Plumbing and pipefitting are professions that deal with pipes. However, there are significant differences between them. Let us look at the similarities and differences to help you determine which one to hire for your project or which trade to pursue as a career.
What Do Plumbers and Pipefitters Do?
Understanding the responsibilities of plumbers and pipefitters will help you choose the right career and professional for your projects.
Responsibilities of a plumber
Plumbers install, maintain, and repair water, drainage, waste disposal, and gas pipes in residential and commercial settings. With the right training, they can complete any task related to water and waste pipes without special training or certification. They work with other construction professionals like electricians, engineers, carpenters, and architects. Here are the responsibilities of a plumber in detail:
- Install, maintain and repair water and waste systems
- Installing fixtures connected to the plumbing system, like sinks, bathtubs, toilets, and basins
- Connecting heating and cooling systems
- Unclogging blocked pipe systems and drainage systems
- Install and repair appliances connected to the plumbing system, like water heaters, dishwashers, washing machines and refrigerators.
- Repair or replace leaking and burst pipes
- Install and repair the sump pump system
- Detecting and repairing slab leaks
- Drain cleaning
- Installing and repairing garbage disposals
- Repairing the sewage lines
- Analyze and solve problems caused by the plumbing systems
- Work with both local and state-building codes
Responsibilities of a pipe fitter
Pipefitters install, maintain, and repair high pressure piping systems that carry steam, gas, and chemicals. They mostly work in industrial or manufacturing settings, and they mostly deal with steel and copper pipes. The typical tasks of pipefitters include:
- Fabricate, install and repair piping systems and parts
- Welding and cutting pipe components
- Maintenance and repair of heating, cooling, and fuel systems
- Inspecting pipe systems using pressure gauges
- Observing state building codes during pipe installations
- Installing pipes in meters, pumps, compressors, and hydraulic and pneumatic controls
- Understanding steel, copper, and PVC piping systems
Both plumbers and pipefitters deal with pipes, but we see major differences in the pipes’ contents. Plumbers deal with water-based pipes, like pipes carrying clean water or wastewater from toilets, bathrooms, and kitchen sinks.
Pipefitters handle heavy-duty and high-pressure pipes transporting hazardous substances like chemicals, gas, and steam.
Plumber Vs. Pipefitter: Differences
A plumber and a pipefitter are categorized under the same professional category, and their services are needed in high demand. However, each title has a set of unique responsibilities, and they pay differently. Therefore, they are similar but different careers. You should understand the differences to make the right career choice for you. Read on to understand the major differences between plumbers and pipefitters.
Differences Based on the Type of Materials They use
Plumbers and pipefitters work on pipes of different materials.
Plumbers deal with water and waste system, which use low-pressure pipe systems. They handle the following materials:
- Copper pipes
- PVC pipes
- Galvanized pipes
- They connect the pipes with glue, threads, and soldier
Pipefitters handle high-pressure materials. They operate with pipes made of:
- Stainless steel
- High carbon steel
- High carbon steel
- They join the pipe parts using welding
Differences Based on Work Environments
Plumbers and pipefitters are needed on construction sites, but they work on different projects.
Plumbers work environments
Plumbers work in residential and commercial locations like homes, apartments, and business premises. They are responsible for laying out drinking water and wastewater piping, maintaining and repairing the plumbing system, and installing appliances like washing machines, bathtubs, and any other appliance that uses the plumbing system.
Pipefitters work environments
Pipefitters work in power plants and industrial settings to install, maintain and repair high-pressure and heavy-duty pipes that carry dangerous liquids like chemicals.
Differences Based On Tools Used
Plumbers work with
- Pipe wrenches- used to turn threaded pipe and fittings on pipes for assembling and dissembling.
- Plungers- used to remove clogs or clear blockages in pipes and drains.
- Pipe cutters- tools used to cut pipes. Depending on the type of pipe material, it is faster and produces a cleaner cut than a hacksaw.
- Basin wrench/sink wrench- used to turn fasteners in confined spaces where other types of wrenches cannot reach.
- Adjustable spanner- a type of spanner with a movable jaw that allows it to be used on faster heads of different sizes.
