what is a pipefitter?

A pipefitter is a specialised tradesperson trained in assembling, organising and maintaining mechanical piping systems. You work on industrial, high-pressure installations for heating and cooling systems, steam, ventilation, fuel systems and chemical transmission.

Contrary to popular belief, pipefitters are not plumbers. Even steamfitters, who do a type of plumbing, are responsible for completely different high-pressure piping from other plumbing systems. Plumbers work in the water and sanitation industries; pipefitters use metals like stainless steel and carbon instead of alloy metals and work in a wide range of industries. In this role, you shape components to exact specifications for industrial use. You put together blueprints and review plans.

As a pipefitter, you select pipes and other materials and equipment needed for a project. You also use your skills to manipulate the shapes and settings of pipes. You install these systems to avoid obstructions or the disruption of building operations. As a pipefitter, you perform tests, fix glitches and leaks and eliminate hazards. Your job is to ensure the pipes provide optimal performance in high-pressure environments. If you discover any issues, you make adjustments to ensure the system runs smoothly. As well as installing new systems, you perform repairs and maintenance tasks on existing systems.

Would working as a pipefitter suit your resilience under pressure? Then read on to find out what competencies and qualifications you need to thrive in a pipefitter role.

pipefitter jobs

average pipefitter salary

According to National Careers, the median compensation package for pipefitters ranges from £20,000 to £40,000 per year. Entry-level workers with minimal skills and experience take home as little as £20,000 a year, while pipefitters with extensive experience can demand higher salaries.

what factors affect the salary of a pipefitter?

As a pipefitter, your compensation package depends on your education, experience and scope of work. When you have better qualifications like a diploma or certificate, your earnings are higher than a pipefitter on an apprenticeship. Having minimal experience also reduces your salary prospects since you possess limited skills. However, you can negotiate a higher salary when you have over five years of experience with expert-level knowledge.

As a pipefitter, you work on new construction projects for pipes and hydraulic systems or perform maintenance tasks. New construction projects are large-scale and complex with huge budgets. Hence, your salaries are higher due to the complex tasks involved. Maintenance and repair work attracts lower salaries as you fix a small portion of the system.

Factory worker operating a column drill.
Factory worker operating a column drill.

types of pipefitters

The types of pipefitters depend on the level of experience and industry specialisation. Some include:

  • master pipefitters: a master pipefitter is a licenced tradesman who typically supervises apprentice and journeymen pipefitters. As a master pipefitter, you work on new construction projects overseeing the whole process. You also maintain and inspect existing systems.
  • general pipefitters: as a general pipefitter, you design, fabricate, install and maintain industrial piping systems. You work on systems to ensure they meet commercial, manufacturing and industrial specifications.
  • steamfitters: as a steamfitter, you specialise in designing and constructing systems that manage the flow of gases and liquids at high pressure. You also test systems for functionality and perform repairs or routine maintenance tasks.
  • gasfitters: a gasfitter is a technician who uses technical expertise to pipe gas safely. Gas is a volatile element that requires a specialist's experience. Gasfitters are responsible for the delicate balance between equipment, piping and meters.
  • sprinkler fitters: as a sprinkler fitter, you specialise in piping for fire suppression systems. You install, inspect and certify all air, antifreeze, water, chemical and anti-fire foam solutions.

working as a pipefitter

Working as a pipefitter involves juggling multiple tasks and finding solutions to problems as they emerge. Let's explore pipefitters' specific duties, responsibilities, work schedules and job outlook.


education and skills

Some of the routes for getting into the role include:

  • college course: to become a pipefitter, you should complete a college course. You can become a trainee pipefitter when you complete a Level 2 certificate in welding or a Level 2 diploma in engineering, plumbing and heating. Some pipefitters complete a Level 3 Diploma or T Level in building services engineering.
  • apprenticeship: if you don't qualify for the college courses, pursue advanced apprenticeship opportunities in engineering pipefitter or pipe welder to join the role. The apprenticeships allow you to study as you work. 

pipefitter skills and competencies

Pipefitting requires you to have a variety of skills and competencies. The most successful pipefitters have the following skills:

  • communication: pipefitters constantly share information. You do critical work and are responsible for knowing what's happening. Pipefitters also deal with managers, labourers and vendors. Communication skills help you interact with everyone appropriately.
  • flexibility: pipefitters handle equipment and adjust to situations on the spot. The ability to adapt on the go is a characteristic that benefits any pipefitter.
  • knowledge of mechanics: as a pipefitter, it is important to stay on top of the latest tech in your industry. You should know how to assemble, repair and manage the materials necessary to implement piping systems. Expect to read blueprints to ensure piping systems are functional and safe. Advanced maths is necessary, as precise measurements are important. It is also crucial to know all the industry's toolkits. 
  • physical strength and dexterity: pipefitters use tools, materials and equipment that can be heavy. Since you lift and carry these things, you should be in relatively good shape.
  • troubleshooting skills: it's important to be confident in developing new piping systems. Delicate operations and emergencies often require quick thinking and careful problem-solving.
  • welding and hvac experience: a good pipefitter should understand how to create safe bonds between metals. You should also know when to step aside and let a pro do the welding. Some pipefitters put together HVAC infrastructures for large commercial and industrial HVAC units. In these jobs, you set up gas and water supply lines and see that hot water or steam is distributed safely to all units.
focused male wearing protective gear at work
focused male wearing protective gear at work


Here are the most FAQs about working as a pipefitter

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