Plumbers - What They Do

Plumbers install, repair and maintain pipes, fixtures and other plumbing equipment used for water distribution and waste water disposal in residential, commercial and industrial buildings. They are employed in maintenance departments of factories, plants and similar establishments, by plumbing contractors, or they may be self-employed.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Read blueprints, drawings and specifications to determine layout of plumbing system, water supply network and waste and drainage systems
  • Install, repair and maintain domestic, commercial or industrial plumbing fixtures and systems
  • Locate and mark positions for pipe connections, passage holes and fixtures in walls and floors
  • Cut opening in walls and floors to accommodate pipe and pipe fittings
  • Measure, cut, bend and thread pipes using hand and power tools or machines
  • Join pipes using couplings, clamps, screws, bolts, cement or soldering, brazing and welding equipment
  • Test pipes for leaks using air and water pressure gauges
  • May prepare cost estimates.

Job titles

  • plumber apprentice
  • maintenance plumber
  • plumber
  • plumbing mechanic
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Completion of secondary school is usually required.
  • Completion of a four- to five-year apprenticeship program or A combination of over five years of work experience in the trade and some high school, college or industry courses in plumbing is usually required to be eligible for trade certification.
  • Trade certification is compulsory in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta and available, but voluntary, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba, British Columbia, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
  • Red Seal endorsement is also available to qualified plumbers upon successful completion of the interprovincial Red Seal examination.

Essential Skills


  • Read short text entries on forms, such as work orders and log books. (1)
  • Read bulletins and notices, e.g. read bulletins to learn about changes to operating procedures and read notices to learn about product recalls. (2)
  • Read workplace safety materials, e.g. read Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to understand the chemical composition of products and possible hazards. (2)
  • Read a variety of installation procedures, e.g. read manufacturers' instructions when installing new plumbing fixtures. (2)
  • May read magazine and website articles to stay current on industry trends and broaden their knowledge of plumbing techniques and materials. (3)
  • Read occupational health and safety standards, e.g. read rules to learn how to work safely in confined spaces. (3)
  • Read a variety of manuals to learn how to install, repair and maintain plumbing fixtures and systems. (3)
  • Read trade textbooks, e.g. read textbooks to understand the acceptable use of materials and science related to plumbing, such as the properties of water, metals and alloys. (4)
  • Read the Canadian Plumbing Code to learn the regulations that govern the design, construction, extension, alteration, renewal or repair of plumbing systems. (4)

Document use

  • Observe hazard and safety icons, e.g. scan icons affixed to products, such as flux-core solders, to learn about their toxic properties. (1)
  • Enter and locate data, such as dates and identification numbers, in labels and tags. (1)
  • Complete a variety of checklists and forms, e.g. complete hazard assessment forms and purchase orders by checking boxes and entering data, such as dates, times and quantities. (2)
  • Study a variety of assembly drawings, e.g. study assembly drawings to learn how to install fixtures and appliances. (2)
  • Locate data in a variety of complex tables, e.g. locate data, such as dimensions, classifications, tolerances, coefficients, identification numbers and quantities, in specification tables. (3)
  • Interpret a variety of construction drawings, e.g. scan construction drawings to learn how plumbing, electrical, carpentry and mechanical installations are to coordinate. (4)
  • Interpret a variety of complex schematic drawings, e.g. scan schematics to locate circuits, flows and capacities when planning for complex plumbing installations of piping. (4)


  • Write reminders and short notes to customers and co-workers, e.g. write short notes to inform supervisors about repairs in-progress and tasks to be completed. (1)
  • Write short comments in forms and log books, e.g. write comments in order forms to specify part requirements. (1)
  • May describe project details on estimate sheets and work orders, e.g. explain the plumbing tasks to be performed on job estimates. (2)
  • May write reports to describe events leading up to workplace accidents, e.g. write about injuries and events when completing reports for workers' compensation boards. (2)


  • May receive cash, debit and credit card payments and make change. (1)
  • Take a variety of measurements using basic tools, e.g. measure the lengths and diameters of pipes using tape measures. (1)
  • Compare measurements to specifications, e.g. compare pressure gauge readings to required manufacturers' standards. (1)
  • May approve payment for invoices submitted by suppliers, verifying the accuracy of the charges for parts ordered and received. (2)
  • May schedule the completion of complex plumbing projects by considering project tasks, lead times and the availability of labour and parts. (2)
  • Use formulae, e.g. use formulae to calculate the total falls on drain lines. (2)
  • Calculate material requirements, e.g. calculate the amount of material, such has valves, connectors and piping, needed to complete projects. (2)
  • Calculate averages from sets of readings to determine if humidity, temperature and water pressure are within levels recommended by manufacturers. (2)
  • May estimate the material requirements for projects. They consider project scopes and the materials needed for similar jobs in the past. (2)
  • Estimate the length of time it will take to complete projects. They consider projects and the availability of materials and labour. (2)
  • May calculate amounts for estimates and invoices. They multiply hours worked by labour rates and add amounts for materials, supplies and applicable taxes. (3)
  • Calculate loads, e.g. calculate the total hydraulic loads on sanitary drainage systems using Canadian Plumbing Code conversion factors and variables, such as fixture units. (3)
  • Analyze multiple pressure readings to evaluate plumbing system functions and troubleshoot faults, e.g. compare measurements of pressure to calculated or predicted values at various points in a system to identify the location of leaks. (3)
  • Calculate rolling offsets to design, fabricate and install piping around obstacles. (4)

