What Do Plumbers Do? A Complete Guide of Duties and Skills

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 1 November 2021

Plumbers are skilled professionals who install, repair and maintain commercial and residential water and piping systems. They also install bathtubs, sinks, dishwashers, water heaters and toilets. Learning more about this career path could help you decide if it's something you want to pursue. In this article, we answer the question, 'What do plumbers do?' and provide a guide on how to become one.

What do plumbers do?

If you're interested in this career, you may wonder, 'What do plumbers do?' Plumbers are responsible for the installation, repair and maintenance of gas and water pipes, sanitation units, health systems, sinks, toilets and other fixtures in both commercial and residential buildings. They may also assess and design plumbing systems and ensure they comply with local rules and regulations. They may work alone and regularly travel long distances to perform necessary repairs or maintain already installed pipes.

Duties of a plumber

The following are the duties of a plumber:

Locating and repairing leaks

A common situation that requires plumbing services is when a leak occurs. It is the role of plumbers and plumbing apprentices to identify the cause of the leakage and repair it. The complexity of this task depends on the building's size and its plumbing system. Locating leaks in large buildings may be more demanding and the plumber may need to scan their blueprints to trace possible leak locations.

Change and repair of various plumbing parts

Some components require repair, while others might need complete replacement. Plumbers and plumbing apprentices can solve most plumbing issues when they alter or repair particular parts of the affected plumbing systems. This may include the replacement of faulty taps, covering unnecessary holes in pipes, removing blockages and other related operations.

Choosing the right equipment for each job

Plumbing tasks require a wide range of plumbing tools and equipment. Plumbing apprentices may learn ways to identify the correct tools and equipment, depending on the situation. The correct tools and equipment can help increase the chance of quality plumbing service delivery.

Preparing cost estimates for clients

Plumbers and plumbing apprentices offer services in diverse situations and for this, the knowledge of how much to charge a client based on the cost of materials, equipment and labour is essential. Materials, labour and equipment cost vary depending on the nature of the plumbing work and the leakage size. Apprentices can learn how to correctly evaluate each job to avoid under or overcharging their clients.

Levels of plumbers and licencing requirements

Plumbing jobs have different levels of training to ensure each plumber has ample skills and experience to perform their duties which include:

Apprentice plumber

An apprentice plumber is a professional at the beginner level in plumbing. This role entails following the directions of more experienced plumbers, exercising your skills as you perform the job and studying more on plumbing systems. An apprentice plumber performs minor duties, like cleaning and organising tools. This level allows plumbers to practice only under the supervision of a journeyman or master plumber.

To qualify for a plumber's apprentice licence, you can complete coursework and work under supervision on plumbing jobs. The age requirement is 18 years and apprentices usually have a GED certificate or high school diploma. The licence may qualify for a licence after being accepted into an apprentice plumber's position, sometimes after a trial period. Apprenticed plumbers usually remain in the same position until they finish their apprenticeship.

Journeyman plumber

A journeyman plumber can work without supervision. The tasks of this role are more complex than that of an apprentice plumber. They may include installing plumbing systems, fixtures and appliances. At this level, plumbers may decide to specialise in certain plumbing areas to set their services apart from those of other plumbers.

To qualify for a licence in this role, you may require a valid apprentice licence and four years of experience as an apprentice. You may also take an exam from your state board of plumbing that evaluates your knowledge of plumbing systems applications and diagnosing issues. Upon passing the exam, you can obtain your journeyman plumber's licence and end your apprenticeship.

Master plumber

The master plumber level is the highest extent you can go in a plumbing career. In most states, this level allows you to run your own plumbing business, acquire permits to complete projects and hire junior plumbers. Master plumbers carry out many duties performed by journeymen and apprentices, but may also handle the management, financial and legal responsibilities of their business. As a master plumber, you may decide to send your junior plumbers to complete small jobs independently.

