What Is the Difference Between Plumbers and Pipefitters?

by Steve Coffey  // in Plumbing

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Plumbing and pipefitting are two distinct trades in the construction industry. Without a well-functioning piping system, a clean water supply and proper wastewater disposal would be impossible. 

Both types of skilled tradesmen are crucial in ensuring piping systems are correctly installed, working efficiently, and maintained as years go by. But what is the difference between a plumber and a pipefitter? Let’s dive into the details below. 

What Do Plumbers and Pipefitters Do?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes plumbers and pipefitters under the same category but each carries out different functions.

Plumbers can work independently or be hired by a company. Their main task is to install and repair water pipes, gas lines, and drainage systems. Repairing fixtures such as bathtubs and toilets are everyday tasks performed by plumbers. 

A pipefitter’s workplace is in factories and power plants where they install high-pressure steam lines and transport pipes. Common tasks that a pipefitter usually performs are maintenance and repairs of industrial piping systems. 

What Is the Difference Between Plumbers and Pipefitters?

Differences based on the skills required 

What is the difference between a plumber and a pipefitter in terms of skills? Let’s start with the working environment. 

Pipefitters primarily work in industrial settings such as factories, refineries, and offshore installations. Plumbers, on the other hand, work in residential and commercial buildings. 

Plumbers install, repair and maintain fixtures, water pipes, and other equipment you’ll typically find in homes and business establishments. Other tasks involved are the installation of gas lines and some appliances for your bathroom or kitchen. For pipefitters, it’s all about transporting or installing liquids, gases, tanks, pumps, and other industrial apparatuses. 

Differences based on training and education 

Apprenticeship programs are available for both kinds of tradesmen. Plumbers and pipe fitters both require four to five years of apprenticeship but have different training requirements. 

Pipefitter training involves more industrial tasks like working in steam plants with a greater emphasis on physics and math. 

Plumbers will tackle properly handling water systems and also must learn math, physics, and analytical thinking. Joining pipes might require additional education about welding, brazing, and soldering. 

Differences based on the scope of work

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Plumbers will primarily work in new constructions or buildings and follow local state building codes. Other tasks include maintaining systems, clearing clogged drains, repairing damaged pipes, and fixing leaks. They are also skilled in testing plumbing systems, inspecting for damages, and removing damaged fixtures. 

For pipe fitters, it’s all about installing and repairing pipes. They will need to be able to determine pipe sizes required for the installation, lay out piping systems, and join pipes together. Installing or maintaining valves and regulators to control gas and liquids are also some of their typical daily tasks. 

Differences based on the work environment 

Plumbers primarily work in domestic settings, while pipe fitters work in commercial or industrial spaces. Plumbers will need to work on pipes in crawlspaces or attics. On the other hand, pipe fitters will be in larger areas such as boiler rooms and power plants. 

Health hazards for plumbers include mold and asbestos exposure. For pipe fitters, welding fumes and chemicals are not uncommon hazards. 

Differences based on salary and job outlook 

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Entry-level pipe fitters earn around $43,000, while more seasoned professionals can make up to $72,000 annually. On average, a pipefitter earns $52,000 per year

Plumbers, on average, earn $54,000 per year. Entry-level professionals can expect around $43,000 per year, while more seasoned ones can earn up to $90,000 per year. 

Statistics showed more than 50,000 job openings available for plumbers and pipe fitters for the past ten years. 

Do plumbers and pipefitters have any similarities?

These two professions have a lot in common. Both industries work on piping systems to ensure proper water flow. While plumbers don’t necessarily need to weld, it can be advantageous to have this skill. 

Training and Apprenticeship for Plumbers and Pipefitters

Both professions require the person to be under a senior plumber or pipefitter when undergoing an apprenticeship role for four to five years under the United Association

Requirements vary per professional, but generally, they will require you to be at least 18 years old, have a high-school diploma (or GED), and have proof of legibility to be employed in the US. 

Plumber vs. Pipefitter: Whom Should You Hire?

For commercial buildings or industrial plants, a pipe fitter would be the best person for the job. They are more adept in handling large piping systems carrying chemicals, gas, or water, and a pipe fitter would better understand the blueprints from these piping systems. 

A plumber will better handle more minor projects in business establishments or homes. Blueprints for these types of piping systems will be better interpreted by a plumber to properly carry gas, water, and waste in your household or establishment. 

Plumber vs. Pipefitter: Which Career Path Should You Choose?

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If you’re still wondering about the difference between a plumber and a pipefitter in terms of career paths, measuring your technical abilities and physical attributes will significantly impact the decision-making process. 

Plumbers should be equipped with good customer service skills and be able to work in cramped areas to do their job well. To be a pipe fitter, one should be able to work in high-pressure environments, provide quick technical solutions, and have excellent problem-solving skills. 

FAQs

Do plumbers and pipefitters need certifications?

Certifications for pipe fitters are required in 26 states, and plumbers can acquire a license in 50 states. For pipe fitters, a combination of the following certifications would be advantageous: OSHA Safety Certification, Certified Welding Engineer, and Certified Welder. 

Is being a pipefitter a difficult job?

Being a pipe fitter has its challenges. It requires you to develop critical thinking and technical solutions and work in high-paced environments. 

Do plumbers have to weld?

Plumbers don’t necessarily need to have welding skills. However, it can expand their opportunities if they have this skill. 

Who makes more money – plumbers or pipefitters?

The salary for plumbers and pipe fitters varies according to experience, skill set, location, and other factors. However, in general, plumbers may earn more than pipe fitters. 

Can a pipefitter be a plumber?

A pipefitter can become a plumber. However, a plumber will require a license to transition to pipefitting. 

Conclusion

Pipefitters and plumbers are critical personnel who ensure that our piping systems are installed and maintained correctly. While they share some similarities, there are crucial differences that need consideration when hiring either.
Learning the critical differences between the two will help you find a fulfilling career in plumbing, pipefitting, or both. For more construction articles and insights delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for the Construction Fanatics newsletter.

About the author Steve Coffey

I am passionate about the building materials industry helping companies all throughout the channel see success and exceed the expectations of their audiences

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