Plumbers duties may include any or all of the below:
- Install pipes and fixtures
- Study blueprints and follow state and local building codes
- Determine the amount of material and type of equipment needed
- Inspect and test installed pipe systems and pipelines
- Troubleshoot and repair systems that are not working
- Replace worn parts
Although plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters are three distinct specialties, their duties are often similar. For example, they all install pipes and fittings that carry water, steam, air, or other liquids or gases. They connect pipes, determine the necessary materials for a job, and perform pressure tests to ensure a pipe system is airtight and watertight.
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install, maintain, and repair many different types of pipe systems. Some of these systems carry water, dispose of waste, supply gas to ovens, or heat and cool buildings. Other systems, such as those in power plants, carry the steam that powers huge turbines. Pipes also are used in manufacturing plants to move acids, gases, and waste byproducts through the production process.
Master plumbers on construction jobs may be involved with developing blueprints that show where all the pipes and fixtures will go. Their input helps ensure that a structure’s plumbing meets building codes, stays within budget, and works well with the location of other features, such as electric wires.
Plumbers and fitters may use many different materials and construction techniques, depending on the type of project. Residential water systems, for example, use copper, steel, and plastic pipe that one or two plumbers can install. Power-plant water systems, by contrast, are made of large steel pipes that usually take a crew of pipefitters to install. Some workers install stainless steel pipes on dairy farms and in factories, mainly to prevent contamination.
Plumbers and fitters sometimes cut holes in walls, ceilings, and floors. With some pipe systems, workers may hang steel supports from ceiling joists to hold the pipe in place. Because pipes are seldom manufactured to the exact size or length, plumbers and fitters measure and then cut and bend lengths of pipe as needed. Their tools include saws, pipe cutters, and pipe-bending machines.
They then connect the pipes, using methods that vary by type of pipe. For example, copper pipe is joined with solder, but steel pipe is often screwed together.
In addition to installation and repair work, journey- and master-level plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters often direct apprentices and helpers.
Following are examples of occupational specialties:
Plumbers install and repair water, drainage, and gas pipes in homes, businesses, and factories. They install and repair large water lines, such as those that supply water to buildings, and smaller ones, including ones that supply water to refrigerators. Plumbers also install plumbing fixtures—bathtubs, showers, sinks, and toilets—and appliances such as dishwashers, garbage disposals, and water heaters.
They also fix plumbing problems. For example, when a pipe is clogged or leaking, plumbers remove the clog or replace the pipe. Some plumbers maintain septic systems, the large, underground holding tanks that collect waste from houses not connected to a city or county’s sewer system.
Pipefitters install and maintain pipes that carry chemicals, acids, and gases. These pipes are mostly in manufacturing, commercial, and industrial settings. They often install and repair pipe systems in power plants, as well as heating and cooling systems in large office buildings. Some pipefitters specialize:
- Gasfitters install pipes that provide clean oxygen to patients in hospitals.
- Sprinklerfitters install and repair fire sprinkler systems in businesses, factories, and residential buildings.
- Steamfitters installpipe systems that move steam under high pressure. Most steamfitters work at campus and natural gas power plants where heat and electricity is generated, but others work in factories that use high-temperature steam pipes.
Plumber Work Environment
Plumber Work Schedules
Most plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters work full time, including nights and weekends. They are often on call to handle emergencies, and overtime is common on construction sites to meet completion deadlines. About 14 percent of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters were self-employed in 2010. Although self-employed plumbers can set their own schedules, they are also more likely to deal with after-hours emergencies.
Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers weld or join metal parts. They also fill holes, indentions, or seams of metal products, using hand-held welding equipment.
Welders duties may include any or all of the below:
- Study blueprints, sketches, or specifications
- Calculate dimensions to be welded
- Inspect structures or materials to be welded
- Ignite torches or start power supplies
- Monitor the welding process to avoid overheating
- Smooth and polish all surfaces
- Maintain equipment and machinery
Welding is the most common way of permanently joining metal parts. In this process, heat is applied to metal pieces, melting and fusing them to form a permanent bond. Because of its strength, welding is used in shipbuilding, automobile manufacturing and repair, aerospace applications, and thousands of other manufacturing activities. Welding also is used to join beams in the construction of buildings, bridges, and other structures and to join pipes in pipelines, power plants, and refineries.
Welders work in a wide variety of industries, from car racing to manufacturing. The work that welders do and the equipment they use vary, depending on the industry. The most common and simplest type of welding today, arc welding, uses electrical currents to create heat and bond metals together—but there are more than 100 different processes that a welder can use. The type of weld is normally determined by the types of metals being joined and the conditions under which the welding is to take place.
