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What Does a Pipefitter or Steamfitter Do?

Pipefitters and steamfitters are responsible for installing pipes and maintaining piping systems used for chemicals, acids or gases. These skilled craftsmen are sometimes collectively called fitters. They work primarily on large commercial and industrial construction projects.

These careers are for those who love to create something out of nothing. They start with a blueprint or drawing and make it reality.

Wondering about the difference between pipefitter and steamfitter jobs? The primary difference between them is the material transported through the pipe systems they design, install or maintain. Pipefitters work with low-pressure and high-pressure systems that are used in heating and cooling, manufacturing and electricity generation. Steamfitters specialize in systems designed for the flow of liquids or gases at high pressure. There are other piping specialists called gasfitters and sprinklerfitters. 

These careers offer steady work and the opportunity to ply your trade in different settings, such as large office buildings or power plants. Plus, the value of getting paid to train through an apprenticeship means even entry-level fitters can start earning a salary earlier than most four-year college graduates. 

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$ 31,000 - $ 99,000
$ 56,000
48,300+
A pipefitter cuts a steel pipe before installation
Your comfort level with the tools of trade will be a key to your success as a pipefitter or steamfitter. (Credit: OtmarW/Shutterstock)

What Is It Like To Be a Steamfitter?

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Steamfitter Todd Clements

What Is It Like To Be a Steamfitter?

Todd Clements gets a lot of satisfaction knowing that the work he does is saving lives — maybe not like an EMT saves lives, but just as crucial. Todd is a steamfitter, and he creates piping systems for industrial processes, including systems for the pharmaceutical industry. 

He didn't know what the job involved until he learned about an apprenticeship program with UA Local 440 in Indianapolis.

"I didn’t know anything about the trade before I got accepted. With the great instructors and on-the-job training, it helped me develop the skills needed to be a great mechanic in our trade."

Read more about why Todd enjoys being a steamfitter.

Want to hear from a pipefitter? 

Meet Donovan Embry and learn why he's thrilled he became a pipefitter apprentice.

Job Responsibilities

  • Cut, thread or hammer pipes to specifications, using tools such as saws, cutting torches, pipe threaders or pipe benders
  • Read blueprints and make pipe systems based on those specifications
  • Assemble or secure pipes, tubes and fittings by welding, brazing, cementing, soldering or threading joints
  • Inspect, examine and test installed systems
  • Modify, clean, maintain and repair pipe systems
  • Prepare cost estimates for clients (if you are working independently)

How to Become a Pipefitter or Steamfitter: FAQs

What are the requirements to become a pipefitter or steamfitter?

You’ll need a high school diploma or equivalent. Training to enter the pipefitter or steamfitter trade is similar and requires a combination of classroom instruction and on-the-job training. Community colleges and trade schools offer training programs. At least 144 hours of courses are required in subjects such as drafting, mathematics, pipe system design, chemistry and physics. Some programs also offer welding, which may be a requirement for the next step.
 
The most common path to this career is through apprenticeship offered by employers or local unions. Apprenticeship typically lasts four to five years, during which time the apprentice learns on the job, earns a paycheck, and also takes classes. (The required training typically is about 2,000 hours.) Classes include those mentioned above plus blueprint reading, safety and ASME codes, a set of standards established by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers that cover all aspects of mechanical engineering. This includes most of the equipment pipefitters and steamfitters use, such as boilers, heaters and pressure valves.

What about next steps? Apprentice vs. journeyman vs. master

Apprentices and other aspiring pipefitters do this lengthy training to reach journeyman status. Most states require pipefitters and steamfitters to earn a license to become a journeyman. (A journeyman can do many tasks independently.) The number of hours required to reach that status varies by state, but it typically requires taking a written exam. 
 
This may sound like a lot of work, but it pays off in compensation. A newly minted journeyman’s salary is typically at least double that of an apprentice because he or she can take on so many new responsibilities. Salary will depend on the employer, the area of the country and other variables. 
 
Master status is typically used in reference to plumbers, but pipefitters and steamfitters can also achieve this status. This involves more time and another exam, but it opens the door to get a contractor’s license and open your own business. Master status also gives you the opportunity to train apprentices and helpers.

What kind of hours do pipefitters and steamfitters work?

Most work a 40-hour week, but there are often opportunities to earn overtime. Night, weekend and on-call work are sometimes required. 

Is there a demand for these jobs?

Job growth for these roles is steady, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting about 5% growth from now until 2030.

What skills and qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?

Someone who goes on to become a successful pipefitter or steamfitter will likely: 
    •    Have a talent for problem-solving 
    •    Have excellent analytical skills
    •    Have strong math skills
    •    Be collaborative
    •    Have strong communication skills
    •    Be physically fit and limber (for working in compact spaces)

The bottom line on becoming a pipefitter or steamfitter

This in-demand, high-paying job is a wonderful opportunity for someone who’s ready to go deep to learn a trade. That’s one of the reasons it’s one of SkillPointe's highest paying trade jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. Once you’ve earned your license as a pipefitter or steamfitter, the opportunities will be everywhere. (And did we mention little to no debt compared to the bachelor degree route?) On top of that, this is a trade where you can continue to learn new skills and technologies. Sound interesting? Learn more about training options below. 

Pipefitter / Steamfitter Training in Your Area

Coordinates
Texas State Technical College logo

Plumbing & Pipefitting Technology Certificate 2

Texas State Technical College
Waco (384.8 Miles)
Jones County Junior College logo

Pipefitter, A.A.S.

Jones County Junior College
Ellisville (530.9 Miles)
Jones County Junior College logo

Pipefitter Technical Certificate

Jones County Junior College
Ellisville (530.9 Miles)
Jones County Junior College logo

Pipefitter Career Certificate

Jones County Junior College
Ellisville (530.9 Miles)
Milwaukee Area Technical College logo

Steamfitter (Construction) Apprenticeship

Milwaukee Area Technical College
Milwaukee (581.7 Miles)
Milwaukee Area Technical College logo

Steamfitter (Refrigeration) Apprenticeship

Milwaukee Area Technical College
Milwaukee (581.7 Miles)
Milwaukee Area Technical College logo

Industrial Pipe Fitter Apprenticeship

Milwaukee Area Technical College
Milwaukee (581.7 Miles)
Fox Valley Technical College logo

Pipe Trades Preparation Technical Diploma

Fox Valley Technical College
Appleton (625.0 Miles)
Fox Valley Technical College logo

Steamfitting Apprentice

Fox Valley Technical College
Appleton (625.0 Miles)
Fox Valley Technical College logo

Steamfitting Service Apprenticeship

Fox Valley Technical College
Appleton (625.0 Miles)
Fox Valley Technical College logo

Pipe Fabricator Apprentice

Fox Valley Technical College
Appleton (625.0 Miles)
Fox Valley Technical College logo

Pipefitting Apprentice

Fox Valley Technical College
Appleton (625.0 Miles)