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Pipefitter vs Plumber: What’s the Difference?

You might have heard people talk about pipefitters and plumbers. Is there a difference between the two jobs and what is it? And who should you call when you have a problem with your plumbing or drains at home?

Read on to find out what is included in the job description of pipefitters versus plumbers. You will also learn when you should hire a pipefitter and when a plumber.

What is a Pipefitter?

Both pipefitters and plumbers work with pipes, but there are key differences. A pipefitter is someone whose job includes designing, installing and repairing mechanical pipe systems. They are required to have the technical expertise to build industrial pipe infrastructures and transport systems that are stable and safe for hydraulic systems.

Pipefitters’ work is usually in more industrial environments rather than people’s homes or residential building sites. Places they work in include refineries, energy plants, and factories. These environments need piping systems that can carry various substances such as liquids, steam, gases, and chemicals.

Because of the environments and substances they may need to work with, pipefitters need to have knowledge of the properties of different chemicals and how they react with different pipe materials such as copper, PVC, or carbon steel. Blueprint reading is also a key element of their job.

Here is a video you can watch about being a pipefitter.

What is a Plumber?

When we think of a plumber, we usually think of a person who installs taps and showers, and unclogs drains. However, plumbers do a lot more. Plumbers also install and maintain a range of piping and drainage systems in various locations, including homes and commercial properties, water treatment facilities, and waste disposal plants.

The exact job description depends on the project a plumber is working on. However, they need to work with plumbing tools, such as grinders and pipe benders, have knowledge of pipes and other related materials, and work from blueprints. Sometimes, plumbers may be asked to design a plumbing system for a new building project.

Plumbers also need to have carpentry skills as sometimes they are required to access pipes underneath the floor or inside walls. They need to solder and attach fittings to ensure the plumbing systems are secure. They will also install fixtures and fittings, including bathtubs, boilers, and heat pumps.

If you are interested in becoming a plumber or knowing more about the profession, you can check out this video.

What Are The Differences Between Pipefitters and Plumbers?

The key differences between pipefitters and plumbers are that they work in different settings, which means they need a different set of skills. Let’s look at the differences between the two professions in more detail.

1. Their Job Descriptions Are Different

Although both plumbers and pipefitters work with pipes, installing systems, maintaining them, and performing repairs, their job descriptions differ. This is because they work in very different settings.

A plumber will usually work in a residential or a commercial setting, undertaking jobs from installing new pipes and drainage systems in new builds to maintaining and repairing existing systems. They need to know the regulations for plumbing and sewage lines to ensure they comply with the building codes at the local and state level.

Pipefitters work in commercial settings. For example, they will service heating and cooling systems, install and maintain fuel and delivery pipes, as well as commercial wastewater disposal systems. They need to know and follow the safety specifications for installing pipes that carry potentially dangerous substances.

2. Pipefitters Specialize in an Area of The Industry

Because of the nature of their work, dealing with a range of hazardous substances, pipefitters usually have an area of expertise. Plumbers are less likely to specialize. Instead, they are expected to know how to handle a wide range of plumbing needs and issues that arise at homes and commercial properties.

What are the different pipe fitting specialisms? Gasfitters will work with pipes used for delivering oxygen or gas, while sprinkler fitters specialize in installing and repairing sprinkler systems. Pipefitters whose job involves installing pipes used for carrying high-pressure water or steam are steamfitters.

3. Skills Required

There are similarities and differences in the skills required of pipefitters and plumbers. Both pipefitters and plumbers are expected to have good troubleshooting and mechanical skills. Both professions also require physical strength. Let’s break down the skills required in the two professions.

4. Stamina And Strength

While physical strength is required in both professions, pipefitters may need to use their strength more when they transport heavy tools and materials to work sites. Strength is also required when joining, shaping pipes, and using pipe bending tools.

Both professions also require stamina as work hours can be long. A pipefitter can work, for example, on a contract on an oil rig where they are working to tight deadlines, and meeting them means long days. A plumber on call for emergency repairs will need to be ready to carry out their duties at any hour of the day.

5. An Eye For Detail

Both pipefitters and plumbers need to pay attention to detail when they inspect, maintain, and repair piping systems. Plumbers want to ensure that their client’s property is safe from water leaks, but an eye for detail is even more vital for pipefitters.

Some pipefitters deal with materials that, if they were to leak, could be disastrous to the local environment. A malfunction could put people in the area in danger or cause an environmental disaster. Pipefitters need to spot hazards and fix them before there can be severe complications.

6. Communication

Because plumbers work on residential rather than industrial sites, they are more likely to interact with customers than pipefitters. Plumbers need to be good at communicating with their clients when bidding on jobs and planning work schedules. They may also need to direct other workers and explain technical and plumbing issues to clients.

Even though pipefitters may not have as much interaction with clients as plumbers, they still need good communication skills. They often work in teams, and communicating with your teammates is vital. A communication failure could risk the safety of everyone on site.

7. Customer Service

When we think of customer service roles, we often think of people working in the retail or hospitality industries. We don’t necessarily think of professions such as plumbing or pipefitting. However, you need to have good customer service skills to succeed in both professions, especially in plumbing.

Plumbers go to people’s homes almost daily. While the quality of their work is key in getting repeat business from a client, so is their ability to establish a good rapport with the customer. A plumber with good customer service skills is more likely to build a long-term relationship with a client.

A pipefitter may not meet clients as often as a plumber, but they still need to be able to engage with them. For example, a pipe fitter may need to explain issues with a project to a customer and help them understand the cause and possible solution.

Problem Solving

8. Problem Solving

Both pipefitters and plumbers need to be good at solving problems. When issues arise either at a client’s home or an industrial site, pipefitters and plumbers need to be able to pinpoint the problem. They will then find the quickest and most cost-effective method of dealing with the issue.

9. Training

To become a plumber or a pipefitter, you will need to complete post-secondary training in plumbing or pipe fitting at a trade school or attend an apprenticeship program. Whilst training, you will learn, for example, how to design pipe systems, tools, and safety protocols. A pipefitter will also take classes in welding.

Once you have completed your training in either profession, you will need to pass a licensing exam. Many countries and states also require new plumbers and pipefitters to work under supervision for the first few years before working independently.

How Much Can You Earn?

In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes pipefitters and plumbers in the same category as they both work with pipes and because of the other similarities between the occupations.

Generally, the job outlook in plumbing and pipefitting is good. However, they vary based on the region, economic changes, and the level and type of construction work in the area. The average growth rate of new jobs in the industry is 4%.

The BLS reports that pipefitters and plumbers had a median salary of $55,160 in May 2019. However, your salary is based on skills, experience, and specialism among other factors, and can range from $33,000 to almost $100,000 per year.

Who Do You Need to Call?

If you have a plumbing issue at home or at your workplace, you would need to call a plumber. Because pipefitters work on industrial sites, you are unlikely ever to need their services in a domestic setting.



While both pipefitters and plumbers are responsible for installing, maintaining, and repairing pipes, the environments they work in vary. While plumbers work in residential and commercial buildings, pipefitters can be found in industrial locations such as oil refineries.

Plumbers work with heating and plumbing systems that circulate water and waste at homes and commercial buildings. Pipefitters work with high-pressure systems and need to understand hydraulics and hydraulic controls.

Do you still have questions about pipefitters versus plumbers? You can write them in the comments section.

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