Steamfitters, Pipefitters and Sprinkler System Installers - What They Do

Steamfitters and pipefitters lay out, assemble, fabricate, maintain, troubleshoot and repair piping systems carrying water, steam, chemicals and fuel in heating, cooling, lubricating and other process piping systems. Sprinkler system installers fabricate, install, test, maintain and repair water, foam, carbon dioxide and dry chemical sprinkler systems in buildings for fire protection purposes. Steamfitters, pipefitters and sprinkler system installers are employed in maintenance departments of factories, plants and similar establishments, and by pipefitting and sprinkler system contractors, or they may be self-employed.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

Steamfitters and pipefitters

  • Read and interpret drawings, blueprints and specifications to determine layout requirements
  • Cut openings for pipe in walls, floors and ceilings using hand or power tools or machines
  • Select type and size of pipe required
  • Measure, cut, thread and bend pipe to required shape using hand and power tools
  • Weld, braze, cement, solder and thread joints to join pipes and fabricate sections of piping system
  • Install supports, valves, piping and control systems
  • Test system for leaks using testing equipment
  • Clean and maintain pipe units and fittings and flush system
  • Remove and replace worn components and reactivate system
  • May prepare cost estimates for clients.

Sprinkler system installers

  • Read and interpret drawings, specifications and fire codes to determine layout requirements
  • Install clamps, brackets and hangers to support piping system and sprinkler and fire protection equipment, using hand and power tools
  • Select, measure, cut, ream and thread pipe, install sprinkler heads and mount prepared pipe in supports
  • Join pipes and piping sections using soldering and welding equipment
  • Connect piping system to water mains, supply tanks, pumps, compressors and control equipment
  • Installs valves, alarms and associated equipment
  • Test system for leaks using air or liquid pressure equipment
  • Service and repair sprinkler system
  • May prepare cost estimates for clients.

Job titles

  • fire protection mechanic
  • pipefitter
  • steamfitter
  • sprinkler system fitter
  • sprinkler system installer
  • marine pipefitter
  • fire sprinkler fitter
  • apprentice pipefitter-steamfitter
  • steamfitter-pipefitter
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 steamfitting, pipefitting or sprinkler system installation is usually required to be eligible for trade certification.
  • Steamfitter-pipefitter trade certification is compulsory in Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta and available, but voluntary, in all other provinces and the territories.
  • Steamfitter-pipefitter (non-construction) trade certification is compulsory in Quebec.
  • Sprinkler system installer trade certification is compulsory in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Manitoba and available, but voluntary, in all other provinces and the territories.
  • Sprinkler system installer (no construction) trade certification is compulsory in Quebec.
  • Red Seal endorsement is also available to qualified steamfitters-pipefitters and sprinkler system installers upon successful completion of the interprovincial Red Seal examination.

Essential Skills


  • Read instructions and warnings written on labels, signs, packaging and technical drawings, e.g. read signs to learn about steam hazards and comments on technical drawings to learn about design changes. (1)
  • Read reminders and short notes from co-workers, e.g. read notes from forepersons to learn about equipment faults. (1)
  • Read memos, e.g. read memos from forepersons to learn about upcoming meetings and changes to operating procedures. (2)
  • Read workplace safety materials, e.g. read rules to learn about personal protective equipment requirements and read Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to understand the chemical composition of products and their possible hazards. (2)
  • Read equipment warranties to understand what kinds of situations and practices can invalidate the warranties. (2)
  • Read job specification books to learn about project scopes and engineering requirements. (3)
  • Read a variety of manuals and quality control guidelines, e.g. read repair and installation manuals for technical information on equipment and fittings and to learn about installation, troubleshooting and maintenance procedures. (3)
  • Read pipefitting textbooks to understand when specific systems are appropriate and to review technical procedures. (4)
  • Read codes and regulations, e.g. read codes to ensure the processes, such as the installation of high pressure boilers, meet industry and regulatory specifications. (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, timesheets and purchase orders by checking boxes and entering data, such as dates, times and quantities. (2)
  • Locate data in a variety of complex tables, e.g. locate data, such as dimensions, classifications, temperatures, tolerances, coefficients, identification numbers and quantities, in specification tables. (3)
  • Scan and interpret schematic diagrams and three-dimensional drawings to understand the routing of piping through below-ground and above-ground conduits and identify possible interferences. (4)
  • Interpret and take measurements from mechanical drawings and photographs to identify how to install equipment for steam heating systems. (4)


