Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters have some of the most in-demand jobs in the country today. Job opportunities for these trades are expected to rise through the 2020s at a rate of around 4% a year, mainly driven by new construction and the need to keep up older systems in residential and commercial structures.
Workers in these fields have a wide range of choice in where to work, the working environment they operate in, and the rates they can charge for specialty applications. New plumbers generally learn the trade with a lot of support from professional groups, while experienced plumbers can work as independent contractors with minimal upfront costs and overhead. Many of the most lucrative jobs for plumbers involve running a small business with little more than tools and a truck, though many of these operations eventually expand into franchises with dozens or hundreds of employees in multiple states.
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What Is The Average Plumber Salary?
Plumbers in the United States earned an average of $56,330 a year in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is the median plumbers’ pay across all states, which tends to vary from place to place. New plumbers who are just starting out may earn as little as $33,460, though the top 10% of plumbers in the country earn as much as $98,990 a year.
Plumbers working in different fields can expect to earn somewhat different amounts of money for similar work. Plumbing contractors, for example, earn a median salary of $55,620 a year for installing and maintaining plumbing systems in residential and commercial structures. Plumbers who work in manufacturing plants and other heavy industry can expect a median pay of $58,580 a year. Civil and heavy engineering fields tend to pay slightly more than this, though the median rate is still just under $60,000.
Independent contractors generally work with minimal supervision and so are largely free to set their own rates for work. Some newer and less-established plumbers may feel the need to charge less than the industry standard to recruit new clients, while more experienced master plumbers usually command higher rates. Plumbers who offer general services may have a lot of demand for their work, as most homeowners have to hire a plumber at one time or another, but cost competition can be stiff in the general market. Rates tend to increase for specialty work, such as steamfitting for commercial boiler systems or rehab work on distressed and historic properties. This type of work may earn higher per-hour rates, though demand can be considerably less reliable than general plumbing services.
What Does A Plumber Make An Hour?
Plumbers who work as contractors for construction companies and residential customers typically get paid by employers or charge their customers by the job or by the hour. A plumber or pipefitter who works under contract for a company may earn an average of $27 an hour to start. Wages tend to rise with experience, and contractors who travel to construction sites and job locations typically earn more, though work cost estimates vary by region and the complexity of the job. Specialty work tends to bring higher hourly rates, though relatively few employers may be looking for specialist plumbers and pipefitters.
Becoming A Plumber
Many plumbers currently working have a high school diploma and work experience. Some job training is available from specialist institutes and vocational programs. Almost all vocational technical schools require a high school diploma for incoming students, and most end with an apprenticeship at a local company or with a working plumber.
Many states require licensing for plumbers who wish to work as independent contractors. Licenses are usually awarded after the apprentice plumber meets state-mandated training and experience requirements plus passing an exam. Vocational training in some states includes mandatory welding and pipefitting classes in addition to the basic program for plumbers.
Training programs for plumbers are typically sponsored by plumbers’ unions and other professional groups. They often mix classroom and workshop instruction with paid apprenticeships. Over the course of a four- or five-year apprentice program, most trainees can expect to get around 2,000 hours of paid work with their sponsor, who may be a master plumber.
Typical Plumber Career Levels
After the initial training period, new plumbers in most states achieve the grade of journeyman in their field. Journeyman plumbers are able to work independently or with minimal supervision. Plumbers and pipefitters at this stage are in demand at factories, on construction sites and in other settings where supervision and direction are provided by management. Plumbing companies also hire journeymen, though in many states licenses are only issued to master plumbers, who can then operate their own contracting businesses.