Plumbing Schools and Technical Aspects of Plumbers

Schools offering accredited plumbing training

Training programs in plumbing can help to teach apprentices and plumbing students about local and state plumbing codes, plumbing design, and safety, as well as how to read a blueprint. Some plumbers may also take welding classes that can teach them how to solder, braze and weld pipes, techniques that can be important to being an effective and knowledgeable plumber.

Many plumbers start out in the profession after completing an apprenticeship program that can provide paid on-the-job training. This apprenticeship typically lasts four to five years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (BLS.gov, 2012), However, the BLS notes that even apprenticeship programs have a number of requirements, such as 246 hours of related technical education and 1,700 to 2,000 hours of annual paid on-the-job training. Technical schools can help apprenticed plumbers to work on some of the academic curriculum that may be required for completion of their program. This could include coursework in chemistry, math, and physics, according to the BLS.

Apprenticeship programs are offered by unions and businesses. The requirements for admission typically include the following:

  • Be a legal adult
  • Have earned a high school diploma or GED
  • Successfully complete a basic level math test
  • Pass a drug screening
  • Be computer literate

Upon finishing an apprenticeship program, plumbers are considered journeymen and can work independently when licensed. Many states and localities require plumbers to be licensed, but requirements vary by state. Some states, such as Nevada (nbope.com, 2009), require licensed plumbers to have completed the appropriate plumber training and a minimum of four years of work experience prior to taking the plumbing licensing test. Master plumbers generally have more experience in the field and and can even train in a specialty area such as steam-fitting (pipe installation for high-pressure gases). Some states, such as New York City, may license master plumbers if they possess a bachelor's degree in engineering with an emphasis on plumbing (NYC.gov, 2011).

In addition to obtaining skills through a plumbing apprentice program, plumbing students should also work on building their mechanical and trouble-shooting skills, according to the BLS (BLS.gov, 2012). Other qualities considered important to a plumbing career include having physical strength to be able to lift and use tools and to help in transporting equipment and parts such as heavy piping. Plumbers also need to be knowledgeable about a variety of tools and comfortable in picking out the right one or ones to conduct an assessment or test.

The tools used by a plumber

Part of a plumber's routine will be the ability to construct, repair and maintain all types of water lines. Depending on the specific job or contract, some plumbers may find themselves installing large water and waste water lines that remove waste from the building. They could also be tasked with installing internal plumbing that distributes water throughout a building. The types of materials encountered by plumbers can vary from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) to copper piping used for internal and external small line plumbing all the way to large steel piping used in waste water or industrial-water piping.

The specific plumbing issue can vary and require a different set of tools that range from the common monkey wrench to the likes of a radio frequency probe. The following are tools that may be encountered by plumbers while on the job:

  • Borescope - similar to an endoscope, the borescope allows a plumber to see deep into a small pipe. Some are attached to long snaking cables to allow plumbers to see around corners.
  • Pipe location tools - sometimes these tools are simple metal detectors that can tell plumbers where a subterranean pipe is. Other versions locate a radio frequency transponder that a plumber has already pushed down the pipe to the site of a blockage or leak.
  • Pipe threaders - these tools are used to add threads to a smooth, non-threaded pipe so the pipe can be connected to an end cap or another pipe.
  • Reciprocating saws - these tools mimic the actions of hand saws and allow plumbers to cut pipes to exact lengths.
  • Soldering equipment - some pipe material such as copper must be soldered together rather than glued or screwed. Soldering involves melting solder, a metal with a low melting point, onto the gaps of a pipe to create a seal.
  • Video inspection tools - these tools often come in the form of long twisting cables that push a small camera down a pipe. The tools allow a plumber to see the length of a pipe and determine blockages, holes or other damages that may have occurred.
  • Water pumps - these tools are used to test all types of piping for pressure weaknesses or leaks.

Plumbers can also install water fixtures such as toilets, sinks, and bathtubs while also maintaining septic tanks.

Where the jobs are for plumbers

The median annual nationwide wage for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters as of May 2011 was $47,750, according to the BLS (BLS.gov, 2012). The highest and lowest nationwide wages, for the top paid 10 percent and the lowest paid 10 percent of plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters, were $82,310 and $28,310 respectively, as of May 2011. The BLS also reports that as a result of stricter water control standards and an increase in construction, employment opportunities for pipefitters, plumbers and steamfitters could grow by 26 percent nationwide from 2010 to 2020 (BLS.gov, 2012); this growth is considered faster than average for many occupations. Alaska, Massachusetts, and New York are the three top highest-paying states for the industry with annual mean wages for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters being $72,050, $66,460, and $66,250, respectively, according to May 2011 BLS data. (BLS.gov, 2012).

Additionally, as states such as California, Maryland and South Carolina, begin to adopt home fire sprinkler codes that require new homes to have fire sprinklers, (networkforphl.org, 2011) the BLS projects employment opportunities for plumbers could increase even more. The BLS also notes that job prospects for plumbers should be good as some employers have reported difficulty finding qualified employees, and that plumbers with welding experience may have have better job prospects than those without such skills.


Sources and Further Reading:
How To Become A New York City Licensed Master Plumber
Home Fire Sprinklers Save Lives
Occupational Outlook Handbook: Plumbers, Pipefitters and Steamfitters
Residential Sprinkler Systems: Consideration of Policy and Litigation Strategies for Reducing Residential Fire
Rules and Regulations Pertaining to Plumbers License Fee, Expiration, Renewal, Journeyman, and Master Plumber Qualifications

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