A master plumber licence requires you to complete two years under the journeyman plumber level and pass the state board exam. In some states, with specialised knowledge about a specific area of plumbing, such as irrigation or high-rise residential systems, you may also apply for specialty licences as proof of your skills. With this licence, you can register your own plumbing business.

What skills are important for plumbers?

Some important skills for plumbers may include:

Technical skills

Plumbers typically know how to handle machinery and use various tools. They often use wrenches, hacksaws, pipe cutters, bending equipment, grips, seals and tapes. They often make correct measurements, calculations and specifications for the safe and efficient completion of projects within set deadlines.

Related: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

Physical skills

As a physically demanding job, plumbing requires flexibility, physical strength, excellent motor skills and good vision. For example, plumbers often find themselves working in dark spaces with small tools. Good vision and other physical skills can help them succeed.

Analytical skills

Plumbers may use an understanding of physics, mathematics and technology subjects in their work. They may examine how systems like water supply and sanitation work. They also conduct tests and inspections to establish errors and make detailed plans to rectify them.

Problem-solving skills

Plumbers need problem-solving skills to enable them to identify the main causes of a problem and offer applicable solutions. Plumbers mostly solve complicated problems within short time frames to ensure the timely completion of their projects. This requires them to think creatively and logically.

Communication skills

Plumbers may work with diverse people during a single project and may also communicate effectively with assistants, managers, business owners, material suppliers and homeowners. They may also express their thoughts accurately while delivering professional messages to avoid confusion. They can also explain complex ideas and processes in understandable ways.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

5 different types of plumbers

There are different types of plumbers based on what they do. Understanding these types and their roles might help you decide what kind of plumber you want to become. You can find the different types of plumbers below:

Commercial plumber

Commercial plumbers are qualified plumbing professionals who work in commercial settings. Many commercial plumbers work in schools, hospitals, colleges and manufacturing plants and also specialise in working with and around industrial equipment. They're responsible for installing, maintaining and repairing tanks and pipes and are often more advanced and knowledgeable on particular plumbing issues than residential plumbers.

Service and repair plumber

Service and repair plumbers specialise in maintenance and repair tasks of plumbing systems in residential and commercial settings. These plumbers gain their experience through technical training and on-the-job training. They may perform common jobs such as repairing leaks, adjusting pipe pressure, removing blockages and cleaning plumbing systems and fixtures.

Residential plumber

Residential plumbers install, maintain and repair plumbing fixtures in a residential setting. They mostly perform pipe system installations, small-scale plumbing jobs and residential plumbing system repairs. They interact with plumbing systems such as pipes, water and toilet systems and can solve any plumbing-related issues in the home.

Sanitary plumber

A sanitary plumber is a professional who specialises in plumbing roles related to sanitary systems. They're the most common type of plumber hired because most residential plumbing problems relate to the home's sanitary system. Sanitary plumbers perform common tasks in sanitary systems, which include clearing blockages, installing bathroom and toilet pipes, fixing suspended drains, supervising plumbing installations and installing water heating systems.

Water supply plumber

A water supply plumber works with water supply systems such as kitchen, bathroom, overhead storage tanks and pipes. Water supply plumbers perform common duties that include installing and maintaining water supply systems in bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms and also repairing pipes and sanitation systems. Some water supply plumbers may also perform basic residential plumbing roles, like unblocking kitchen, toilets and bathroom drains.

Related: How to Become a Roof Plumber in 3 Simple Steps

Plumber work environment

Plumbers may work indoors or outdoors, and some environments may have tight spaces that require access from outside. Plumbers may work in residential, commercial or industrial buildings, depending on their specialisation.

Plumbing is often physically challenging, with work environments in different climatic conditions. Plumbing technicians may also be available on-call for any emergencies.

Average salary for a plumber

The average salary for a plumber in Australia is $70,097 per year. This amount can vary depending on factors such as location, experience and academic qualifications. Plumbers who work in governments may earn more than those in the private sector.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.