Cutters use heat to cut and trim metal objects to specific dimensions. The work of arc, plasma, and oxy-gas cutters is closely related to that of welders. However, instead of joining metals, cutters use the heat from an electric arc, a stream of ionized gas called plasma, or burning gases to cut and trim metal objects to specific dimensions. Cutters also dismantle large objects, such as ships, railroad cars, automobiles, buildings, or aircraft. Some operate and monitor cutting machines similar to those used by welding machine operators.
Solderers and brazers also use heat to join two or more metal items together. Soldering and brazing are similar, except the temperature used to melt the filler metal is lower in soldering. Soldering uses metals with a melting point below 840 degrees Fahrenheit. Brazing uses metals with a higher melting point.
Soldering and brazing workers use molten metal to join two pieces of metal. However, the metal added during the soldering and brazing process has a melting point lower than that of the piece, so only the added metal is melted, not the piece. Therefore, these processes normally do not create the distortions or weaknesses in the pieces that can occur with welding.
Soldering commonly is used to make electrical and electronic circuit boards, such as computer chips. Soldering workers tend to work with small pieces that must be precisely positioned.
Brazing often is used to connect copper plumbing pipes and thinner metals that the higher temperatures of welding would warp. Brazing also can be used to apply coatings to parts to reduce wear and protect against corrosion.
Welder Work Environment
Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers wear protective clothing and goggles for safety.
Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers held about 337,300 jobs in 2010. Industries employing the most welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers in 2010 were as follows:
|Repair and maintenance||
Welders and cutters may work outdoors, often in inclement weather, or indoors, sometimes in a confined area designed to contain sparks and glare. When working outdoors, they may work on a scaffold or platform high off the ground. In addition, they may have to lift heavy objects and work in awkward positions while bending, stooping, or standing to work overhead.
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have a high school diploma or equivalent
- Pass a basic math test
- Pass a drug test
- Know how to use computers
Technical schools offer courses on pipe system design, safety, and tool use. They also offer welding courses that are considered necessary by some pipefitter and steamfitter apprenticeship training programs.
Most states and localities require plumbers to be licensed. Although licensing requirements vary, most states and localities require workers to have 2 to 5 years of experience and to pass an exam that tests their knowledge of the trade and of local plumbing codes before they are permitted to work independently. Several states require a special license to work on gas lines. A few states require pipefitters to be licensed. Getting a license requires a test, experience, or both. Check with the state licensing board.
HVAC technicians repair,inspect and maintain heating, cooling, and refrigeration systems.
Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers—often referred to as HVACR technicians—work on heating, ventilation, cooling, and refrigeration systems that control the air quality in many types of buildings.
Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers typically do the following:
- Travel to worksites
- Follow blueprints or other design specifications to install or repair HVACR systems
- Connect systems to fuel and water supply lines, air ducts, and other components
- Install electrical wiring and controls and test for proper operation
- Inspect and maintain customers’ HVACR systems
- Test individual components to determine necessary repairs
- Repair or replace worn or defective parts
Heating and air conditioning systems control the temperature, humidity, and overall air quality in homes, businesses, and other buildings. By providing a climate controlled environment, refrigeration systems make it possible to store and transport food, medicine, and other perishable items.
Although trained to do all three, HVACR technicians sometimes work strictly with heating, air conditioning, or refrigeration systems. They also may specialize in certain types of HVACR equipment, such as water-based heating systems, solar panels, or commercial refrigeration.
Depending on the task, HVACR technicians use many different tools. For example, they often use screwdrivers, wrenches, pipe cutters and other basic handtools when installing systems. To test or install complex system components, technicians may use more sophisticated tools, such as carbon monoxide testers, voltmeters, combustion analyzers, and acetylene torches.
When working on air conditioning and refrigeration systems, technicians must follow government regulations regarding the conservation, recovery, and recycling of refrigerants. This often entails proper handling and disposal of fluids.
Some HVACR technicians sell service contracts to their clients, providing regular maintenance of heating and cooling systems.
Other craft workers sometimes help install or repair cooling and heating systems. For example, on a large air conditioning installation job, especially one in which workers are covered by union contracts, ductwork might be done by sheet metal workers and duct installers, or electrical work by electricians. In addition, home appliance repairers usually service window air conditioners and household refrigerators. For more information on these occupations, see the profiles on sheet metal workers, electricians, or home appliance repairers.
HVAC Work Environment
An HVACR technician installs an air conditioning unit.
Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers held about 267,800 jobs in 2010. The majority worked full time for private companies. About 16 percent were self-employed.
Industries employing the most heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers were as follows:
|Building equipment contractors||
|Direct selling establishments||
|Hardware, plumbing, and heating equipment wholesalers||
|Commercial and industrial machinery and equipment repair||
HVACR technicians mostly work in residential homes, schools, stores, hospitals, office buildings, or factories. Some technicians are assigned to specific job sites at the beginning of each day. Others travel to several different locations making service calls.
