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The maze of pipes that runs under buildings and houses carry gas, steam, water, heat and coolants. The tradespeople who connect, assemble and maintain these pipe systems are called pipefitters. Sometimes called "pipers" or steamfitters, pipefitters lay out, fabricate and repair piping systems which carry substances used in heating, cooling, lubricating and other processes. Pipefitters ensure that people feel cool in the summer and warm in the winter, helping to regulate climate control.

Pipefitters fit into the group of pipe trades, which deals with the installation, maintenance and repair of piping systems. They spend a great deal of their time installing pipelines in various residential, commercial and industrial buildings. Some pipefitters specialize in a particular pipe flowing product such as water, heating, natural gas, refrigeration and air conditioning sectors, a furnace or boiler manufacturer or as a maintenance mechanic for a leasehold company.

Following a complex set of blueprints, the pipefitter assembles a system that will bring the right temperature into the building from underground lines. They decide what type of pipe to use, the tools that will be necessary and the detailed steps that must be followed to accomplish the task. Pipefitters perform various activities such as measuring, cutting, threading, bending and soldering. Once accomplished, the gas or other substance is diverted to industrial machinery where it will power a building or factory's operations.

Pipefitters are perfectionists by trade, since pipe leaks can cause disastrous repercussions and deadly mistakes. If an emergency situation arises such as a gas leak, like doctors, they must diagnose the problem and create a quick solution. Therefore, when in action, they must always double-check everything they do and make accurate cuts into metal, connecting the pipes tightly. This type of accuracy is to prevent future problems from occurring. Leaking water pipes could create a disastrous and costly flood.

Another aspect of the trade is checking for leaks. If any problems are found, they replace worn equipment, perform general maintenance work and assist with plant shutdowns. In general, pipefitters are in good shape and feel comfortable working with heights.

Life as a pipefitter may require long days, harsh conditions and physically demanding work. Pipefitters, however, are an essential part of our lives because they ensure people get the heat, water and gas they need. Seeing a project through from blueprint to construction can be very rewarding.
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
Median Salary:
Highest 10% of Earners:

  Interests and Skills  
Pipefitters require peak physical strength and stamina to lift heavy materials and stand for long periods of time. They have excellent manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination and can do careful precision work. Pipefitters have a clear understanding of mechanics and mathematics. They have the ability to read and understand complex blueprints and visualize these plans in three dimensions. The work is most rewarding for those who enjoy working with little direction or supervision.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Read and interpret drawings and specifications to determine layout requirements
  • Cut openings for pipe in walls, floors and ceilings using hand or power tools or machines
  • Select type and size of pipe required
  • Measure, cut, thread and bend pipe to required shape using hand and power tools
  • Weld, braze, cement, solder and thread joints to join pipes and fabricate sections of piping system
  • Test system for leaks using testing equipment
  • Clean and maintain pipe units and fittings
  • Remove and replace worn components
  • Prepare cost estimates for clients
  • Pipefitters generally work standard 40-hour weeks, however may be required to put in longer hours on weekends and in the evenings. Working conditions are often cramped and uncomfortable, and some work may be done at considerable heights. Work sites are noisy, busy and dangerous, often in remote areas.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Pipefitters work for pipeline construction contractors and sub-contractors, thermal or steam generating plants, manufacturers, utility companies, oil refineries, gas plants, hospitals, laboratories, schools, residential and commercial buildings, pulp mills and chemical plants. Employment prospects for pipefitters change with the seasonal and economic climates.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced pipefitters may advance to supervisory positions such as foreman, sub-contractor, contractor and construction superintendent. With additional training, they can also transfer their skills to occupations such as plumber or welder. Special consideration is given to journeymen pipefitters who wish to become certified in other pipe trades. Pipefitters could also use their knowledge of pipe systems and planning to move into layout and design.

  Educational Paths  
Pipefitters receive their training either through informal, on-the-job training or through an apprenticeship program. Trade certification can be obtained either through an apprenticeship program or after several years of work experience. While trade certification is not mandatory in all areas to become a pipefitter, it can be a requirement for many employers and can also help secure employment.

Apprenticeship programs involve a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction. A pre-apprenticeship course may also be available which takes about five to six months to complete at a community college and is designed to help you get connected with a good company to apprentice with. It is important to apprentice with a reputable company as that is your education. While some apprenticeship programs may not require a high school diploma, it is important to note that employers generally prefer to hire high school graduates.

Apprenticeships can vary, however a typical apprenticeship lasts four to five years. The apprenticeship is a paid position, however wages are about 50 percent of what an employer pays thejJourneyperson, with yearly increases. After successfully completing the apprenticeship requirements, their industry training and apprenticeship office awards the pipefitter a certificate of completion.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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