How do I Become a Pipefitter?

D. Jeffress

Pipefitting is a specialized type of plumbing in which professionals install and maintain the pressurized pipes, gauges, and systems used to provide power and heat to commercial buildings. In addition, many pipefitters are heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) specialists who perform repairs on industrial and residential units. An individual who wants to become a pipefitter is usually required to hold a high school diploma and complete training in a vocational school, apprenticeship program, or both. In addition, a new worker is usually required to pass a licensing exam before he or she can officially become a pipefitter.

Holding a license shows that a contractor knows how to safely work with gas lines and equipment.
Holding a license shows that a contractor knows how to safely work with gas lines and equipment.

The majority of new pipefitters work as apprentices for about five years. Most apprenticeship programs are governed by national or international unions, such as the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada. Individuals enrolled in training programs usually split their time between attending classes and receiving paid, on-the-job training by experienced pipefitters. Classes are generally held in the evenings, two to three times a week. An apprentice learns the principles of basic math, physics, chemistry, and refrigeration, concepts that must be mastered to become a pipefitter.

A pipefitter may specialize in air conditioning repair.
A pipefitter may specialize in air conditioning repair.

While working on-the-job as an apprentice, an individual gains valuable firsthand experience under the supervision of established workers. He or she learns about measuring, cutting, and welding materials, installing various types of systems, reading blueprints, and troubleshooting faulty units. A person who wants to become a pipefitter must become familiar with the highly specialized terminology and tools associated with the occupation. After successfully completing all practical and classroom training requirements, a new worker becomes eligible to receive the title of journeyman.

Pipefitters, or steamfitters, are responsible for installing piping systems.
Pipefitters, or steamfitters, are responsible for installing piping systems.

Many states and countries require an individual to pass a licensing examination to become a pipefitter. Written licensing exams test a new worker's comprehension of safety regulations, local laws and codes, and basic job duties. Individuals who plan to work on gas lines or refrigeration units must pass additional examinations to ensure that they understand the risks, laws, and procedures involved in working with hazardous materials.

Individuals enrolled in pipefitter training programs typically split their time between attending classes and receiving paid, on-the-job training.
Individuals enrolled in pipefitter training programs typically split their time between attending classes and receiving paid, on-the-job training.
Unlike a plumber, a pipefitter can fabricate pipes, as well as install and maintain them.
Unlike a plumber, a pipefitter can fabricate pipes, as well as install and maintain them.
Pipefitters need to be able to follow blueprints.
Pipefitters need to be able to follow blueprints.
A person who wants to become a pipefitter must complete all classroom training requirements, including welding.
A person who wants to become a pipefitter must complete all classroom training requirements, including welding.

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