The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that we waste one trillion gallons of water each year from household leaks alone. As individuals and cities increasingly want to reduce the amount of water they waste, plumbers play a crucial role. Plumbers fix, maintain, and help build piping systems in houses, commercial buildings, and other structures.

As a plumber, you can start making money right out of high school as you train in an apprenticeship program. The more experience you gain, the more income you can earn.

How Much Does a Plumber Make in the United States?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters earned an average salary of $61,100 — or $29.37 an hour — in 2020. That makes the average plumber salary about $5,000 greater than the national average salary for all jobs.

Plumbers' incomes change based on their experience level, making this profession a good fit for someone willing to dedicate time to their craft to reap the reward.

Salary Changes Throughout the Career Path

You can begin your plumbing career right out of high school with an apprenticeship. Apprenticeship programs last a few years, and you can get started by contacting your local workforce board or a union.

For example, the United Association (UA), a national union for plumbers and other skilled technicians, hosts a five-year apprenticeship program. In its program, you will work as often as a journey-level plumber and attend classes when you're not working.

You get paid for your work as an apprentice — but at a much lower rate than an experienced plumber. You will likely also receive free courses or a stipend for tuition and books for your classroom learning. According to the BLS, plumbing, pipelaying, and fitting helpers earn an average of $16.80 an hour or $34,990 a year.

After completing an apprenticeship, you can become a journey-level plumber. In some states, you must also pass a licensing exam to earn this title. Journeyworkers work under the supervision of master plumbers. Still, they can work more independently than apprentices, and they earn higher pay.

According to salaries reported on Payscale.com, journey-level plumbers earn an average annual salary of $58,950.

Once you gain years of experience as a journey-level plumber, you can become a master plumber. Master plumbers supervise people — including journey workers and apprentices — on projects. Many states require master plumbers to sit for a licensing exam on plumbing or contracting.

On Payscale.com, the average master plumber salary is $69,090, not including commission.

As a master plumber, you can apply for a license to become a plumbing contractor. Plumbing contractors mainly perform new construction, remodeling, and major repair work — opposed to minor repairs and maintenance.

Plumbing contractors on Payscale.com reported earning average annual wages of $77,170.

You may even choose to combine your plumbing expertise with training and education in other sought-after builder skills, such as electrical or HVAC systems. With years of experience and a steady clientele, you could own and manage your own home remodeling business.

According to the BLS, construction managers earned $107,260 on average in 2020.

Not every plumber works in households. Many work in commercial construction and city infrastructure. In addition, with some experience, people interested in plumbing can find fulfilling work in one of the careers below:

Pipefitters and steamfitters

When you're a plumbing apprentice, you can decide to specialize in fitting. Fitters work with pipelines carrying liquids or gases, sometimes at very high pressures.

Welders

Welding uses some of the same skills as plumbing, such as understanding blueprints, and many welders work building and repairing pipelines. Welders also can work on vehicles or in manufacturing automobiles or other machines.

Civil engineers and mechanical engineers

If you want to design plumbing systems, consider earning a bachelor's degree in engineering to land one of these roles.

Electricians and HVAC technicians

Like plumbers, these pros often diagnose and fix efficiency issues in buildings. But they work with different types of utilities, including electricity, ventilation, heating, and cooling.

Pay Difference By Location

State

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Career Opportunities and Job Growth

In 2020, plumbers and pipefitters accounted for nearly half a million jobs. The BLS projects that employment for plumbers will grow as fast as the rest of the workforce, at 4% through 2029.

Aging buildings and city infrastructure need plumbers to fix issues and perform regular maintenance. At the same time, new construction projects need plumbers to install systems.

As a plumber, you can stand out in your job search by keeping up with the latest technology, including planning and project management software and technologies that monitor water waste. According to the International Trade Association, cities are focusing more on water conservation, driving them to use more smart water technologies.

Cities with the most plumbers include the country's largest cities — New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. But the cities with the highest average plumber salary are:

San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA
$106,100
Fairbanks, AK
$94,280
Kankakee, IL
$93,420

The U.S. Department of Labor expects employment for plumbers to grow the fastest in the following areas, according to Projections Central:

Nevada
37.2%
Guam
35%
Utah
33.3%

Other Benefits of Becoming a Plumber

If you become a member of the UA, you can participate in its pension fund. In addition, local union chapters frequently help members access several benefits, including:

Whether you get holiday or overtime pay may vary depending on your local chapter.

If you're not a union member, your benefits depend on your employer. Larger employers and franchise models will most likely provide more traditional benefits compared to small family-owned shops. Still, smaller shops may offer other perks related to workplace culture.

Salary for Independent Contractors

According to the BLS, 8% of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamers worked for themselves in 2019. In some states, you're eligible to work independently once you reach a certain status, for example, a master plumber. If you decide to work for yourself as a plumber, you can determine your own rates, so you set your salary.

Working for yourself means you're responsible for building your clientele, negotiating contracts, collecting payment, and paying self-employment taxes. Independent plumbers also have expenses including:

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Plumber?

Tools and Equipment

Frequently, your supervisor or employer will provide the heavy-duty tools you need, like large power tools. However, it can be helpful to have your own set of basic tools, such as a tape measure, hammer, and screwdriver set.

Union Dues

If you join a union, your dues will come out of your paycheck. These dues vary depending on your union chapter but may include a $25 to $40 monthly fee or 1 to 2% of your paycheck.

Licensing and Endorsements

Many states require plumbers to carry a license or endorsements. Find the requirements for your state using the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) map.

Costs for these credentials vary for each state. For example, in Massachusetts, journey-level and master plumbers require licenses, costing $80 to $100. In Texas, plumbers of all levels need licenses, which can cost up to $250 initially and $75 for renewal. Texas plumbers can also add endorsements for specialties, like working on medical gas pipelines and fire protection sprinklers, for $50-$150 per endorsement.

Find possibilities for breaking into the trade and excelling through your plumbing career in our career guide to become a plumber.

Salaries for Related Jobs

Electricians

  • Salary: $61,550
  • Cost to become: Up to $1,000 for apprenticeship costs such as books and tools and licensing fees, depending on your state.

HVAC technicians

  • Salary: $53,410
  • Cost to become: $1,200 to $15,000 for a certificate or associate degree.

Welders

  • Salary: $46,690
  • Cost to become: $5,000-$15,000 for a welding certificate or associate degree, plus $100-$1,000 for various certifications.

Become Team
Lyss Welding
Contributing Writer

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