- Pliers- a tool used to hold objects firmly, for bending and compressing various plumbing material
- Hacksaw- used to cut metal
- Thread seal tape- a polytetrafluoroethylene film tape for sealing pipe threads
- Tubing cutter- used to cut plastic tubing
Pipefitters work with
- Cutting torches- a tool used to heat copper pipes during soldering
- Welding equipment- used to split, tighten, or lift pipes
- Cutting saws- a tool used to cut metal pipes
- Pressure gauges-are tools used to measure the condition of a fluid to determine the amount of pressure it will exert on the pipes.
- Fitter grips- used to lock two pipes together or a pipe to a joint during welding
Differences Based On Education
You need specific education and training to work as a plumber or a pipefitter. If you are interested in either of the careers, you must achieve the following:
- Have a minimum high school diploma
- Enroll in a plumbing or pipe fitting school for the required time
- Practice under a master plumber or pipefitter for a minimum of five years to earn on-the-job training
Differences Based On Skills
Plumbers and pipefitters must apply and master troubleshooting and mechanical skills for excellence. In addition, they should be physically fit because physical strength is required to get the job done. However, because they work in different fields, there are special skills for each career, as discussed below:
- Ability to handle delicate materials and work in confined spaces
- Excellent teamwork and communication skills
- Ability to plan and stick to work schedules
- Ability to draw, read and interpret masterplans
- Customer service skills
Be able to build and maintain relationships with clients
- Excellent fillet and butt welding skills
- Pipe bending, grinding, and threading. These skills are required to help you repair and fix piping systems.
- Installation and shoring skills to fit small and huge pipes below and above the ground.
- Hydraulic shoring and trench skills while working with big pipes
The skills required for pipefitting are wider, more specialized, and more challenging than plumbing skills because the tasks of plumbers are simple and use simple tools.
On the other hand, the skills of a pipefitter are more complex because their job entails more than fixing pipes together. They work on pipes made of different alloys to carry high-pressure hazardous fluids.
Differences Based On The Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, master pipefitters earn about $54K annually. Plumbers, on the other hand, make about $50k per year. Therefore, Pipefitters make more money than plumbers, but their work is more challenging and specialized.
The annual salary of plumbers and pipefitters depends on their rank, the projects, and the clients they work for. Master plumber or pipefitter makes more money because they are able to handle bigger projects from well-paying clients.
Plumber Vs Pipefitter, Which Is Better?
Plumbers and pipefitters deal with pipes, but they handle different projects. Therefore, it is impossible to point out that one is better than the other. Plumbers work on the plumbing system while pipefitters specialized work on process piping. Here are different projects with the best professional choice.
- High-pressure systems- pipefitters
- Water systems (drinking water and wastewater) – plumbers
- Residential plumbing projects- plumber
- Industrial projects- pipefitters for the fitting of high-pressure pipes and plumbers for the fitting of water systems.
Plumbing Vs Pipefitting, Which Career Is Better?
Consider the factors below to determine the best career for you between plumbing and pipefitting.
Plumbers install water systems in residential and commercial properties, while pipefitters install high-pressure pipes in industrial environments, and they are required to have welding expertise. If you do not like the noise and risks in factories and other manufacturing sites, pipe fitting is not for you.
If you love interacting with people and solving their problems, plumbing is the path you should take because it involves direct communication with the customer as they explain their plumbing problems. On solving the problem, you will get satisfaction from the thank you and smiles you get.
Do you prefer to work independently, or do you prefer working under established companies? For the former, plumbing is the best choice for you because you can go independent after achieving the required on-job training experience. Pipefitting is a more demanding career, and you will always be with a group of people.
Seek advice from professionals
Connect with people working in the fields and ask for advice. Ask them about their day-to-day experiences, challenges, salary, and any other questions you might have. Request to go with them to a project to get first-hand experience.
Plumbers and pipefitters handle different projects, different materials, and different environments. Plumbers work on water systems in residential and commercial properties, while pipefitters install, maintain, and repair high-pressure pipes in factory and manufacturing settings. Both require college training and physical strength. Research shows that the demand for pipefitters and plumbers will continue to grow. Therefore, they are worthwhile careers to pursue.