Oral communication

  • Speak with suppliers to learn about products, prices and delivery schedules. (1)
  • Discuss specifications, timelines, procedures, expectations and other work-related matters with co-workers and other tradespeople, e.g. speak with forepersons about job assignments and with other tradespeople to co-ordinate activities and schedules. (2)
  • May talk to customers to respond to questions and complaints, gather information about needed repairs, explain plumbing procedures and discuss the results of inspections and repairs. (2)
  • Talk to building inspectors, engineers and architects, e.g. speak with Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) representatives about system certification requirements. (2)
  • May provide detailed step-by-step instructions to apprentices, customers and other tradespeople, e.g. explain to apprentices the steps to install water heaters. (3)


  • Encounter delays due to equipment breakdowns and shortages of materials. They inform others about the delays and perform other work until repairs are completed and needed materials arrive. (1)
  • Miss deadlines when tasks extend beyond time estimates for completion. They may consult with their supervisors and customers to reschedule work and work overtime as required. (1)
  • Decide order of tasks and their priorities, e.g. decide the order in which to install fixtures and test systems. (2)
  • Choose tools, methods and products for plumbing installations and repairs, e.g. consider project scopes and the availability of materials and labour. (2)
  • Evaluate the safety of work sites. They consider the hazards of working from heights and in confined spaces. (2)
  • Evaluate the preparedness of job sites for plumbing installations. They consider the adequacy of access to work areas and protection from inclement weather. (2)
  • Clarify installation procedures by referring to the Canadian Plumbing Code and job specification books and by talking to mechanical engineers, suppliers and manufacturers. (2)
  • Locate information on plumbing products and fixtures by conducting Web research and by reading catalogues issued by suppliers. (2)
  • Refer to schematics and speak with general contractors to locate system components, such as gas flow shut-off valves. (2)
  • Refer to trade, provincial and national code books to ensure installations and repairs are compliant with industry standards for plumbing and heating systems. (2)
  • Face disruptions of work schedules, timelines and budgets when project designs are found to be faulty and when specifications change after projects have already started. They assist in the development of new designs and perform other work until the project starts. (3)
  • May select materials and suppliers, e.g. decide which brand and type of materials to use by considering specifications, warranties, costs and ease of use. (3)
  • Assess the quality of plumbing installations and repairs. They take measurements, observe the appearance joints and check for signs of leaks. (3)
  • Plan their work in conjunction with forepersons, supervisors and other tradespeople on the job. Time pressures may become intense and interruptions from others result in frequent stops and starts. They reprioritize their tasks to accommodate emergencies and make adjustments to project timelines. Job task planning and organizing differs according to the work context. In the case of residential service appointments, there may be 10 to 15 service calls in one shift. Planning and organizing must take into account the distance between customer locations and the urgency of specific calls. When working on new construction projects, job task planning and organizing is geared towards fitting smoothly into a schedule that involves other trades coming before and after them. Plumbers work both independently and in co-operation with other tradespeople on job sites. (3)

Digital technology

  • Use calculators and personal digital assistant (PDA) devices to complete numeracy-related tasks, such as calculating material requirements. (1)
  • May use word processing software to write letters to customers and prepare job estimates and invoices. (2)
  • May use spreadsheet software to tally costs for job estimates and invoices. (2)
  • May use billing and accounting software to input and track sales, produce invoices and estimates and print reports, such as income and expense statements. (2)
  • May use communication software to exchange email with customers, suppliers and co-workers. (2)
  • May use computer-assisted design (CAD) software to access, modify and print technical drawings. (2)
  • May use databases to enter and retrieve project information. (2)
  • May use databases to retrieve and print scale and assembly diagrams. (2)
  • May use the Internet to access training courses and seminars offered by apprenticeship trainers, associations, unions, suppliers and employers. (2)
  • May use internet browsers and search engines to access technical service bulletins, plumbing codes, specifications and troubleshooting guides. (2)
  • May use online plumbing software to streamline their scheduling, dispatching and routing activities. (2)
  • May use project management software for complex equipment installations to schedule lead times and the completion of project milestones. (3)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

The degree to which plumbers work with others depends on the specific setting in which they work. On construction sites, plumbers must co-ordinate with other trades onsite as there is an order in which the work should be performed and safety is always a concern. For example, during installation they complete the rough in and then return to complete the finishing after other trades (e.g. plasterers, tilesetters) have completed their work. Plumbers frequently work with an apprentice. Plumbers servicing residential clients typically work with others to a lesser extent. They often work alone on small residential jobs.

Continuous Learning

Although the fundamentals of plumbing remain constant, the nature of the plumbing occupation is changing, resulting in a corresponding need for continuous learning. For example, changes to the Canadian Plumbing Code periodically modify procedures for the installation of piping systems. Advances in technology are also having a significant impact on trade procedures. For example, the use of computer-assisted design (CAD) software is required in some jurisdictions. Advances in technology are also changing the design, applications and materials of systems. Technical courses may be offered when new products, procedures and equipment are introduced. Apprentices learn through a combination of classroom training delivered by community colleges and on-the-job training. In unionized environments, they are paired with journeypersons according to ratios defined in collective agreements. Journeyperson upgrading programs are often offered by joint apprenticeship and training committees with a focus on both classroom and hands-on training. An increased emphasis on worker health and safety means that related training is often mandatory for both apprentices and journeypersons. Many plumbers stay current by reading trade magazines.