Business Insider

Fact check: how much do plumbers make?

 

Whether you’re a recent high school graduate or a professional looking for a change, you might have heard that plumbing is one of the “recession-proof” trades. It’s true that becoming a professional in the plumbing, pipefitting and steamfitting industry can be rewarding in a number of ways.

Before making a career change, though, you’ll need to know not only professional plumber wages, but also earning potential in your state, plumber demand and the types of hours you’ll need to work regularly.

So how much can plumbers make? Learn what sorts of jobs they're responsible for, employment statistics, average plumber pay and more so you’ll know if this career is right for you.

What do plumbers do?

Plumbers are more than professionals who fix clogs and leaks around the house. In residential and commercial buildings, plumbers not only troubleshoot and repair, but also install piping systems for water, wastewater and gas, as well as install and repair fixtures we rely on every day.

These responsibilities are enough to argue the claim that plumbing is recession-proof, but you’ll also find plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters across multiple industries: manufacturing, utility systems, building equipment, oil and gas, local government and more.

With such a wide range of career branches, a plumber’s average salary can also widely vary.

How much can plumbers make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, shares occupational employment and wage statistics every year. Plumber salary averages continue to rise. The most recent data available, from May 2021, shows that plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters earned an average annual wage of $63,350.

Plumber salaries compare favorably against the national average annual wage across all occupations, which is $58,260. And some of these professional trade workers bring home much more than the average plumber salary.

The median salary for plumbers is $59,880, and the median plumber hourly wage is $28.79. Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters in the 90th percentile earn the highest plumbing salaries, at $48.04 an hour, or $99,920 a year.

In addition, some professional trade workers are eligible to earn overtime and increase their take-home earnings.

Which states have the highest plumber salaries?

Across the U.S., average plumber pay varies by years of experience and region. According to the same BLS report, the five top-paying states for plumbers listed below offer a mean hourly wage of $40.37.


Illinois
  • Average hourly wage: $41.44
  • Average annual wage: $86,200

Alaska
  • Average hourly wage: $41.01
  • Average annual wage: $85,300

Massachusetts
  • Average hourly wage: $40.43
  • Average annual wage: $84,090

New Jersey
  • Average hourly wage: $39.78
  • Average annual wage: $82,740

Oregon
  • Average hourly wage: $39.17
  • Average annual wage: $81,470
 

There are also top-paying metropolitan areas with higher salary ranges outside of the top-paying states, sometimes due to a higher cost of living.

For example, the mean annual salary in California’s San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area is $94,580. In the Boston-Cambridge-Nashua metropolitan area in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the mean annual salary is $85,340.

What’s the average starting salary for plumbers?

It can take a few years to earn the highest plumber salary, and there are different levels to the profession. While licensing varies by state, in general there are three stages of training for plumbers: apprentice, journey-level and master plumber.

Beyond a high school diploma, many states require technical courses with an apprenticeship for on-the-job training. Apprentice plumbers usually earn wages while pursuing certifications, which can save thousands compared to paying for a traditional undergraduate education.

Entry-level or apprentice plumbers can expect to earn lower wages because they’re combining their education with work experience. Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters in the 10th through 25th percentile earn a median annual salary range of $36,700 through $46,590.

Once this training is complete, apprentices reach the journey-level, which means they have all the skills and experience to work on their own as a plumber.

Typically, a journey-level plumber reaches the next stage after completing state licensing exams. Master plumbers have reached the level where they can supervise other plumbers and own a plumbing business.

As with many other careers, plumbers earn higher wages as they add experience and knowledge.

Pro tip: Along with the head start of reduced debt at the start of your career, working closely with expert plumbers as an apprentice can also mean making valuable connections for future job opportunities.

What is the demand for plumbers?

The job outlook for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters has slowed from the previous decade, but between 2020 and 2030 BLS expects employment to grow 5%, which comes out to more than 50,000 openings a year. This is slightly lower than the 8% projected average growth for all occupations.

Earning your plumbing certification means you’ll have a highly sought-after skill that gives you a competitive edge when seeking employment, particularly in the highest-employing states, which include California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois.

What does a plumber schedule look like?

Becoming a plumber could be the right fit for you if you’re looking for the potential to earn overtime, maintain a predictable schedule and even choose when you work.

Commercial construction plumbers often work a standard five-day workweek and enjoy weekends off. Residential plumbers may have to work after hours for emergency calls, but these standby shifts are usually scheduled in advance and can lead to overtime pay.

Plumbers who own their business enjoy being their own boss and choosing the hours they work.

Ferguson supports the professional trade industry

If you’re ready to take the plunge, the next step is to research your state’s requirements and learn how to become a plumber. As a member of the plumbing community, Ferguson supports careers in the professional trade industry.

We're also a proud supporter of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association, which offers members training and education resources.