Pipefitters, or fitters, are responsible for installing and maintaining pipes that are mainly designed to carry water, or other liquids, and gases. Fitters typically work in manufacturing, industrial and commercial locations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, they may work on pipes that fuel power plants or those connected to heating or cooling systems in large office buildings.
Qualifying and Training
Pipefitters typically learn their trade by attending a technical school or completing an apprenticeship, which requires a minimum of a high school diploma or the equivalent. Requirements vary by the program, but most apprenticeships also require candidates to be at least 18 years old and to pass both basic math tests and substance-abuse screens. Fitters have physical strength and manual dexterity. They're adaptable, flexible, interpersonal, cooperative and independent.
For every installation job, fitters study blueprints and building codes before pipes are measured and cut, welded or threaded. Once they meet specifications, pipes are mounted with clamps, brackets and welding equipment. Repair jobs have a different process, which starts by turning off the system so pipelines are empty. Fitters troubleshoot and fix reported problems, such as low pressure or backups caused by obstructions, cracks, holes or leaks. Each job concludes with a test run to ensure all systems and lines are working efficiently.
Pipefitters may specialize in one of three fields -- gas, sprinklers or steam. Gas fitters focus on large facilities that rely on natural gas, including hospitals that need clean oxygen for patients. Sprinkler fitters work in residential, business and factory buildings, where they place and maintain fire sprinkler systems. Steamfitters are primarily employed at natural gas power plants, factories with high-temperature pipes and college campuses to work on high-pressure systems that move steam.
Advancing and Earning
As pipefitters gain experience, they may advance to journey- or master- level, where they train and oversee apprentices. The Department of Labor's ONet reports that pipe fitters and steamfitters earned a median income of $50,180 in 2013. It notes that employment opportunities are expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through 2022. According to ONet, there were 387,000 pipefitters and steamfitters employed in 2012, and 130,500 new jobs are expected to open through 2022.