When most people think of a plumber, they envision a man coming to the house to unclog a drain or fix a leaky faucet. While this is one aspect of the job, the role of a plumber involves much more than unplugging clogged bathtubs or toilets. Plumbers are found wherever new construction is occurring, both in residential homes as well as commercial buildings. They play an important part in designing and maintaining the foundation of our structures and public works systems.
In a residential setting, plumbers both install new plumbing fittings and repair or replace existing fixtures. This includes plumbing related to water coming into the house, waste exiting the house and gas lines needed to power appliances, such as hot water heaters. Plumbers also install, repair or maintain the plumbing to toilets, shower and bath systems, kitchen fixtures such as faucets and dishwashers, water heaters and septic tanks. Residential plumbers also lay new pipes in homes under construction, which can involve cutting pipe, sawing wood and welding.
In a commercial building, plumbers perform many of the same tasks as plumbers who work in residential plumbing. However, the scale of their work is usually much greater as they work in buildings that may require hundreds of plumbing fixtures to be installed as compared to a few in the home. They also install pipes for sprinkler systems, fire suppression, drinking fountains, commercial kitchens, fountains and irrigation systems.
The work environment of a plumber often requires longer hours than a typical 40-hour work week. Plumbing emergencies may require plumbers to work evenings and weekends. Plumbers often have to work in less-than-desirable conditions, dealing with sewer lines, clogged drains and new construction without air conditioning or heating systems. Plumbing can be a physically demanding job that requires many hours working while standing and may require plumbers to lift heavy pipes and other items required for the job.
Vocational schools offer training for aspiring plumbers. Many plumbers learn the role of plumbing on the job through an apprenticeship with an experienced plumber, which can take four to five years to complete. Apprenticeships are administered by a union or plumbing association and usually require classroom hours in addition to on-the-job training.
Salary and Career Outlook
Plumbing jobs are expected to grow faster than the average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is due to an increase in new construction as well as a demand for maintenance of existing plumbing in structures. In May 2009, the median annual salary for a plumber was £30,049.