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When most people think of plumbers they may think of Nintendo’s famous Mario Bros. franchise or a stereotypical foul-smelling guy with a beer gut and saggy pants revealing his “plumber’s crack.” They may also associate a plumber with leaky pipes under the kitchen sink. Very few people ever ask: “What is a plumber?” This is because the average individual assumes that they already know what a plumber is and does for a living.

But a plumber is a skilled tradesman capable of doing far more than turning a wrench under sink to fix a leaky pipe. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines a plumber as someone who “repairs pipes that carry water, steam, air or other liquids or gases to and in businesses, homes and factories.” They are trained to install and maintain water systems that convey drinking water, sewage and septic systems and drainage systems so that water runoff from storms and other events are dispersed and distributed away from dwellings so that inhabitants and their valuables are protected.

They also install and repair fixtures, pipes, fittings and other equipment used in residential, commercial, institutional and industrial buildings. They also inspect structures to determine obstructions, cut wall openings and study building plans. Plumbers must possess knowledge of industrial materials and equipment, tools, design principles and technology. They should be proficient with principals of calculus, statistics, physics, administration, production and customer service.

Plumbing equipment includes devices often hidden behind walls or in utility spaces which are not seen by the general public. It includes water meters, pumps, expansion tanks, backflow arrestors, water filters, UV sterilization lights, water softeners, water heaters, heat exchangers, gauges, and control systems.

Specialized plumbing tools include pipe wrenches, flaring pliers, and joining tools such as soldering torches and crimp tools. New tools have been developed to help plumbers fix problems more efficiently. For example, plumbers use video cameras for inspections of hidden leaks or problems, they use hydro jets, and high pressure hydraulic pumps connected to steel cables for trench-less sewer line replacement.

It’s hard to imagine our modern, high-tech life without plumbing. Since ancient times, Europeans understood the need to keep their water clean. In America, we no longer use hollow tree trunks as pipes. Today, plumbing is a testament to major advancements in materials, techniques, technology and public policy.

Training for plumbers is extensive and blends classroom instruction with on-the-job work experience. At Atlanta Technical College in Atlanta, GA, students enroll in a Plumbing Technology course that consists of a 47-credit hour curriculum. Courses include plumbing drawings, pipes, valves and fittings and drainage systems. Successful completion of the course results in a diploma, eligibility for an apprenticeship and qualification for the Journeyman Plumbers Exam.

Although there are reasonably priced plumbers, cheap plumbers do not exist. A plumber’s salary is commensurate to his highly technical training. The average plumber’s salary is $22.43 per hour or $46,660 a year.

Although the requirements for plumbers may vary by state, most states require plumbers to be licensed.

A plumber’s job is a source of humor and respect. Woody Allen, comedian, said, “Not only is there no God, but try finding a plumber on Sunday.” Martin H. Fischer said, “The practice of medicine is a thinker’s art the practice of surgery a plumber’s.” Plumbers are an iconic part of our workforce. They represent the stereotypical hard working man or woman. In 2008, Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, an employee of a plumbing contractor aka “Joe the Plumber” asked President Barack Obama about his stance on small business tax. His inquiry gained worldwide media attention.

The plumber’s job description is multifaceted, complex and specialized. Although their job may be largely mechanical, it also entails working with people and having an understanding of human behavior. Like any professional, plumbers demonstrate their dedication through ongoing training and certification. Fixing a leaky faucet is just a fraction of their overall proficiency. They remove unsanitary conditions that may contribute to cholera or typhoid. A plumber is an expert whose primary goal is to ensure clean water and a healthy environment. And needless to say, the services of a plumber will always be in demand.

For more information about the plumbing profession, please see the articles below:

Plumbing School

Plumbing Courses

Plumbing Apprenticeship

Journeyman Plumber

Master Plumber

Plumbing Contractor

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