  • Write reminders and short notes to customers and co-workers, e.g. write short notes to inform forepersons about repairs in progress and tasks to be completed. (1)
  • Write short comments in email, forms and log books, e.g. write notes to record progress being made on projects and write comments in order forms to specify delivery requirements. (1)
  • May describe project details on estimate sheets and work orders, e.g. describe piping installation tasks to be performed on job estimates. (2)
  • May write short reports, e.g. write about events leading up to workplace accidents 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 readings of particles per million in piping systems to 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 projects by considering 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 materials, such as valves, connectors and piping, needed to complete projects. (2)
  • Calculate averages from sets of readings, e.g. take a series of pH readings to make sure levels are within the parameters recommended by boiler manufacturers. (2)
  • Estimate the material requirements for projects. They consider project scope and materials needed for similar jobs in the past. (2)
  • Estimate the length of time that 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 the expansions and contractions of piping materials caused by temperature changes. (3)
  • Analyze multiple pressure readings to evaluate plumbing system functions and troubleshoot faults, e.g. compare measurements of pressure to calculated and predicted values at various points in the system to identify the location of leaks. (3)
  • Calculate capacities, e.g. ascertain the capacity of system piping by calculating the volumes of each differently sized system component using a variety of formulae. (4)
  • Calculate rolling offsets when installing fittings in piping systems, e.g. use offset distances, changes in elevations, Pythagorean formula and trigonometry tables to determine the required lengths of pipe. (4)

Oral communication

  • Speak with suppliers to learn about products, prices and delivery schedules. (1)
  • Discuss specifications, safety concerns, 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)
  • Participate in meetings, e.g. discuss safety hazards and work practices at safety meetings. (2)
  • Talk to building inspectors and engineers, e.g. speak with Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) representatives about system certification requirements. (2)
  • May provide detailed step-by-step instructions to customers, contractors, apprentices and other tradespeople. (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 consult with their supervisors and customers to reschedule work and work overtime as required. (1)
  • Decide the order of repair and maintenance jobs, e.g. give priority to small tasks that can be turned around quickly and to commercial work that must be completed to keep those businesses operational. (1)
  • Decide which tools to use, procedures to follow and tests to perform to diagnose and repair vehicles. (1)
  • Decide to replace worn parts when repairs are not feasible and economical. They consider the condition of parts and their replacement cost. (2)
  • Evaluate the safety of work sites. They consider the hazards presented by elements, such as working from heights and in confined spaces. (2)
  • Evaluate the preparedness of job sites for piping installations. They consider the adequacy of access to work areas and lighting and protection from inclement weather. (2)
  • May evaluate the performance of apprentices. They consider apprentices' abilities to diagnose and troubleshoot faults, locate information, such as specifications, and complete repairs effectively. (2)
  • Locate information needed for repairs by referring to daily planners, manuals and diagrams and by consulting with service managers, co-workers, manufacturers, suppliers and colleagues. (2)
  • Locate information about the products they use by visiting manufacturers' websites, reading labels, product descriptions and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) talking to co-workers and suppliers. (2)
  • Face disruptions of work schedules, timelines and budgets when project designs are found to be faulty and when specifications are changed after projects have already started. They assist in the development of new designs and perform other work until the projects start. (3)
  • Encounter failures in a pipe. They shut off the steam, identify the reasons for the failure and consult with engineers to determine the proper course of action to rectify the situation. (3)
  • Decide the most efficient course of action to complete particular jobs, e.g. decide how to relocate piping when there are obstacles and how to order troubleshooting activities to efficiently diagnose faults by drawing upon engineering principles of force, fluid dynamics and expansion. (3)
  • Assess the quality of piping installations and repairs. They take readings and measurements, observe the appearance of joints and check for signs of leaks. (3)
  • Receive initial information regarding work that needs to be completed from the general contractors or forepersons. Once tasks are assigned, steam- and pipefitters define the steps needed for their part of the job, identify plans to accomplish the tasks and coordinate with other trades. They experience a number of planning challenges, including frequent interruptions for testing and the need to coordinate with other trades to design and fit specific or unique pipes. Getting tasks in the right order, scheduling and coordinating are very important when several trades are involved in a project. (3)
  • Draw upon information collected from Web research, CD-ROMs, operation manuals, other tradespeople, electrical engineers and manufacturers to troubleshoot and repair difficult faults. (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 specialized 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 and attachments 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, such as specifications and technical drawings. (2)
  • May use the Internet to access training courses and seminars offered by apprenticeship trainers, associations, unions, suppliers and employers. (2)
  • Use Internet browsers and search engines to access drawings, technical service bulletins, codes, specifications and troubleshooting guides. (2)
  • May use CD-ROMs to access information, such as technical drawings and project specifications. (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

Steam- and pipefitters work with others most of the time. They liaise with other steam- and pipefitters to ensure that fittings and hangers are available and are put up. They work mainly with welders to assemble fittings prior to welding, but may also work with pipe insulators and electricians. They coordinate the arrival times of crane operators when necessary. They work closely with apprentices to obtain assistance and to offer both technical training and safety information. Coordination of work with others is a key part of the occupation.

Continuous Learning

Continuous learning is essential for steam- and pipefitters as they must keep up-to-date with regulatory requirements and codes that are periodically revised. Also, they must stay current on technological advances in their field to select the most appropriate equipment and materials and be able to perform proper installations.