you must complete at least 3-5 years of an apprenticeship before you can work unsupervised or open your own company.Enter your text here...

Working environment

Plumbers work in a range of environments but most commonly work on residential projects like bathrooms, basements, kitchens, etc. Plumbers may also work in commercial buildings like restaurants, malls, hotels, etc. Pipefitters, on the other hand, normally work in construction or industrial contexts, such as in the oil and gas industry. Pipefitters often work with difficult to handle or dangerous materials like oil, gas, acid, or steam.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for plumbers in the US is $50,620, and the median salary for a pipefitter is approximately $54,106. Both pipefitters and plumbers face good future career prospects and potential for future growth. Several plumbers end up opening their own businesses, while experienced pipefitters can move on to highly specialized projects that pay well.

Licensing requirements

Both plumbers and pipefitters need a state-mandated license to practice. Plumbers and pipefitters must first complete an apprenticeship before becoming a journeyman in their profession. Additionally, both pipefitters and plumbers are required to complete continuing education credits to maintain their licenses.

Pipefitter Vs Plumber

Points to Consider When Choosing a Trade Career

  • Training And Certification
    Trade careers tend to have extensive training and certification requirements, including lengthy apprenticeships and licensing requirements. It can take up to 5 years to complete an apprenticeship and become a journeyman trade professional. 
  • Pay & Benefits
    Trade jobs historically have had decent pay. Trade skills are often in demand, and there is competition for good trade workers. Trade jobs have historically been union jobs as well, with several benefits like health insurance, dental, and vacations.
  • Personal Skills
    Trade careers require a level of motivation and self-betterment. You must continually be updating your knowledge base and skill set to maintain certification and climb the job ladder.
  • Job Demand & Security
    Trade jobs traditionally have had good job security. Trade jobs are a necessity of modern society, and people will always need jobs like plumbers and pipefitters.

Pros & Cons of Working as Pipefitter

Pros

  • Pipefitting jobs are in demand, especially in the oil and gas industry. Pipefitters play an important role in industries that require the transportation of some kind of substance, such as oil, gas, acid, waste, and more.
  • Pipefitting does not require a college degree and only requires a high school diploma or GED to get an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships often include a paid job, so you can usually get paid to get trained as a pipefitter.
  • If you have a penchant for practical, hands-on work, then pipefitting might be a good career choice. Pipefitting is a highly practical trade that is relevant in several contexts and is a valuable skill to have even when not at work.
  • There are opportunities for pipefitters to specialize later in their careers if they want to get paid more. Specialized pipefitters can make a great salary and have unique opportunities for job and salary advancement.

Cons

  • It can take a long time to complete an apprenticeship. A pipefitting apprenticeship can take up to 5 years to complete, including the licensing and certification requirements. However, you often can be getting paid during your apprenticeship. 
  • Pipefitters often work with difficult to handle or dangerous substances like oil, gas, acid, waste, steam, and other chemicals. As such, there are genuine risks ok the job, and pipefitters must abide by strict safety standards and regulations.

People also Ask (FAQs)

Does being a pipefitter require a license?

Yes, being a pipefitter requires a license in all 50 states. Licensing requirements are different in every state, so make sure you understand licensing requirements in your state.

How long does it take to become a pipefitter?

It depends on your track, but a normal apprenticeship takes about 4-5 years to complete. However, you can start working as an apprentice in as little as a year.

How much does a first-year apprentice pipefitter make?

A first year apprentice pipefitter can expect to make anywhere between $14-$20 an hour, depending on the area.

What kind of math do pipefitters need to know?

Pipefitters need to know basic mechanics, hydrostatics, algebra, and geometry. They also need to know some concepts from physics and fluid mechanics.

What kinds of math do plumbers need to know?

Plumbers need to have a solid grasp of basic mathematics, including algebra and geometry. They also need to know about hydronics and basic fluid mechanics for plumbing systems.

Search Plumber Programs

Get information on Plumber programs by entering your zip code and request enrollment information.

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Conclusion

Pipefitting and plumbing are great careers that offer stability and good pay. If you are interested in either of these lucrative careers, then we highly recommend looking more into their respective career paths.

Ian Haynes is an expert writer who has successfully deployed over 500 plumbing pages and other related content. He has an excellent understanding of home plumbing issues and translates his experiences via Plumbing Lab so readers can have a better understanding of common household problems. Outside of his work, Ian likes exploring Brooklyn with his Labrador.

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