Steamfitter Pipefitter Jobs, Careers, Apprenticeships

Career Snapshot

Steamfitters and pipefitters are responsible for every aspect of the installation and maintenance of piping systems. They prepare piping layouts, fabricate steel and other materials, assemble and install pipes, and then maintain and repair the systems. Steamfitters and pipefitters work on residential, commercial and industrial construction projects. At a glance, there's enough overlap between a plumber, a steamfitter and a pipefitter job description to be confusing. All three work with piping that carries liquid or gas, and many of the skills, such as welding, reading blueprints and installing pipes, are found in all three fields.

Basically, a plumber works primarily with residential and business customers, installing water lines, hot water tanks and sewage lines. They unclog pipes and drains, repair broken fixtures and troubleshoot plumbing-system problems.

A pipefitter usually completes his/her work on industrial jobs rather than residential projects. The pipes they work on may carry chemicals, acids and gases rather than water, and the projects are often huge in scope.

A steamfitter works on the same sort of systems and projects as a pipefitter, but they're specialists. The liquids or gases in steamfitter systems flow through the pipes under high pressure, requiring special handling.

(Similar work titles include:  Equipment Service Associate (ESA), Fire Sprinkler Service Technician, Journeyman Pipe Fitter, Journeyman Pipefitter, Machine Repairman, Pipe Fitter, Pipe Welder, Pipefitter, Sprinkler Fitter, Steamfitter)
Job Details

Steamfitters and Pipefitters typically do the following:

  • Cut, thread, or hammer pipes to specifications, using tools such as saws, cutting torches, pipe threaders, or pipe benders
  • Lay out full scale drawings of pipe systems, supports, or related equipment, according to blueprints
  • Assemble or secure pipes, tubes, fittings, or related equipment, according to specifications, by welding, brazing, cementing, soldering, or threading joints
  • Measure and mark pipes for cutting or threading
  • Attach pipes to walls, structures, or fixtures, such as radiators or tanks, using brackets, clamps, tools, or welding equipment
  • Inspect, examine, or test installed systems or pipe lines, using pressure gauge, hydrostatic testing, observation, or other methods
  • Plan pipe system layout, installation, or repair, according to specifications
  • Install pipe systems to support alternative energy-fueled systems, such as geothermal heating or cooling systems
  • Install automatic controls to regulate pipe systems

 

Education and Experience

A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required to enter the occupation.  Most likely training in vocational schools, related on-the-job experience, or an associate's degree will be required.  Steamfitter and pipefitter occupations usually need one or two years of training involving both on-the-job experience and informal training with experienced workers. A recognized apprenticeship program may be associated with these occupations. Several groups, such as unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs.  Welding courses are often required by some pipefitter and steamfitter apprenticeship training programs.

 

Career Outlook

  • Annual pay: Pipefitters and Steamfitters earn an average salary usually around $55,000
  • Employment growth forecast 2018-2028: 14%
  • Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent. , vocational-technical schools offer courses in pipe system design, safety, and tool use.

Career Growth Opportunity

After completing an apprenticeship and becoming licensed at the journey level, steamfitters and pipefitters may advance to become a supervisor or project manager. Some in this job sub-sector choose to start their own business as an independent contractor, which may require additional licensing.

 

Professional Associations

The Associated General Contractors of America - The AGC of America works to ensure the continued success of the commercial construction industry by advocating for federal, state and local measures that support the industry; providing opportunities for firms to learn about ways to become more accomplished; and connecting them with the resources and individuals they need to be successful businesses and corporate citizens.

Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. - ABC's mission is the advancement of the merit shop construction philosophy, which encourages open competition and a free enterprise approach that awards contracts based solely on merit, regardless of labor affiliation.

American Fire Sprinkler Association - The American Fire Sprinkler Association, (AFSA) is a non-profit, international association representing merit shop fire sprinkler contractors, dedicated to the educational advancement of its members and promotion of the use of automatic fire sprinkler systems.

American Welding Society - This organization is a non-profit with a global mission to advance the science, technology and application of welding and allied joining and cutting processes, including brazing, soldering and thermal spraying.

Mechanical Contractors Association of America - This organization serves its members by providing high-quality educational materials and programs to help them attain the highest level of managerial and technical expertise.

Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association - The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association is dedicated to the advancement and education of the plumbing and HVACR industry for the health, safety and comfort of society and the protection of the environment.

Steamfitting/Pipefitting, United Association - This union association is committed to promoting the highest standards of qualifications and training in our industry so that our members have the skills and knowledge they need to be competitive.  We are committed to continuously recruiting and training future generations of world-class piping professionals.

Sisters in the Brotherhood - Sisters in the Brotherhood is a group dedicated to strengthening the UBC by promoting activism and diversity and by increasing the number of women members.

The Associated General Contractors of America - The Associated General Contractors of America works to ensure the continued success of the commercial construction industry by advocating for federal, state and local measures that support the industry.

 

Publications

Plumber Magazine - online digital magazine, subscribe to print magazine, newsletter, current and archive issues (sewer, drain, commercial, resident...)

Constructor - online digital magazine

Onsite Installer Magazine - online digital magazine, training, subscribe to print magazine, newsletter, current and archive issues (septic tanks, pumps, alarms, drain field...)

DigDifferent Magazine - online digital magazine, training, subscribe to print magazine, newsletter, current and archive issues (drilling, excavation, trenching...)

I&I (Inflow and Infiltration) - online digital magazine, training, subscribe to print magazine, newsletter, current and archive issues (manholes, pipes, inspections...)

 

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters keep civilization in running water, sanitation, and heat for comfort and cleaning. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipe systems to transport water, chemicals, and waste. They use saws to make holes in floors and walls and pipe cutters to size pipe accurately. Plumbers work on water, drainage, and gas pipes in homes and businesses. They also install plumbing fixtures and appliances. They rescue homeowners from leaks, clogged drains, and malfunctioning septic systems. Pipefitters install and repair pipes that carry chemicals, acids, and gases— usually in power plants and industrial settings. Some install fire sprinkler systems. Steamfitters install pipe systems that move steam under high pressure; most work at college campus facilities and natural gas power plants. With high rates of injury on the job, precautions must be taken with common tasks such as lifting heavy materials, handling tools, and climbing ladders. Work schedules are full time, and may include nights, weekends, and emergency calls. A 4- to 5-year apprenticeship is typically required, combining paid on-the-job training with classroom study. A license is generally required for plumbers, and some states license pipefitters and gas line workers. Helpers assist experienced trades professionals, haul tools and materials, and clean work areas. They typically have a high school education, and learn on the job.