Difference Between A Plumber and A Pipefitter

Both of these occupations require skills and knowledge directly relating to measuring, cutting and proper connection of piping for the transfer of liquid, gas and/or hazardous materials.  But, do you know the specific difference between a plumber and a pipefitter?

This has been an age old debate between the two occupations, as most people think plumbers and pipefitters are one in the same.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth!  In fact, if you refer to a pipefitter as a plumber, you might be in for an earful!

In order to avoid that uncomfortable situation, let’s explain the difference between a plumber and a pipefitter so we can get a better understanding of what’s involved with each occupation.

What’s the Difference Between A Plumber and Pipefitter?

While they certainly sound like the same job, there are a few important differences between plumbers and pipefitters, the main one being the scale of the work involved along with a varied skill set.  Pipefitters are normally responsible for more demanding jobs that deal with pipes made of special metals made for handling high pressure.  Plumbers on the other hand, use more basic piping such as PVC, copper or galvanized steel.

Generally speaking, both occupations should have a good working knowledge of the following…

  • Installing pipes and fixtures
  • Study and interpreting blueprints
  • State and local building codes
  • Determine the amount of material and type of equipment needed
  • Inspect and test installed pipe systems and pipelines
  • Troubleshoot and repair failed systems
  • Replace worn parts

*source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

While both jobs require the use and knowledge of different pipes and valves, plumbers are more widely known as residential workers as opposed to pipefitters who work in factories and industrial environments.  Knowing this, let’s take a look at some specifics of both plumbers and pipefitters.

What Do Plumbers Do?

Plumbers install, maintain and repair water and gas pipes in homes (residential), and businesses.  On the large scale side, plumbers are called on to repair and service water lines the feed entire Pipefitters are generally responisble for more in depth workbuildings.  On the smaller side, they can install and fix failed water lines that feed a refrigerator or sink.  Also, plumbers are required to deal with drainage piping found in bathtubs and basement floors.

Residentially, plumbers are used to install appliances that have water or gas lines connected to them.  Some of these include refrigerators, dishwashers, water heaters and washing machines.  On the non-residential side, plumbers can be used to repair or maintain septic systems and/or city and village water supply systems.

What Do Pipefitters Do?

Pipefitters install, maintain and repair pipes that carry chemicals, acids, and gases.  As a result, pipefitters are required to have a broader base of knowledge when it comes to their job.  Pipefitters handle more complex systems such as hydrolics, high pressure/steam systems, refrigeration/Freon etc.  With these specialized systems comes an added demand to be highly skilled in your craft because of the hazardous materials that are often associated with them.

Also, there is a wider variety of pipe that pipefitters need to be proficient in installing, than that of a plumber.  These include stainless steel, copper, Inconel, PVC, galvanized steel etc.

Pipefitters have much less of a use in the residential sector, and are widely used in the commercial, industrial and manufacturing settings.  Heating and cooling in larger buildings is one area that pipefitters are often hired for.

Some applications are so specialized that there are subcategories of pipefitters…

Gasfitters– Install pipe systems that deliver gas and/or oxygen

Sprinklerfitters– Install and repair sprinkler systems in buildings and residential lawn applications

Steamfitters– Install pipe systems that move high pressure steam, such as power plants and manufacturing factories.

The Bottom Line

So, what is the real difference between a plumber and a pipefitter?  Think of it in these terms:  As a general rule, pipefitters are hired for more complex and intensive jobs that deal with numerous applications and materials.  Plumbers are more residential and generally deal with water service and drainage.

Be careful who you call a “plumber” as it is widely known in the industry that pipefitters do not want to be referred to as a plumber.  Hopefully this article has cleared up the difference so you don’t get yourself into trouble with a certified pipefitter!

If you’re interested in plumbing apprenticeships or pipefitter jobs, take a look at our Plumber Jobs Search.

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