Technicians generally work indoors, but some may have to work on outdoor heat pumps, for example, even in bad weather. They often work in awkward or cramped spaces, and some work in buildings that are uncomfortable because the air conditioning or heating system is broken.
HVAC Work Schedules
The majority of HVACR technicians work full time, with occasional evening or weekend shifts. During peak heating and cooling seasons, they often work overtime or irregular hours. Although the majority of technicians work for construction contractors, those who are self-employed have the ability to set their own schedules.
Technicians who service both heating and air conditioning equipment generally have stable employment throughout the year, particularly as a growing number of manufacturers and contractors now provide or even require year-round service contracts.
About 1 in 6 HVACR technicians are union members.
Electricians install and maintain electrical systems in homes, businesses, and factories.
Almost every building has an electrical system that is installed during construction and maintained after that. Electricians do both the installing and maintaining of electrical systems.
Electrician’s duties may include any or all of the below:
- Read blueprints or technical diagrams before doing work
- Install and maintain wiring and lighting systems
- Inspect electrical components, such as transformers and circuit breakers
- Identify electrical problems with a variety of testing devices
- Repair or replace wiring, equipment, or fixtures using hand tools and power tools
- Follow state and local building regulations based on the National Electric Code
- Direct and train workers to install, maintain, or repair electrical wiring or equipment
Installing electrical systems is less complicated than maintaining older equipment. This is because it is easier to get to electrical wiring during construction. Maintaining older equipment, however, involves identifying problems and repairing malfunctioning equipment that is sometimes difficult to reach. Electricians doing maintenance work may need to fix or replace outlets, circuit breakers, motors, or robotic control systems.
Electricians read blueprints, which are technical diagrams of electrical systems that show the location of circuits, outlets, and other equipment. They use different types of hand and power tools, such as pipe benders, to run and protect wiring. Other commonly used hand and power tools include screwdrivers, wire strippers, drills, and saws. While troubleshooting, electricians also may use ammeters, voltmeters, and multimeters to find problems and ensure that components are working properly.
Many electricians work independently, but sometimes they collaborate with others. For example, experienced electricians may work with building engineers and architects to help design electrical systems in new construction. Some electricians also may consult with other construction specialists, such as elevator installers and heating and air conditioning workers, to help install or maintain electrical or power systems. At larger companies, electricians are more likely to work as part of a crew; they may direct helpers and apprentices to complete jobs.
The following are examples of occupational specialties:
Inside electricians maintain and repair large motors, equipment, and control systems in businesses and factories. They use their knowledge of electrical systems to help these facilities run safely and efficiently. Some also install the wiring for businesses and factories that are being built. To minimize equipment failure, inside electricians often perform scheduled maintenance.
Residential electricians install wiring and troubleshoot electrical problems in peoples’ homes. Those who work in new-home construction install outlets and provide access to power where needed. Those who work in maintenance and remodeling repair and replace faulty equipment. For example, if a circuit breaker is tripped, electricians determine the reason and fix it.
Almost all electricians work full time, which may include evenings and weekends. During scheduled maintenance, inside electricians can expect to work overtime. Overtime is also common on construction worksites, where meeting deadlines is critical.
About 10 percent of electricians were self-employed in 2010. Self-employed workers may have the ability to set their own schedule.
Most electricians learn their skills on the job.
Although most electricians learn through a formal apprenticeship, some start out by attending a technical school. Most states require licensure.
Most electricians learn their trade in a 4-year apprenticeship. For each year of the program, apprentices must complete at least 144 hours of technical training and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. In the classroom, apprentices learn electrical theory, blueprint reading, mathematics, electrical code requirements, and safety and first-aid practices. They also may receive specialized training related to soldering, communications, fire alarm systems, and elevators. Because of this comprehensive training, those who complete apprenticeship programs qualify to do both construction and maintenance work.
After completing an apprenticeship program, electricians are considered to be journey workers and may perform duties on their own.
Several groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. The basic qualifications to enter an apprenticeship program are as follows:
- Minimum age of 18
- High school education or equivalent
- One year of algebra
- Qualifying score on an aptitude test
- Drug free
Some electrical contractors have their own training program. Although most workers enter apprenticeships directly, some start out as helpers.
Some electricians start out by attending a technical school. Many technical schools offer programs related to safety and basic electrical information. Graduates usually receive credit toward their 4-year apprenticeship.
Electricians may be required to take continuing education courses. These courses usually involve instruction related to safety practices, changes to the electrical code, and training from manufacturers in specific products.
Most states require licensure. Requirements vary by state. Contact your state’s licensing agency for more information.